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The Great Recession’s Latest Victim: Cycle News

The handwriting had been on the wall for a while: insiders knew that Cycle News, the quasi-official organ of America’s racers, industry insiders and die-hard enthusiasts, was struggling with the double-whammy of competition from new media and an imploded industry. So that’s why hearing Cycle News has shut down as of August 31, 2010 was saddening, but not surprising.

The Cycle News story began in 1965 when Chuck and Sharon Clayton purchased an existing L.A.-area motorcycle publication and renamed it. It quickly got a reputation for providing the best and most timely coverage of Southern California—and later national—motorcycle racing. Sharon (herself an enthusiastic rider) would cover events herself, but the Claytons soon began relying heavily on a network of freelancers, training an army of moto-journalists who would go on to careers at other publications. By the early 1980′s,  Cycle News had three regional editions and was known as the authority in all things motorcycling. Chuck passed away in 1992, but Sharon maintained ownership and control, keeping up the quality and reputation of the publication. 

Regardless of the quality of the newspaper, competition from online news and information sources took its toll. Ad sales and circulation were down, and CN’s raison d’etre—providing timely race results—was made irrelevant when racers and race fans could get that information hours or even minutes after the races ended. Just a week before the paper shut down, long-time Editor-in-Chief Paul Carruthers (son of racing/tuning legend Kal Curruthers) was unceremoniously laid off; “Just do me one favor,” writes Paul on his blog the day after he was laid off, “when you see me at the grocery store unshaven in a white T-shirt, plaid shorts and flip-flops, don’t tell me “When one door closes, another one opens.” Yesterday the door hit me so hard in the ass, I’m writing this while standing up.” 

CN’s demise is tragic, but we saw it coming. Though the company expanded its online presence and engaged in all the hot new social media, just participating in digital media is no guarantee of success, something I’ve learned working at many different online and print publications. The tremendous overhead a real news organization has to pay can only be supported by big-bucks print ads from national companies and organizations. Those banner ads you see? Given the same “readership,” they bring in pennies on the dollar compared to print ads, even in 2010. So no matter how much free content a website posts, unless you can count on a million or more pair of eyeballs reading your site every month, having more than a few employees is a dream, and employing copyeditors, fact-checkers and responsible publishers is sheer fantasy. And those few employees had better be working 18-hour days, churning out enough fresh content to keep the ever-more-demanding eyeballs coming back. Will that content be of the same quality as that of a more-carefully produced medium? We here at MD like to think we do a good job, actually asking questions of the sources that churn out the press releases and doing some fact-checking and investigation of our own, but the challenges are obvious. 

So a few talented, dedicated people lost their jobs. Why should you care? You should care because you care about motorcycling. Cycle News was real journalism, contrasted to the vast majority of motorcycling websites that merely regurgitate either industry press releases or rehashed articles from real news sources. When those real news outlets that have the infrastructure necessary to produce actual journalism, like—disappear, what will be left? Unfiltered press releases, which though informative, are hardly unbiased sources of good information. Would you read a magazine that was just advertising? Without real journalism, the Internet will be nothing but unfiltered, disorganized data (which isn’t news) and carefully targeted advertising. 

We also lose our history. Carruthers writes, “for every photo on a proof sheet that was chosen for publication and circled with a blue grease pencil, there are 35 other photos of equal importance.” What will happen to those thousands of photos, those millions of words, the rough notes of interviews with every famed racer and motorcyclist you could name? “I fret not for the things that will be saved, but for the things that will probably get trashed. I fear someone going through the wreckage who knows nothing of Dick Mann, of Giacomo Agostini, or of Kenny Roberts or Roger DeCoster.”

“It’s gone now, but it will never be forgotten,” writes Carruthers. I’m not so sure. The motorcycle industry is a microcosm of the larger world, and media in general in this country is in big trouble. Can we be an intelligent, thoughtful voting and decision-making public when commercial news sources turn into little more than an amplifier for the three-billion-dollar P.R. industry? I’m hoping for a successful revenue model for real journalism to emerge, so the next generation of motorcyclists have the same enthusiasm for our sport as we do.

49 Comments

  1. RShark281 says:

    Totally bummed! In 1976 I would drive up to Signal Hill and buy my copy of CN every week. I have looked forward to getting my weekly issue since then and CANNOT believe it’s gone. When I didn’t get it in the mail, in a state of panic I thought my subscription had expired — I just wish that was the case. RacerX and the rest of them are for the kids, hell I’ve got scars older than 90% of their readers and I damn sure don’t care what f***ing tattoo the latest back flipping punk is wearing!!!! I’m PISSED!!

  2. Motophoto says:

    I really hate to see any portal for
    Moto News end. I do believe in karma. I have worked side by side with CN folks for years and most of them had way to big egos. People like Henny Ray and Paul C and Blake ALL thought there u know what didn’t stink. They all
    made fun of All the new online sites and now they get knocked off their high horses. By the same people they joked about in the
    media centers around the country. I renewed my subscription in August wonder how long to get my refund. Ya right….

