/ Investigative journalism in climbing
Why is there no investigative journalism in climbing? Forum stories like the recent Asgard Apology thread or that 'Bear Grylls almost bankrupted BMC' and the like, seems the climbing media ever investigate or report these stories...is it because
1) they are not relevant/interesting?
2) investigation may conflict with sponsor/advertisers preferred content?
3) reporting may attract unaffordable litigation?
4) too much like hard work?
Seems the most controversial stuff is the grade of 3PS or whether the turf was frozen or not.
5) in the grand scheme of things not enough people care.
I'm afraid that top class investigative journalists are unlikely to be working for climbing maagazines and there simply isn't an audience wide enough to make it worthwhile for those working at top notch media outlets.
I think the closest you will get to 'investigative journalism' are things like 'Into Thin Air'. Namely interesting stories that appeal to armchair explorers. The vast majority of people haven't heard of the Asgard Project let alone care whether an apology has been made or not...
Its not contaversial though, it is established fact that 3PS is E0 and that there isn't any turf of it at all so the placements needed are hooks and faith. what is contraversial though is the price of really nice coffee in the plantaion car park compared to the overpriced badger piss served up in Outside
...but there are plenty of people capable of picking up a phone and asking pointed questions and then writing it or filming themselves doing it given the proliferation of 'i've got a media studies' degree and the ease of publishing. Asgard Apology wasn't about Asgard it was about the the biggest names in climbing, in uk filmaking and in making macs and sacs on a steam train of commercialism.
I think you are right though and it it explains why there are less climbing films worthy of TV airing than there were 25 years ago...no depth, parochial audience.
> Why is there no investigative journalism in climbing? Forum stories like the recent Asgard Apology thread or that 'Bear Grylls almost bankrupted BMC' and the like, seems the climbing media ever investigate or report these stories...is it because
> 1) they are not relevant/interesting?
> 2) investigation may conflict with sponsor/advertisers preferred content?
> 3) reporting may attract unaffordable litigation?
> 4) too much like hard work?
> Seems the most controversial stuff is the grade of 3PS or whether the turf was frozen or not.
IMO it's all of the above and realistically will never be any other way. If by 'the climbing media' you mean the printed magazines then you need to realise that because of relatively low profit margins these publications work to, they don't have large staff of journalists who can afford to spend time digging for background stories. Investigative journalism is very labour-intensive, stories often take a long time and a lot of work to actually get to publication stage. Climbing magazines (like most consumer interest group mags) don't have newsrooms staffed with teams of Woodwards and Bernsteins, they're more likely to have an editor and a list of contributors who are climbers first and journalists second. They just can't really afford to equip themselves to do the sort of work you're talking about - and of course the advertisers, who provide most of their income, probably wouldn't be too pleased either.
Read Krakauer's "Into Thin Air"
Then read Boukreev's "The Climb"
Then read Krakauer's response to various things written in "The Climb" (e.g. in the prologue to the hardback special edition of "Into Thin Air")
Climbing is dominated by private companies, and I can imagine that most magazines (all two of them!) do not want to piss them off due to advertising/sponsorship deals etc.). That's why most gear reviews in climbing magazines are pretty much useless these days, as they rarely say anything critical - of course, modern climbing gear might be so good, that it is incapable of criticism. This is not just found in climbing, but also in snowsports and game fishing magazines.
I think that if any investigative journalism were to be carried out, it would be in the mainstream media. However, there's probably very little demand for this, as most of the public don't care about inappropriate dry-tooling or bolting.
Most interesting question/comment posted on here for a long time IMO, thanks! And yes, I'd say a combination of the above with, I suspect, a bias towards 2 and 3.
Also 'Three Cups of Deceit' by Krakauer which had a bit of a climbing background
I wouldn't say the gear reviews for UKC are any better tbh. Admittedly I'm not an avid reader of gear reviews (not least because as you pointed out, there is very little criticism) but the odd review I do read seems, broadly speaking, bland and positive.
(Although I am aware that by saying this, the obvious response is "OhRly?? And where pray is your balanced critical review masterpiece?!... You haven't done one yet, well, yes then I am sure you are qualified to comment and I am just waiting with baited breath for your first foray into the review arena".)
Because it's not that important at the end of the day?
