Monday, February 1, 2021

Journalistic Integrity Part II

I'm not sure when newsletters went from publications containing actual written content to very short blurbs with a bunch of links to other people's work. There are certain bloggers I follow who post a lot of links in their content, and I generally like their posts. Bloggers usually don't try to pass their content off as articles or newsletters, though. Also, many in the blogosphere are often witty, thoughtful, and more interesting than many paid writers these days, myself excluded, though sometimes even I can squeeze out an ounce of wit. I just find it odd to see anyone marketing a newsletter as such when it's really nothing more than a short directory. Someone who does an excellent job of putting out an actual newsletter is Mario Fraioli with his The Morning Shakeout. I look forward to reading it each week because it's informative, tactful, and insightful. It should come as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads my musings that another writer I follow is Kevin Beck, specifically his blog Beck of The Pack. In addition to the brilliant writing, the content he puts out is also informative, honest, and hard-hitting. Oh, and it's often humorous, too. 

The truth is, I don't keep up with running news very much unless someone points me in a specific direction. I follow a few runners on social media and admire and am a huge fan of various individuals and groups in the running community, but I'm rarely up on the latest scoop until after the fact. Since I subscribed to Mario's newsletter, however, I'm a little bit more in the know than I was. 

While I'm all over true-crime podcasts, I'll admit that I find it difficult to listen to running podcasts for a variety of reasons, even though there are some good ones and a few great ones in an ocean of choices. I recently stumbled upon Ali on the Run and was pleasantly surprised that the episode I listened to kept my attention and made me think that I would like to hear more. Ali has a great speaking voice, and she's a fan of peanut M&Ms; what's not to love? Despite her up-with-people and everything's rosy outer appearance, Ali tackles challenging, even heated topics and difficult subject matter, including her own struggles with Crohn’s disease, in a surprisingly upbeat, thoughtful manner. It's a nice contrast to my own often somber tone, though I'd like to think my cheese review blog is a lot less serious. 

I bring up content by individuals I admire because sometimes I read an article related to running and think, "Holy shit! Is anyone else taking this the same way I am?"  I mentioned an article by Martin Fritz Huber that didn't sit well with me before, so I wasn't all that surprised to see that others took his more recent write-up (and not his first) on Tracksmith as unnecessarily unkind, sort of like giving a bad Yelp review for takeout during a pandemic when the restaurant you ordered from served an excellent meal but you imagine the whole experience would have been better if there had been a sprig of parsley on top. If you look at his previous articles that mention Tracksmith, it starts to look more like a writer with a personal grudge than an unbiased journalist. Some might find the Outside and Tracksmith partnership strange bedfellows after reading Huber's not so subtle jabs, a little nipping at the hand that provides nourishment.

From calling trail runners "lazy parasites" to avoiding payment due to writers to complaints by customers of unauthorized renewals and charges to the really big oopsie on Twitter to the other big oopsie regarding Laz Lake, Outside Magazine isn't coming off as above board and politically correct as they pretend to be. None of this affects me directly, but I cringe knowing I gave anyone associated with the magazine my time for an interview, especially someone who referenced an individual as somewhat of an expert in the area of eating disorders when she's not. As a result, Outside gave out bits and pieces of misinformation about eating disorders and implied having one makes athletes less mentally tough but didn't go on to explain the incredible success and determination of one of the other women referenced in the article who suffered from an eating disorder. Please note that I'm not suggesting any ridiculous ideas that suffering from a serious illness gives you an edge. I'm just pointing out that the article didn't do a very good job of explaining that an individual can be both mentally tough and struggle with an eating disorder. 

Opinion is continually posted as fact these days, though. My participation was before I knew how much the magazine had fallen from the time Jon Krakauer was a major contributor. Had I known how the final piece would read, I would have politely declined any reference to my name. Maybe I shouldn't be so judgmental since quite a few people find it's not a very fun place to work. This is just one of several publications making wrong steps in journalism, though. And sure, Outside isn't exactly a running magazine, but the publication sure covers a lot of running-related material. 

