Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jokes by the humorless: The 'OMG' saga

With 24 hours or so to reflect on the oh-so-slight Internet phenomenon (within the horse racing world only) that one post of mine has become, I'm compelled to try and wrap it all up in a tidy package with ribbon and a bow and set it aside. But I'll admit, bows are for decoration only, and a little tugging at the ends later could result in reopening the box.

I'm more than willing to believe that Ron Mitchell, who writes the "Tracking Barbaro's Brothers" blog at, was making a joke when he relaxed his journalistic formality for a moment (as we all do occasionally) and clacked-out the headline "OMG! Nicanor Scratched Due to Leg Injury when reporting the scratch of Barbaro's baby brother, Nicanor, from today's Virginia Derby.

Whether I wasn't amused is a result of my just being dumb that way, or the joke's being a clunker, or a measure of both, I'll leave for you to judge for yourselves.

And I know quite well that jokes by journalists -- even jokes by comedians -- sometimes land with a thud.

Sometimes readers just don't get it. Writing for a general audience as I do daily, attempts at humor can't be too obscure or you're leaving the bulk of your readers on the outside of an inside joke. That's frustrating at least for the reader; it can even become offensive.

A well-written, prudently timed and carefully calculated joke agitates primarily those who were its butt, and they're usually madder the more they had it coming.

The very worst of a writer's jokes are those that offend most everyone. Or those that end up turning the joke on the writer.

Clearly I lobbed the joke back toward that venerated publication, and in a way that seems to have been more amusing to readers than was the original joke, posed as a headline.

Comments on my earlier post, and some readers in private e-mail to me, have suggested that the Blood-Horse knows good and well the type who usually frequent the "Barbaro's Brothers" blog. Its audience is composed of Barbaro fanatics (duh, I guess), some or even many of whom are youthful, female and perhaps don't care much, if at all, about horse racing otherwise.

Having read some of the comments over there -- and there are usually lots of comments on that blog, though often from the same users -- I think there could be some truth to that theory.

And certainly some Blood-Horse patrons have no use for the "Barbaro's Brothers" bit.

Wrote "TomasinNM" responding to my prior post: "The Bloodhorse recently sent out a survey to ascertain I assume, where they could improve. ... One of my comments dealt with the blog issue -- it seems that they're pandering to 13 yr. old horse-crazy girls. Good grief."

Other, anonymous posters here suggested the blog moderator screens out any comments from those who might poop on the "12-year-old" Friends of Barbaro party. (Though some posts he or she mentions being ignored or deleted, such as one comparing Barbaro's and Nicanor's injuries now seem to be present ... a change of heart from reading comments over here? Still, other critical posts that were mentioned, are not.)

"If you like the Nicanor saga (zzzz), this was actually a two-sided blog before a new moderator took it over," that person wrote on my blog. "... Now it's but hearts and flowers with NO racing interest, or knowledge. ... It's a joke, and real race fans know it."

Well, not everyone agrees. At least one person thought I was unfair -- among other things -- in making fun of the Blood-Horse's treatment in blog form of the Nicanor scratch.

The commenter who took me to task for my comic criticism of the Blood-Horse fired off a few personal shots about my writing here lacking creativity and substance. That's fine; I think he's wrong, but I was taught not to dish it out if I can't take it, and I'm a big boy (a very big boy) who has learned to withstand criticism. Turnabout is fair play.

But how about the Blood-Horse? According to that critic, the "OMG" headline was posted as an attempt at sarcastic humor, so when I in turn crack wise about the headline, where's their own sense of levity? ... Even Nixon could play a credible straight man on "Laugh In."

Former Daily Racing Form bloodstock editor Sid Fernando, now president of, speculates that my critic was Blood-Horse President and CEO Stacy Bearse. (Note for the sake of full disclosure that Fernando has his own issues with Bearse, and is very open with his disdain.)

The critic being Bearse makes sense, because the poster also took an unwarranted and somewhat non-germane swipe at Ray Paulick and his independent racing news and content aggregation site, Much as newspapers are at odds with Google over aggregation, and considering Paulick's site is garnering thousands of user visits daily and cashing a few precious racing industry ad dollars in a weak economy (a huge concern of Bearse's), in part by linking to Blood-Horse content, the frustration of Paulick's ex-boss is practically palpable. And Bearse when prodded is known to be a loose cannon at the keyboard.

