Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lazy, unoriginal and wrong

I can still remember reading the first anti-cyclist troll column I ever encountered. It was in the pages of the Manly Daily around 1984. It was around the time of the triathlon boom, when there was an increase in the number and visibility of cyclists on the roads and some bright spark whose name I have long forgotten trotted out the arguments we're all now well familiar with. I wrote a letter to the editor and received a reply that it was the columnist's job to be controversial.

In the years since I've read the same tripe dozens of times. The formula is the stuff of lazy journalism. Pick a visible minority and trot out a bunch of ill-informed stereotypes based on a personal grudge and a blinkered view of the world. It used to be religious or racial stereotypes, but those sorts of hateful opinions are now frowned upon so the lazy columnist bereft of ideas must find other groups to deride. Fat people, the poor, the unemployed, the young; the list changes from time to time, but the intent and effect are unchanging.

Daniel Meers of the Gold Coast Bulletin (@danielmeers on Twitter) is the latest to have crack at the genre. His effort is a nice try, but he has nothing new to add, all the long-discredited arguments are there: the registration furphy, the claims of universal lawlessness, the cry unsupported by any evidence that cyclists are a danger to all and sundry, the suggestion that roads are built for the exclusive use of cars to travel at speed from one place to another, the call for radical action: in this case a ban on cyclists altogether. Indeed Daniel calls for a "war on cyclists" and even makes a thinly veiled threat that motorists must "win back the roads" before "something bad really happens".

By their own behaviour on the roads, the overwhelming majority of cyclists and motorists are able to get along just fine. The motorist (and I am one of those as well) is lavishly catered for with an astonishingly well-resourced and ever-expanding network of roads paid for by all taxpayers. Only a tiny minority feel disinclined to share or behave in a courteous fashion.

Daniel says there's a mob of louts every morning, causing havoc on the roads in his area. What a good journalist does is grabs a photographer, gets out of bed a bit early and gets the story. Talk to the aggrieved  locals, talk to the cyclists and get some photos of them breaking the law.

Daniel says the cyclists hold him up a few minutes as he drives three kilometres (!) to his morning jog. A good journalist doesn't allow personal interests to influence his work, particularly not a petty nuisance like being slowed down for a few minutes a day. Maybe that's a good sign there's no other injustices on the Gold Coast deserving of his attention and this level of outrage. Somehow I suspect those few minutes he's lost isn't time he was using to research a cancer cure or even put into polishing this particular column.

Oddly, what the Gold Coast Bulletin doesn't realise is that cyclists buy papers too. Bike shops are paying advertisers. Alienating a section of the community isn't a good way to increase either credibility or readership. As this most recent, larger and more lasting bike boom is upon us, those who don't ride a bike for recreation or transport commonly have a friend, a brother, a sister, a son or daughter or workmate who does. The last two editors I've worked for have both been cyclists. The newspaper where I work had written plenty of positive stories about cycling as have many others. It's a more nuanced and informed and refreshing approach compared to what the Gold Coast Bulletin - appropriately enough sometimes known as "The Bully" - is reaching for here.

We have a right to expect more of our senior journalists and a right to pull them up when get it as wrong as this. It is worth noting Meers has copped a fair pasting in the comments section and on Twitter. Even Robbie McEwen has joined in. Every single argument he raises in this forgettable effort is well and truly refuted by his readers. It that's not a sign the world is changing for the better, I don't know what is. 

3796km so far this year.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Nice take down, well done.