Having served for the last two years as a judge in the features/enterprise competition, I have at least a short-term perspective of the material submitted for consideration. The depth of work produced in 2008 was impressive. Forty-three pieces were submitted and several would have been worthy winners in a competition ultimately won by Vinnie Perrone, former racing writer at the Washington Post for a skillfully crafted piece that appeared in Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred. If any of this material was born in the “new media” is was not apparent.
I have no idea how many submissions were considered in the news/commentary category but a column written by Billy Reed after he and his granddaughter visited trainer Larry Jones’ barn at Churchill Downs on the morning after the death of Eight Belles last spring, published in the Thoroughbred Times, was the winner. Reed is a 65-year-old veteran of Sports Illustrated, Louisville Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald Leader. Bill Nack, also past 60, veteran of Sport Illustrated, biographer of Secretariat and author of several other books, was runner-up for a piece that appeared on ESPN.com.
The common thread is that the Eclipse winners, and the contenders, are old-media figures no longer working for old-media enterprises. They are first writers whose credentials predate the Internet, people whose perspective spans decades marked by voluminous bodies of work. They have seen much, all of which they bring to every theme, new and familiar. But, the framework within which they built careers – the “old print media” – is rapidly disappearing.
But let us not confuse blogging with a new wave.
While there is journalism on the Internet, the blog – an awful word in its own right – in its pure form is not the “new media.” It is certainly an adjunct, providing platforms and voice to those who are passionate about any number of things, including racing and a forum for debate but certainly fails to pass the litmus test of credibility and authority. It has been embraced by almost all mainstream newspapers as a vehicle to retain reader involvement but has generally failed to translate into a meaningful commodity in terms of monetary value.
The blog in its pure form is an unfiltered personal journal but works far more efficiently as a collective effort, the only example of which was The Rail, published briefly during the last Triple Crown by the New York Times. That effort, which lent exposure to the authors of several personal blogs, compiled submissions from dozens of individuals, posted new material throughout the day and required a staff.
More typically, the racing blog is a solitary effort of a person whose income is derived from real-world employment but who is passionate about the sport and perhaps a specific area – history, betting, politics or combination of the sport’s many facets. The trade publications, including the Daily Racing Form, have embraced the format largely in the manner of mainstream publications, but of the old-school racing writers who publish such sites, only Maryjean Wall, a fixture at the Lexington Herald-Leader for decades, maintains a blog in the pure sense. Others – including the one you are reading – depart sharply from the pure form.
A successful personal blog is one that elicits reaction from readers and becomes almost participatory. While the authors of scores of racing blogs – many well done and thoughtfully written -- have successfully broadened the dialogue, they have contributed little to either the journalism or literature of racing. Before that happens, another step or two in the evolutionary process will be required that will determine its place in a changing landscape. At the moment, so called “citizen journalists” are essentially hobbyists.
A good deal of the fodder of digital subject-matter in this realm centers upon the changing media landscape.
Writing in the Atlantic, Michael Hirschorn provides a glimpse at what looms as a dramatic development in the media world that could see a change in the paper of record unimaginable only a few years ago.
“VIRTUALLY ALL THE predictions about the death of old media have assumed a comfortingly long time frame for the end of print—the moment when, amid a panoply of flashing lights, press conferences, and elegiac reminiscences, the newspaper presses stop rolling and news goes entirely digital. Most of these scenarios assume a gradual crossing-over, almost like the migration of dunes, as behaviors change, paradigms shift, and the digital future heaves fully into view. The thinking goes that the existing brands—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal—will be the ones making that transition, challenged but still dominant as sources of original reporting.
But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if The New York Times goes out of business—like, this May?
It’s certainly plausible. Earnings reports released by the New York Times Company in October indicate that drastic measures will have to be taken over the next five months or the paper will default on some $400million in debt. With more than $1billion in debt already on the books, only $46million in cash reserves as of October, and no clear way to tap into the capital markets (the company’s debt was recently reduced to junk status), the paper’s future doesn’t look good …
“ … The collapse of daily print journalism will mean many things. For those of us old enough to still care about going out on a Sunday morning for our doorstop edition of The Times, it will mean the end of a certain kind of civilized ritual that has defined most of our adult lives. It will also mean the end of a certain kind of quasi-bohemian urban existence for the thousands of smart middle-class writers, journalists, and public intellectuals who have, until now, lived semi-charmed kinds of lives of the mind. And it will seriously damage the press’s ability to serve as a bulwark of democracy. Internet purists may maintain that the Web will throw up a new pro-am class of citizen journalists to fill the void, but for now, at least, there’s no online substitute for institutions that can marshal years of well-developed sourcing and reporting experience—not to mention the resources to, say, send journalists leapfrogging between Mumbai and Islamabad to decode the complexities of the India-Pakistan conflict. “
At the moment, newspapers lack the resources to send journalists leapfrogging from Miami to Lexington, Louisville, Baltimore, New York and Saratoga, as was once the practice for those who once tilled these fields -- a now virtually extinct breed of racing journalists –people who thought nothing of covering the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah on Saturday and the Santa Anita on Sunday.
Nothing currently in racing’s digital space can possibly fill this void and there is no new breed.
That ship has sailed – and sunk. --PM