Looking over the media landscape in the US, it is striking to see that there is maybe one stand-alone web-based general climbing media outfit that is producing its own content and creating a distinctive brand. This is of course Deadpoint Magazine but its primary focus on sport climbing and bouldering means that a significant chunk (some would argue THE significant chunk) of the climbing scene is non-existent as far as that company is concerned. Compare this to the numerous European and English sites producing top-quality articles, news items, and other interactive features across the entire range of the climbing experience. Planet Mountain and UKClimbing are only two that work in this vein. Kairn, a French website,Klettern and Pareti, an Italian example, are some other significant sites, some web-only, some in partnership with print titles.
American print journals such as Climbing, Urban Climber, and Rock and Ice are far behind the Europeans in providing a significant and satisfying web presence. Without interviewing the actual editors, I can't say for sure why this is, but the main reasons can't be too hard to diagnose. The view appears to be that value is perceived primarily by consumers in the print edition and that efforts to have a significant independent web presence are throwing real money away to provide free content.
But turning to the web itself, what is happening? Well the landscape is increasingly stratified into several distinct layers. There are sites linked with manufacturers such as Black Diamond and Patagonia that consistently produce high-quality media, most of it with the explicit aim of promoting the brand. Then there are climber sites and blogs, the vast majority of which are infrequently updated and rarely worth reading, except for some occasional news value. There are the climber forums such as Super Topo. There is of course the Climbing Narc, whose mastery of the art of aggregation has garnered an enthusiastic following. And what else? Well not much really.
An endless diet of increasingly trivial news updates, training tips, equipment reviews and video clips make up the landscape of climbing media now. Perhaps it was ever thus but my feeling is that in the increasingly bland and consumerist landscape of the web in particular, something of great value is being lost. I am thinking primarily of individuality, real passion for the intrinsic values of the sport and the desire to ask hard questions about the assumptions and values we bring to it. Currently I see a celebration of surface, a pursuit of meaningless abstractions that climbers fantasize about capitalizing on, especially in terms of becoming a "pro" climber.
Real journalism asks real questions of the system, even aggravating ones, questions that affect people and the world we live in. I am wondering how many of these questions are being swept under the rug at this point in favor of a consumerist consensus that emphasizes a constant news cycle propelled by numbers, names and company brands. Are we afraid of what answers these questions might produce?