Who's Writing About Racing?

Courtesy of Teresa Genaro, Brooklyn Backstretch

Last August, Jessica Chapel of Railbird and I were invited by Seth Merrow of Equidaily to appear on his show on Capital OTB to discuss how the Internet is affecting the relationship between racing and its fans.  Among the questions he asked:  "Do you consider yourself a journalist?"

The answer, of course, is no.  Journalists are professionals, trained in a craft, adhering to practices and ethics and standards.  Journalists are usually paid for their work.

A blog is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer."  I'm not particularly fond of the word "blog"; it sounds ugly, for one, all those hard consonants, and it seems to me that it's becoming an increasingly inaccurate way to describe the various sites about horse racing, most of which are hardly personal journals but are, rather, stories and analysis and reporting, along with those reflections, comments, and hyperlinks to which Merriam-Webster refers. 

And it's here where the lines between blogging (for lack of a better word-maybe "Internet reporting," a term suggested to me last summer?) and journalism begin to blur.  Traditional journalism is abandoning racing; I am lucky to live in a city in which two newspapers cover racing daily, but most people can't find anything about racing in their local-or national-papers.  More and more, racing fans are turning to the Internet, to the uncredentialed writers, to get their news about the sport they love.

And that's both good news and bad news.  It's good news because racing is being covered in ways that traditional journalism can't; there are sites dedicated to specific tracks, to racing overseas, to equine hoof care, to handicapping, to history, and no newspaper is going to fund that sort of coverage.  If you're a racing fan, chances are you can find a site-probably several--that suits your needs and your tastes. 

It's good news because people like me don't have to worry about editors telling us what we can write about.  If I want to write 1500 words on a race run a hundred years ago, I can.  If I want to take a few days off, I can.  If I want to post three times a day, I can. 

There's a lot of bad news, though, too.  Most of us don't have the investigative journalistic chops or connections (or the time, as most of us have full-time jobs) to dig deeply into the stories that laid-off journalists would cover; we don't have the credibility based on experience that would encourage those in the racing industry to talk to us; we don't have editors to keep us on track and make sure that our stories are accurate.

I was recently at the track on a day when two horses were injured.  I knew that inquiries to vets and stewards and other officials at the track weren't going to get me any answers, so I watched and waited as the two reporters in the press box worked the phones and visited the jocks' room to find out the status of the horses and their riders.  And when they found out that the jocks were all right and that the horses weren't, they shared their information with me. 

They could do what I couldn't:  get reliable, confirmed information from official sources.  I could do what they couldn't:  post that reliable, confirmed information immediately, so that fans watching from home, wondering what had happened, could find out right away, not having to wait until the next day's papers.  The situation was, it seemed to me, a promising example of how journalists and bloggers can work together in the service of providing important information about this sport. 

Bloggers differ from journalists in another important way:  for the most part, we don't get paid for the writing that we do.  Many of us have benefitted from the blogs begun by mainstream media, such as the Blood-Horse's Blog Stable or The Rail at the New York Times, but that benefit isn't financial, at least not directly.  The publications get a variety of voices writing on a variety of topics, without having to pay them; we get opportunities, exposure, and a larger readership. 

This is not likely a model that can sustain itself; writers won't always work for free, and there will be too many stories that require the skill, experience, and expertise of professional journalists.  And racetracks need to figure out where they want bloggers to fit into their landscapes.  A number of tracks credential bloggers-some internet writers get full press credentials, others partial.  I don't know how individual tracks make decisions about whom they credential, but it would make sense for track press offices to establish some criteria, so that they're not making ad hoc decisions every time a blogger requests a media pass.  Racetracks have a valuable opportunity to increase the coverage of their sport, and they should figure out how to take advantage of that opportunity while making sure that the coverage is responsible and reliable. 

For now, mainstream media and non-traditional writers seem to be forging a fragile affiliation, one that can probably work for both parties in the near term, while racing, journalism, and new media figure out just exactly what the landscape can and should look like going forward. 


Teresa Genaro writes regularly about (mostly) New York racing and racing history at Brooklyn Backstretch

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