A better media

While at the Sea Otter Classic I decided to get to the bottom of a few things. Sure, there was racing to report, products to leer over, babies to shake and hands to kiss, but something deeper has been nagging at us.

I want to be better. I want to do the best I can for readers and for the industry. And don’t take that to mean ‘do better for the hand that feeds me’ but rather how I can help the whole mountain biking scene look better in the grand scale of the universe.

I try hard, damn hard, but I’m are often left feeling that I am missing opportunities, not hitting the nail on the head or just knowing there is always room for improvement.

While at Sea Otter I decided to ask the simple yet loaded question ‘what can the mountain bike media do better?’ to a selection of industry veterans and people of substance. The following is the answers we got.

This piece was meant to be released on nsmb.com a long time ago but as it has been stalled I figured I’d let the handful of 2Flat followers get an insight into the minds of others.

CRITICALLY OBJECTIVE

“I think the media could do better. Everything [products] is so good now that the media could be a little more critical. It is OK to point out flaws in products if it is done responsibly. Be critical but think about how to present it in an objective way. It is ok to say a product isn’t for everyone.” – Mark Jordan, Fox Shox Communication manager and former Decline Magazine editor.

Here we see the issue of product review, product placement, and the perceived ‘ads for cash’ bias addressed first and foremost. Product, technology and consumption is a big part of mountain biking whether we like it or not, and the media spends a great deal of time covering, reviewing, highlighting, and discussing it.

It seems that companies have thicker skins than is commonly thought. Several people mentioned that they would like to see media outlets and reviewers be more honest and open about products. Some even said that they would like to see direct ‘this is better than this one’ statements made because, as Mark Jordan said, everything is pretty good these days and companies do want to make better product. Being told that Product X isn’t the best is actually fuel for the company behind Product X to get it better next time.

“No more regurgitating press releases. Say I’m reading an article about one of our bikes, and thinking “oh that sounds pretty good, actually sounds familiar…” I go to our website, and realize “I wrote that!” It’s almost plagiarism. That’s not what readers are looking for.” – Gabe Fox, Devinci marketing man.

It happens. Anyone with a spark eye can see it happens. Not often but there are outlets and reviewers who don’t take their job that seriously or just don’t have the balls or brains to say any different. Companies and brands don’t like seeing reviews like this anymore than readers. Guilty parties aren’t always invited back to dance by companies.

From experience I can tell you that reviews are not just a case of riding a bike and scribbling your thoughts down. There is a lot more that goes into them than some people imagine. To be a reviewer of worth doesn’t just take being a good rider or a good wordsmith. It takes someone who is able to deeply analyze and isolate factors, then be able to convey their thoughts within a frame work that may not be familiar to most people. For example, ‘it is rad’ or ‘it is shite’ might work if you are talking to your mate about product X but not for reviews that will be read by thousands of different people from different areas, with different ideas of what mountain biking is and differing ideas of what they want from a mountain bike purchase.

“To really identify the bike or the product you’re testing and what the intended use is. For example, if you’re riding a bike that’s 145mm lightweight bike, test it in those conditions. Of course you want to push its limits a bit and see what it’s capable of, but it’s important to give real world testing in the environment the bike was intended for.

“One of the hardest things on the testing side is the price point issue. When you’re riding a bike that costs $2000, realize that this is intended for a consumer that’s buying a $2000 bike – not the luxury that you’re used to if you’re used to riding a $5000 bike. So switch off your own opinions, and say, “I’m riding a $2000 bike right now, so even though this fork feels a bit soft, or doesn’t have enough adjustment…” the guy who’s buying this bike isn’t going to need all those adjustments because they’ve never had the luxury of making those adjustments or possibly their riding skill isn’t quite there. It’s a difficult task, but you have to stick to it.” – Gabe Fox, Devinci marketing man.

NOT PRODUCT ALL THE TIME

“What could the media do better? First, let’s ask what they could do worse: not much. I think they could be a little more professional. Be a little more critically objective when it comes to product reviews. They could be more articulate and impassioned when it comes to writing travel and other stories. They could be better writers. Photography and videography is awesome these days, but at the written word end…not so much. The English language is dying and I think the mountain bike media is killing it.” – Mike Ferrentino, Santa Cruz Bikes communications juggernaut.

Ferrentino has, perhaps, the biggest brain in the industry. As a writer of considerable note and someone who know works for “the man” he is uniquely placed to make such a comment. Most of the individuals in the meda aren’t trained to be what they are, instead it is full of enthusiastic and eager amateurs. But that is neither an excuse or a reason for it. We all went to school and we can all be better. We can’t expect Pulitzer prize winning writing though, anyone with that ability often takes one look at the dismal prospects (both professionally and financially) in the mountain bike industry and moves onto something that befits their standing.

