The news last Friday that the Thoroughbred Times shut down was distressing, although not surprising. In fact, I almost expected it, because I had personal knowledge that they weren’t paying many of their bills, and anyone not paying their bills is not in a good place, no matter what the root cause. So I am now one of the Times’ many creditors holding on to faint hope that I might eventually see some of the money they owed me.
My history with the Times goes back to the days of the old Thoroughbred Record – my first magazine cover as a photographer was Lady’s Secret back in February 1987. I helped their photo team cover the Breeders’ Cup beginning in 1988 and never looked back. When the Record shut down a couple of years later, by then it had merged with the relatively new weekly Thoroughbred Times, and I continued my relationship with the editorial staff as a photographer over the subsequent years, up to the bitter end.
Under the direction of Mark Simon, the Times flourished for many years, offering an unbiased view of Thoroughbred racing and breeding not colored by industry ties. There were some great writers over the years, many of whom are personal friends. And it didn’t miss the digital revolution. Recognizing things to come, it was one of the first in the industry to use the Internet for disseminating racing news as it happened. And everyone, including me, looked forward to getting Thoroughbred Times Today in their morning email box.
Aside from the financial games apparently played by its owner, the Times’ fortunes began falling in lock step with both the racing industry’s declines and the broader woes of the publishing industry. The world had changed surprisingly quickly – advertisers were using direct communication through the Web and the social media revolution was just beginning. Breeders had long since stopped their extensive advertising campaigns as they prepared yearlings for sale. Racetracks were struggling to survive and the advent of slot machines just meant that racing took a back seat.
The industry’s magazines – all of them – cut back. They got thinner and thinner as they tried to weather the storm. Their digital presence increased as a low-cost way of providing news. And – ok, I’m biased here – they also saved more than a few bucks by reducing their dependence on freelance photographers. It wasn’t long before they all started looking the same – everyone was using the same photos supplied by the racetracks instead of using the unique vision provided by people like me. But I digress.
In an effort to remain in business, the Times switched from a weekly to a bi-weekly in June. The idea was to cover in-depth issues of the day rather than racing news. I think there is much validity in that idea – we all know there are stories out there that need to be told without bias. Even better, there is an endless supply of colorful people involved in the industry whose stories need to be told. The concept evolved from the beginning, with recent Times issues also providing racing recaps that people wanted, but the stories remained relevant and useful.
But even that transition couldn’t save them. I do hope someone steps in, buys the assets, and puts some of the great people back to work doing what they do best. Perhaps the Times can be reinvented as a monthly. An odd concept in these days of immediacy, but one which could give the Thoroughbred industry a voice it truly needs.