Social Spotlight with Jenna Fryer

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community about how they use social media. Up next: Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press.

It’s fascinating to me how much you take on the haters. I feel like sometimes you embrace it and are like, “Bring it on” and sometimes you’re like, “I can’t believe people are getting mad.” So how do you deal on a day-to-day basis with those people on social media?

I recently made a really big change with my Twitter settings in that I changed it to where I only will see your tweet now if you have confirmed your email address (through Twitter). So I think that has cut down on the trolls, which I really enjoy. I really felt it liberating. I noticed it within a day; I noticed the traffic cut down. And it’s unfortunate, because maybe some legitimate people (were cut out) if they haven’t taken those steps with their accounts, but I did open my DMs — which has been a little weird.

The thing about the haters is I can’t believe some of the things people say. I think people think I’m being whiny or thin-skinned or I can’t take it, but sometimes I just think people are inappropriate or mean. One of the things I learned from (13-year-old daughter) Sydnee’s age group is there are certain things that just aren’t tolerated — like body shaming or woman-on-woman shaming. They just think it’s deplorable, like it’s the worst thing in the world. So you get on Twitter and you’ve got people who are just mean.

And sometimes it’s the most innocuous things. You retweeted a link of mine yesterday and said you thought my lede (a writer’s introduction paragraph) was “spicy.” And the mentions just deteriorated into this battle between IndyCar and NASCAR fans — and I don’t want any parts of that anymore.

But when you’ve crossed the line — even if it’s my imaginary moral line — I’m going to call you out on it. I am. Because even if you’re anonymous and we can’t tell who you are because you’re an egg (as a profile picture) or you’ve got a fake name, you deserve people to know what kind of person you are.

But do you enjoy it some days? Do you ever enjoy the back-and-forth and retweeting these people? Because sometimes I just feel like, “Oh, Jenna is from New Jersey, so she doesn’t mind ripping these people right back.”

Sometimes I rip them right back. But like I’ve really been quiet all week on the Danica (losing her ride) thing; I’ve really been offended by all the traffic I’ve seen. I don’t want to attack people to attack them, but I kind of want to shake people and say, “How many of your dreams did you follow? What did you make of your life? How dare you criticize or attack or disparage what this woman has done.” She may not have been the greatest race car driver ever, but she was a tremendous businesswoman who parlayed that into a multi-million dollar career while following her dreams. For people to just tweet nasty, angry things — and I got a particularly bad email this week — I don’t understand why people are like that.

I’ve seen through social media that jealousy is so ugly. And so sometimes I fight back. Sometimes I just can’t take it. Sometimes it’s not worth the headache, but sometimes you wake up and you’re just in that kind of mood and you’re like, “Alright. I’m going to fight back today.” And other days, you’re like, “I’m not even going to look at Twitter today.”

I think your biggest controversy was when you wrote your Fernando Alonso column in the spring (about how he wouldn’t have that big of an impact on the Indy 500) and there were so many people getting mad. Were there days during that time when you decided not to look at social media or were you always checking what people were saying?

No, I stopped looking at it after awhile. You can’t argue with people who don’t want to have healthy debate. You see that all across our country right now, and social media has really deteriorated conversation and debate. They just want to say what they want to say, and they just want to label me with whatever label fits their argument — as someone who is uneducated or doesn’t know or respect Alonso.

That wasn’t it. The issue I always had was, “What is Alonso going to do for this race and this series?” And what’s been difficult for me is I was right! I was right. Everything I said, I was right. The television ratings were not up. He did nothing in this country for the race or the series. Now, he was charming, he was wonderful, he was a delight to watch, he was a delight to cover. He would be a delight if he were here all the time — but that’s a different story. And that was the point. So it’s been very hard for me not to crow and say, “I told y’all.”

I use my column in different ways for different things. I’ve used it in political ways lately, and you get a lot of people who just don’t agree with you. I think there’s certain places for sports and certain places for politics, and NASCAR really stepped into a big hole by inserting itself into politics — and now you can’t really get out of it. You can’t pick and choose. And as a result of me trying to stay true to my moral conscience and true to the obligation I have to my daughter to show her how you must take stances, you just invite this attacking army on you on social media. So some days, I just don’t look.

Personally, I’m super reluctant to say anything I know is going to bring an avalanche of haters. Because it really can bring me down or be deflating. But it seems like you’re more willing to do it — it’s not going to deter you from speaking out if you feel strongly enough about it.

Well, there’s sometimes when I just feel like enough is enough and somebody’s got to say something. We as the auto racing media corps in general, we spend so much time on the nuts and bolts and encumbered finishes and this and that. We don’t tend to look at the bigger picture very often. And a lot of people don’t want to or they get annoyed.

