Over the past several years I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in golf coverage from television, print, internet and social media outlets. I acknowledge that it is partly my fault, but I refuse to apologize for it. Traditional print media is dying a slow death and they know it. For a long time, bloggers controlled the internet and they didn’t like it one bit. Print media has fallen behind in today’s 24/7 “instant gratification” media environment, and they are frantically treading water, hoping the next big wave to come along doesn’t sink them completely. What the heck am I talking about? Ok, here’s a little history.
In the late 1990’s the internet was in full bloom. New technologies for the sharing of digital information were popping up every week. For people that wanted to share their views on a variety of subjects, blogging became a way to self-publish without dealing with the good ‘ol boy network that is traditional print media. The advent of blogging platforms like WordPress in the early 2000s changed the game again, and traditional media outlets have been playing catchup for years. WordPress now runs more than 60 million websites, including this one.
I started intothegrain.com in 2009, well after many of my contemporaries. Golf blogs were nothing new when my website went live. Over the years I developed relationships with golf industry marketing and PR professionals, company representatives, PGA & LPGA professionals, touring pros, fellow golf bloggers and editors & writers in print and television media. I’ve attended many media events, trade shows and golf tournaments and met lots of important, influential and wonderful people along the way. One thing that remains constant however, is the reception I get as a blogger from different groups of people.
Many of the people in traditional media markets like print and television look down on bloggers as second class citizens. Not all, but many. I’ve witnessed engaging conversations turn at the very mention of the word “blog” or “dot com”. I think some of the elitists of the old guard see bloggers as a threat. According to these dinosaurs we steal their content, aren’t real journalists and cannot spell or form a proper sentence. It’s true, most bloggers don’t have degrees in English or journalism, nor have we written books that made the New York Times best sellers list, but we have all the things that a blogger really needs – A passion, an opinion and a platform. The blogger community is one of mutual interest and respect, and it is full of great people. I haven’t met a golf blogger yet that disproves that.
The historically prickly attitude of the old-school media towards bloggers hasn’t changed much, even if their profession has. The great irony is that many of the old print media companies have started using the same avenues as us, like social media, blogging and digital content in an effort to keep their struggling brands alive. The problem is, they are going about it the wrong way. The web is more crowded with golf related websites than a Japanese subway, so how do these large media companies separate themselves from the rest? Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. In short, they pay large sums to make their websites appear more important to search engines like Google and Bing so that their site appears at the top of the list when you perform a search.
In the simplest of terms, the websites of media companies like GolfChannel.com, Golf.com and GolfDigest.com use SEO to move to the front of the line then frantically jump and wave their hands in your face to get your attention first. Of course, just like bloggers, they are at the mercy of the search engines and the complex algorithms that calculate which websites are more worthy of front page search results than the next one. Unlike most bloggers however, they can afford expensive SEO consultants and experts to help them. The search engines are always tweaking their algorithms to produce more relevant results, and in the last few years larger websites with more traffic have been given more leverage than smaller blogs, regardless of the quality of their content. Most of my traffic originates from Google searches and as a result, bloggers like me have seen their traffic plummet as much of my content has fallen from page one of Google’s search results to page three or worse. I pride myself on writing good content, and before I publish something I ask myself “Will someone want to read this?” If only one person reads it and gets something out of it, then I have done my duty. I don’t have a problem with the larger golf sites getting more viewers than me, but I am increasingly disappointed with their content and the way they go about attracting readers.
In their ongoing efforts to wrestle readers away from each other, the mainstream media outlets have resorted to using bush-league tactics like misleading headlines, over-used keywords and outright smut. For example, even when he isn’t in the field, Tiger Woods is always mentioned in headlines to attract more page views. Case in point – The headlines related to Tiger’s absence this week for the 2014 US Open are everywhere. There are articles about his recovery from back surgery, what his absence means to the field, how ticket prices are falling, and even a few “Will Tiger beat Jack’s major record” stories that we see every week. Enough already! Tiger Woods won’t be around to boost your ratings and readership this week. Get over it!
Perhaps the most pathetic and disturbing trend in golf coverage is the objectification of women, many of whom have very loose ties with the game, in a weak effort to grab a reader’s attention. I used to subscribe to Golf Digest, but in recent years the magazine has lost its way. They are a business and simply want to sell magazines, but someone over there seems to think that quality content isn’t good enough any more. The May 2014 issue featured Paulina Gretzky on the cover wearing only skin tight leotards and a sports bra, but she was leaning on a golf club, so I guess that makes it legit. (It also included another worthless Tiger headline) Paulina Gretzky is connected to golf because she’s engaged to PGA Tour golfer Dustin Johnson. Since she’s not really a golfer, they justified the article and photo shoot by pretending the whole thing was about fitness. It didn’t go over very well and instead sent the editor into damage control mode. But hey, any publicity is good publicity right?
Then we have one of my personal favorites, the Back 9 Network, a true digital media whore. They call themselves a golf lifestyle network, but to me they are more like the Heidi Fleiss of golf media. Their website is saturated with photos of scantily clad women and features shows like “Golf Wives” in which we get to watch the wives of various PGA Tour players embarrass themselves by trying on sexy clothes, keeping us updated on the construction of their fifth home and attending other PGA Tour wives’ divorce parties. No, I’m not even kidding. The Back 9 Network has been fleecing investors like Clint Eastwood and NBA star Ray Allen out of millions of dollars for several years now, promising a television deal that hasn’t happened. I don’t think the product they have to offer is of any value to the cable companies, and (four years later) maybe that’s why they don’t yet have a TV deal. The television landscape doesn’t need another golf channel, and we already have plenty of useless crap to watch on channels like TLC and MTV.
Alas, this is the sad state of the golf media these days. The Back 9 Network, Golf Digest and others have plenty of good content on their sites, but it is cheapened by the existence of the useless garbage that surrounds it. This garbage content is of no value other than to garner more internet traffic. Golfers don’t want to see pictures of women dressed in slutty outfits and we don’t care who they are sleeping with and how you think that makes them relevant in the world of golf. The LPGA Tour has many smart, funny and beautiful women that deserve our attention way more than the bimbos that you parade in front of us to attract our eyeballs, but they always seem to take a back seat to the bikini models. As a blogger, I’ve been called an internet troll and fake journalist. I’ve even heard bloggers being called faceless cowards by magazine writers and accused of spewing meaningless gossip and filth. Sure, in terms of readers and influence, the large media companies have a clear advantage over internet blogs, but in the pursuit of this advantage they have forsaken their own quality standards. Now, they too are spewing meaningless gossip and filth. It seems that the media elite can no longer look down their noses at bloggers like myself and my colleagues, lest we point out how they are breaking the same journalistic standards & integrity they once preached to us.
I don’t pretend to call myself a journalist and I have great respect for many golf writers out there, but just because you have a blog doesn’t mean you are a slacker living in your mother’s basement and have no right to cover the world of golf. Nor does being a blogger mean that what you have to say is irrelevant. In fact, the increasing acknowledgement of bloggers as sources by the mainstream media in general is proof of that. Sure, most of the best golf writers are on the payroll of various magazines, newspapers and other media companies, but many also maintain their own independent internet blogs. What better endorsement for a medium than that?
Print media is dying and bloggers are here to stay. On the web, we are the grizzled veterans and traditional print media are the rookies. Maybe that’s why they are hiring more bloggers and fewer traditional writers. I think I speak for my fellow golf bloggers when I say this – We’ll cut you some slack because you are still learning, but I hope you embrace change and learn fast, because right now you are giving us all a bad name.