26 September 2013

Writing - where creativity and passion merge

Or Cycling - where hard work and passion merge

I wasn't quite sure which title applied best to the topic in my mind today, but I wanted to discuss cycling journalism. Mostly because I read an honest to the point post by Twisted Spoke (love Twisted Spoke!) titled Reaction to Velocast opinion piece on cycling journalism, a response to VeloCast's Stop The Press piece on - you guessed it - cycling journalism.

Now I have my opinions on this topic as well. My experience stemming from years of writing and photographing cycling. Would I call myself a journalist - no. I would call myself a storyteller, who aims to educate or impassion my fellow cyclists or fans. And that is my point - what we all share is a passion for the sport of cycling. That is why we are here doing what we do. It certainly is not for the money or the fame.

I greatly value the journalists, the bloggers, the storytellers, the tweeters, the facebookers, the photographers, the promoters, the organizers, the sponsors, the racers, the riders, our local bicycling associations, and USA Cycling (and maybe UCI in the future). This is a community effort from individuals trying to make the community of cycling run smoothly, prosper and grow.

My piece of that big picture is to contribute as a writer. To be a writer is almost an uncontrollable creative need to put life's experiences to word. Any good writer will tell you they get lost in the words, time disappears, we reread our words (to check for typos) hardly remembering that space existing between thought and hard copy. Did I write that? Words flow for a writer, and nothing is better than when we get to write about that which interests us.

I can write about anything. That I know. My job for years had me writing about forklifts and backhoes, about demographics of a southern California town, or about party rentals. I can also write up a multidisciplinary plan of action to insure a medical facility retains Medicare funding. But for me, writing about cycling must come from a place of joy because it is a hobby. A hobby I am truly passionate about.

Even when I dislike what I see, a positive spirit shines through when I write about cycling. Thank God because sometimes I truly do not like what I see. We don't get paid well, okay, I don't get paid at all, and yet I find myself sometimes playing along with the game, following those weird rules required of cycling journalists, when I am not a reporter. Why do I do this?

Who are we writing for: The readers, the advertisers, ourselves or the real story? 

Did you know that to be accepted as media for a big tour in the USA, the PR people read through your stuff to make sure you are writing about their race in a favorable light? Did you know that teams will grant access to a rider if you say and do good things for them? If not, they have their own media people - they don't need you, they can spin it their way. Did you know that riders hold grudges and have favorites? You probably did, but this means we are somewhat required to write propaganda if we want access. Is access worth having to display a warped reality?

If you think the old days of journalist intimidation are over and done with, you are wrong.

Add to this old tradition, the new tradition of readers lambasting journalists and bloggers in comments sections following every piece and you will understand why Velo News, and others, have removed their comments sections. It was serving no good and fracturing this "cycling community" we are trying so hard to recreate. What happened to the days when we could sit through a college lecture and take from it what we could, knowing it would broaden our thoughts later? What happened to good conversation that left us richer and having learned something rather than just proving our own point in anger?

Writings should be taken into the mind, mulled over, learned from or discarded according to our own developing beliefs. Not everything needs a knee-jerk public "like" or dislike on display. Meeting someone's writings is like meeting a person, some you like, some you don't - just move on. But I say, always try to leave a person feeling better about themselves, even if you disagree with their reasoning.

If we do not allow intelligent polite freedom of speech, the cycling Media cannot (or will be too afraid to) break out of the era of Armstrong and the sports continued medial control.

I recently witnessed a situation with a local writer who regularly spends his time developing a community site to inform cyclists of safety issues, bike advocacy, training and events. He takes his time to post local race results and gather all the local photographer sites together in one place so that local racers can feel special. Those same cyclists he tried to help, recently attacked him mercilessly online after a brief opinion piece he dared to write to start a conversation. Well that was one bad conversation where I too was attacked.

Do you think I want to volunteer my time to support local weekend racers with such behavior - no, I don't. Those cyclists stripped the passion right out of me. I am not a journalist who gets paid to write proper approved content to maintain advertisement revenue. Today I am thinking I was brilliant to have basically turned off my comments section (now with full moderation only) on this blog months ago, welcoming comments through facebook instead; a place where a face and name is behind every written comment.

It was curious timing this week when Twisted Spoke wrote his post on cycling journalism, because I have had such strong feelings recently that I want to sell a product because "people can vote with their money." I wouldn't have to worry about being popular and cool, or in the norm by pleasing every opinion, or waste time populating the pages of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to promote my own persona. I could just produce quality and sell, anonymously. Sounds wonderful, and peaceful.

I remain more than grateful for my loyal readers and for those who come looking for, and find, answers to their questions on my site. Welcome and please come back again, I'll be writing about topics unapproved and uncensored. And unpaid. With little access.

Here I am recently interviewing Lachlan David Morton (team Garmin). He is offering me body language indicating I am a pain in the neck, that is because I ask the hard-hitting journalistic questions - this one happened to be, "Which was your favorite town in Colorado?" His answer - Aspen! "That's not usually the kind of place a bike racer finds himself hanging around," Lachlan explained. Oh I "Liked" his answer.

Now I hope no one writes a nasty comment about Aspen (e.g., "I hate Aspen!"), because I really stuck my neck out to bring you the true story of this interview.

Photo taken in Denver, Colorado, by Ryan Wallace, an unpaid photographic journalist for Pedal Dancer®, with strong opinions of his own.
More reading from today: Too Many Local Journalists Are Missing The Big Story: Revenue, or video: The Funding of Journalism: Practice, research and future.