Being a Pom, I am often accused of being a whinger, even though I try my utmost to avoid complaining to avoid being bracketed in that stereotype. However, when it comes to New Zealand’s press I cannot help having a dig, because to be frank, it is generally appalling. When it comes to cycling coverage the situation becomes even more dire.
Take for example the New Zealand Herald sports section on 26 April. It featured a large picture of Lance Armstrong with a smug looking Sheryl Crow at the Tour de Georgia. Great, I thought, now where’s the race write-up? Oh wait, there isn’t one, it’s just an excuse to feature a little celebrity gossip and which Georgia is Lance at anyway, the southern US State or part of the former Soviet Union?
Back in February, during Bike Week, The Herald’s page 2 printed an article on the Auckland Commuter Challenge where commuters travelling by either bike, bus or car raced from various outer city areas to Aotea Square in the city centre. Proving that cycling is the fastest way to commute and dispelling arguments that it is more dangerous than driving, there is also an excellent column written by Jon Bridges describing his journey into work. “I’ve had to yell at drivers and sometimes abuse them,” says Jon, “giving them a fright … is a necessary means of communication.” Too right, but I imagine the Herald wasn’t too keen on printing Jon’s exact ‘necessary means of communication.’
This experiment triggered a few pieces of cycling related features in local press as well as the Herald. Local rag the Auckland City Harbour News used its front page on 25 February to tell the story of Tricia Allen who crashed on Greys Avenue after a car pulled out in front of her. Brilliantly sensationalised by the headline “Bicycle Fun Day Ends In Terror Tumble” the article talks about how dangerous cycling is in Auckland and how most drivers are completely unaware of cyclists. While Ms Allen’s accident was indeed unfortunate, the Harbour News forgets to mention any accident statistics and the small amount of terror tumbles that actually occur.
This ‘danger’ theme continued with a couple of letters in the Herald. Ian Gray from Mt Albert writes that his daily commute is potentially lethal but worth it. Leonie Donald, Pakuranga reckons, on her commute, it takes traffic lights to change twice before she gets through them but that she’d never get on a bike in Auckland’s traffic. Ever heard of cause and effect Ms Donald? If you’re going to sit in your metal box to get to work, expect a few other people to do the same.
Fish and Chip wrapper publication Business to Business printed a rather insane looking Bruce Sheppard of accountants Gilligan Sheppard riding his bike out of an elevator. A short article described Mr Sheppard’s conversion to commuting by bicycle and encouraged others to give it a go. In true tabloid style, the piece was titled “Beancounter bonkers on biking.” Absolutely awesome alliteration headlining article!
Not to be outdone by Business to Business’ journalistic skills, The Central Leader printed a cover story on Eden Terrace’s new cycling police constable, titled “Pushbike Powered Patrols”. Neighbourhood Support Chairwoman Robin Scott observes: “it’s faster than walking.”
By far my favourite clipping, however, is a March 24 article in the East and Bays Courier on Remuera’s young Simon Caulfield. While Mr Caulfield is obviously a bit of a talent, the article is highly misleading. Fifteen year-old Caulfield is on the right track for Olympic glory, the article states, after he won multiple track titles at New Zealand’s Nationals. Haha, on the right track, geddit? The piece ends stating “prices for a track bike start at $2000, with wheels costing $2000 a set. A road bike costs about $5500.” No mention that second-hand track bikes can be purchased for under $500 or that young riders can borrow bikes from the velodrome. Following this fine example of research, I can resolutely state that a piece of string is 9 ˝ inches long.
While it’s great to see cycling related issues covered regularly in local and national press, it appears to me as though much is written by journalists with little or no knowledge of the sport. Such articles encourage the perception that cycling on roads is dangerous and that racing is an elitist minority sport. Unfortunately this view does not look like changing anytime soon.