A race to the printers

When the chequered flag falls on Sunday afternoons, the hard work may be over for the MotoGP riders, who have just raced around some of the world’s toughest circuits. But behind the scenes on the journalistic front, there is a separate race against time that goes unnoticed. A race for the printers. A race round the paddock to get the quotes that will either be the lead story online, or the lead story on the supermarket shelves. It is a frantic race, that brings with it many layers that must fit seamlessly into place for the process to work.

In the lead-up to the home round of the 2017 MotoGP championship, Motorcycle News (MCN) published a 32-page British Grand Prix special, that was months in the making. “We’ve been planning the paper for three months. I started on it at Sachsenring before the Summer break, planning and then gathering quotes during Austria and Brno,” explained Simon Patterson, MCN’s MotoGP reporter.

Patterson, who has been MCN’s reporter since the start of 2016, described how the input of British riders was vital in helping with delivery of the special. “With British riders, we can do things over the phone as we have a great relationship with them. One of the features we have in the preview is a track map which needed to be annotated. I sent the map to Tarran [Mackenzie], he printed it, scribbled notes on it, photographed it and sent it back! There’s mutual benefit.”

Despite a reduced circulation, the weekly paper is still a key part of MCN’s output, with an audience of around 66,000 readers per week in 2016 according to Press Gazette, a healthy number and comfortably ahead of its competitors in the market. It is important for the future of the newspaper that it has exclusive stories, such as Jorge Lorenzo’s move to Ducati from last year.

“You get to build your circle of sources. There are a few things that someone has told me a month in advance, I think it doesn’t sound correct, and then a month later it comes true! The next time they tell you something, you take them a bit more seriously,” Patterson says.

Attention during the early part of the weekend is on producing content for the website, with a clear emphasis on disseminating driver quotes, session results and evening round-ups, before focus turns to gathering key information ready for the magazine.

The paper, which is published each Wednesday, forms the backbone of Patterson’s post-race output. “The race normally finishes at 3pm local time, we go straight into rider debriefs and the press conferences, trying to catch riders in the paddock. Normally that takes me until around 6pm, and it is just me from MCN at this stage! I won’t start writing until 6pm essentially, which is normally four spreads of the paper, eight pages and around 6,000 words in total,” explains Patterson, who regularly spends Sunday evenings amongst other journalists in the media centre until the early hours!

Only after the chequered flag falls does the lead story start to fall into place, but even then, the narrative may still be undecided. “You have an idea of what the story is, but sometimes you can ask a question in the debrief to get the quotes from them to support what you’re going to write. You know your angle, you ask the question and get the supporting evidence from them, that’s the way to build it,” Patterson notes. Patterson is MCN’s sole MotoGP reporter at 16 of the 18 rounds, meaning that his role is critical throughout the entire process. The news gathering process is similar irrespective of organisation.

Unlike the television crews around the world who broadcast MotoGP, journalists have time to digest the information presented to them before writing their narrative. “[The TV guys] can do a certain amount of prep [before going to air]; they may have talked to people after warm-up, but I get the chance to talk to all of the riders first, talk to crew chiefs, talk to people from Michelin and then form an opinion,” explains fellow MotoGP journalist David Emmett, who has been writing about MotoGP for MotoMatters for a decade. “Because it is more reactive it requires less preparation, because I write 2,000 words in the evening, I have time to sit down and think about it.”

Outside of the circuit, once Patterson has written his material for the newspaper, a quality assurance phase occurs, a procedure common place in the print industry to ensure the material written is accurate and of high-quality. Known as ‘sub-editing’, Patterson’s pieces for print go through four layers involving three MCN editors (Sports, Production and Senior) and the design team before final sign-off. It is an exhaustive, but vital, process. Already in the background, journalists are compiling quotes and research for future races, as MotoGP speeds towards the flyaway races, the process is constantly moving forward.

Following publication of last week’s edition of MCN looking back at the British MotoGP, truncated stories are published online to direct attention to the paper. And then, for Patterson and the rest of the fraternity, attention turns to the next stop of the season, which this weekend is the San Marino MotoGP…

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