Friday, April 14, 2006

Rowing News Refuses to Publish Critical Letter

I opened up my latest copy of Rowing News the other day and guess what – no letter from JW Burk! That letter was written, of course, in response to the magazine’s two sentence snub of lightweight women in its collegiate preview article. I was ticked off about the snub at the time, and many of you were too, so I wrote a letter to the editor. The managing editor responded to me asking for my city and I replied that I write this blog anonymously but wondered if there was some other way to satisfy his request. He said he would just put "USA" and left it at that. Now I’m told that they “made a last minute switch as we didn't feel comfortable printing a letter from someone who wouldn't disclose their location.” In other words, if I had just responded to the original email with “Dubuque,” my letter would be in. For all the concern about anonymity, I was too honest! Even worse was the fact that I offered to work to satisfy them in another way, but I never received a second chance to get the letter in, they just didn’t print it.

[Update: Read the comments for another view on this.]

There were only three letters in this issue, leaving a lot of white space on the page, so there was plenty of room. There was only one letter critical of the preview article and that was as much about DII rowing as it was about lightweights. With no real criticism of the article it perpetuates the perception that no one cares about women’s lightweights. It was also disappointing to see that no one else wrote in either (or did RN just not publish them?). If anonymity was a problem, they could’ve told me. I’m certain I could have had someone else send in the letter with their city listed. This isn’t life or death here, but the whole point of FITD is to spread the word about lightweight rowing, not to simply talk amongst ourselves. This was a great opportunity to do that. Heck, I basically wrote an article for them – facts and figures about numbers of crews as well as the storyline for this season. RN’s two sentences, by the way, didn’t even mention the current number one boat in the country, Radcliffe. I’d ask a FITD reader to copy and paste the letter and send it in, but it’s unlikely it would get published this long after the offending issue. (If you want to contact RN, however, you can reach the editor at

So what is behind this? Not anonymity, because they never asked me to address that issue, they simply used it as an excuse. Why is Rowing News lightweight phobic? I truly don’t know. No one is asking for a lightweight article every week, but when you split the sport into its constituent parts, how do you justify leaving one of those parts out? We’re looking for SOME coverage, not more coverage. They would probably say there’s no demand, but I disproved that with the numbers I cited in my letter, not to mention with the readership of FITD. Do they not want to publish criticism? I doubt that’s the case because that would create a serious integrity problem for the publication. I like Rowing News and read every issue, but this phobia is inexplicable. Maybe it’s simply that no one there understands what’s happening in this corner of the rowing world.

On a similar note, you’ve never seen FITD mentioned on row2k either. Ed Hewitt has a no blog and no anonymity policy. Looking at the purpose of FITD again - to spread the word - it’s tough to accomplish when you can’t get in the two major rowing publications in the US. Be that as it may, I’ll remain anonymous - that’s just the way it is. I’ve got almost ten months of posts here so everyone pretty much knows the kind of things I’ll say and cover and I’m a lot easier to contact than a typical letter writer in Rowing News. I’m no expert and I don’t claim to be, I just pay attention. We all owe row2k a debt of gratitude because it’s a fantastic site. Most of what we read about rowing comes from it, not to mention all race results. I contribute money to it. I just wish, though, that Ed would read FITD and then decide if it’s not worth the same link notice that the Little Sisters of the Poor High School Crew's web site gets. Let’s base these decisions on what you have to say, not who you are.


Coach Jay said...

I know that there is always a struggle to get the word out about anything having to do with rowing. Your frustration is shared by 90-95% of the people involved in the sport.

Frankly, I never have cared much about Rowing News since they joined up with USRowing. The previous incarnation of the magazine was more thorough, the reporters were interested enough to actually talk to you about your race and the content really touched on everything.

What passes for "news" now are articles planned and written months in advance by "names" in the sport. National team affialiation is usually the requirement for entry. The only thing I read in my monthy issue is Andy Anderson. Race results focus on the big collegiate races, elite level propraganda and masters races.

I'm not knocking that too hard; there is a place for those items. I think your point and mine is that there is too much to the sport of rowing for one monthly magazine, half full of ads, to cover everything that's happening.

That's why you and I write our blogs, to give insight and analysis into our own little parts of the rowing world. The sort of in-depth reporting that you do just isn't important enough to people who have to answer to USRowing, thus proving how out of touch the national governing body really is.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't get too offended, they get lots of letters and frankly your letter looked too long and a bit whiny. There are lots of lightweight rowers that work and write for the Rowing News so that's not the story and it has nothing to do with answering to USRowing. The fact is it's a business and they're trying to find interesting stories. You might think that's lightweight women but try running a magazine with 20,000 subscribers and see what you come up with after 15 odd years.

Coach Jay makes an interesting point however that this is what blogs are for, but it's not like you get 20,000 people reading it every month. His point is also watered down however by the fact that he only reads Dr. Rowing, which is about the only thing I wish they'd take out! I'm sorry Pinsent is gone.

JW Burk said...

Can't deny the long and whiny part - it's hard not to be whiny when you're complaining. They clearly had room though, since there was a lot of white space on the page. My point was that women's lightweights are both interesting and there is demand.

Interesting that you mention there are lightweights working at (Heavyweight) Rowing News. That was exactly the defense they used with me! Not wishing to prolong the whole thing, I didn't respond, but I don't care who they are or what their background is, I only care what they do. And what they do is ignore lightweight women's rowing. Not to mention that this blogging thing drives them batty. They don't know what to make of it and seem to be afraid of giving bloggers any legitimacy. Sheesh! Lighten up Francis!