Track & Field Deserves Real Journalism

The word doesn’t exist in the dictionary of track and field.

A few recent events inspired this post. One was a piece written by Ben Rosario lamenting the lack of public displays of professionalism in running. Not only is there a lack of professionalism among athletes but also among the so-called track and field media. We rely on Deadspin and The Smoking Gun to report on the juicy stories since no one in the sport has the guts to dig around for the truth. I’m equally as guilty of this, but I’ve never considered myself a professional in this field.

Journalists around the world engage in the noble task of presenting news to the public. Whether it comes to covering D.C. politics or the Tokyo stock market, reporters seek the truth on issues they cover. In the world of sports, mainstream outlets like ESPN are often ridiculed for skewing coverage towards the high-profile teams and athletes, but they generally do their job of uncovering the dirty side of sports, whether it be drug scandals, off-the-field misconduct or imaginary girlfriends.

Journalism in track and field operates at an amateur level much like the rest of the sport does. Reporters are stuck in a SID (sports information director) syndrome in which they follow the college press release format for most everything. In other words, just presenting the facts and throwing a few quotes and pictures on press releases. No hard-hitting investigative questions that we like to think journalists engage in.

Back in 2005, a reporter named Damien Ressoit writing for the French sports newspaper L’Equipe was the first to report drug allegations against Lance Armstrong based on analytical evidence after years of rumors swirling about Armstrong’s drug use. There’s been plenty of speculation in recent months surrounding a certain Pacific Northwest training group and Therapeutic Use Exemptions. But unlike cycling, no track and field reporters have the guts to do some any digging. They’re scared of exposing the sport’s stars and stirring up shit with the Nike-industrial complex that rules track and field in America.

The root of the problem? There’s no money in objective running journalism that provides the job security to seek out controversial but potentially groundbreaking stories.

David Monti, the publisher of the subscription newswire Race Results Weekly, is by all accounts a great guy. But writing running news simply doesn’t pay the bills, so in addition to publishing RRW he works for New York Road Runners on the side as an elite athlete coordinator. If not a direct conflict of interest, he or anyone on his RRW staff certainly cannot be 100% objective when it comes to covering NYRR events.

Flotrack is more of a fan site than a serious journalistic venture. The boys out in Austin occasionally try to dive into the business of asking the tough questions but for the most part lay off any controversial for what they claim is in the best interest of growing the sport, which is also in the best interest of their bottom line. Without being friendly with top coaches and athletes, they wouldn’t get the access they do to film workouts and behind-the-scenes footage. Maintaining those relationships means staying mute on any overt negativity.

Then there are smaller sites out there like this blog and the recently defunct The Trailer, but their minimal audiences diminish what true influence they could have.

I’d say LetsRun probably asks the tough questions more often than anyone else out there. I give them a ton of credit for doing so, even if they choose their victims selectively.

Many argue the negativity of LetsRun and its infamous message boards tear down the sport rather than build it up. But should reporting the facts be sacrificed for growing the sport? I don’t think so. After all, the attitude of unquestioned positivity that’s so pervasive in running is precisely how we got ourselves into the drug scandals of the Marion Jones-era in the first place.

For everyone so interested in elevating track to the levels of the three major sports, let’s not forget it takes an objective media to do that. I call on all track and field reporters to avoid shying away from the risqué and the controversial and start asking the tough questions  worthy of the great sport we cover.

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  • Cate Westenhover

    Why do you say “there’s no money in objective journalism about track and field?” If other outlets are writing the stories, they have value, right?

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