Where have all the rac­ing jour­nal­ists gone?

With writ­ers be­ing laid off, we could help by giv­ing news­pa­pers some top-class mid­week sport

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Racing - CHAR­LIE BROOKS

Early last month, I at­tended the rac­ing writ­ers’ an­nual lunch in Lon­don. A cou­ple of decades ago, it was a tremen­dous booze-up, and it took days to get home. Those shenani­gans were a dis­tant mem­ory as I scanned the room try­ing to iden­tify the writ­ers among their guests. But many have gone; some to their grave, but most to the dole queue.

The mem­ory of that dis­ap­point­ment was rudely awak­ened when a friend rang me, in­can­des­cent with rage. The tar­get of his wrath was an­other news­pa­per ax­ing its rac­ing cor­re­spon­dent.

What was re­vealed to me in that con­ver­sa­tion was that most gen­er­ally in­tel­li­gent, welle­d­u­cated in­di­vid­u­als be­tween the age of 40 and 60 that I know do not have a clue as to what dam­age the in­ter­net is do­ing to trusted me­dia out­lets that they have al­ways taken for granted.

The tech gi­ants take 87 per cent of our dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue, which means other pub­lish­ers have to share the re­main­der to sus­tain jour­nal­ism. That equates to around £2bil­lion of ad­ver­tis­ing lost by the news­pa­per in­dus­try over the past decade, ac­cord­ing to a Depart­ment for Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport re­port last April.

One could ar­gue that what comes around, goes around; that mod­ern tech­nol­ogy is bound to change the land­scape. But the land­scape should be a level play­ing field, and it is not.

News­pa­pers may not al­ways get their facts com­pletely right, but they do have to carry the sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial bur­den of try­ing to do so. Not so the tech gi­ants, who carry out the func­tion of be­ing pub­lish­ers and yet ac­cept none of the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties; they seem to in­vest next to noth­ing in jour­nal­ism and, worse still, ef­fec­tively steal it. And they fa­cil­i­tate the spread of fake news and pro­pa­ganda on their plat­forms that are funded di­rectly, ac­cord­ing to Face­book’s Mark Zucker­berg, by ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enues.

So, ev­ery time they swal­low up ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue from news­pa­pers, do not be sur­prised that those pub­li­ca­tions have to cut costs and em­ploy fewer jour­nal­ists. The loss of golf and rac­ing cor­re­spon­dents is just the be­gin­ning, so my friends need to pre­pare them­selves for the day when their trusted news­pa­per no longer ap­pears in print at all.

Un­for­tu­nately, to halt this de­cline, rac­ing has done lit­tle to pre­serve its pres­ence on the sports pages. Cram­ming all its best races out­side the few mid­week fes­ti­vals into Satur­day fix­tures means that, Mon­day to Fri­day, news­pa­pers have pre­cious lit­tle top-class ac­tion to stir the heart rates of sports ed­i­tors.

This point was well ar­tic­u­lated by Ju­lian Mus­cat last week; an­other first-class jour­nal­ist who now finds refuge on the pages of the spe­cial­ist Rac­ing Post, rather than a generic na­tional news­pa­per.

An ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion to stem the loss of rac­ing’s trac­tion would be to move one top-qual­ity fix­ture from ev­ery Satur­day to a Wed­nes­day.

Fans could fac­tor a mid­week trip to the races into their di­aries and news­pa­pers would have some­thing to pub­lish on Wed­nes­days and Thurs­days other than a thread­bare glance for­wards to the week­end.

Such an un­der­tak­ing is not as easy as it sounds – race­courses tend to race when it suits them, not the sport in gen­eral. But there are cen­tral fi­nan­cial pul­leys and levers that can be de­ployed.

For the race­courses, mov­ing a big fix­ture will ini­tially feel like a back­ward step, as far as at­tract­ing race­go­ers is con­cerned. So, the in­dus­try prob­a­bly has to back it fi­nan­cially. After all, a stand­out Wed­nes­day fix­ture of high qual­ity will surely at­tract more bet­ting turnover than it would do when swamped by sim­i­lar meet­ings on a Satur­day. Why not start with the Derby go­ing back to Wed­nes­day?

How­ever, as is so of­ten the case with rac­ing, the prob­lem is not a lack of good ideas, but the an­tag­o­nism that pre­vents all par­ties pulling to­gether.

In the lime­light: A Wed­nes­day Derby at Ep­som would have the stage to it­self

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