“I’d like to see more focus on the humanization of bikes. Also to see people make content that is more engaging, not just flash and glitz.” -Darcy Turrenne, Norco factory pilot and film maker of growing reputation.

But at least mountain bike media isn’t as bad as motocross. Talk about a lifestyle sport bereft of any emotional connection.

“I’d like to see the media portray the kind of riding that 90% of riders do. For most people what they do isn’t big mountain, slopestye, dirt jumping, and racing. It is going out on a ride, either on their local trails or adventuring to new ones, riding with friends or just getting out for a quick ride, perhaps backcountry riding. That is what we all do and enjoy so cover that instead.” – Pete Stace-Smith, Norco marketing maestro.

Pete has a point. Perhaps the spectacle and marvel of the big names overshadows the common man and the common themes in mountain biking. However, some times it takes remarkable images to get even a moderate reaction out of people. Perhaps what has happened is that some people within the industry or the media have lost sight of what happens for the everyday man on the everyday trails.

“It is pretty straight forward: Give an honest opinion and tell the story. If you are talking about product then be honest but remember it isn’t about numbers, it is about the experience. I’d like to see more emphasis on the story” – Tom Zurawski, brand communicator for SRAM.

Colour and story is often what is lacking, but when there is only so much space and time for content, often the easier stuff gets priority. The industry is small and woefully undermanned everyone is over worked it seems so there is rarely time for the nitty gritty. But more so, this is compounded by the speed of information transfer and what work seems to gain more traction.

“Quite frankly it might not be the media’s fault and it is probably the readers fault instead. Stats, views and page counts show that the less quality stuff gets traction and hits. Something that is up first, or product based stuff, even if it is not produced wonderfully does the best on the stats. Depth doesn’t get numbers.” -Shawn Spomer, VitalMTB head honcho.

Why slave for crafted beauty when it is worth nothing? Work of worth can be overlooked, especially in the age of the internet where something is here one moment and pushed off the bottom of the screen the next.

The internet has changed everything. It is the greatest change in communications since…well, some say since the printing press but I think it has perhaps changed even more profoundly than that. Information used to be pre-packaged, filtered by an editor and given to people in pre-determined, timely amounts. But now news “bursts” competes with constant, unfiltered and unedited information.

We are still getting to grips with how the internet works and how we can make it work for us. In the space of little over a decade over world has been altered immeasurably. We are in the very every stages of understanding, perhaps infancy or perhaps honeymoon, either way, we are trying everything at the moment in the hope something will stick. But perhaps what happens is we chase our tails about the room.

“I think the media could work together better. At the moment everyone is rushing to get stuff out but not doing it so well. There needs to be a sort of code of ethics in the [media] community. More so, there has been examples of important product information leaking out on the net and this can be really negative for everyone. The dealers get hit worse because they are sat with stock that people might not want to buy knowing that new product is being developed.” – Mark Jordan, Fox Shox Communication manager and former Decline Magazine editor.

Is it time to slow down or is it the time to think smarter, both for the media, the industry and the readership?

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3 thoughts on “A better media

  1. The problem is how content makes money on the web – it is all about the numbers and if you can convince someone to “click here now!” then it’s payday, nevermind if the thing they go on to view leaves them feeling cheated. Getting them to click involves being fast (thanks for that, Google Page Rank) which leaves little time to create decent work in the first place. Ctrl-A, Ctrl-V is much faster than having to think, after all.

    The danger is that thinking in such a short-term way will kill the reader’s trust in and respect for the outlet – but hey, if everyone’s doing it, what’s the harm? It’s a classic cost-of-everything-value-of-nothing approach, but with an individual pageview on a website earning fractions of a cent, it’s hard to justify additional time and effort in getting your employees to produce true quality if you’re the one paying the bills. With that in mind, the decline of worthy online journalism is hardly surprising – and with the internet merrily killing print publication circulation, it’s dragging the whole thing down into the sludge. Rather aptly, it’s a vicious cycle.

    On a more positive note, the internet has placed the onus on the consumer of information to be the editor, eg. wade through all the snippets of partially chewed news and come to your own conclusions. If you’re an educated consumer you can now make your purchasing decision and form your opinion without having to wade through the writer’s preconceptions and the influence of commercial pressures. It’s more of a pain if you went to the media to get an expert opinion in the first place…

    • Great insight and perspective.
      I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the argument that the “internet [is] merrily killing print publication circulation”. Mags are changing but circulation is actually up for some webs exactly because of the web.
      Thanks, whoever you are mystery mind.

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