Courtesy of Teresa Genaro, Brooklyn
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
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
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
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
writes regularly about (mostly) New
York racing and racing history at Brooklyn