Vic Zast

From the perspective of being an owner, an industry pioneer in corporate sponsorship, a track president and fan, Vic Zast writes the "Destinations" column for The Blood-Horse. His five-star ratings of international events have shed light on racing in all corners of the globe - from England, Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai to Japan.

Vic is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com, a columnist for the Illinois Racing News and has written on racing for ESPN.com, National Public radio and The Age, Australia's leading daily.

Vic makes his home in Chicago and lives in Saratoga Springs in August.

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Monday, July 27, 2009


Making Everything Accessible Makes Nothing Meaningful


(SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – July 27, 2009) It was several years ago that the National Thoroughbred Racing Association proclaimed that the Internet was the media vehicle by which news about horse racing would be disseminated. Regardless of how smart you might think the hired hands at the NTRA are, they got this one correct. Even writers who work for a newspaper or magazine are now spending most of their time crafting work for their employers’ Web sites.

This past week, Ann Arbor, Michigan – home to the esteemed University of Michigan – became the latest city without its own newspaper. The century-old periodical became AnnArbor.com, restricting its updates to twice weekly. Even in a community of doctors, lawyers, educators and a preponderance of white-collared professionals, consumers are refusing to purchase a conventional newspaper when there’s free content everywhere around them digitally. Pretty soon, the list we’ll be talking about is the list of cities that still have a newspaper, not the list of cities that have lost theirs.

The Internet allows people to know what is happening now, not what had happened yesterday. With its ability to communicate in real time and provide readers a chance to interact, the Internet’s superiority in pure speed of delivery enables it to overwhelm the existing competition without difficulty. Regardless of where the country is headed, this is still a society in which performance is relevant. In effect, the Internet’s incomparable advantages led to a way-too convenient fallback for a sport facing lack of interest.

Realizing the power of cyberspace first, horse racing’s fans took to using the Internet in ways that horse racing’s establishment were just discovering. Hatching site after site devoted to sharing opinions, an underground community of inter-activity blossomed. The trade press quickly followed, transferring much what was already written for print into articles that readers could download and comment on. There you had it, an instantaneous new medium – so ingrained in how we think and behave that it’s almost as if those retired to the time machine didn’t ever exist.

Today the Internet provides far more horse racing information than newspapers and magazines ever did. The sheer number of horse racing sites is staggering. Betting sites abound as a result of a unique legislative exemption. Entries, results, replays and live broadcasts from racetracks are as close to the market as the click of a mouse. Bloggers have connected the sport in unprecedented fashion, creating a world in which individuals of like interest are able to have a voice, share complaints, float ideas and communicate. So what’s wrong with this picture? I’d say plenty.

In the first place, anyone able to string a noun with a verb considers himself qualified as a writer, and if he’s alone in his opinion, he starts a Web site. Written items, hastily produced, rarely pass through a filter. Content providers espouse positions that are totally impractical but get traction because they’re emotion-charged. People without the wide view of how one thing impacts another portray themselves as experts. Too many word merchants are impressed with the fact that their thoughts are being published than with what their ideas represent in gray matter.

The racetracks, Breeders’ Cup, NTRA and Jockey Club all post their releases on Facebook.com. As a result, an announcement that Saratoga Racecourse will celebrate Midsummer St. Patrick’s Day bears the same editorial weight as a story about Rachel Alexandra. As affordable content, just about anything written by a publicist finds a home on the Internet. Gullible readers believe what they read, regardless of what’s written. What’s written is often drivel. The compilation sites can be garbage dumps, endowing frivolous clips with prime showcase real estate.

In one sense, this explains why the gulf between fans and the sport’s organizers is becoming wider. The press, once a conduit for communications, is being replaced by an audience, and the audience is easier for the establishment to deal with. To sweep challenges under the rug, all the establishment does is issue another un-edited, handy-for-the-Web-sites-to-use press notice – something bogus perhaps to the effect that racing’s leaders are supportive of fan organizations or they’re listening to fans and changes are coming. The old system in which news releases were passed along to turf writers who, in turn, asked some questions, checked the facts and gave their own view on their newsworthiness is outdated. The new media is built to make everything accessible, so that nothing becomes meaningful.

In the old days, less was more. What people read was considered precious. That which a person wrote represented the knowledge of someone who knew what he was writing about. A reader knew to take his time, peruse a piece carefully, gather his thoughts and form an opinion. A complaint with the status quo wasn’t a rant that was dashed off. When an item received the imprimatur of the managing editor, you knew it was fit to be read. Now, it’s wham bam, thank you ma’am. What’s the latest tweet on Twitter?

Regardless of the wonders of technology, there remains a small body of industry experts practicing the art of communication at the highest level. Even though there is much to be sorted out on how the Internet will serve as mainstream media, journalism shouldn’t be outsourced to hucksters and grousers. There’s a place in cyberspace apart of rumor and spin doctoring for professionals to write the truth and edit the news appropriately. But someone must create it. Packing 100 pounds of junk in a size eight trunk isn’t cutting it.

What we know, nonetheless, is that digital communications are ineluctably becoming the preferred means of news travel. It would behoove those who deal in the written word to make it a vehicle they’re proud of.





Written by Vic Zast

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