Journalism. Good journalism. What is it and how does it impact the equine industry? And, how can we collectively support and encourage it within our sport?
Recently, I read a Heels Down Media blog discussing the importance of supporting good journalism in our sport. It got me thinking about journalism and the role it plays. What is good journalism? How does it impact our sport? How can we support and encourage it? I don’t have the answers. I also won’t act like equestrian sports journalism is at all identical to real-world news journalism; good journalism is good journalism in any realm, but clearly, those of us covering the equine world don’t face nearly the same challenges as real-world journalists.
“It’s critical to get the facts right. Once it’s printed, it becomes Truth.” – Told to me by a source I worked with on Nautical, circa 2015.
“I think all good reporting is the same thing – the best attainable version of the truth.” – Carl Bernstein
“Our best today; better tomorrow.” – Ben Bradlee
These three quotes resonate with me because they’re good journalism, defined. I read multiple equestrian media outlets — American and international — and, like most, I read the comments. With every announcement from the sport’s governing bodies, I see commenters by the dozen calling for transparency. That’s the journalists’ duty – to get the facts, get them straight and let the readers decide for themselves.
Without journalism in our sport, nobody would know what’s happening, what the sport’s governing bodies are doing or why they’re doing it, what issues are impacting an industry, who won what and how, or be able to enjoy reading a profile on their favorite athletes. Without journalism, the very real, tough topics would never be covered. To name examples: deaths in eventing, SafeSport, the Jimmy Williams scandal, Thoroughbred racing’s recent situations, the decisions by the AERC and ADS to leave the USEF, the SAFE Act and soring in Tennessee Walking Horses, among numerous other difficult, delicate, controversial, and yet important truths and topics.
Or, rather, people would perhaps know what’s happening, but only through the rumor mill, which is generally unreliable, lacking in ethics, and heavy on sensationalism. That’s not to say journalism’s perfect. It’s not and never has been. Why? Because journalists are human, they’re mortal, they make mistakes and have lapses in judgement. They can only work with the information they’re given. But, they’re also more reliable and ethical than the rumor mill because there are, for real-world journalists at least, standards to which they are held, and I’d say those same standards can, should be, and at times are applied in our sport.
So, how do we recognize and support good journalism?
- Objectivity. No one, not even the best “real-world” journalists are perfectly objective. That, I personally believe, is virtually impossible. But the best journalists, anywhere, ensure their personal opinions don’t taint their work. Editorials and opinion pieces are clearly labeled, as are sponsored articles. Word choice is another cue. Is sensationalized, loaded language used? Are emotional appeals made? Or is a neutral tone kept throughout?
- Accuracy. Are sources cited and quotes attributed appropriately? Are relevant links to further information included? In short, does the writer “show their work” so readers understand where the information originated?
- Read it. The best way to show support is to read our work. Read it, share it, spread the word, drop a like, leave a comment if you’re inclined, but read it.
- Be an informed consumer. Think critically, question everything, and get news from multiple sources. Good journalists think critically, question everything, and get news from multiple sources – readers should do the same. It’s the only way to get a complete picture of the facts.
- Subscribe. That doesn’t necessarily mean a “paid subscription” either; if you want and can afford to subscribe to a magazine, do it. Otherwise, visit websites rather than relying exclusively on social media (algorithms are fickle and filter things, face it), follow your favorite sites and even favorite writers on social media, subscribe to a site’s newsletter if that’s your thing. Basically, do what you can to ensure the good stuff is where you can access it.
The quality of journalism is dictated by what the people choose to consume. Journalists can release excellent, accurate content, but if no one reads, watches, or listens to it, then it’s not fulfilling its mission to serve and inform the people. Serious, news-oriented journalism is important, and I firmly believe we need more of it in our sport. Equally important is to keep a sense of humor and fun because, at the end of the day, we’re still covering a sport. It’s knowing the balance and how to strike it.