Who’s writing about racing

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.

13 thoughts on “Who’s writing about racing

  1. “I’m not particularly fond of the word “blog”; it sounds ugly, with those hard consonants,”I agree. Give me a uvular fricative any day…

  2. Absolutely an excellent piece Teresa.I can relate to everything you write since I started my “blog” (ouch) in part because my paper, Toronto Star, was not covering racing daily or weekly for that matter. I write for them on a freelance basis and have been priveleged to do so.But I wanted to write more – who was that horse that set a track record at Woodbine yesterday? etc.anyway, it’s hard to know where out lovely little spaces on the internt fit in with everything else – there is no money in it that’s for sure, unless you are lucky to get a few advertisers, and I am lucky in that sense.Great reading Teresa, thank you, I may use your post or some of it tomorrow – Jennifer at Thoroughblog.

  3. Myself, I touched on a similar subject last spring. I was inspired to write a blog because, quite frankly, there seemed to be little available on the internet that interested me. Stakes schedule, trainer stats, on-track handle at Aqueduct, Mike Watchmaker, etc. was a grind. Where are the stories and anecdotes about the rail folk and bettors? The antics of jockeys? The cost of beer? The beauty of the internet is the smorgasbord of perspectives about horse racing. Characters. Politics. A sundry of betting strategies from that guy in Cincy. What credential journalist would be willing to report that Steve Asmussen, who scored $177,245,332 in winnings last year (or something like that) shows up to the Fasig-Tipton yearling auction wearing a Tommy Bahama t-shirt and flip flops?

  4. I don’t pretend to be a journalist. I started my blog with a readership of one (thanks Mom). It pains me how little horse racing is covered in the newspapers, almost as painful as how little television seems to care anymore. Just from 2007 to 2008, the USA Today reduced articles and Derby Watch lists, especially on Fridays during the Derby prep season. That reduction forced me onto the internet to look for information. Even the two major horse racing magazines, Blood Horse and American Turf Monthly are hard to find and geared very little towards casual or entry level fans. There is much broken about this sport. I am impressed by the number of young people banding together on the internet to talk horse racing. It won’t be the big fish bettors that save the soul of horse racing, it will be the writers, the romantics, the true believers. Great writing as always.

  5. Winston: I was going to talk about glottal stops, but I didn’t want to offend anyone.Jen–I’d be honored if you used some of this. Thanks for the compliment. Sue–the world would be a far wearier place without your margarita-infused musings.Turk–at least you had your mother. I just had the cats. Thanks, everyone, for reading and commenting.

  6. “What credential journalist would be willing to report that Steve Asmussen, who scored $177,245,332 in winnings last year (or something like that) shows up to the Fasig-Tipton yearling auction wearing a Tommy Bahama t-shirt and flip flops?”Yeah, why would a credentialed journalist want to report that? Everyone knows credentialed journalists just write boring, grinding crap. Sheesh. Don’t get me started. — J.S.

  7. JS: I read Sue’s comment as an utterly unnecessary deprecation of her own work and a simultaneous veneration of the work of professional journalists, focusing as it does on what many would consider frivolous, but what those of us who read and love Sue’s work know to be the sort of trenchant observation that we’ve come to associate with her.

  8. Teresa,A great post. I like reading anything at all about horse racing provided it’s honest and creative.Journalists do have implied credibility but over time bloggers can prove their credibility as well.The paper I write for – Down The Stretch – republishes these great archive columns by Milt Dunnell (http://downthestretchnewspaper.com/issue012/page05.html) from a time when the papers cared to make space for this type of creative reporting.Hopefully there will come a time when racing is covered regularly in Toronto dailies once again.CheersKeith

  9. Thank you for another very interesting blog entry. Agreed it’s not a great word for most of the excellent writing that you and several other blog writers publish out here, but your points of view and information is often more in-depth and on a different, more personal level that helps to evaluate horses and their connections, increasing my knowledge and helping me to form my own opinions. I enjoy the time that I spend perusing the various blogs. I’m glad we have both the reporters with the cold, hard facts and I’m also glad that I discovered the blogs.