One topic that might be worth looking at is the impact of sponsorship and advertising on climbers, and on the editorial policy of climbing magazines and websites (such as this one).
Another one might be Gwynedd County Council's controversial Green Key scheme (I think I've got the right name; someone correct me if I haven't) for traffic and parking regulations in Snowdonia and the climbing organizations that backed it in the face of climbing and local public opposition. I may have my facts wrong here (hence no naming names) but this is an example of where a bit of basic investigative journalism on a climbing related issue might benefit all.
As to the Gogarth story - wasn't that run by journalists who happened to be climbers? Roger Alton, now the Executive Editor of the Times, is a climber, and his links with Ed Douglas have enabled a few stories to get out in the past when he was, I think, on the Guardian. (Again, someone correct me if I'm wrong.)
Anyway - what we really need is a statutory base for an independent tribunal to adjudicate on the regrading of TPS.
I can't think of anything more boring than your first suggestion. The pitfalls of sponsor pressure are obvious and overstated repeatedly here by those with conspiracy paranoia. Going on and on about it would risk a crying wolf problem when a real scandal did pop up.
The 'Green Key' idea I'm sure would have legs if it's true (journalists must do their fact checking or we have another Lord McAlpine situation)
I think the numbers of articles on climbing and mountaineering that do hit the real press are more than I'd expect although as a Grauniad reader they tend to be from the ever impressive Ed Douglas. I also think the mags and UKC could try harder sometimes but part of the blame of that is down to climbers not contributing good material to them (so well done Mark Reeves on that BG piece and others doing similar).
3PS IS E0 whether the grade exists or not (ie bordeline HVS/E1)...yet another non-story.
At UKC we haven't got the resources, time and money to even consider investigative reporting. I am certain the same situation exists at the magazines.
If I could afford to pay someone to look into these interesting stories then that would be great, but I can't, so I don't - end of story.
is this Marks piece you refer to ?http://lifeinthevertical.co.uk/blogs/blog/2009/07/bear-grylls-the-bmc-and-us/
is that investigative??? wheres the unambiguous narrative? where's questions about perkins slade actions on insuring it? how much? what was the premium in the first place? ...they are a very experienced commercial insurer what was the original cover granted based on misleading information? why did they payout (actually did they payout)? Is the BMC overly dependent on Perkins Slade? What happens when a serac breaks off off an takes out 100 folks tramping up Everest? How many other expeditions that have commercial activities at their heart mislead insurers e.g. photographers and film makers? (neatly round to Asgard Apology)would perkins slade have paid out on rescue on Asgard if the chaps were knowingly breaking the law, does a editor being asked to print an apology in his magazine with a very clear and interesting story behind what was a climbing blockbuster film not ask questions about that apology...or is that a bit to close to hand that feeds. That's not conspiracy paranoia is it? Its a simple question. That in 30 years of Kendal Mountain festival you can probably count on 1 hand the number of films out of the hundreds screened that have aired on broadcast says much about our sports ability to engage with mainstream media providers and mainstream audiences in the way we think is representative.
For me I'm interested in why (for which their are few reasons) rather than the whats (which will recur again and again in the future to be seemingly side stepped).
Thats fine Alan, I don't think you were aware of or ran either of those examples as stories anyway, and as a well established non subscription model it would would make no sense.
Big papers/ broadcasters struggle with this, so I'd imagine niche publishers just have no incentive to even begin down this path.
That was written (I think) by Peter Gilman who covered quite a few climbing articles for the Times, including I think some coverage of the Eiger tradegies as well as The Harlin Route, This was the CC guide coverage of the McCallum affair.
My point is similar to Alan's there is no real money to do this; so it's better people contribute stuff if they care. As such its unfair to compare Mark with a broadsheet journalistic position when at least he is trying. Why don't you do a piece?
Investigations soak up huge amounts of staff time and cost a fortune. Even major newspapers have been cutting back on them and climbing magazines with miniscule circulations - let alone websites that no one is going to pay to read - can't even contemplate them even if there were to be a scandal worth investigating, which neither of the OP's suggestions are.
Asgard: bad boy adventurer makes illegal BASE jump. Nobody dies.Canadian national park has a hissy fit. Minimal fine levied in obscure court So what?