I just think when Brian France took his stand on the Confederate flag, he started down a road where he has kind of cherry-picked where he wants to be involved. And at a time of tumult in this country and when you’re looking for good leaders and you’re looking for the JJ Watts of the world or the Jimmie Johnsons and these guys who step up, you would hope the leadership of the series would step up. But I think they’ve gone backward based on fan reaction, because not everybody cares as much about doing what’s morally right. And they’d rather just stick to their beliefs and keep sports and politics and entertainment and keep them all privately, and I just think NASCAR lost that right.

You’re probably the reporter who is most tied in to both NASCAR and IndyCar — I don’t know somebody else who has mastered having one foot in each as well as you have. So what’s your philosophy in managing that on social media? Sometimes you’ll tweet a picture of you with somebody from a series — is that part of letting people know, “Hey, I’m an insider?”

No. So I really have embraced Instagram and started to enjoy that more —

Is your Instagram public?

No, my Instagram is private, and the reason is it’s a lot of my daughter on there. But I started this thing called #100HappyDays. So unless you follow the #100HappyDays, you don’t really know about it. But in the beginning, it was really great, because it really forced you to look at every day differently. You would look at things and they would be small, minor, little things and you would say, “Oh, this made me happy today.” But then everything started making you happy, so you couldn’t post a picture too soon in the day, because what if something happier happened later in the day?

So as it went on, Chip Ganassi started to get annoyed by it. He started to literally get annoyed by it.

He was trolling you.

He was trolling me. And at a race, he did a media session. At the end of the media session, he asked to go off the record. And we went off the record, and he said everyone in the room had to agree to be honest with him and we had to do it by a show of hands. And he says (in Ganassi imitation voice): “Be honest. How many people are sick of Jenna Fryer’s #100HappyDays?”

How many hands went up?

There were some hands. But from that moment on, I said, “You know what? Now I’m doing #365HappyDays,” and a lot of them are dedicated to Chip. So I’m kind of trolling Chip now back with it. Like I posted a picture with Jamie McMurray the other day just so I could tag Chip. And whenever I have the opportunity to get Chip in a happy day (photo), I do it.

But it’s not to show I’m an insider. I just think I’m an asshole sometimes. Like when that guy wrote me that really mean email the other day and I wrote back, “I think your caps lock button is broken.” Or today, I bought a Marco Andretti shirt at the IndyCar (souvenir) hauler because why not? Like I just think I do things (to mess with people).

So it sounds like what happens is you’re doing something that’s a normal action to you, because you’re so tied in with all these people. But I feel like it’s coming across as, “Wow, Jenna is such an insider because she knows all these people.” But it’s normal to you.

I do get that, and part of that is because I’ve been in racing at a fairly full-time level since 1998, ’99, 2000. What I am seeing is much like Matt Kenseth and all these other guys, everybody that I do know so well, we’re all aging out. Like we all grew up together,  to a degree. Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman and Marty Smith and some of the people who work for Jimmie Johnson — we were all rookies together. Jamie McMurray, too. Well now, as they’re aging out — Dario (Franchitti) has gotten older and Helio (Castroneves) and Tony Kanaan are in their 20th years — we’re getting older. And I don’t know the younger drivers the way I do (the older ones). I’m fortunate I’ve built a little bit of a relationship with (Ryan) Blaney —

And Kyle Larson, I feel like.

Larson, yeah. But I’m not going to roll up on Josef Newgarden and be like, “Josef! Be in my #100HappyDays!” Because I don’t know him that well yet, you know? So there’s a changing of the guard that affects everybody that people don’t realize.

Is that a threat to your career or something you can adjust to? Like when you see younger drivers interacting with younger writers on social media, do you see it as a whole new class of writers that could be a challenge to the current generation of media?

No. I do see what you’re saying and it is a challenge because you have to learn. So much of what we do — yeah, it’s racing, but you have to understand these people. The most fun part of what we do is like dissecting why Kevin Harvick was mad about something or why did Kyle Busch do this. I just think it’s part of the job — we just have to learn new people and build new relationships. I don’t think it’s threatening. That’s a skill you have to have. You have to learn your subjects. It takes time.

Tony Stewart and I went two years without speaking to each other. You go through peaks and valleys and you get to know people and they get mad at you and stop talking to you for a little while or you work things out. It’s just part of the challenge. I’m not threatened. A huge part of it is still try to be professional and be fair and be honest and don’t get weighted down in all the muck. And the younger guys will figure out who you are.

But isn’t it tough to avoid being baited into that sometimes? Because that’s what social media often is — the muck.