  10. I see the first problem here being that professional reporters are considered the ones with the “cold, hard facts” and un”willing” to report the colorful stuff that makes racing so fun. This is not how it is. The tone of the professional work, when there is any anymore, is being set from above, by editors, b.s. consultants, publishers — people who frankly don’t give a crap about racing anymore, or much of anything for that matter, other than paying the mortgage and not dying. It’s a disgrace. Sports sections used to be such a pleasure. Go look at all the great newspaper writing from back in the day. Brooklyn Backstretch does, marveling, all the time. Now everything feels like such a drag. I think the reaction of the newspaper world to changing dynamics in the information sphere has been a colossal failure and abdication of responsibility. They have ceded control of the one thing they had that others could not — massed content.The reporters do not set the agenda; they only live inside it as best they can.That said, the second problem is the public’s, the gleeful way far too many purportedly intelligent people are burying “dead tree” media in the rush of self-congratulatory excitement for the new. The letters to the editor sections of newspapers are full of indignant readers canceling their subscriptions for some perceived slight or the straw man of slanted coverage, their tender sensibilities constantly affronted by stories they don’t agree with. And there it is — on the Internet, you can always find the writer/site that reinforces and agrees with your outlook and you can just keep company there. I was ripped by several people in a blog recently for not writing enough positive things about racing. Those people didn’t have a clue that I was out there working for them. Reporters not encouraged to provide broad perspective are still gathering critical information, and sometimes the vetting of that information is extremely complicated. It can take five years on a beat just to gain the trust of some people you want to cultivate as sources. Balancing the public’s right to know with the wants and needs of that source requires subtle expertise, and even the most experinced reporters can struggle to do justice in situations 99 percent of the bloggers will never confront. I’m not saying writing on the Web is not often wonderful, and, believe me, I learn (and enjoy) a lot reading blogs like this one, but everyone is splitting off into tribes rather than meeting somewhere, anywhere in consensus. Don’t misread: I love many voices, but there needs, for the good of the people, to be a central, authoratative — not authoritarian — source for news and information for all to gather around. I don’t believe this splitting off and doing your own thing and deriding centralized media is a good thing at all. And when the giant pool of professional newsgatherers and editors is finally winnowed down to just the trades, we’re not going to be as smart or well-informed as we probably will think we are. From my tired perspective on the inside, though, this good fight I’ve been fighting is just about over, and, as the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em (or get the hell out altogether). But, then, what do I know? I still think we should bring back variety and vaudeville. Just another racing fan longing for the past. – J.S.

  11. At the greatest meet of the year, Saratoga, I spend most of my time on the backside. For years, I have noted to my peers that I don’t see many of the “press boxers” there. I will note that I regularly see Dave Genning and Mike Veitch getting the facts but few others and I do know who they are. Now that I know who the blogger hosts are, I do see many more of them. I met Teresa on the backside and saw her there frequently.Blogs are useful and may become the norm for real information after you, of course, filter throught the bs.I’ve learned more about the history of racing from people like Teresa and my friend Jeanne than I have from contemporary writers.

  12. Anyone who spreads the love of our game, who has the horses’ backs, is a vital contributor, and the recognition of such should eclipse all petty rivalries.

  13. The word blog is stereotyped. When first started they were essentially “on-line diaries.” And now, they are so much more.Blogs have evolved. Some of the most visited sites on the web are blogs. Check-out these sites:huffingtonpost.comtechcrunch.comgizmodo.comengadget.com…they started as blogs, and are now so much more. Hundreds of thousands of hits, seed money, investors – you name it.Confusing blog with journalism is a scary thought because we live in a traditional society and enjoy a traditional sport. But if we fail to realize and recognize the power and the ability of this “new media” – whether it is blogs, social networks or anything in between – we will be left behind.I wrote about it this week myself saying, “New media is here to stay. Ignore at your own risk. News no longer needs the speed of the pony express, nor the pace of the printing press…Horse racing is an ongoing event, every day and all day. It is custom-made for the new media. Now, we just need to embrace it.”

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