Friday, October 21, 2011

NY Times Suddenly Discovers Age-Old Bike Route

An article in the NYT in 1897
The New York Times published a piece today about cyclists crossing the George Washington Bridge to ride to points north in New York and New Jersey.

The article pointed to the trip that has been taken by many millions of cyclists over the years, and has been said to be the most traveled bicycle route in the United States, almost as if they just started doing so yesterday.

It was another sign that the editors of the Times appear to recognize the growing importance of cycling in New York, yet still stubbornly resist hiring writers who know more than the average person about the sport.

The article sends broad hints that the Gray Old Lady is out of touch with the cycling community. This is surprising given the fact that they must have done a good job back in the day when Six Day racers were the norm at Madison Square Garden. The article left was published in the Times on Dec. 11, 1897--a time when cycling received its due.

The lack of real coverage affects the newspaper's credibility, which many cyclists have complained about privately on email exchanges over the past year, such as e-bikes, the mailing list started by Daniel Lieberman. Some have been so frustrated with either the lack of coverage, or stories that don't measure up to cyclists' standards they even started a private campaign to get a real cycling writer into the paper's revered halls.

The Times has skipped important events, like the first Gran Fondo, NY that took over the bottom level of the George Washington Bridge this past May, and had over 2,000 riders from around the world, including George Hincapie, professional cyclist for the BMC team. Of course BBB, this silly cycling based blog, covered that event, but so did that national and international paper called the Wall St. Journal. 

This summer when I was covering the Tour de France for Cyclists International, I ran into Greg Bishop, the new reporter who was covering the event for the Times while Juliet Macur was on maternity leave.
Riders coming across the bridge in this year's first Gran Fondo, NY held in May. (C) Benepe

Bishop's experience in cycling? He had covered the National Football League. I felt for the guy as he struggled not only with the concepts of the most important bicycle race in the world, but also with the torturous logistics of following the tour which some journalists have said is worse than actually being in the competition.

When I commented to another journalist that I thought it strange that the NY Times would hire a football specialist to cover the technical sport of cycling --a sport Bishop had admittedly never competed in (and nor for that matter has Juliet Macur,) he said, "Well, the Times is written to a general audience."

I am sure Bishop did fine, but come on NY Times: are you telling us that there aren't enough journalists out there who do know cycling that you could hire? I know a few I could call from my Rolodex just sitting at my computer.

Plus that old excuse that the Times is a generalist newspaper and writes to the audience that might try cycling, just doesn't hold. That's like saying they'll pick a writer for the Middle East conflicts that only has experience writing about fashion in New York. 

It is true that the NY Times is a "real" newspaper with trained journalists, and it could also be said that many writers for cycling have not had any formal training, and some indeed cannot even write properly. And I am not a great fan of the prevailing practice by cycling news outfits like Versus and VeloNews to employ ex-racers who know the sport but whose reporting skills are rudimentary and awkward.

Back to the article from today's paper: It starred Aaron Katin, a wonderful friend, a true-blood cyclist, and yes, a good example of someone who regularly rides across the George Washington Bridge from his home in Washington Heights. But there are others who exemplify the trip to the Nth degree, and for this article, the writer just skimmed the outer fringe of this massive group of addicted, two-wheeled sportsters.

We're not saying the writer was deficient, no, he did a great job. Nor even the editor. It's the big bosses at the Times who just don't seem to think that cycling deserves to be handled by people with real knowledge, nor do they want to provide the column space for in depth coverage.

Sadly, the Times' hit-or-miss approach to cycling is a real disservice to New York cyclists who continue to battle for safer conditions. Missing from this article was a hard look at just how difficult it is to get on and off the bridge, the many clubs that travel out of the city and why, the rides and where they are headed, and the personalities running the bike shops that service the bulk of the population (unfortunately not Manny's, though I am sure they appreciate the shout-out.)

Should we say we are happy they are giving space to cycling at all? Maybe. Their half-hearted job covering this diverse community has spawned an entire mini-market of online outfits that cater to the matters of the streets for two wheelers, like Benepe's Bike Blog, Streetsblog, BikeSnob, and Cyclists International, just to mention a handful. Even Gothamist and DNAInfo provide more cutting edge info for cyclists.


ajlounyinjurylaw said...

It's so inspirational to see so many bikers.

Tyler said...

all the riders are riding for the same cause.