I got into a little Twitter dust-up this weekend with VeloNews’ John Bradley. It wasn’t on purpose—yes, I did tweet a rebuke at him, but it was based largely on my misinterpreting something he’d written.
@johnwbradley @velonews shop your feelings away. Strong take.
— Cyclocosm.com (@Cyclocosm) January 31, 2016
@johnwbradley @velonews my apologies. My interpretation of that was “this is unpleasant, so we’ll tell you about products.” That’s my error.
— Cyclocosm.com (@Cyclocosm) January 31, 2016
He responded strongly—justifiably so, I think—and I apologized, attempting to explain where I’d missed his point. I don’t know John personally, but I like what he’s done in the past, and I think he brings a skillset that really shores up some of Velo’s soft spots. I had, and continue to have, no interest in antagonizing him.
That said, I was a little disappointed by his commentary that same day on cycling’s supposed “Self-Destruction”—of which Femke Van den Driessche’s motorized bike is apparently just the latest example.
There wasn’t anything inaccurate or offensive or lacking about the piece per se (I certainly didn’t dislike it as much as some people did—though they later made up) and it certainly covered some ground every long-term fan can relate to.
But this one line sums up what I found so sour:
“Cycling is not the most corrupt of sports, but it is one that the masses don’t understand.”
Now, for contrast, here is a screenshot of the VeloNews homepage from earlier today:
There isn’t a lot of what I’d refer to as content that will help people develop an understanding of racing.
I hasten to add that VN’s recap article on the men’s race was quite good, but it’s practically buried less than 24 hours later, and there’s nothing in terms of deeper analysis on a race that delivered the blend of hell-bent carnage and nail-biting tactics that should have the sport’s journal of record salivating.
If “the masses” don’t get the awesome aspects of racing on the homepage of the biggest cycling publication in the US, then where the heck are they supposed to find them? As Bradley himself notes, it’s not going to be in SBNation or the New York Times.
On the off-chance a mainstream writer gets a tip to check VeloNews, they’ll see only headline after headline on a rule-breaking DNF in the women’s U23 race, a bit on a disappointed US Champ, something about a guy being spit on, and nothing on what made #CXZolder16 awesome.
It’s not that cycling-aware writers aren’t always lurking out in the larger publishing world—Sam Abt famously brought the sport to NYT and the International Herald Tribune between copyedits. But the few out there who do get it aren’t getting paid for analysis beyond humping eyeballs for the story’s semiquaver of relevance. Only a concerted effort by the publications they reference will sway headlines from the vapid quick hit.
This isn’t meant to be a rip on Bradley or VeloNews, just a nudge that cycling fandom and reportage do not have to be cast as this hopeless cycle of self-destruction. There’s plenty I don’t know about editorial, but I’ve worked for advocacy groups and political campaigns. Messaging and framing drive the marketplace of opinion, and there’s all the more hunger for context when the optics are blandly and obviously bad.
Anyway, I’m not upset about a cheater getting caught. Out of habit, I do anticipate some crankiness on a lack of follow-up.
— Cyclocosm.com (@Cyclocosm) January 30, 2016
It’s not like Velo couldn’t do this—I mean, the content exists already. Andrew Hood’s article on the evolution of the UCI’s motor checks does fantastic work putting The Femke Affair into the context general publications so desperately need, and I have reason to believe that Dan Seaton will be producing another of his striking and accessible photo essays on the World Championships (update: delivered).
But I always seem to sense this notion across the cycling press, a kind of chicken-and-egg thing, that no one understands the sport, because explanations of why it’s awesome can’t be made, because no one will read them, because no one understands the sport. And that dogma is as wrong as it is self-defeating.
I cannot tell you how many comments I get about HTRWW getting absolute n00bs into watching bike races, and c’mon—CXHairs delivers the meat of what makes people want to watch in seconds-long clips on a pretty much daily basis. The van der Haar pass requires neither background knowledge or explanation—and 1400+ Instagram users will back me up on that.