  3. LJ says:

    Although we have ceased publishing Cycle News the newspaper, we shall
    continue to maintain the website CycleNews.com and post up to date
    information about motorcycle sport.

    We wish to continue to serve our many readers and to this end we will
    continue to feature the best and most up-to-date news possible.

    Thanks for sticking with us.

    Bob NorVelle

    Publisher

  4. kyle says:

    One might want to see the parallels between this and “brink and mortor stores” and online stores for the industry to.

  5. YamaRider says:

    I weep for the future of moto-journalism. When a top quality publication like CN cannot keep, let alone increase, its subscribers for only $50 a year, I see no hope for anyone else. I lost my job and I cut every expense except food, rent and my CN subscription. I even turned off cable because I was getting all my motorcycle racing news from CN. That’s how much I believed and treasured CN. Goodbye CN. I will miss your top notch coverage of all things motorcycles.

  6. Art says:

    This really sucks. CN was the only real publication. The rest were/are interesting but not in the same league. I feel like a good friend died. R.I.P. You’ll be sorely missed

  7. Dave says:

    “So a few talented, dedicated people lost their jobs. Why should you care? You should care because you care about motorcycling. Cycle News was real journalism, contrasted to the vast majority of motorcycling websites that merely regurgitate either industry press releases or rehashed articles from real news sources. When those real news outlets that have the infrastructure necessary to produce actual journalism, like—disappear, what will be left? Unfiltered press releases, which though informative, are hardly unbiased sources of good information. Would you read a magazine that was just advertising? Without real journalism, the Internet will be nothing but unfiltered, disorganized data (which isn’t news) and carefully targeted advertising.”

    The irony of this paragraph is overwhelming…

  8. Norm G. says:

    edit: CN capacity not CW…

  9. Norm G. says:

    btw, scot russel’s sister (sheri) worked for cyclenews. and as far as i know, she was still working for them up till recently. last time i saw her in official CW capacity was as recently as miller wsbk ’08…? or indy ’09…? or somewheres…? she was one of those beautiful faces/personalities that was always a treat to see and talk to.

  10. Norm G. says:

    morale of the the story…? yup, our beloved motorcycle industry is fragile. so i repeat: if abused, neglected, or not supported by the (tini) tiny masses that we represent as motorcyclists it will go away rest assured… and here we have yet another example. it’ll be interesting to see how many more examples will it take before our collective light bulbs cut on…? (if they ever cut on that is?) sure, we love paying lip-service about being “passionate” and “dedicated” to our hobby/sport, but are we really…? another something we LOVE to do is rag on nascar and the nascar fanbase (guilty as charged here), but if we are honest with ourselves, i contend we do so because of envy and jealousy. nascar fans support their industry to the Nth degree (if they didn’t, logic dictates it wouldn’t be the success that it is). us by comparison…? not so much.

  11. Dennis says:

    I am gutted by this. I’ve been a long time Cycle News reader/subscriber and will dearly miss my weekly paper. Even though I would check for race results on various internet sites, I would still read my Cycle News front to back every week.
    I really liked the weekly format more than the major monthly magazines, and still do.
    R.I.P. Cycle News, you will be missed.

  12. Digger72x says:

    What a shame and loss to our sport. I’ll miss the publications and sometimes encounters with the employees. Great people every one I had the pleasure to interact with over the years. This Retired Dirt Digger North Motorcycle Club Member will go into mourning for some time as I can’t look forward to the weekly in my PO Box anymore. Heads up, chins up as you ride not into the Sunset, but down a new road to the Future. My Prayers for all of you and gratitude for what you did!!

  13. Pablo299 says:

    I was very sad to hear this. One of the highlights of my week was getting my Cycle News

  14. was there in the neighborhood when it was born. later created race win ads as creative director for suzuki placed in cycle news . i think my son’s name , my ex’s name and mine got in some of the local results listings–carlsbad,saddleback, indian dunes and ascot friday night motos.

    “At twenty-one, so many things appear solid, permanent…”
    –Orson Welles

  15. Harry Fisher says:

    This is a bad day Cycle News was the news of motorcycle racing. CN will be missed by all of us in the industry.

