17 September 2019

News Twits

I was looking for my La Plata Peak trip report for one of June's snowflake patterns when I came across the following journal entry, written a month and a decade ago, to the day. I wrote this back in in 2009 after we rescheduled our trip up La Plata Peak due to weather. I removed the name of the race winner because as far as I'm concerned, the disgraced pro didn't really win; he doped. The crown has always belonged to Dave Wiens.

This journal entry brought several smiles to my face and soul, and it also is such an interesting commentary on journalism - way back before "fake" news. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Tabeguache Peak from Mount Shavano

17 August 2009

We had been planning for months to climb Tabeguache on August 15. Three days before the climb, we decided La Plata might be a more realistic goal, as everyone in our group had suffered assorted training setbacks this year, and we collectively weren't sure we could climb Shavano twice in an effort to snag the elusive Tab. Everyone in our group had already climbed Shavano at least once. Only The Lizard had managed to tag the second summit after the long slog up Shavano. The rest of us all still need to check Tab off our fourteener lists.

La Plata was my sixth fourteener and fourth solo climb, but I am the only one in the group who has already climbed it. It's about an hour closer to Leadville than Tab. All of us had secret yearnings to be in Leadville on the 15th, even though all of us were wary of the crowds we expected to be in the home of the Race Across the Sky that same day.

As the forecast grew less and less accommodating, we postponed La Plata or any 14er, and all of us stayed far away from the mountain town that seemed to capture the world's attention for a few minutes.

Physically far away, that is. I think deep down inside, we all wished we had been there in person.

The Lizard and I did a sunrise ride, and then we headed north in search of sunflowers. (Mission accomplished!) Because The Lizard is a big mountain biker, he knew it was about time for The Race to be winding up just about the time we arrived back home.

So off he surfed in an attempt to get the latest Leadville 100 results. Six-time champ Dave Wiens and a pretend seven-time Tour champ were duking it out for ore cart trophy honors.

Dave Wiens, 2013 Triple Bypass

Leadville is just about as small a town you can get and still be incorporated, and the biggest news sources don't have outposts there. The Lizard couldn't find any race updates anywhere.

I took control of the ship (slow boat to China – we're still old-fashioned dial-up internet) and within seconds had three or four Twitterers posting regular updates. Only one was an official news provider.

This was our first experience relying on Twitter to get news we wanted when we wanted it. I personally find the technology amazing, but it's not something I've had an interest in pursing for any reason. Until the day I wanted news I could obtain only from the sidelines.

I remember back in the days when dinosaur tracks were still fresh in the mud, back when we filed Associated Press stories by dictating via telephones with rotary dials and shipping black and white photos on the next Greyhound bus. I remember basking in the adrenaline surge of "scooping" the competition.

My tiny hometown newspaper was printed and delivered each weekday afternoon, while the two big dailies in the closest metros went to press in the middle of the night and were on subscribers' doorsteps first thing in the morning.

If something newsworthy happened in the morning, I'd have the story in the afternoon edition, well before my cohorts with fancier cameras, company cars and four times the news staff. That was a "scoop," and the resulting thrill was better than any bowl of ice cream, no matter how hot the desert heat.

The way news is gathered, reported and read has changed dramatically. But I think that urge to be first with news is far from dead. Everyday people are posting eyewitness accounts (or reposting the eyewitness accounts of others) almost instantly, and news organizations are getting scooped on everything.

It was a full four minutes after a cycling fanatic at the finish line posted the pro's record-breaking time before Velo News, with reporters in "the corral," tweeted results of its own. Twenty minutes later, the finish still hadn't been posted on any of the major news sites but was being "tweeted" and "retweeted" hundreds of times over across the world. News really did travel fast. Just not through established sources.

2010 Race Across the Sky

As a retired journalist, I cringed as I read retweets that changed details just a bit. The pro's "soft" back tire was "shredded" in a manner of minutes, cloudy skies became "pouring rain" without dropping their loads, and the maximum-length 12-hour race stretched into 14 hours. (That last one still baffles me. How can you tweet the six-hour and 45-minute record was shattered in the same breath and still expect anyone to believe anything you type?)

It reminded me of a game we used to play in elementary school. We'd stand in a circle, and the teacher would whisper a sentence into the first child's ear. Each of us would pass on the secret by listening as it was whispered into our ear before turning to whisper it into the ear on the other side of us. The final sentence often bore no resemblance whatsoever to the original.

I could easily become addicted to being able to receive my news instantly, as it happens, no matter where in the world I am or where the actual event is taking place. There is a certain sense of joy in getting caught up in the Twitter trend that has taken the world by storm.

I just have to keep in mind the fact-checking procedures that were a way of life in another life have not been incorporated into this newfangled technology. Nevertheless, it was pretty darned cool to read about a big race in a town without television coverage and see finish line phone pictures seconds after they were snapped even though I was 111 miles away.

Susan DeMattei, David Wiens and Timothy Fleming, 2013 Triple Bypass

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