Monday, June 24, 2013

Guest Post: CNN Doesn't Let Horses Get in the Way of Racing Coverage

--Mark Cramer

   On Friday, June 21 at exactly 7:55 p.m. Europe time, CNN's international news report, hosted by Jonathan Mann, announced an item about Queen Elizabeth winning the Ascot Gold Cup with the filly Estimate. It was a rare opportunity, thanks to the Queen herself, for horse racing to get into mainstream news coverage!
   The camera zoomed down upon the Queen's box seats, showing her flashing a radiant smile. We were told that her horse, Estimate, was crossing the finish line in first place. I say "We were told," because the camera did not show us the filly or racetrack itself.
   I am convinced that the attention span of a mass audience would not have been overly challenged by a few seconds of horses galloping magnificently across the finish line. Surely an image of the Thoroughbred in motion would have provided the necessary context for the event.
   There are two possibilities. It could be that the media excludes the actual horse race because program directors believe that the viewers would be uninterested in a Thoroughbred action scene. But it could be the other way around. The general public becomes less and less exposed to the potential thrills of a horse race and therefore less interested, precisely because the media has been blacking out racing scenes. 
   Try doing a media word count and you'll find that the phrase "horse race" is used hundreds of times more for election coverage than it is used for horse racing itself. In fact, the term "horse race journalism" now refers to election coverage rather than... horse race journalism. The metaphor has entirely eclipsed the literal meaning. That's why real horse race journalists were not able to ask the Queen, "How much did you bet on the filly?"
   Consider a recent broadcast of CNN's elegant new program Winning Post, sponsored by Longines. The two-minute 38-second clip, entitled Fashion and Glamour at Royal Ascot consisted of host Francesca Cumani interviewing fashion designer Fitriani Hay about the glamour displayed at the track. They are standing in front of the paddock, but a barrier prevents us from getting more than a partial view of an occasional passing horse in the background (click here).
   For a whole week, I had been counting down to my 2-minutes-38-second-per-week ration of mainstream horse race coverage and this is what I got.
In fairness, previous Winning Post episodes have covered human interest stories about owners, jockeys and trainers as well as features on horses like Frankel, but I have yet to see an episode that shows a horseplayer. In fact, if you watched this program regularly, you'd never know that horse racing is associated with betting.  
   Such glitzy coverage of racing would make the general public believe that getting into a racetrack is at least as daunting as landing a ticket to the inaugural ball, when in fact it costs so much less to attend the races than it does to visit Disneyland or to go to the movies.
   Okay CNN! As a horseplayer I don't mind if you relegate me, the horseplayer, to the status of the Invisible Man. But at least let the TV viewers know that horse racing centers around the exciting poetry of Thoroughbreds in motion.   

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