  16. John Reinhard says:

    Truly sad to lose another motorcycle print publication devoted mostly to motorcycle racing…Not only did we lose a great publication but many fine people lost their jobs too…And a few will lose a “life long investment”…
    A few years ago we lost an Eastern publication devoted to “flat track” racing…Wasn’t sold on the westcoast—you had to subscribe…That was sad also—it was a “one of a kind”…
    I’ve been a subscriber/customer of Cycle News for so long I can’t remember…Was just waiting to get a “renewal notice” so I could renew for another 2-3 years…
    One of the things I’ll miss most is the “archives” in the back of each issue…Shortly after they started I began cutting that page from the back and saving it…I saved all the issues for many years but it finally got to be to much…Since the “60s” I think my name has only appeared in Cycle News maybe three times and I didn’t save those issues…I know some of you have saved the issues your names have appeared in…What are we going to do now—print pages off the Internet that we want to save—assuming Cycle News stays “online”—to show our kids/grand kids/great grandkids…You’ll have to because they will be impossible to find if they are “archived” on the “Internet”…
    I truly hope after November 2010 the smart people vote to get OUR country back on track and the enconomy recovers so people can go back to work & play and CYCLE NEWS and other print media comes back bigger & better than ever…
    I’m hoping for change and not the “Obama” kind…
    Corona Geezer

  17. Mark says:

    corrected, computer wifi burped.

    Indeed, well written and insightfull given the years of employment in the cycle media network. Times are achanging. Yes, the media today is not to be trusted for much. All opinionated rooted on the political whim of the moment.

    I Appreciate Motorcycle Daily.
    As to Paul Carruthers, Yes, we all get smacked in the ass by some door in our lifes travels, but the door will swing back and offer more of a view since it got our attention via pain the first time. Our eyes will behold more and different offerings.
    Hang in there Paul. I hope to see you in the supermarket, buying steaks and beer.

  18. Mark says:

    Indeed, well written and insightfull give the years of employment in the cycle media network. Times are achanging. Yes, the media today is not to be trusted for much. All opinionated rooted on the political whim of the moment.

    I Appreciate Motorcycle Daily.
    As to Paul Carruthers, Yes, we all get smacked in the ass by some door in our lifes travels, but the door will swing back and offer more of a view since it got our attention via pain the first time. Our will behold more of more and different offerings.
    Hang in there Paul. I hope to see you in the supermarket, buying steaks and beer.

  19. Casey Pons says:

    This is indeed a sad day to say good bye to a very dear friend personally for over 35 of those 45 years in existence. I have not taken time to read the 30 posts before me as I wanted my comments to be fresh from my own state of shock. I just got off the telephone with a staff member of CycleNews to verify a rumor I read twenty minutes ago on the net.
    To my utter dismay…it’s true! I can only hope they survive in some capacity if it means print media goes away, well we all now advertising based publications have taken their licks in these brutal times. Where will all go from here, is the unanswered question. Evolution in everything, Darwin exclaimed! And the print/digital media is no exception.
    Long live journalism!

    Signed,

    A Kicking & Screaming Ex-Subscriber to CycleNews.com

    • Casey Pons says:

      PS Extremely well written and thought provoking article about where in the world this subject will evolve to.

  20. John says:

    People don’t want to read anymore, is the truth of 2010. They want to be told, that is the problem. Most thinking people have completely lost faith in the media especially televised.
    The slanting of news has become so prevelant that it is accepted. Credibility must be re-established by someone in this industry. The media pundits like to talk about the corruption in our goverment, which nobody would deny. They however don’t look at themselves, and their willingness to slant ,cover-up or spin negative news about their advertisers.
    I am not saying this was the cause of Cycle News demise, but just that it is a general feeling most have for the media in general

  21. Noam says:

    By the way – to ensure your favorite print rag stays in business, you really need to SUBSCRIBE. They make a lot more on subscriptions sales than on newsstand sales, and their subscription numbers also determine what they can charge for ad space.

  22. PN says:

    Excellent work, Gabe. Media is indeed in big trouble in this society as we sort out what we want and need from it. Everything is distorted now by the consumer society. All anyone wants from any of us is to buy something. Who cares about truth or understanding or knowledge or wisdom? The Internet has actually become “unfiltered, disorganized data (which isn’t news) and carefully targeted advertising” right before our eyes. But this is what corporations and big money in the Consumer Matrix always wanted.

  23. Tewks says:

    This blows…at least on of the last issues has our beloved Calistoga 1/2 Mile story.One dies,another is (re)born.R.I.P.Cycle News.As a lifelong subscriber,thanks to all who made it happen.It will be sincerely missed.

  24. chris says:

    How about us who paid our subs once a year,they had no problem renew my subscription in august……typical….

  25. al banta says:

    I agree with what everyone has said so far, and I do hope stays stays available on-line. CN is the only place in my 50 years of riding and racing motorcycles I have ever seen my name in printed results. Thanks to guy’s like Bob Tourneau (?), Big Bill Spencer and a few others.
    RIP CN, my mailbox will never be the same…

  26. Gary says:

    Roger’s gone, too. Left team Suzuki. Makes you wonder where the bottom is.

  27. Burt says:

    Well-written article. I think that is the first 100% straight piece I’ve read from Gabe.
    Good job.

