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 New Zealand Gallops News 
Friday, May 05 2017

One of this week’s bigger news stories was about the changing — or not-so-changing — shape of the New Zealand media landscape, writes Jonny Turner from the Otago Daily Times

The Commerce Commission’s’s decision to decline the Fairfax and NZME merger made for all sorts of chatter in the ODT offices.

Don’t worry. I realise the topic would put many of you to sleep, so I will not bore you all with the possible implications that were talked over in newsrooms across the country.

However, the media landscape is something that does have a big impact on racing,  no matter what part you play in the industry.

The way racing is covered has changed immensely — I am confronted by the frustrations this brings racing fans whenever I travel to meetings outside of Otago.

There is simply less coverage and sometimes that coverage is so far from local it is not of any interest to those reading it. Luckily, Otago is a little different. I stand to be corrected, but I am confident in saying I am the only fulltime racing journalist employed by a daily newspaper in New Zealand.

Some may say you’re  pretty unlucky to be stuck with me!

Coverage is not the only thing that has changed, but the way people get that coverage has, too.

Many of you will be more than familiar with that as you read this column online after seeing it on Facebook or Twitter. Therein lies what could be the biggest concern to racing.

We all know social media gives people a voice, but the voice of those who love the racing industry could be drowned out by who do not. The do-gooders, the lunatics, the tree huggers, the wowsers — whatever you would like to call them — have a place they can voice their anti-racing opinions.

They are taking up that opportunity in big numbers because technology makes it easy for them to do so, much easier than 10 years ago when the best option was to write a letter  to the editor of the racing magazine.

When the lack of racing staff and coverage at media outlets merges with the uptake of anti-racing rhetoric things get scary.

With fewer racing reporters, the ravings of the anti-racing crowd are not only splashed all over the internet, but they also  get into the traditional media through reporters who have no idea about the racing industry.

They are driven by the demands of the changing media landscape, the incessant need for page clicks, likes, shares and tweets.

The sensationalism the anti-racing crowd offer is easy bait for people seeking those reactions from an article. For example, claims of cruelty and abuse will render more comments, likes and hits than who won a Riverton steeplechase ever will.

A quick online search of the brilliant Warnambool jumping carnival will find more articles on horse-related controversy than you will on the wonderful racing on the track. Among the vitriol is the scariest thing for racing — sometimes these anti-racing people bring up questions that deserve to be answered. The big question is what can the industry do about it? The answer comes in two parts.

Firstly, the industry needs to tidy up anything that can portray it in a negative light.

Most feel animal welfare in the racing industry is already high, but that bar needs to be continued to be lifted.  I think it is the most pivotal foundation from which the industry will have to move forward.  The next challenge is to demonstrate it. Racing must get the message across that it does look after its animals, and that is has more to offer than fodder for the sensationalists. The traditional avenues are just not there any more — outside of Otago, anyway.

But the game itself on both an individual and administrative level — especially those very highly paid marketers — must do its bit to promote the good messages and help protect the sport.

Let’s hope it’s a challenge that can be taken up.

Posted by: Jonny Turner AT 11:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email