Racing ahead of the curve?

Unlike racing (at least in New York), hockey has an off-season. Which is not to say that hockey news stops between the hoisting of the Stanley Cup in June and the opening of training camps in September: salary cap management, off-season trades, and players’ union peccadilloes all get their share of ink as we impatiently wait for the ice to be laid down.

And this year, the late summer’s hot topic might just be something that we in racing have been wrestling with for years, the old blogger vs. mainstream media debate.

It’s hard to imagine that tradition-bound racing is ahead of the curve in much of anything these days, but compared to the folks at the NHL, racing media looks absolutely progressive.

I’ve lost count of the number of hockey websites that have discussed this issue, but to get a general sense of the conversation, you can check out the following:

The MSM Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks” Rick Stephens at Allhabs.net, September 4

From Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy:

NHL teams want bloggers banned from visitors’ locker rooms,” August 26

Leaked: NHL guidelines for how teams credential bloggers,” August 26

Here, Wyshynski links to a number of hockey sites on the topic.

And this week, the matter got the attention of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.

A few quotations, all from Wyshynski, that might sound familiar:

While the whole “bloggers vs. mainstream media” fight has grown wearisome — with a few notable exceptions — the fight for respect from media-relations gatekeepers has never been more imperative for the alt-hockey media.

It’s a fight against misconceptions, like the one voiced on Monday’s conference call about bloggers having “no accountability” … in a media landscape that now sees nearly every prominent hockey blog with some affiliation to a large, corporate network. It’s not 2006 anymore; everyone has a boss to complain to now.

(In full disclosure: I’m a member of the Profession Hockey Writers Association, and working to help determine the eligibility of bloggers for PHWA membership.)

…one Western Conference team, during this week’s call, said no bloggers are getting in their building “without a ticket.”

Wyshynski also published the draft of the NHL’s “on-line services” credentialing guidelines:

The policy will be to recognize and credential for on-line services that meets all the following criteria:

1.  Is part of a national news gathering agency

2.  Reaches a broad audience

3.  Produces original content

4.  Has an established record of developing original content

5.  Employs full-time journalists

Press Boxes remain the domain of the individual clubs for regular season games. If any of the member clubs determine it is in that organization’s best interest to credential an on-line service not meeting the above criteria, the following guidelines will be met:

1.  Access will not [emphasis theirs] be granted to visiting club’s locker rooms and visiting team personnel media availabilities unless provided by prior written consent.

2.  Every best effort must be made to provide persons not meeting the above criteria with a separate area either outside of the pressbox or in a common, designated location within the press seating area.

3.  Credential issued will have some type of differentiation from standard credential so area security and visiting team PR can easily identify.

When I first started to knock on the media door in racing, in the summer of 2008, I met some resistance; Jessica Chapel and I were both spending the summer in Saratoga, and we were frustrated by what seemed to be contrived roadblocks constructed by some members of the NYRA press office.

But we also found a number of receptive ears at NYRA, and while neither of us made it to the press box that summer, we were granted paddock, winner’s circle, and backstretch access: no differentiated scarlet “B” for “Blogger” adorned our clothing, and we had as much opportunity as anyone else to try to track down stories and talk to trainers, jockeys, and owners.

Earlier that year, in April, Alan Mann of Left at the Gate live-blogged Wood Memorial Day from the Aqueduct press box, and I don’t recall anything apocalyptic happening, unless you count Dana Byerly’s flying telephone as she hit the Wood trifecta.

In some ways, those rebel bloggers days seem as far away as the days of horses running—gasp!—at least once a month. I have been credentialed and given press box access at more than half a dozen tracks since then; in fact, I’ve never been denied credentials any time I’ve requested them, and I am not alone: every press box I’ve been in lately has featured a healthy contingent of people writing strictly for the internet, for their own websites or for internet-only publications.

Don’t get me wrong: this is not an “us vs. them” mentality, even as the NHL tries to depict it as such. I love writing for this site and for Belmontstakes.com, and I love writing for the Saratogian and Thoroughbred Times. It seems to me that racing has done rather a fine job of embracing new media and new media members; the National Turf Writers’ Association, of which I am a member, considers for its writing awards work that’s not affiliated with a newspaper or magazine.

I’ve wondered whether I would have been accepted as a member of the NTWA strictly on the merits of Brooklyn Backstretch, without print publications to my credit.  I’ll never know, but having the majority of my writing appear here doesn’t seem to have been a disadvantage in the eyes of the membership that voted for me. It doesn’t appear that our hockey blogging brethren yet enjoy the same respect from their mainstream media counterparts.

