I have tried to catch up on a little reading the last several weeks. I forgot how good for the mind and soul it is to read something that I am not clicking to read all day.
One book I grabbed was by sportswriter John Feinstein called One on One. I've always enjoyed his writing, and had not read one of his books since The Last Amateurs, about the Patriot League way back in the late 1990's, so I figured it was time. I didn't love the book but one set of stories - on Tennis - were pretty compelling.
Tennis, like boxing and horse racing, has left much of the North American's public's consciousness the last twenty or so years. The days of Borg and McEnroe ( I remember getting up early on Sunday's as a kid for Wimbledon, just because of them) are long gone, and with them, so seemingly did Tennis's popularity.
Feinstein laments (rants) that the Tennis media is one of the reasons for its downfall. He says (paraphrasing) that those who cover and broadcast the sport carried water for it - "cheerleading" at every turn. Players, he says, could not be criticized, the Tennis association spoon-fed stories which were repeated, its problems were never broached, and this created a culture of a lack of accountability. He also spoke of the insular nature of tennis where policy dictated the media had almost no access to cover the sport, unlike golf, or other sports where the media could be in the locker room at almost all times.
Sour grapes perhaps, but the parallel between it and horse racing was not lost on me.
Over the years the racing media has held the same labels. Press releases were spoon fed and copied, too many friends or friends of friends were in charge where media members would not be critical of them, or their decisions, should they have made a poor one. Bad news or bad policy was apologized for, or swept away. You've heard the criticisms of the racing media, so I won't bore you any longer.
Although for years and years I agreed with that; I still do to some degree of course (we can find examples almost each week in some quarters). But I think the horse racing media - in 2014 - is much different than even five years ago. It's much better.
Beyer is not copying a Gulfstream press release about a Rainbow Six, he is writing columns saying why its a bankroll killer and a sucker bet. Other columnists like John Pricci are doing what they do, without any hesitation. Finley, through his columns and his thrice weekly paper "Harness Racing Update" does not shy away from the problems.
Sure, that's the columnists you might say. But it's more than the usuals like Beyer and Pricci.
Paulick will try and tell what's what, despite being a slave to advertising (it's how he pays the bills, after all). Perhaps he has gotten more secure with his website as a long-term entity, I don't know. But he has angered several of his "friends" in the sport when he feels they are hurting it. He has for years now.
Read the Bloodhorse. The stories covered are not pablum, spoon-fed stud farm releases, or horsemen group claptrap. They're covering bettor boycotts, drug issues, and people like Tom LaMarra have columns where they can express themselves regarding the problems of the sport.
Overall, when you read a "handle down again" story in 2014, there is some analysis. It's not all the "weather was bad" or "well, the Olympics were this month" - although that still happens (think "field size" and "Churchill Downs" recently). Tough questions are being asked.
People (I am guilty of it when I thought it deserved) slam the racing media relentlessly. But if we look at things dispassionately, I firmly believe it has gotten much better the last eight to ten years.
Maybe it's because of social media, blogs, horseplayer groups, and others who help get an alternative point of view out, or who analyze policy and dig deeper. Perhaps it's because the industry has fallen so far the last eight years that everyone is fed up. Or perhaps this change only exists in my readings, and is wrong. I don't really know.
But I think things have changed. The media - possibly more so than ever before - has done a much better job being curious; by not taking things at face value. By being journalists.
Racing is better for it.
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