Paul Andrews

Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

How Danny MacAskill got famous

In Mountain Biking, Videos on December 29, 2009 at 8:43 am

For cycling fans, the New York Timesprofile on trials wunderkind Danny MacAskill is more reiterative than informative. We’ve known about the Scottish phenom for months. One point in particular needs clarifying, though.

The article attributes MacAskill’s celebrity to YouTube. While YouTube assuredly played a role in elevating MacAskill from a $9-an-hour bike mechanic to a (potentially) six-figure international icon, crediting YouTube for his transformation is like crediting photography for making Marilyn Monroe famous. The images were important. But a lot more was going on.

The way MacAskill became “known” is a telling case study of the ever-richer, ever-expanding information ecosystem of the Web. And by way of examination it also reveals in a microcosm why newspapers are in such dire straits, and there is nothing they can do to improve their lot, no matter how much career journalists like myself might wish it otherwise.

YouTube certainly made a key contribution to MacAskill’s notoriety. Once his seminal video was posted, the germ was in place. But YouTube is a vast wasteland of flickering pixels. In the Darwinian infrastructure of the Web, entire species of very good videos lie stillborn. MacAskill was just another lad with a few tricks till a Twitterer discovered him.

As a bike blogger, I keep a Twitter feed made up entirely of bike tweeters. There are a lot of them out there, the most famous being the Man Himself, Lance Armstrong. The most famous road cyclist, that is. The most famous mountain biker Tweeter — the category that Danny MacAskill more naturally falls under — may very well be a Laguna Beach-by-way-of-Kenzingen, Germany trials rider by the name of Hans Rey.

Not coincidentally, Hans Rey is, like Danny MacAskill, a trials rider. In fact, whatever heights MacAskill eventually attains, there’s a good chance that within cycling circles he’ll never match Rey’s august stature. A born self-promoter, Rey was making bike-trick videos before MacAskill got his first bike. So inventive and flamboyant was Rey that his full appellation became “Hans No Way Rey,” as in, there’s no way you can pull that one off!

Rey doesn’t tweet a lot, so when he does, the cycling world pays attention. On April 20, 2009, he posted a comment, “Dam check this out,” and link on a “whole new level” for trials riding. The link was Danny MacAskill’s original video, posted just hours earlier.

Hans Rey twitter feed

Hans Rey's original tweet on Danny MacAskill

(I couldn’t find Lance’s original tweet about MacAskill but recall it being somewhat later. A Web search suggests it was in May.)

Once the King had given MacAskill his Midas blessing, a Twitternado erupted. Within hours, nay minutes, retweets began flying around the Web. Suddenly MacAskill’s YouTube views began pinning the servers. Gradually (in Internet time, anyway, meaning by the next day) bloggers got into the act. Then email lists, public and private.

And, finally, aeons later, a newspaper.

YouTube was the source, yes. But in the multi-layered ecosystem of the Web, the source is merely the soil. What made MacAskill famous was the forest of referrals, planted by Hans Rey.

When newspapers ruled the earth, they were both the source and the referrer. They enjoyed a wondrous monopoly over how information was purveyed and received.

Today the Internet has not only bifurcated those roles, it has partitioned them further among numerous players — YouTube, blogs, social networks, email, IM, and on and on. Newspapers are hanging on as one of the players, but their role is irreversibly waning. After all, in the new online order of things, the Internet is the newspaper.

In “covering” the Danny MacAskill story, The Times links to Lance Armstrong, a MacAskill video, still photos and various other pointers. Tellingly, and most ironically, a key progenitor of not only the phenomenon but the art form as well, Hans No Way Rey, was not even mentioned.

Lance’s Chances: Shoulder status?

In Bicycle Racing, Mountain Biking on August 10, 2009 at 7:30 am

You have to credit Lance Armstrong on one point: He doesn’t make excuses. Since declaring his shoulder a non-factor just a couple of weeks after “Home Depot” hardware surgery drilled and screwed and plated it together again, the subject has not even come back up.

Watching videos of interviews and the Tour, however, I thought his shoulder was quite a bit less than 100 percent. In conversation, he used his left arm and hand more in gesticulating, etc., and never raised his right arm above his shoulder.

On the Tour’s wrenching climbs, Lance stayed more in the saddle than the Lance of old. And he never attacked, either. Maybe his riding style has changed. But a reluctance to sprint or attack would also indicate not wanting to stress the shoulder, since out of the saddle requires more pulling on the bars.

It may well be that the shoulder is virtually healed by now (it’s been more than 3 months). But if there’s any test to tell for sure, it would be this Saturday’s Leadville 100. Nearly seven hours of up and down riding on uneven surfaces takes a toll on perfectly healthy shoulders. If anything’s askew, Lance should start feeling it about hour 4 or 5.

The subject of his shoulder hasn’t come up anywhere in news coverage lately, and I imagine that if asked, Lance would brush it aside. And let’s hope the shoulder isn’t a factor, because we all want a level playing field (so to speak!). But it remains an X-factor at Leadville, because this race is a different beast from what he’s been doing.

Don’t forget you’ll be able to see a live Webcast of the race and get full updates from the Leadville 100 site. As for news coverage, still no rundown on Lance’s prototype Trek Fuel full-suspension bike, and nobody’s apparently talking to Dave Wiens about all this. One problem: Crankworx’s signature event, the Slopestyle competition, is the same day, sucking a lot of mountain bike journalists to Whistler. Let’s hope The New York Times gets on Leadville…Juliet Macur are you there?

New York “Ghost Bike” Once Again Blames the Cyclist

In Bicycling, Rider Down on March 1, 2009 at 8:40 am

The New York Times has a moving report on a white-bike memorial to a young woman killed while riding a bicycle. While the article eloquently describes the family’s sadness at their loss, it does cycling a disservice by implying that the accident was the woman’s fault. The only reference to cause is the line, “The driver was not charged, the police said.”

Well, that’s helpful. While it’s difficult to assess blame in many traffic accidents, especially involving bikes, it is by contrast easy to imply fault. Police hardly ever charge motorists in cycling accidents because of difficulty in determining culpability. When police fail to act, it hardly means that the fault was the cyclist’s. But the implication in reporting that, without further detail, leaves the reader to infer that the young woman somehow contributed to her fate. (Maybe she did. But we the readers should be allowed to know for sure, not simply left to draw conclusions.)

If I’m the editor on this story I ask the reporter to go back and tell us more. Leaving the story the way it was simply reinforces stereotypes about cyclists always being the cause of accidents.

Electronic Gear Shifting: Good idea?

In Bicycle Commuting on February 14, 2009 at 9:57 am

The New York Times takes a look at the latest electronic shifting iteration, from Shimano. Couple of interesting points: Time trialists can shift without changing position on the bars. But there is no manual override if the system fails.

The article does not discuss weight or crash-worthiness, but Wired had this from an unidentified source: “According to the company, Di2 will be 67 grams lighter than the current Dura-Ace 7800 and only 68 grams heavier than Dura-Ace 7900, the snazzy forthcoming 2009 suite of parts.” Not a huge weight differential, except in racing. But the drawbacks of e-shifting, including battery failure, may keep most of us away, especially given the premium ($4,000).

Also no comment on crashing. E-thingies tend to be a lot more fragile than their mech counterparts. That may not be so much a factor in racing, but for real-life use it could be make or break (so to speak!). As far as Bike Intelligencer‘s first love, mountain biking goes, um, let’s just say an e-future isn’t in the cards any time soon.

It’ll be fun to try the system at some of the upcoming bike shows.