Declaring an Interest

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The global world of media is changing fast – and it sometimes be hard to tell what (and who) is behind the motivations for features and articles that you read. Is it in a magazine because it’s interesting, or because a company has paid for it to seem interesting (or commercially interesting) to the magazine’s publishers? In the editorial for our new issue, I have laid out Singletrack’s plan to list the benefits for every feature – whether we were bought lunch, or we had a flight and hotel as part of our travels. While we might not think that it has influenced our thoughts, the more information that you have, the easier it will be for you to make up your own mind. And more information is always better, right?

After all. Can there be such a thing as a free lunch?

Published in full below is Chipps’ Editorial from Issue 114 of Singletrack Magazine

There’s a change in the air. It’s not about news and readers any more. Or authors and editors. The already grey lines between us and them, and you and us (or us and you, and them…) are blurring further as magazines launch YouTube channels and bike brands create their own stories to run in self-published, glossy illustrated brochures.

Meanwhile, riders are often sponsored more because of their Instagram followers than their race results. Or perhaps, they don’t race at all, simply riding bearded and shirtless across a glorious mountain scene and being given pink hearts for the effort.

It’s all part of the constant change of the whole media world. Anything goes and everyone is trying to find the limits of each medium. Web-only magazines are considering running some issues in print while blogs, or ‘vlogs’ on Youtube can earn you a living if you can rise through the swamp of copycat celebrity wannabes with the same idea. It’s the new West, and it’s wild.

In this kaleidoscope of media, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees, or the trees for the sustainably grown post-consumer waste recycled paper. And, often, it can be hard to work out the motivation behind people’s actions. Are they ‘gramming their breakfast because it’s tasty? Or because they get a discount if they do? Is a magazine writing about a trail centre because it’s interesting, or because it’s being paid. Or because it’s being paid AND it’s interesting. Is it still interesting if it’s interesting AND funded?

These and many other questions crop up regularly in my world, if they don’t in yours. One one hand, nothing has actually changed. The media has always been supported by advertising and copy sales. Those advertisers are still there, and still wanting access to those readers. And those readers are usually happy to pay the price for their entertainment – whether it be by sitting through an advert or by paying more (or at all) to not see and ad.
Then there are all the below-the-line costs that are equally omnipresent. Like the transport needed to get to wherever or whatever you’re writing about. Sometimes it’s paid by a bike company, eager for you to shoot its bike in a beautiful landscape, while you get the bonus of visiting a beautiful place that will make for great photos. Sometimes the venue itself will have invited you. The readers get to hear about this amazing place and, just perhaps, they might consider going the next time they’re passing…

We’ve decided that as it’s getting harder to tell who’s doing what for whom. And even if the motivations are still the same, and a free breakfast doesn’t go towards a great writeup, there’s an unnecessary mist of doubt over things when there might not previously have been.

So we’re taking the pioneering step of always stating (and thanking) where any help has come from when writing our features. Nothing has particularly changed; we’re just lifting the curtain more. Sometimes we’ve taken a flight, or been provided a hotel room – and often that’s the only way we can afford to travel to places. Sometimes a guide has shown us around. And often we’ve been bought meals. Just how free those meals are will probably depend on your point of view, but in the name of transparency, whenever we’ve had some kind of help with a feature (with transport or hotels or guiding or whatever) then we’ll tell you. And if a feature was provided for the magazine for free, or in exchange for adverts or coverage, we’ll tell you that too.
Hopefully we can encourage magazines from other publishers to do the same in future. They probably won’t, but Singletrack has never minded being a little bit different to the rest.

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Comments (3)

    Nice one. Always good to see things presented openly.

    Great bit of comment and it has been apparent to me for some time that advertising of mountain biking products has developed into sponsor generated content disguised as, “We went riding with blah blah as they undertook this epic ride.” All well and good and sure it often makes for a great story, but much of these sorts of stories are designed to generate maximum coverage for a bike manufacturer. Often it can be pretty subtle, but not always. Then you see the same story splashed over a range of webzines, pink bike, etc.

    Good on single track for declaring any outside contributions in producing your stories. Its a very upfront thing to do.

    Good work guys. I hope more follow your lead

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