Written by Brendan O'Meara

There was an interesting debate of sorts over at the horse racing sun-of-our-universe the Paulick Report about the decline of racing media. How can you blame newspapers for cutting staff on a sport less popular than hockey?

As an aside, who has missed hockey? Very few. If horse racing went away, who would miss it? Again, very few. Nobody wants to see either go away for good. They serve a purpose, albeit a small one.

Read the comments of the racing media thread. Combing through all of them is daunting. It’s hard to advocate for more racing coverage when the newspaper-reading population still gets its news on the doorstep. I only buy a newspaper when I’m moving and need to wrap my glassware or need to start a fire. Ever see a Saratogian go up in flames? It may ignite an inept fire, but it’s fire no less.

The racing press did itself no favors by relying too heavily on racetrack press releases. Team Valor’s Barry Irwin said it best in the thread when he wrote, “… Lttle remembered or known fact is that some track publicists have put full time Turf Writers out of work. Bob Benoit, when publicity director at Hollywood Park, once took directions from Marj Everett. She was thin skinned. She did not like to read some of the stuff in the daily newspapers written by Turf Writers.

“Bob came up with an idea: he would provide copy for the newspapers for free. The newspapers liked it because they could take their TW off the payroll … The tracks like it because they get their message and only their message across. The publications like it because it costs them nothing.”

For cheap newspapers and PR folks, this is a match made in some sort of Heaven.

The press releases most of us reporters get come straight from, ahem, the horse’s mouth. We get quotes from trainers, jockeys, and owners right to our inboxes. Helps fill our column space. When I get those quotes, it means I don’t have to call up a trainer or see him in person. This is lazy.

I have no issue with this for regular old race coverage, especially if I’m writing a column about the Cigar Mile down at Aqueduct and I’m writing from my home office in Saratoga Springs.
The releases also come with full-on race stories written by Jon Forbes, Ashley Herriman, and Jenny Kellner. Why would a newspaper hire a turf writer when it gets competently written stories for nothing. Nothing!

Newspapers are in this vegetative coma with a padlock on the plug. At least the Titanic had the wherewithal to sink with dignity.

There isn’t a leg to stand on. Newspapers would staff turf writers if readers demanded it. But as Brisnet’s Ed DeRosa noted in the comments, Lexington, KY, the horse breeding capital of the world, doesn’t have a full-time turf writer at its Herald-Leader, “A sad commentary on how the editors of Lexington's newspaper view the importance of ‘Kentucky's signature industry’.”

I have to agree.

Newspapers are the Fourth Estate, the watchdogs. And what happens when there aren’t any reporters doing the work, asking the questions? Where do you get your information? You guessed it. The government or, in this case, the horse business. And they don’t have a carpet big enough to sweep all the dirt under.

If Life At Ten hobbles around the track and nobody is there to report it, did it ever happen? Did she make a sound?