What shocked me was learning about Kamilah Journet’s experience both before and after her interview by Outside for the more recent Tracksmith article. Ali and Kamilah did a great job of being fair and keeping everything in perspective. I'll take a chapter from their book and hold my tongue since I wasn't involved, however, like Ali, I encourage everyone to read Kamilah's thoughts on Instagram. After doing a little research, I come back to my more recent post about a portion of the running community actually being rather exclusive, despite claims of being the opposite. If you're not among the few popular voices, you can easily get shut down, and even if you're easily liked and admired, it doesn't prevent criticism or subtle digs. I had to ask a few people to read another Outside article to make sure I wasn't being overly sensitive about it, but you can judge for yourself whether or not Huber, whose style might just be naturally condescending, is really doing Mary Cain any favors. Mary, who has a degree in business administration and a paid position as a community manager at Tracksmith, landed a role similar to Carrie Tollefson at Rebok at the end of her running career, only nobody said shit about that. At the moment, Mary is very sensibly and carefully returning to the sport she loves post-surgery  

It's also an interesting take by Huber to ponder how things would have gone if Mary had still been abused at NOP but had run well, implying that if you're running well, the abuse still isn't OK but young women will put up with it to get results. The problem with this kind of thinking is that many times, maybe even more often than not, a young athlete puts trust in a coach. Mary is 24 now, still young, and quite a few athletes who haven't trained under very many coaches before don't immediately recognize abuse for what it is. There are noted instances of partners in physically abusive relationships normalizing the violence as a coping strategy, so you can imagine how anyone might do the same in an emotionally abusive situation. It's not unlike someone stepping into an unhealthy relationship for the first time. There's a sense that something's not right, but it's overwhelming and confusing in the moment to sort through all that's happening. In Mary's case, she opened up about feeling alone and mentioned that she didn't receive support when she finally gathered enough courage and strength to talk about what was happening. She had already addressed why she and others in a position like hers stay or even want to go back to abusive situations. As Cain told The New York Times, "because when we let people emotionally break us, we crave their approval more than anything." 

The call is coming from inside the house!   

Outside isn't the only publication getting some pushback. Not that long ago, Fast Women took aim at a rather popular piece by the New York Times, for good reason; the opinion piece wasn't well researched. The New York Times had also just praised Salazar and NOP a few years earlier in an article discussing Mary, the teen prodigy. This article now has a disclaimer at the beginning. In general, this recent article in Runner's World among the best of the exceptions, the media have treated Mary awfully, relentlessly discussing her in every which way, even when she was a teenager. More often than not, outlets that address Mary's role in the running community or her past abuse at Nike -- I'm not saying alleged abuse because too many people have corroborated her claims -- insist on bringing up a possible comeback. Ups and downs happen in running. It's to be expected. The pressure on her to run a certain way seems oppressive, and I'm only watching from the sidelines. I remember when I was in college, all the times I was injured or sick and the articles in local papers that came out about my future. It was exhausting because I worried that I might not be able to get back to my top form. What many seem to be missing is Mary's new position of being an advocate and mentor. People can't seem to separate her from her running. 

Kara Goucher recently wrote a heartfelt post on Instagram about her worsening knee injury. It's not uncommon for top athletes to face injuries. Look at the world of football, boxing, gymnastics, and basketball. Aging and retired athletes often face tremendous and chronic pain. Athletics is demanding on the body, especially at the elite level. Training, competing, and always pushing beyond what's normal take a toll on the body. Sport is also emotionally and mentally challenging. Lorraine Moller cautioned against hanging on to your past identity when it's no longer working or useful, and you're being pulled or called to do something else. I wish I were better at letting go in my own life. It's also important for those observing to do the same. Continually focusing on Mary's next race or how fit she is or what times she's running doesn't fully allow her to be the spokesperson she has become. 

Whether or not she runs or competes is irrelevant. She has a message, an important one, and she should be heard no matter how fast she is or was or will be on the track. What some of us would rather see is that she be allowed to progress in her new role and eventually get to a point where she can do what she loves without pain, without pressure, and maybe even enjoy running again the way she used to before things got so difficult for her. With the right kind of support, and it sounds like that's what she's receiving at Tracksmith, maybe she can get there, and maybe we can allow her to. 


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