We used to love to read the balanced reporting that Brooklyn Backstretch
Blogposted…. but then a NYRA press pass was issued and nary a critical word
about NY racing has been posted since…We have dropped that blog ad (sic) taken
up with Left at the Gate.
This comment was posted several months ago at the excellent Pull the Pocket, where harness racing, Thoroughbreds, and media are covered with equal insight and perspicuity. It certainly gave me pause—was it true? Did a press pass mean that I had begun to look at New York racing with a softer eye?
My first instinct was no—in the first place, with a few exceptions, the writing here has focused mostly on the positives in racing (not as in “positive” drug tests). But the comment led me to think about the various ways in which writing is influenced by connections, and what sorts of disclosure/responsibility is warranted.
I’ve been an Anna House volunteer for several years, and I’ve recently been appointed to its board. Other board members and major donors are significant figures in racing on whom, on occasion, I have turned a critical eye. I am now less likely to do that, as my commitment to the success of the Belmont Child Care is more important than my voicing an opinion on someone affiliated with it, and the decision to become part of an organization sometimes means willingly relinquishing the right to criticize it or its members.
A number of bloggers have, in the last few months, been offered use of a past performance database in exchange for a link and attribution each time information from that database is used. It’s a freebie, I like it, and I take advantage of it to research horses and trainers about whom I write. Is that compromising?
We are sometimes sent review copies of books, in the hope of a little free advertising in the form of a review. Sometimes, I get books written by people I know. I like getting the books and I usually like the authors–does that mean that I won’t say anything negative about the book? Probably not. But I am definitely more careful about how I phrase my criticism, because I’ve got to talk to the people I’m criticizing–and maybe that’s a good thing, that opinion becomes more considered, more careful?
I have occasionally been offered seats and meals at tracks I’ve visited and about which I’ve written. Do such offers influence my view of the place? I’d like to think not, but it would be hard to argue otherwise.
Nearly all of these items would, I think, in the world of journalism, represent compromised integrity: being the recipient of free stuff makes one beholden to the giver, and thus integrity is out the window. How can one write objectively about people or organizations from which one gets gifts?
Or revenue? How should accepting advertising from various racing entities affect coverage? One might say it shouldn’t…but it’s hard to believe that being critical of an advertiser would result in renewal of the advertising, one of the few sources of revenue for a self-published writer.
So—should unaffiliated writers, bloggers, internet reporters be held to that standard? Should we politely decline such offers? Should we disclose the gifts when we write about them? Or should we just say, “Yippee! Woo-hoo! Free stuff! Bring it on! Thanks a LOT!” Blogging does indeed have its privileges, and lack of responsibility/accountability is one of them (whereas, for instance, getting paid is not).
As for my critical stance, or lack thereof, with NYRA: It is, I suppose, entirely possible that my attitude changed once I started heading to the races every week with a media pass. But I think that that’s less about a sense of obligation, and more about a sense of responsibility. When I realized that it was quite likely that I would be weekly looking in the eye the people that I was writing about, I knew that I would need to feel comfortable saying whatever I write to somebody’s face, with facts to back up what I thought. I think that I became more measured, and more likely to ask questions about an issue, attempting to be more informed about it, before writing about it,
And that, my friends, is the end of this edition of Brooklyn Backstretch navel-gazing. Tomorrow: a look at some of those free books I’ve been reading.