(A brief aside here: An e-mail like that one apparently from Bearse to Paulick -- if sent by me to anyone, particularly to a former employee whose personnel records and privacy I'm obliged to safeguard and respect -- would have gotten me fired on the spot.)

But it isn't Stacy Bearse -- if he does happen to have been the harsh critic -- that has intrigued me the most since comments on my post started coming in yesterday. It was the very first response in the thread; the one whose contributor I can no longer track because my Sitemeter counter was (emphasis on "was") the free variety, and only maintained information on the last 100 visits.

Others have hinted that this author's comments also originated in-house at the Blood-Horse. I can't research or prove it, but I do wonder.

That writer chided me a bit for not being in on the "OMG" joke. But it's impossible to miss the animus toward the blogosphere itself -- I'm guessing specifically the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance posts that now are, by some sort of agreement, also imbedded at to help drive traffic and justify advertising rates.

The post reads: "I don't know if you caught the irony that the Blood-Horse is well aware of what a joke these nutty people are to the industry -- certainly not to themselves, as they are too obsessed to realize they are embarrassing. They do bring hits to the site, however, so Blood-Horse is very happy to feed the fire, all the while joining in the snickering at these fools."

Whether that author is in-house at or not, the implication is that the Blood-Horse doesn't take blogging (or specifically TBA bloggers?) seriously, and by extension, could also not really respect the users who visit specifically to read those blogs. They're probably all "nutty ... fools" whose embarrassment must be suffered in order for to pay the bills. But it's OK, because the Blood-Horse is laughing at them, too.

I'd love to know, though likely never will, whether that was written by a BH staffer. And exactly toward whom the writer's disdain is directed (all bloggers, some bloggers, only the people who read the "Barbaro's Brothers" blog?). But the negative sentiment is unmistakable.

On the topic of new media, blogging (to which I'm a newcomer), and the need to attract more and younger fans to horse racing, I happen to agree with one of my more recent commenters, who identified himself (or herself) as a journalist, though not of the turf variety.

"I must say ... that racing needs all kinds. Even annoying kinds," the individual wrote. "We have to take them wherever we can get them and if that means we get the Barbaro-obsessed types, then fine.

"I'm of the opinion that (part) of our job in the press ... is to find out what people are interested in, what they want to read, and (within reason) give it to them. ... If they want to read a gushy blog, then give them their gushy blog."

From a business sense, I largely concur. But then don't make fun of the reader for liking what you gave them.

The Critic-Who-Could-Be-Bearse wrote: "The Nicanor blog that had 'OMG' in the headline was an attempt at sarcasm. The people who follow that blog are pretty obsessed with anything Barbaro related, so it was an attempt at humor."

And that's where my bigger problem lies now with the joke in the blog headline. It wasn't just a clunker of a joke that I for whatever reason didn't appreciate. It was a joke seemingly aimed at -- rather than for -- the readers of the blog itself.

There's a not-so-fine line between laughing with your readers and laughing at them.

One is great for business. The other -- unless you're Triumph the Insult Comic Dog -- probably not so much.


  1. I stayed out of this discussion so far, so let me add my opinion:

    Ray Paulick obviously dislikes his former employer, but his site is still a much better source for information than the BH, and he's definitely more open to criticism, which is the most important thing.

    Sid Fernando's critical pieces about the BH and Mr. Bearse never struck me as being about anything but the topic so far.

    I wouldn't have a problem with a BH website sub-section geared towards 12-year-old girlies - most grandstands are big enough to accommodate several kinds of customers, and American racing needs customers. However, I very much have a problem with a BH sub-section geared towards 12-year-old girlies written by persons who disdain 12-year-old girls. They'll catch on when they're 14. It's a lose-lose for racing.

    The really scary thing is that the BH staff BEHAVES like a 12-year-old girl. ANONYMOUS HATORADE? OMG! AYAFSA? YYDA! (are you a f**king stupi* a**hole [sentence edited after re-reading your blog's rules]? Yes you definitely are!)

    In a sport that has more than a few pressing problems, the post of yours that garners 28 comments and counting isn't one of those about drugs, short fields, the necessity of downsizing or the sport's integrity - it's the one based on a little joke, which spawned a 12-year-old-girl-level reaction from the BH (which seems determined to destroy as much good will as it possibly can in the blogosphere).

