Colleague Jon Gordon pointed out an interesting thing to me the other day. On the day that the John McCain story appeared on the New York Times' Web site, the most popular/most e-mailed story on the site was this one. Three days later, the declining popularity of golf is still a more popular story on the New York Times site than the story which, if you listen to some people, threatens to upend the election for the leader of the free world.
The "most blogged about" Times story, however, is the McCain story.
From this we can draw only one conclusion: the reason golf is declining in popularity is that bloggers aren't interested in golf and that golfers -- in great numbers -- are giving up golfing and starting blogs.
The irony of the situation is inescapable. If golf is declining in popularity (and it is), how can a story about it be more popular than the biggest political/journalistic story of the year (so far)?
Golf courses in Minnesota have found the Times article to be true; fewer rounds of golf are being played. In the suburbs, this is particularly distressing because of a tactic developers used to gain favor for the construction of McMansion neighborhoods. The developers would, in exchange for a city's permission to build the neighborhoods, build a golf course for the city in the middle of it, and turn it over to the city to run. A McMansion on a golf course was an easier sell. Now, the cities have golf courses to maintain and less revenue coming in.
The Times documents the problem when the communities try to diversify the benefits of having a golf course by, for example, using the property for weddings:
One neighbor, Dominique Mendez, whose home is about 600 feet from the 18th hole, said, “We bought our house here because we wanted to live in a quiet place, and we thought a golf course would be nice to see from the window. Instead, people have to turn up their air conditioners or wear earplugs at night because of the music thumping.”
During weddings, she said: “you can hear the D.J., ‘We’re gonna do the garter!’ It’s a little much.”
Unfortunately, for golf courses, the article never really explains why golf is becoming less popular. As a person who loves golf -- and who has never broken 100 -- let me take a couple of whacks at this:
1. People don't like meeting people as much as they used to. Go ahead, walk in any skyway in the Twin Cities and note how when a stranger approaches, the carpet becomes a much more interesting thing to study. In golf, unless you're already a foursome, you'll get paired up with people you don't know, which brings us to...
2. People don't like embarrassing themselves in public. Golf requires embarrassment and we are genetically predisposed to believing that we aren't as good as the people we are likely to be paired with. Thus, we elect not to play or we seek times when we can get on the course when nobody's watching.
There is but one obvious solution: Play when they "do the garter."(13 Comments)
It's been a tough week for the New York Times, but let's give the newspaper credit for this: it employs an ombudsman who has no problem telling the bosses they got it wrong, and the paper has no problem -- apparently -- allowing him to do it in public. The Star Tribune once did the same thing (who can ever forget Kate Parry's Sid Hartman "the rules don't apply to me" column?).
"A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide."
That, of course, leaves only this question: Why on earth don't the folks who put the article together, and the Times' blogging apologists understand this? We're not talking about the Boofus Bugle.
As Hoyt said, without the sex angle, the Times was on to a good story about cronyism, something that local media critic Brian Lambert pointed out.
Here's what I hear from people in the business, including some people in my own newsroom : "if the Times didn't have the goods, they wouldn't have gone with the story." In his otherwise solid post, Lambert said, "The New York Times would not have trotted out this angle if they didn't have plenty to back it up."
Whether that's true or not is irrelevant to the central fact that, as Hoyt says in the following paragraph, failure to follow the best two-word guideline for journalists -- prove it -- violates basic standards.
"...If you cannot provide readers with some independent evidence, I think it is wrong to report the suppositions or concerns of anonymous aides about whether the boss is getting into the wrong bed."