We are not all the way there yet: the guidelines for the 2009 media Eclipse Awards read as follows:

Print submissions (news/commentary writing, feature/enterprise writing and photography) must have been published in a paid-circulation publication OR on the Internet at a web site that is a same-name affiliate of a paid-circulation publication or recognized broadcast news organization (e.g., The Blood-Horse Interactive, the Boston Globe Online, MSNBC).

I have not been able to locate the guidelines for the 2010 awards, but even if some of those old roadblocks are still in place, racing deserves credit for its openness to new media, and for, to a certain degree, boldly going where few sports have gone before.

If you’re a racing blogger, a mainstream media type, or a racetrack press office inhabitant, I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences, whether they are similar to or different from what I’ve described. And readers…where do you get your racing news?  I’m guessing that it’s a mix of new and old media, but do weigh in.

8 thoughts on “Racing ahead of the curve?

  1. Great piece…writers should be judged on the quality of their work not their affiliation. I realize that “quality” is a subjective thing but I prefer that over the black and white division of mainstream vs blogger or any other artificial construct.
    And, kudos to you for leading the charge for “non-traditional media types” (I hate the word ‘bloggers’) in the racing world — you have done more for that cause than anyone.
    Kevin

  2. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I’m so used to thinking of racing playing catch up, but when it comes to digital and independent media and credentialing, racing’s out in front. And not only in granting credentials, but in issuing them with so few restrictions. I can’t think of an instance where I was warned off from blogging or tweeting anything. That’s a marked difference from football, baseball, college sports, etc., where officials issue guidelines insisting that there be no tweeting during practice, or no blogging (or no blogging more than X updates) during live play.

    NYRA’s been pretty progressive since 2008, but there are a couple of others I think deserve credit as early adopters: Suffolk Downs, which has been been consistently welcoming to me since 2004 (and officially so since 2007, when they first credentialed me), and the Breeders’ Cup, which added Alan Mann to their site in 2007 and credentialed him and other blogger-independents for that year’s event at Monmouth.

  3. I like both the mainstream media and the blogger’s view. Different perspectives for one thing. And I can access online media (including the traditional publications) that I might not otherwise have access to without spending a fortune in subscription costs.

  4. I think racing is very progressive. I’ve contacted Track operators in the past for quotes, facts etc and they are always cooperative.

    Regarding media outlets and tracks, more and more they themselves are using bloggers. I think it is a matter of economics. If you are a media outlet or track operator, why not be nice to bloggers so you can than use their talents.

    Many publications now use talented bloggers on their websites to write or blog, often paying them nothing or next to nothing, which is far, far less than they would have to pay a full time writer.

  5. Kevin, thanks for those kind words, and I hate “blogger,” too.

    Jessica–thanks for pointing that out, especially given the Breeders’ Cup’s reputation for being unresponsive and out of touch.

    Excellent point, Linda.

    Robert–my experiences on all points is similar to what you write, though I will say that my work for Belmontstakes.com does not, fortunately, fall into the “nothing or next to nothing” category.

    Matthew–Here’s NYRA’s credential policy, and the blogging credential guidelines are:

    In order to receive a press credential from The New York Racing Association, Inc., an internet journalist’s website must meet the following qualifications:

    • Content – The website must contain predominantly thoroughbred racing content, and that content must be unique and original in nature.
    • Timely – The website must publish articles in a timely manner.
    • Consistent – The website must cover racing on a consistent basis.
    • Prudent – The website must exercise good judgment and common sense.
    • Responsible – The website must illustrate fair and responsible reporting standards, per the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, located online at http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp.
    • Advertising – The website must not contain advertising from non-authorized gambling operations. In addition, the website should not contain a disproportionate amount of advertising to content.
    • Photography – Their website must not sell photos for their own profit.

    The NYRA press office will determine whether or not an internet journalist receives press credentials based on their website’s conformation with the above qualifications. All decisions are final.

    NYRA reserves the right to revoke credentials for any reason, including non-conformation with the above guidelines or improper conduct while at the track.

    Internet journalists who are granted access to the press box and other areas inside the track grounds are expected to act professionally at all times. Those who do not observe the practices of professional decorum run the risk of being ejected from the track, and barred from future access.

  6. I’m not a racing blogger, a mainstream media type, or a racetrack press office inhabitant. Just a racing fan. And from that standpoint, I find your racing coverage to be extremely interesting and informative. So however they label you – – writer, correspondent, journalist, blogger – – just keep it up, and know that your fans greatly appreciate your work.

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