    OMG! WTF! GCASAPA! (go care about some actual problems already)

    JS!!! (just sad)

  2. As always, I really appreciate your take on what goes on over here. And yes, it's really something -- what, I don't know, but something -- that the post which fuels so much interest is the gossipy one, not a more future-of-the-sport-oriented treatise.

    On the subjects of Paulick and Fernando, I think Ray Paulick has quite a bit of fondness for the Blood-Horse itself, and wishes the publication well. His relationship with Stacy Bearse is likely more thorny, as attested in some of the writing (and Bearse's apparent response) on his site.

    As for Sid Fernando, he has some legitimate differences with Bearse, and each is entitled to stake out his position and defend it. I just didn't want a reader to protest that I didn't reveal Sid's attitudes about Bearse in referencing Sid's amused following of this particular story.

  3. Well we went from discussing a trade publication for "16 year olds" to "12 year olds" overnight.

    I can almost hear Cher in the background:

    Now if I could turn back time...
    I'd take back those words that have hurt you...

    The perfect tune!
    Good evening gentlemen.

  4. Well, I equated the headline with a 16-year-old. Others didn't credit it with that much maturity.

    But thanks for the indelible Cher imagery that you've left my addled mind with for the remainder of the night!

  5. Malcer, as usual, you are on the mark....

    Glenn, I'm president of, not eNicks...eNicks is owned by my friend Jack Werk, and TrueNicks, a competitor to eNicks, is owned by BH and my friend Alan Porter...nice follow up, and I agree, they seem to be laughing at the reader IF it was a joke, which i don't believe it was

  6. Sloppy error on my part, Sid. Sorry! But now fixed.

  7. Glenn, I think you might be my new best friend!
    Yes, it is I, "Annonymous" again, of the "hearts and flowers" comment quoted above. I'll wait here while you confirm that with your ISP-o-meter ;-)

    Anyway, just wanted to add a couple thoughts to your delicious to read re-hashing.

    All just my opinion, of course...
    1. If the BH was making a joke, as you noted it fell VERY flat, and I feel it takes away from their over-all credibility. Look at the other blogs over have the Haskin Reports, the Maiden Watches, Adam's Turf (brand new guy to horse racing, SUPER nice, super enthusiastic, and soaking up everything about the sport at every turn, and STILL manages to write a credible blog not geared towards making the entire publication look like it's a MySpace page.

    2. If the BH was trying to cater to it's "target Barbaro Brother's blog" audience, by stooping (REALLY low) to their maturity level, then SHAME on them for not having more respect for their own publication. Why not try to lift them higher, educate them more on the sport, instead of encouraging it?? It affects THEIR magazine, not the people who reply there 24/7

    Trust me when I say, while there are a handful of young'uns over there, the majority of those regular posters (read=post 100 times a day because they have nothing else to do. Appparently) are DEFINITELY adults,WELL into their 30s and 40s.

    I too am ALL for new cannot afford to turn anyone with a real interest away. These people, at the BH BB blog, are NOT those people. I even have to laugh at the ones claiming to be "in the business", be it owners, or breeders, and yet...their "informative" posts are so full of errors, that I have been known to read them, slack-jawed in awe of the ignorance.

    I am not bashing ignorance, mind you...but only when people WANT to stay there and plan mock weddings between a stud horse who is "sleeping around" 200+ times a season and a brood mare whose whole experience with "love" lasts about 60 seconds, once a year.

    I LOVE this sport. Truly live, breathe LOVE it. I got weepy watching TVG's 10th anniversary show, for crying out loud...just over past moments, past pageantry. 31 years and counting, and I am not going anywhere.

    What I do NOT love is people proclaiming that only Barbaro was a great horse, Nicanor was the next TC winner, (now that's befallen poor Lentanor, DEMANDING updates they feel they have the RIGHT to know on these horses (I am NOT kidding, go read earlier blogs, where the then-moderator had to admonish these people, repeatedly, that they were NOT entitled to know anything and just be happy the Matz barn was kind en ough to provide updates now and again)....all the while these same people saying they hate--yes HATE--horse racing.

    As I once said to a former moderator of that blog (who is a friend)..."Then tell them to get the F*** away from MY sport"....sorry BH, and anyone else who may disagree, but with fans like just doesn't need it.

