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Given the fact that many athletes now post their ascents directly to their social media feeds, or their sponsors do, how has this affected the way you report news? Back in the day, the magazines were the main gatekeepers for that sort of news, but your role has changed, it seems like—so, does climbing news, as reported by the mags, even still matter?
Over the weekend, my friend Marci Seuferling sent Best of Friends, a tall vertical V8 in Roy, New Mexico. She’d tried the problem once last year and then smashed it this trip, climbing it in the shade. If you’re friends with Marci or you follow her on social media, chances are you saw her post about the ascent. This wasn’t a cutting edge problem. Nina Williams flashed it a few weeks prior, and it’s seen a dozen or more ticks, but Marci really wanted to do it. Marci isn’t a sponsored climber but a normal psyched athlete from the Front Range. It’s cool she sent.
If Marci approached us with news about her ascent, or if one of her non-existent sponsors did, we’d pass on reporting the story. While personally noteworthy, the ascent matters little in terms of the effect it has on climbing and other climbers. Our role has changed to some degree, with athletes' ability to self-report on social media and brands promoting their ascents, but our role as a filter for what’s newsworthy hasn’t.
When Margo Hayes made the first female ascent of La Rambla, she appeared on the cover of Climbing Magazine. The issue came out soon after the event, and we wanted to make a point that the ascent mattered. By putting Hayes on the cover, we commemorated the achievement in a way that an ephemeral Instagram post, tweet, or caption on Facebook couldn't. In this way, Climbing creates a record of the important moments in our sport.
Earlier this year, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold completed the first free ascent of Passage to Freedom (VI 5.13d) on El Capitan. The ascent, made by a guy who was congratulated by the President for his climbing and another by a guy won an Academy Award for his climbing, barely made a blip in social media as the two wanted to stay out of the limelight for a moment. However, in an upcoming issue, Climbing Magazine will provide in-depth coverage of their ascent, describing the history of Leo Houlding’s attempts on it, of the process of equipping the route, and of the line’s difficulty. This detailed information becomes impossible to explain in a social media post or in an ad. However, Climbing has the capacity for long form journalism, the ability to truly inform readers on the subject.
As Marci climbed Best of Friends, I rapid fired a dozen photos. It’d be easy to inflate the importance of her ascent, to crank up the old hype machine and give it the -est, calling it the “steepest,” “crimpiest,” “hardest,” and “bestest” problem in the world. I could build up her ascent into a big deal—certainly that kind of thing happens when a brand takes an athlete's ascent and runs with it, inflating the significance for the sake of advertising. But that would defeat the point of Climbing Magazine. We aim to be an unbiased, independent, and honest voice. If you’re uncomfortable with getting all of your climate change information from a coal company, then you shouldn’t be comfortable getting all of your climbing news from brands either. We want to report news, not the latest advertorial.
We find the ascents that matter, filter out the ones that don't, make lasting records of climbing history, and go beyond the hardest climbs to tell the stories that are important to climbers. So is climbing news, as reported by the media, still relevant? Undoubtably yes.