  28. YamaLink says:

    One of their latest hires, Jean Turner, was turning into a fantastic interviewer.

  29. Shriker says:

    Man this totally blows….I literally just ordered (and paid for ) several old reprint articles on my current bike project (95 CB1000). Hope I still get the articles :( I have been reading MCN for nearly 30 years. Truly sad.

  30. Brian says:

    Sadly, Cycle News is suffering much like the rest of print media in general.. The right now factor of the internet takes care of the need for instant gradification that so many people have today.. Cycle News will be missed for sure. Hopefully they stick around in an on-line format..

  31. Ronbo says:

    By printing race results through 35th at Bay Mare back in the 70′s, my place in the annals of Motocross was assured! Thank you to all the employees of CN over the years- your journal will be surely missed by many.

  32. Dave says:

    I have loved Cycle news forever. What has happened to the Clayton Foundation?

  33. GMan38 says:

    No mention of it on their website, and they did do an update of stories this A.M. Maybe going to keep the online version? I’ve been reading and relying upon Cycle News since the old “IDCHTHTDIIC” days. I think they even sold bumper stickers like that waaaaaay back then.

  34. E-Ticket says:

    So sad to see Cycle News close it’s doors. :^(

    This article *nailed* the situation and the shaky future perfectly. Kudos to who ever wrote it. Good job. Cheers, E-Ticket

  35. Bill S says:

    Remember the old battle cry; I still have the t-shirt.

    We don’t care how the hell they do it in California!
    Cycle New East!

  36. Joe Mason says:

    This breaks my heart. Cycle News was the only reason I looked forward to picking up the mail each week. I know I am a dinasour but I dispise reading the news any other way. It never bothered me that it was two weeks old, reading about the races was just like being there. IT SUCKS.

  37. Noam says:

    I guess you can blame the Recession in that CN’s advertiser base wasn’t Harley-centric enough…so not very recession-proof. It seems more a reflection of the US moto public’s taste than the state of the media industry itself.

  38. Rob Green says:

    I’ve been a subscriber for 25 years and while it seemed like this was coming given the ever shrinking size of the publication, it is still a very sad day. (Remember getting 200 page issues? Every week!) Funny thing, I didn’t care all that much about their coverage of the national events but I’ll sure miss their articles that no other publication provides, the in depth interviews of industry people, the local results, and even the political discussions.

    Nothing ever stays the same and all industries undergo constant change but that doesn’t make this palatable in any way.

  39. Ernie Henderson says:

    I provided coverage for WERA and AAMRR during the 70s-90s up and down the Mid-Atlantic states. The coverage of these regional and sometimes national events were what made Cycle News so special. They got the grass-roots racing coverage which was where the new stars of roadracing were developing.

    I will always remember those long weekends and the deadline for my articles. And I will remember Sharon for giving me a voice and a chance to tell some stories.

    We will miss you so very much.

  40. Richard J. Ladds says:

    Definately a piece of history and one that will be sorely missed.

  41. chris says:

    I agree with Pete. Only time I ever saw my name in print was some rinky-dink amateur moto races I managed to place in. Cycle News, you will be missed…

  42. kpaul says:

    “competition from online news and information sources took its toll. Ad sales and circulation were down, and CN’s raison d’etre—providing timely race results—was made irrelevant when racers and race fans could get that information hours or even minutes after the races ended. ” You nailed it Gabe. I remember arguing with the ex Cycle World Chief Editor about how print rags are dinosaurs and the web is the future. He said that the web would also be second fiddle to his print edition. Think his bosses were thinking the same thing cause he was fired and Cycle World website got a much needed upgrade. You make a great point about fact finding etc. But today, timely relevant content will always trump fact checked journalism i.e good pitching always beats good hitting. Getting the truth is iterative discovery in this new world. i.e. give you don’t get it right the first time just post an update when you know more. I know journalist purist hate it. Now over time people will figure out who gets it right most of time the first time. i.e. CNN gets right more times at first than Fox :)

  43. Pete says:

    There was nothing better than picking up a Cycle News at the local shop and seeing MY results in print!!! I was never anything more than a weekend racer but having my results in print was always a big deal in my little world of racing. I wish you all the best and hope you get at least a fraction of what you gave. From a District 36 & 37 racer in the late 70′s, early 80′s.
    THANKS!!!!!

  44. venator390 says:

    I’ve been reading, and subscribing to, Cycle News since its inception. This is truly sad news. I wish I could make it to their tag sale- they must have some superb photos and souvenirs in their vaults.

  45. Johnne Lee says:

    MCN’s demise was a victim of the “Great Recession” in American motorcycling, and especially American motorcycle racing. When the AMA sold out to NASCAR MCN’s fate was sealed.

  46. JustJoe says:

    Real journalism is pretty much dead, and the upcoming generation does not know the difference.
    It is a sad day indeed.