December 3, 2009

A Principal of Authority

Growing up in New Jersey, the Newark Star-Ledger was our local newspaper and the sports section was a daily accompaniment to my breakfast. I even had a paper route when I was thirteen, my Sunday morning deliveries capped off by driving lessons with my father. Each morning of my adolescence and teen years started with reading Jerry Izenberg at Large. He was as entertaining as he was provocative, fearless in his criticism of teams, coaches, players and organizations and exultant in his praise. Though he was one of many across the country, he established himself as a principal of authority with literary prose that made me laugh, cry and most importantly, connect. I still have a copy of his August 3rd, 1979 column of New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, killed the day before in a plane crash. Cycling is in both an awkward, and enviable, position. Being relatively young on the modern American sports scene there has yet to be an established voice that resonates with the necessary criticism and praise within the sport and the industry. With cell phones, text messaging, email blasts, facebook, twitter and blogs, everyone has the tools to suddenly express their opinions. But just because I ride a bike doesn’t instantly make me an expert on frame design, and more importantly, doesn’t put me in a position to condemn other manufacturers that I may believe are inferior. There are many self-labeled experts, granting themselves authority on every debatable topic, and some have become quite successful, albeit for different reasons. Zagat’s is probably the best example. While it’s a fantastic survey tool, Zagat is not an authority on restaurants, just on surveys. Robert Parker has rightfully established himself as an authority on wine, and Andrew Harper (a pseudonym) has spent 30 years establishing himself as an authority on travel. So who is the principal of authority in cycling? Over the past few weeks, much of the “drama” written has centered on rumors and news for the sake of, or lack of, news. In the span of one week, multiple articles circulating the web covered the returns of Michael Rasmussen and Alexander Vinokourov, which grand tour Carlos Sastre might ride and banned doper turned confessor Bernard Kohl opening a bike shop in Vienna. Just because someone says it, and posts it, doesn’t necessarily make it newsworthy, or even interesting for that matter. Do any of the journalists recall Vinokourov lambasting the sport as he tested positive for blood doping during the 2007 Tour de France? Do these same journalists remember Rasmussen acting like a child, lying to everyone about his whereabouts during that same Tour? Just because these riders are returning doesn’t mean we have to excuse what they did, provide the fanfare to celebrate their return, or patronize their new bike shop. Perhaps the bigger story should be the lifetime ban of Austrian Christian Pfannberger. But in the time this story was released on Cyclingnews.com on Sunday Nov. 22, to Monday November 23 at noon, there were already 16 additional news posts. The transmittance of information has become so instantaneous, there is little time for anything important to sink in before the next news item is posted. How about the doctor that was recently convicted on six counts of injuring two cyclists with his car? Why has there not been more written on this? Who are the editors, columnists, journalists covering this? Outside of Patrick Brady’s detailed reporting from the trial, no one. And that is a shame. Is News for the sake of news, or for the sake of putting up something to satisfy our craving for instant information, worthy, or just information? What is our culture of cycling? What importance does it have beyond trying to create a media superstar or increase product sales? We already suffer from information overload, perhaps its time to slow down and provide less information. Through better journalism, deliver something poignant, something to ponder, something that makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me feel connected. I still listen to sports on the radio. There is something about a pictureless broadcast that transcends the visual image, allows me to paint my own colorful picture, and constructs more drama. There have been hundreds of blogs written about Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll for their lack of insightful race coverage and pointless verbosity. Regardless of the work they do and the commentary they provide, I don’t need a voice to go with the spectacular images of the peloton hammering over the cobbles of Roubaix or ascending Alpe d’Huez. I simply press mute and select the appropriate music.



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