Gorkana meets...Motorsport Journalist Peter Wyss
You started your career in journalism in 1977 at the Swiss motor magazine MOTORSPORT aktuell, where you worked until 2000. You then worked between 2001 and 2015 for the magazine AUTOMOBIL REVUE, including as Desk Editor and Co-Editor-in-Chief. What first drew you to a career in journalism and into the motorsport sector?
I grew up with motorsport through my father, who in the early 60s took part in races in the Swiss Championship and subscribed to various motor magazines. Even during my school days at secondary school, I wrote race reports for my father’s club magazine and it was through this that I was discovered by the then head of Swiss sport at MOTORSPORT aktuell/powerslide. To begin with, I only covered the odd race as a freelance journalist, until they were looking for a replacement in Zurich, their former editorial office, and came to me. This was a dream come true for me. Sports journalism, especially with the topic motor, really is a calling and I was able to make my hobby my profession.
In your view, how has the Swiss media landscape changed since you first started in journalism?
I can only speak for my profession. Until the 90s, there was no internet and no emails, and the PR of manufacturers and, in my case, of racing teams or drivers, was still in its infancy. You therefore had to get the information largely through your contact network, which you had created over years, in person or via telephone. Books were the only source of reference you could use if you couldn’t draw from your own experience. Today we quickly google something online and receive a wealth of information. But we can only do this if we then painstakingly weed out the information and, if necessary, check its authenticity. With younger colleagues, I find again and again that they have fallen for hoaxes, false statements or false allegations. Many can no longer write features or exciting reports, as they simply render rewritten press releases, mainly uncritically and without emotion. I began writing still using the Adler typing system on a Hermes Baby typewriter, first producing a manuscript, which then had to be corrected and possibly rewritten, before then being sent to the typesetter and his machine. Often there was even a stage inbetween, when you had to dictate an article over the telephone and then three people would have to work on a single report. Today, everything is a lot faster, you type up your article on a laptop, have a correction programme and can hand it in straight away for final editing. But still today, as ever, the good articles originate in our heads, and that can’t be replaced by a computer, at least not yet...
You’ve been working for motorsport print publications since the start of your career. What challenges do you think the industry will face in the future?
The industry must provide starting points for exciting stories and topics and the media needs to put them to use. A good print product still sells, only a lot more expenditure is needed for less return than in earlier days when there was no competition from other means of information distribution.
In your experience, what influence have social networks had on the media industry?
Sometimes receiving information over social networks is too much of a good thing. I’m not one of those people who always needs to know everything immediately, and so haven’t subscribed to every newsletter or Twitter account. If there is something interesting, then it gets around quickly anyway. On Facebook I only look at what racing drivers are reporting about and what they know. Younger journalists perhaps think differently and that’s why social media has of course already had an influence on them.
How can PRs best help journalists in your sector?
A lot, because it’s simply the fastet way of distributing information. However, there are companies who almost bombard you with press releases. Every little piece of news gives occasion to a press release. Sometimes less is more. But in general, PR departments are always a help, especially if you have a personal request and know the best person to contact directly.
What is the best way for PRs to approach journalists?
It depends on the situation or the topic. Normally an email is enough – mailing via post is out. Important news shouldn’t simply be just given away on the company’s homepage because I don’t have time to scour every company’s website every day. An email as a teaser is enough, if you don’t want to disclose everything straight away. But I also value personal contact if, for example, I am made aware of or invited to an event, or if someone asks me about my interest in a specific topic. It’s this way that interesting topics often come about.
What are your plans for the future? Do you wish to continue a career in journalism?
I am and will always be a journalist. I am currently looking for full time work with another medium, only the jobs in my field are rare. For this reason I am contemplating self-employment, but I’m taking it one step at a time.
What is the best, or most interesting, story you have ever worked on?
As I also participate in motor racing, and have been doing so for over 30 years with an international racing license, it is these experiential reports that are the most interesting for readers. The best ones, about which I’m always asked, are those I write about my experiences as a driver at the 24-hour Nürburgring on the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife, the most difficult race track in the world. With 24 appearances since 1986, I am the foreigner, that is non-German, who has participated the most in this race. However, in the last three years I got the biggest response for my two test reports with Marcel Fässler’s, now three-time Swiss winner of the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans, winning car. This was an around 800 horsepower sport prototype by the manufacturer Audi. To describe for a reader in an informative, entertaining and comprehensible way, what needs to be performed with such a powerful vehicle at speeds of 250 to 350 km/h, what it feels like to be in such a tight cockpit, what Marcel Fässler has to say about it, is at the same time a big journalistic challenge. But the ongoing feedback from some readers who miss such stories in AUTOMOBIL REVUE, is the best reward and shows that you have done your work as a journalist right. And at the same time, it makes you sad that this work was not valued by the CEO.