"Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?"
Peter Seeger's biggest hit reminded me of Bill Finley's lament on the retirement of the celebrated lead journalist, Jennie Rees, from the Louisville Courier-Journal in Kentucky.
While it's by no means restricted to racing journalism, blogging and the internet have wreaked carnage on the art of good writing, and while there are many who'll find solace in the fact that what they read on the internet and even in newspapers these days, is closer to the language they speak, you have to ask yourself where the written medium is heading if its spiral remains tilted towards mediocrity.
There used to be a job called "turf writer": maybe you've heard of it. It thrived before one heard of Twitter, the internet or blogs, or television stations which broadcast sport around the clock, and every major newspaper in every city with a racetrack, had one. These were men, and yes, women, who worked the racetrack beat; they were there before the break of day, every day, mingling with jockeys, trainers, touts, agents and racetrack characters to get the latest news. When you picked up your local newspaper the next morning, you knew everything there was to know about what was cooking at the track. Many papers employed more than one, handicappers and columnists, because racing sold newspapers.
Now society has changed. The internet has made the daily newspaper something only your grandfather reads: papers have closed and circulations have sunk at those that did not. At this juncture, we'd have to ask ourselves what our sport would've been like had it not been for the ramblings of Rudyard Kipling, Damon Runyon, Banjo Paterson, Red Smith, Brough Scott, Les Carloyn and Ed Bowen. In the local context, we had the incomparable Sir Mordaunt Milner and Eppie Nelson to marvel at. If you ever read or listened to Peter O'Sullevan, you'd be getting the drift.
I have to confess, I am one of those grandfathers who likes to "feel" his newspaper, who reads the writings of good journos with a deliberate attention to every phrase, how and why it was crafted and what it was intended to mean. Believe me, while great journos spew out their wisdom like it's second nature, they mean every word of it, and they do it with a panache that belongs only to the chosen few.
Of course, racing still has a couple of the "gifted" in its journalistic ranks, but they are a rare breed these days, just as great rugby and cricket writers are fewer and further apart. One of our problems is that even those with prolific pens are becoming less concerned with the manner of their expression, knowing that whatever they write, it's likely to be better than what you read on the internet. Writing suffers for this, and within a generation or two, I fear we're headed for the abyss.
I was reminded a few days ago of this decay by a brief note from an old friend who knew the Hartford story and the Ellis family well while growing up. For years I've been badgering her to join our band of contributors to these columns, but she's always found a reason not to, mainly out of fear that she might not be "good enough". Truth is, she'd keep us all amused, and I've little doubt that our readership, excellent as it is, would climb another couple of gears if only she would come aboard.
On the eve of our departure for the Ready To Run, Lynn Atkinson dropped us a few jewels on a couple of "matter-of-fact" issues she'd come across in the weeks before. While she'd kill me if she knew I was publishing this without her consent, the only way we're going to break water with her, is to stick it up and face the consequences. So here goes:
"Racing at Listowel today Mick; ground fit for jumpers. In fact Mullins must be sick that he did not put Faugheen in the Leger – they would not have seen which way he went.
Huge pity if the best horses become too valuable to race. The Timeform chaps can extrapolate themselves into fantasyland; we need the horses to keep us straight.
One of Norris McWhirters gems was to assure me that "it does not matter who people are, the only thing that matters is whether they have anything interesting to say" (we had a meeting with Murdoch about an education campaign, and my knees were knocking); I really must have something interesting to say that you have not already said better.
Saw Lester at Legends Day; he said Ribot was the best. Previously he had named Sea Pigeon. In his prime he refused to rate them. Might be getting old, but I agree with AP (McCoy) on the long fella. Lynn"
You might like to vote whether you'd want to read more "Lynn Atkinson" down the road. You know how I'm voting!