    Ok, I simply must shut up now; that passion stirs and I'll be writing here until sometime late Tuesday. Thanks for indulging me yet again, Glenn, even if it's just a behind the curtain vent to you, LOL

    Rock on, I still and will forever LOVE that you called a spade a spade here with your original article, cheers!

  8. I will be the first person to admit I am not a journalist or even a very good writer. However, I do think that all the blogs (even Barbaro's bros) are a good thing for horse racing. They seem to get people engaging with one another about the sport we all love. And they might bring in new people even it is just because they liked Barbaro, or Smarty Jones. I actually like the headlines of some of the BH blogs because of the often humorous play on words.

  9. Journalist or comedians? The Bloodhorse, which I subscribe to, is one pompous piece of horse manure. If I wasn't so vain, and did not love to see my horses name in prin,t I would never as much as wipe my nose with their magazine.

    It was not a joke. It was sarcasm, we all know the difference. Their was no ha-ha moment, just a shot at some fans who love the Barbaro story.

    Sad really.

  10. If BH wants to host a mushy ode to Barbaro and family, I have no problem with that. The "real" fans and the ones with "real knowledge" simply do not have to click on the link. It's so simple.
    I've looked over that blog regularly, and yes, most of it is 12-year-old gushing. Who cares? Some of the 12-years-olds may grow up to be horse owners, or bettors, or track patrons.
    On the flip side, shame on BH for taking shots at horse-mad little girls. If they're going to host it, then they should own it -- silliness and all.

  11. Glenn,

    Fantastic 2nd post on the subject and one that gives me great pause.

    One of my favorite moments was when you noted:

    "But how about the Blood-Horse? According to that critic, the "OMG" headline was posted as an attempt at sarcastic humor, so when I in turn crack wise about the headline, where's their own sense of levity?"

    Indeed, one of the most frustrating things in life is when others fail to see the irony in their ways.

    You also touched on something else that I fear I glazed over originally. You're right...whoever wrote that (and I'm guessing they very well may have been from BH) does seem to have an axe to grind at us TBA bloggers.

    I think I understand where that's coming from. The great internet revolution has suddenly empowered anyone, including 12 year-old girls, to pick up the keyboard and blast away in pseudo-journalistic style. Hell, their sites might even look better and/or obtain more viewership than the "traditional" journalists by trade.

    What these folks fail to keep in mind when focussing such anger and hatred at small time bloggers like you or I is that they (the professional journalists) actually get paid to do their job....for us it's all just volunteered time - and time spent that we know we'll receive nothing back in return for (as it's seldom about "what's in this for me?" and tends to be more about "I need an outlet to talk horses with someone as my friends, family, and coworkers are ready to kill me if I don't shut up about it in front of them.").

    That gives me great pause about ever posting something on there again...or wasting time giving them feedback.

    Actually, come to think of it, and not to start another blogging war, but the minute I saw a particular poster on many of the BH blogs being hero worshipped who, on numerous occassions, has been so hateful and demeaning to other fans, I kinda figured BloodHorse was starting to "jump the shark" a bit for me. (Note, I won't name who that individual is, but if you're reading as many comments over there, though not necessarily on the Barbaro pages, you'll probably have some idea of who I speak).

    I still go to them for breaking news, as they are still a great source for that - but it seems the "established" media in this sport all too often thumb their nose at us plebians and assume that we're half-crazed, semi-intoxicated loons who couldn't possibly contemplate broader issues on their intellectual level.

    And my oh my...look where exactly that train of thought has our sport these days.

    Great post - we've got to get you into the TBA. And I obviously need to carve out more time in my day to swing over here with greater frequency.

  12. As a professional journalist, I occasionally resent all the attention give to some online information, often posted by quasi-journalists at best.

    I really loathe sites like CNN calling people "iReporters" because they were in the right place at the right time with a camera phone. That person is almost never really a "reporter;" they're a "witness," albeit a better witness than most in that they were equipped to produce hard evidence of what they saw.

    Being a "reporter" requires meeting a higher standard, in my mind. And no, this isn't an elitist thing. I don't think you have to earn a college journalism degree or even be a paid member of someone's news team to qualify as a "reporter." But you do have to fulfill journalistic obligations such as making an effort to tell both sides of a story (where applicable), vet information for facts, and report a story on its merits, i.e., don't sensationalize a piece, nor impulsively blog-post everything that happens every day like it's all of equal importance. And, have some innate ability as a storyteller.

    The list could go on.


I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.