So I guess the self-destructive cycle I see here isn’t so much within the sport, but in the way its covered. I mean, when a moto-cheater gets caught after years of concerted attempts at moto-cheater-catching, that feels to me like cause for minor celebration, a footnote to a marquee event that absolutely delivered.
But when literally the day after one of the best races in recent memory, the lead pieces are gear testing and mechanical doping, you can see where I stumbled into the cynical misunderstanding that started this piece: “racing is a downer, let’s be stoked about our advertisers instead”.
thoughts on “Deconstructing Self-Destruction”
Tough to argue with John’s eloquent reply, so it was wise to not even try.
In the middle of the men’s race on Sunday I thought to myself, “Man, I wish there was going to be a HTRWW so I could figure out what I am watching.” So I went back and watched a different race 🙂
I think that reply was warranted. I let my cynicism really warp what’d he’d said without reading it carefully. That was a definite mistake on my part, and I’m sorry about it.
Cosmo, you were right to call VN John out. His is a bike industry/press insider’s view. You are in touch with the end-user/enthusiast/racer whose passionate love of the sport is why they ride (not for a pay day). They are intrinsically motivated. John likes when VN tests bikes. He thinks he’s doing a service to cyclists and making money at the same time (extrinsic motivation with a drop of benevolence, enlightened self-interest?) I’m not saying he doesn’t love the sport. He probably does. But he also pays his bills with those advertising dollars VN makes from bike tests. John and VN exemplifiy uncritical capitalism at its worst. I know you always complained about all the uncompensated hours you dedicated to making HTRWW, but that was part of the beauty of it. The project exemplifies a purity and love of the sport that VN could only aspire to.
I have not any article on what happen to Van der Poel…
No interview on his sliding back in the race.
After the “foot in the wheel” incident, he was in front of the new WC.
Then he had a chance for the podium and he vanished again.
Did I miss everything?
Nice work as usual.
How come Velon does not have you under contract yet? 😉
Honestly Cosmo I felt the same way about his initial post even before I read your comment on it. Sure, his response was warranted (although he could have retorted a little more articulately) but you are not alone in your cynicism of cycling media. This response on your site is well written and by the last paragraph I’m sure most readers can see were you are coming from.
In short, don’t feel too bad!
P.S. I miss your content.
Still, I think your big picture response about group-think and self-destruction is spot on. Even though your apologiy is appropriate in this instance, the 24hr rotating content model only seems to make sense to me from a direct-marketing, product-pushing, eyeballs-per-page methodology. Velonews is not alone. Race tactics and analysis, the beauty of the sport, get lost behind the sensationalism and product marketing.
Thanks for ellaborating, Cosmo. This is an important issue if cycling journalism is to reach more people (and make its current readership happier).
Don’t hold back!
Count me among the people who got turned on to watching bike racing because of your HTRWW vids, Esp the spring classics. Great stuff.
I also appreciate your intellectual honesty.
Have a good one.
I read his tweet like you did. Seem like John is a little sensitive. He needs to get a thicker skin.
Mr C. You have experience perspective balance knowledge and humor and insight. I’ve been around cycling 35 years and was aforementioned pro coach promoter and helped CCN remove Hein And the dreaded McQuaid. So missy this in all seriousness mr Bradley has little humor has too big an ego too little perspective and is a bit of a jerk. He will not help Velonews I think. I have whacked swords with him already over nothing. Am diplomatic to no avail. With the leaving of Neal Rogers all is lost. Stay away from him. He doesn’t have your chops sir.
Berne knows all and has done all. I am surprised that this year he has not won the world cyclo cross championship at a race he promoted Ina bike he built. All hail the savior Berne
“humping eyeballs” — lol
Geez, talk about a foul mouth! I don’t think your reply to his tweet warranted such animosity. Anyway, I completely agree with you, how can we expect the cycling community to grow if the biggest outlet for cycling news doesn’t really provide a development portal.