I had a good time this past weekend on social media because (Brad Keselowski) and Denny (Hamlin) and Kyle sparring back and forth. I was like, “This was what social media is meant for. This is what I liked about Twitter when I joined it seven, eight, nine years ago.” And we’ve gotten so far away from that, where Twitter is just everybody attacking everybody. I like that, and that’s why I think I’ve migrated more toward Instagram, because you can get out of the muck.

It’s just your mood if you get baited. If somebody catches you or you see something at just that right time, then you’ve opened the hole and down you go and you’re fighting with everybody and you kind of have to step away.

What’s the future for you on social media? You talked about changing your Twitter settings. How do you see this evolving for you and your reporting as you go forward?

I’ve already changed a lot from when I first was using Twitter. I almost used it in lieu of taking notes. Because you would say, “Caution, Lap 145” and you would be able to go right back into your Twitter feed. Well now, everybody is tweeting “Caution.” A few years ago, I stopped doing it. There was such a race to tweet everything, and everybody was tweeting the exact same thing. And if you’re a reader or a consumer, when you open your Twitter account and see nine consecutive tweets and all they say is “Caution,” why are you following these people? Wait until you have the information and wait until you have something to report.

So I’ve already scaled down — I did that a few years ago. I also cherrypick quotes now so that I’m not part of that instant timeline where everybody is just tweeting what Dale Jr. said at exactly the same time.

I think social media is still a good tool. This is a great example: I woke up the other day and was like, “Why is Ted Cruz trending? Who is Sergio Dipp?” And within just a few keystrokes, you’re able to figure out exactly what you missed overnight by scrolling through Twitter.

But I also think for me, I don’t need to do a 24/7 update. There’s enough people who are doing that. I’d like to be a little more of myself, I’d like to be a little more sarcastic and of course tweet the links and the news.

One thing, while I have this (microphone): I think media-on-media crime on social media is the most disgusting thing. It’s awful. Media should not be fighting with media on social media. I think it makes the whole profession look bad. We all have to live together, we all have to work together and when people are critiquing, criticizing, roasting, dragging, complaining about other media, it’s such bad form. And it’s so ugly.

Yeah, we want more driver-on-driver crime — not media-on-media crime.

Correct. (Laughs) More driver-on-driver crime, starting now.

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place next weekend (!!!) at Dover. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

6 Replies to “Social Spotlight with Jenna Fryer”

  1. I have always loved Jenna Fryer. I think adapting how she utilizes Twitter is working really well for her. She’s extremely knowledgeable, has great resources, and provides great perspective.

    Completely on point with the observations/opinions/comments concerning media on media bashing. It is a completely turn off to me. Makes the basher look small and only serves to draw negative attention to him/herself.

    Keep being you Jenna and this fan will continue to read everything you write.

  2. Jeff, first off, I am very proud of you staying on the NASCAR beat. Your work is timely, honest and high quality, and the thought of you not in this line of work gives me the creeps.

    Regretfully over the last several years it has gotten harder and harder to stay addicted to NASCAR because staying deeply in touch with the sport has gotten tougher with NASCAR Scene going down, newspapers getting thinner and thinner and the death of Speed Channel. and Social media has been the lifeline, but finding racing on cable shouldn’t be this difficult. Fox sports 2? Really?

    My real point on commenting, is Jenna. She is a professional’s professional writer, and there is nothing that makes me happier than seeing her byline attached to a piece. She is like a good teacher, firm but fair with a sense of humor.

    I have so much respect for her going back to the mid 90’s from her days as the Sports Editor of The Daily Athenaeum at WVU. She was a hustler and a hard worker, and it upsets me when I see her tangling with the trolls on Twitter. She’s got “girl power”, and I guess being bright, having talent and strong opinions (as a women in a mans game), rubs some people the wrong way. But oh well, Jenna is tougher than a cheap steak and has confidence enough in herself that she won’t back down to the haters. I respect that

    I also have great respect for the work you are both doing.

  3. She shouldn’t get so butt hurt when she doesn’t tell the whole story when you ask her for all the facts a good journalist would. There are times she is no better than Utter. She should be embarrassed the way she acted after her Alonso story came out claiming other drivers and owners where bullying her just because they didn’t agree with it. The comments I saw were respectful they didn’t put her down they just didn’t agree with her. She took it personal and tried to be a victim which made her look even worse.

  4. Jenna is not a likable anything, she seems to take her marching orders from the clowns down Daytona way. She promotes what Brian wants her to. And frankly her whiny voice is the most unprofessional and she is full of caca.

  5. You kids! Worrying about the 20 something NASCAR journalists! That’s so cute. Wait until you hit 60…like me. BTW this was another great one. Thanks Jeff. I am now a Jenna follower!

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