The increasingly parochial observations of a casual runner in his fifties. Was "serious" about "the sport" until personal and sociocultural inevitabilities prevailed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The state of the running media, and an eponym

Since I'm distracted by being absorbed in long-ago years' worth of memories about Bill Luti and the roles he directly and indirectly played in my running and greater life, and because most of those memories illustrate why I'm a running lifer despite my relentless bitching, I'm hesitant to jump back into the mode of critic. But Mario Fraioli's curiosity about people's general take on the state of the running media is too enticing to ignore, and would be even if not for the flood of recent events illustrating the deeper reason I think Mario, who now qualifies as a long-timer in the industry, was even asking the question of his guest, Jeanne Mack, in the first place. The portion of interest starts at 51:40.

I will strike a bastard compromise here and lodge a few complaints without bothering to defend them at any length, because both the people who agree with them and the people who disagree have access to the same information I do, and I am certain that anyone with the motivation to even form a meaningful opinion is aware of this information.

When I consider what the term "running media" encompasses, I think of the few remaining professional (i.e., paying) running-centric outlets, which include Runner's World, Podium Runner (the online-only descendant of Competitor Running), Women's Running (a Podium brand) and the trail and ultra mags, whatever they are and whatever their number. Realistically, Letsrun, FloTrack (which includes the MileSplit network) and RunnerSpace are bigger media outlets for anyone following the competitive arm of running because they offer event coverage, even if it is often left wanting and almost no one involved with the FloTrack/MileSplit colossus can do basic math on the fly, which is not unusual generally but is strange, or used to be, among runners. Then you have the occasional track meets covered by, most often, NBC Sports.

Mario and Jeanne mention Citius Mag, which has had some clever stuff over the years. Its founder, Chris Chavez, is a deeply committed writer who has gone on to do work for Sports Illustrated and ESPN, but is still in charge of his original creation. Jeanne touches on the different ways people use running media -- some for race results, some for specific training information, others mainly for  motivation. They also mention podcasts, and in all honesty I haven't listened to many running-related ones besides Mario's (I can recommend some in other subject areas, though) and his operation is a lot more than a podcast; it's really more of an unusually interactive personal site by an uncommonly experienced and energetic running-writer. Mario notes that podcasts with a better chance of surviving are those that somehow connect to their listeners personally rather than consisting of stream-of-consciousness jabber, however entertaining, and little else. (I'm putting a few words in his mouth, but my fact-checkers went on another weed run.)

Even though I have written a bunch of stuff about training over the years -- and that's exactly what it feels like; neither especially useful nor unforgivably inane, just "stuff" -- and was a senior writer for Running Times for over ten years, that, in my mind, doesn't make me a member of the running media. I suppose the interviews I did, mostly for the New York Road Runners, counted as journalism. The 2008 piece I did about John Cook's group stands as my personal favorite for a number of reasons and counts as journalism. The Letsrun gang has taken lots of crap over the years for not being journalists, but that's unfair now. One or two may not be able to write in the kind of sentences most editors would tolerate or at times even recognize, but Jonathan Gault is excellent, and being bad at English doesn't mean being a bad journalist. The Letsrun guys (and I keep waiting in amusement for the first official female member of the team to be announced) ask exactly the kind of questions other people won't, and most of them are useful.

I believe I saw one comprehensive article about the Caster Semenya court decision that was intellectually honest, and it was here. No, Quillette is not part of the running media, but that raises a point I mentioned last time: Because running isn't widely covered, most news consumers, I would bet, get more information about major distance-running events from the places they get most of their news, e.g., major outlets like the NY Times and the Washington Post. Both of those august publications featured some of the most brazenly intellectually dishonest output I have ever seen written about track and field, which is all the more damning considering the reach of these outlets. Most of these columns (distinguishing them, critically, from "articles," as the latter demand fact-checking) were penned by people I would likely agree with on 80 to 90 percent of other issues. The impression I was left with was that if women want to go to war with each other over something in an attempt to promote their own platforms at the expense of reality, that's really nothing new in the human experience, and i this case, people like me who will never have daughters playing sports can just sit back and watch things unravel, unaffected by anything besides morbid curiosity.

The upshot is that everyday people are generally exposed to stories like Suzy Hamilton's sex work, the series of NOP disasters and the Semenya controversy (and note that the media will always favor the tawdry over the simply triumphant, all else the same) in non-dedicated outlets. As often as not, this has meant a take so terribly canted that no formal running publication could have mimicked it in good conscience.

The real issue is seeing more and more people ostensibly serving as journalists clamor for status at the expense of facts. If you have read any of the ugly articles and columns I have about any of the aforementioned situations, you may have noticed that this agenda was not what I will call recondite.

A while ago I reviewed a Runner's World Online article about the Mile High Mile that was riddled with basic errors, and noted that Rodale actually expects people to pay for such material now. My guess is that "real" outlets are well aware that they are competing with sites like Twitter, Letsrun and countless personal blogs to be the first to get stories out, and that kind of imperative can lead to sloppiness. Ultimately, they won't care unless they are able to connect their occasional mild slaughtering of reality to a drop in revenue, and that's unlikely at every step of the process.

I haven't mentioned Outside, which can claim status as a running-related outlet. Outside Online is mostly long-form clickbait these days, but at least it's long-form and a lot of it's well-constructed, even some of the nonsense. Alex Hutchinson's column is, as I note at every opportunity, sublime.

Finally, the greatest joke of all is where you'd expect it to be, at the offices of the sport's official governing body. The main USATF site is bad in all the ways you'd expect it to be if it has been assembled over a three-day period by a cadre of somewhat precocious 11-year-olds who ran out of Ritalin to snort sometime late on day two. The site is a mess of dead links, discordant menus, outdated info and occasional bad grammar (yeah, I know, but do the sports some of us like to make fun of have abominations like that as their online face?).

I don't know about all of the association sites, but the USATF-New England home page is next to useless at the moment. Here's what the calendar of upcoming events has looked like for at least a couple of days:

I know nobody's perfect, but come on.

And, not to bury the lede, but I have a training article up on Podium Runner. Notice that I'm in a more linky mood with that one. The eponym was not my idea and arose from difficulties in producing a succinct name for the workouts described.

I think this means that I have had at least one article in either RT, Triathlete, Competitor or Motiv Running or at least someplace paying for content, every year since 1999; I can't be sure about 2012. I think I have at least one more assignment coming and maybe two, and they won't be about the usual "stuff."

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