Bear Grylls: bit more interesting cos he's a 'sleb' on t'telly so got a slightly wider appeal than Leo Houlding but even so what does it amount to? BMC didn't go bust, insurance premiums went up. How many extra readers would that investigation pull in to justify the cost?
Forget the conspiracy theories. You get what you pay for and unless and until thousands of people are willing to pay an awful lot more for climbing mags you will continue to get what you're getting.
Is it true that Bear Grylls nearly bankrupted the BMC? That sounds interesting...
> Asgard: bad boy adventurer makes illegal BASE jump. Nobody dies.Canadian national park has a hissy fit. Minimal fine levied in obscure court So what?
> Bear Grylls: bit more interesting cos he's a 'sleb' on t'telly so got a slightly wider appeal than Leo Houlding but even so what does it amount to? BMC didn't go bust, insurance premiums went up. How many extra readers would that investigation pull in to justify the cost?
> Forget the conspiracy theories. You get what you pay for and unless and until thousands of people are willing to pay an awful lot more for climbing mags you will continue to get what you're getting.
Thank you. That sums the situation up very well.
Oddly I was thinking of your book when I came across this blog post the other day whilst researching something completely different http://jackofkent.blogspot.fi/2011/07/who-is-david-rose.html I think after reading about a story in the Mail and then discussion on blogs about that story.
That's actually some good spin; why use the term "hissy fit" for example? Someone broke a law, when the relevant authorities discovered this they prosecuted. This is Canada we're talking about here! Hardly synonymous with intrigue, politically motivated judicial persecution and lack of respect for the rule of law. If the police in Britain charge someone for breaking a law where no one got hurt and there weren't any victims, physically or financially - are they "throwing a hissy fit" also?
In the past both High; OTE and Climber has news pages at the front of the magazine that often dealt with issues around climbing but not actual first ascents and the like - so access, insurance, court cases, rescues etc. I would have thought the Asgard thing could have been dealt with neutrally in exactly that sort of way. Basically like the news stories from Canada I linked on the Asgard thread. If someone was really ambitious they could call the interested parties to get brief quotes. I don't think there is much to 'investigate' there but it simple news item would have seemed like the way to deal with it.
Because neither of them are big stories!
Asgard concerns someone doping something "illegal" that in reality has very little impact on the environment that it took place in. What damage does base jumping do that the climb itself didn't?
IIRC your sensational "Bear Grylls almost bankrupted BMC" story was more a case of "insurance premiums rise when underwriters catch a cold due to large claim."
You might get sucked in by such overt sensationalism but most climbers are intelligent enough to see straight through such guff.
Do you really want our sport dragged through the mud so that some second rate, tawdry journalist can profit from it?
Certainly made good copy on here
I'm no paranoiac and have no axe to grind. If others have been "going on and on" about this issue on here, I haven't been aware of it; I don't read everything on UKC.
But since (perceived) conflict of interest in parts of the print media has been a significant part of the Leveson inquiry, and although you are right that it's silly to risk crying wolf, it doesn't do any harm to be vigilant when there is scope for being conflicted. And perhaps, when budgets are low, both for commercial interests and for (potential) investigators, the risks of mishap are greater.
Good points. Without wishing to exaggerate parallels with other fields, in the case of climbing, who speaks truth to power?
So how much truth is there in any of the media...how much of TV do you believe is true to the image? how much is to be believed off any internet or printed source (save for perhaps peer reviewed content)? ...Self serving countered by healthy pinch of salt seems a reasonable strategy. Why does any climber need to publicise what they do (or might get away with convincing people they do)?
I wonder whether you might be making more than I intended of one part of a general observation that I made in my original post. For the same reason that I have only bought a handful of copies of the Times since Rupert Murdoch bought it, I wouldn't use UKC if I thought it was dodgy, and I certainly deplore lies and half truths in the name of internet libertarianism.
The OP raised a question about investigative journalism in the climbing world and basically my point was that there may be topics worthy of investigation and that there is always a need to speak truth to power whether it is political, commmercial, religious, medical or whatever.
> So how much truth is there in any of the media...how much of TV do you believe is true to the image? how much is to be believed off any internet or printed source (save for perhaps peer reviewed content)? ...
