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, with those hard consonants, and it’s 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 can write about whatever interests us, unencumbered by word count and the market and advertising. 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 full-time, non-writing 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, or to point us in new directions.
We also don’t have the paychecks that journalists have—or used to, anyway. 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. The publications get a variety of voices writing on a variety of topics, without having to pay the authors; we get opportunities, exposure, and a larger readership.
It’s likely not 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. For now, though, 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.