Opinion The Game The Journey TMO

Why I May Not Be a Moto-Journalist

Fancy title is arguably too grand for what I actually do

It’s a sign of a slow news day when journalists are talking about journalism. It’s like when dancers talk about dancing. No one cares about your motivations, Katya, now do that shaky hand thing again – that’s cool.

RELATED: How to Really Fix Motorcycling in America

But more and more I’ve been questioning the term I use when people ask what I do: moto-journalist. It’s a pretentious sort of job description, isn’t it? Pretty high-brow for a dude who scrapes together a living riding motorcycles and drinking with PR reps in faraway hotels. And I’m not sure it’s deserved.

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Here I am doing an investigative piece on plastic bumps.

My grandfather, to the day he died, was – in his mind, at least – a sportswriter. He did a lot of things in life – picked cotton, served in the Pacific in World War II, and was head of public relations for Dow Chemical Co. for nigh 20 years – but when he suffered a stroke that put him into a coma, he told the nurses upon his less-than-lucid return that he was “a writer – a sportswriter.” His heart had brought him back to his days working for the San Antonio Light and Houston Chronicle.

Because that’s what he was really interested in, what fired his imagination. He was especially stupid for baseball, and would share highlights from Astros games in letters we exchanged while I was in college.

The Motorcycle Obsession was created because I am especially stupid for motorized two-wheelers, be they fire- or lightning-driven. The site is built on fascination and enthusiasm, and I’m not sure it’s really journalism.

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A shot from my expose on roads that fool people into thinking they’re candy canes.

Every once in a while, someone will write an article about how moto-journalism has lost its way, how it’s not “real,” man, and it’s all just some cosy swindle where the moto press tells you what the manufacturers want you to hear. It’s a conspiracy. It’s all fake. And so on and so on until the author reaches the 500-word count that SEO strategists say is important for a good Google ranking.

More often than not, the foundation of this “They’re pulling the wool over your eyes” tact is, essentially, the bitch that motorcycle publications aren’t shitting all over the bikes they ride. They’re not being critical enough. Because that’s what true journalism is, apparently: incessant snarky criticism. Real moto-journalists, like real music journalists are supposed to be jaded and complain nonstop that every new thing isn’t like some obscurely “good” thing from several decades ago. Yamaha TZR250 = Love And Rockets.

But here I am, thinking that the Harley-Davidson Street Bob is the bee’s knees, and being OK with the fact the Triumph Street Scrambler delivers “only” 54 horsepower, and not really being all that fussed about track days. I’m not playing by the true moto-journalist handbook.

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A scene from my award-winning series on the effect of gravity on shiny things.

By and large, I just really like all bikes and I’m pretty enthusiastic about that fact. If I find a bike isn’t exactly my cup of tea (eg, Kawasaki Vulcan S Cafe), I usually try to make myself see it the way a fan of the bike might. I’m not always gushing with praise, but I don’t make it my mission to rip a bike apart with try-hard similes and descriptives (“the transmission is rougher than a dead crocodile’s vagina*”). So, I guess I am an insult to moto-journalism – a charlatan, a hoodwinker, a bunco artist, a flimflam man, a tregetour.

So, in the same sense my grandfather never called himself a sports journalist, perhaps I should find a different way to describe myself. Moto-writer, maybe? Moto-nerd? Full-time slackass? I’m not sure.

But also, I’m not sure you can really describe trade press as journalism. It’s certainly not life and death stuff; it’s not advocacy journalism, not analytical journalism, very rarely investigative journalism (when was the last time you read an investigative piece in the moto press?), and – by its nature – even less rarely objective journalism. It’s far more symbiotic than, say, when I worked in news media. It’s more like entertainment reporting, or, well, sports reporting.

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Despite subversive threats from local authorities, we bravely got to the bottom of what it’s like to ride a £12,500 motorcycle in an abandoned coal slag heap.

When a sportswriter sits in the press box, the team he or she is reporting on knows he/she’s there – they helped him or her get the credentials. They let him or her into the locker room; they set up tables and microphones so he or she can ask questions of players and staff. Everyone takes turns, they do a little dance. Because, at the end of the day, none of it actually matters.

When the Astros play, it may be engaging, it may be exciting, but it’s ultimately just a bunch of dudes throwing and hitting a ball. There are few, if any, greater societal repercussions to a bunch of dudes throwing and hitting a ball. The people who report on those dudes do so, ostensibly, because they are fascinated by how the dudes throw and hit said ball. And they tell stories to people who are also fascinated.

That’s kinda what I do with motorcycles. With TMO, my hope is to also help spark people’s fascination, as well as to speak to how that fascination can spill into other facets of life – travel, mental health, etc. – but really, it’s just motorcycles, man. And I’m not sure any of the stories we tell will take home a Pulitzer (although, if I can ever get together enough money to pay Heather L. Johnson to write for TMO we’d at least have a shot at competing in the Features category).

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Readers may remember the time I bravely crashed a motorcycle to test whether gear manufacturers were telling the truth with their safety claims.

I’m OK with that. I’m OK with playing the game of keeping mum on embargoed information (would a “real” journalist continue to sit on the fact he actually knows exactly when this will be revealed). I’m OK with admitting that I love this or that bike. I’m OK with being excited. I’m OK with being an enthusiast who happens to write about all these things.

I just need to figure out what to call myself.

*Do crocodiles even have vaginas? I assume they do, but maybe such a thing isn’t necessary for egg-laying creatures.