I think this level of scepticism is as dangerous as believing everything you read without any reservations at all. Are you saying that the news media we have in the UK is on a par with that of, say, China, or North Korea? How much is to be believed - well surely that depends on the subject, the news outlet, the journalist, what else is happening that day, etc. Only a fool would believe anything the Mail wrote about science (of course there are a lot of fools about), but then so much of what the media covers is very subjective. Who knows what is really going on in politics, even the key players are working off incomplete information...
Surely comparing peer-reviewed content and daily news journalism is comparing apples and oranges? Journalists don't always have the luxury of time, they have to report on the new rather than the old, which is why it's called news and not olds. Doing academic research and trying to make some sense of events whilst they are still happening are too different things, surely we need both?
By heck, your news bulletins would make riveting viewing.
"Our top story tonight. 60 million Britons were not killed today. 20 million homes were not flooded, there were no by elections in 627 constituencies and the vast majority of UK businesses have not laid off a thousand workers nor gone into liquidation."
Hmmm. Well I've no idea what your professional background is, Simon, but whatever it is I'd say don't give up the day job because I'm afraid your chances of ever making a news editor are a tad slim.
"So how much truth is there in any of the media..."
I think it varies from almost 100% on non-contentious local stuff from good sources to close to 0% in some media making a dishonest point about something a long way off where its hard to check. I also think its getting worse due to financial pressures as we are too stupid as a populace to pay for good journalism (mainly through the purchase of papers) and the new models for income from e-reporting don't really work yet. In fact its a dangerous time for the possibilities of government control now nearly everything has gone electronic: all it takes is a major crisis and a dodgy leadership and we are heading for 1984. I still retain optimism that the risks of such a meltdown are low and something will fill the journalism gap, as everyone needs this for democracy to work and the problem is becoming more and more obvious to anyone with any intelligence. This is part of the reason why the BBC news (and Channel 4 news etc) are so important.
I only suggested climbers help in our small vertical world as the magazines in the UK simply can't afford to do it on their own, yet they will publish good stuff.
I think local news reports current news stories reasonably well (bus hit Bridge on acacia avenue, 7 people slightly injured), but is absolutely hopeless at proactive news gathering - I don't think local news does investigative journalism at all. Worse than that is the uncritical reproduction of press releases as "news stories" "workers from McNasties sweatshop helped save fluffy kittens in a day of action sponsored by kitto-skoff" rather than "Secret to McNasties violin strings revealed - no cat is safe!!".
I think local news coverage by mainstream media is dead, they just have't turned off the lifesupport, yet
Surely the first question would be "is there any need for investigative journalism in climbing"?
Taking your two examples, the first is IMHO very minor and in the wider context, has nil impact. The second might be worthy of further explanation, if only to establish that the headline used is hyperbole, and no real story actually exists.
Neither merits deploying the money, time and a potential day in court on the wrong end of our libel laws.
If there was a story that a major kit supplier was importing shonky Uzbeki clibing hardware as marking it as CE / UIAA then sure, but there is nothing like that in the offing. Climbing, being brutally honest, does not merit the effort and energy for what is likely to be a minor infraction in a minority sport.
Is there anything in this sport that would merit the level of investigative journalism under taken by David Walsh?
> Is there anything in this sport that would merit the level of investigative journalism under taken by David Walsh?
Performance enhancing drugs in unregulated sports? Culture clash given Olympic recognition is on the agenda. Wouldn't just be climbing - I'm sure there are other sports this applies to as well.
> Performance enhancing drugs in unregulated sports? Culture clash given Olympic recognition is on the agenda. Wouldn't just be climbing - I'm sure there are other sports this applies to as well.
I don't really see my climbing as a sport. I suppose if people want to be recognised for climbing competitively then they should expect regulators to pop up at some point, but it's so far removed from going out there and climbing things that it probably seems a bit irreverent to most people.
I suppose the people who see it as a competition are those most likely to take drugs. I see it as a fun way to get up mountains and they can take my performance enhancing coffee from my cold, dead hands!
It's a fair cop. I'll come clean. I've been on performance enhancing drugs for years Glucosamine, condriatin (sp?) omega 3, ibuprofen...the list just goes on and on. I'm so ashamed.
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