By on September 29, 2011

If you saw the video above on Autoblog, accompanied by some tired prose suggesting that you summon some enthusiasm for this, the latest automotive promotion, would you think twice? You might if you knew the person who posted the story, and knew they were being paid to promote said promotion. But how does one actually get an inside look at the gritty world of automotive PR payola? How do you break through the great wall of… what’s that, Jalopnik?

Today, Autoblog writer Jeff Glucker wrote about Nissan’s Britney Spears contest. Trouble is, he’s working for the agency that’s running it.

Earlier this week, [then-Autoblog Associate Editor Jeff] Glucker sent out an e-mail solicitation to several of his contacts in the automotive website world, asking for help promoting a new campaign for the Nissan Versa:

Hey there,

I am working with third-party agency that’s assisting Nissan with a new campaign for the Versa. No, I didn’t lose my job or anything – this is just some side contracting work so I can buy a second iPad or golden shift-knob for my car.

Oh right, you just have to open your eyes.

Autoblog’s Editor-in-Chief, John Neff, quickly responded:

Autoblog’s editors were completely unaware of this improper relationship. Upon hearing these allegations, we conducted our own internal investigation into the matter and found the report to be true. Upon this discovery, we immediately terminated our relationship with Mr. Glucker and removed the article in question. We will also be reviewing Mr. Glucker’s other articles to determine if conflicts are evident.

I would praise Mr Neff’s response, except for two things: first, it was the crushingly obvious choice, and second, the reaction from commenters was decidedly ambivalent. One commenter in particular captured the cynical outlook on Autoblog’s mission, sneering

What a buzzkill, Neff. Way to go.

Like this website isn’t just a bunch of fluff pieces anyway.

And that’s the real problem. Glucker’s screw-up was spectacularly blatant, but it’s just a symptom of the larger disease. When you’re being paid peanuts to sling warmed-over press releases, when you joke about the stupidity of your own commenters, when “PR-friendly” is the name of the game, “screw-ups” like this are inevitable. And any business that relies as heavily on popular opinion as the car business does will see to it that “screw ups” like this are inevitable (preferably through an agency). We’ve seen where this rabbit hole ended up for the less-scrupulous buff books, and it ain’t pretty.

Meanwhile, what’s most chilling about all this is the Kitty Genovese effect that had to happen for the Jalopnik post to exist at all. I can understand why Glucker’s (“part-time”) employer didn’t insist on ethical behavior, and why Autoblog’s readers and editors were in the dark and/or apathetic, but what about Glucker’s “contacts in the automotive website world”? That not even one returned his email and clued him to the problems with having an online automotive marketing “part time” job while working for an online automotive media outlet should be surprising… but sadly it isn’t. A somewhat more surprising possibility is that one of these “contacts” actually ratted Glucker out to Jalopnik, rather than giving him a much-needed reality-check. The most implausible scenario of all: Glucker was stupid enough to actually send the email to a Jalopnik staffer, who was the source for the story. The problem isn’t just that Autoblog’s readers don’t seem to care much about Glucker’s sin, it’s that his “contacts,” his fellow automotive bloggers, didn’t care that he was screwing up either… unless they could use the story.

I don’t blame Jalopnik for running their story. It’s the truth, Glucker certainly screwed up badly enough to be fired, and as Hunter Thompson put it, “a man with a greed for the Truth should expect no mercy and give none.” But the conditions that create these kinds of problems aren’t going to go away unless automotive writers embrace a culture of pride, not just in themselves, but in their entire profession. A cluelessly blatant shill email like Glucker’s should elicit a brisk, collegial ethics lecture in the best case, or stinging (but private) mockery in the worst. But because emails like Glucker’s are the everyday staple of the modern “automotive journalist,” because nobody in the business likes to speak up on ethics, and because hypocrisy is rampant, his colleagues looked the other way. And they let him walk of a cliff, chasing a golden shift knob.

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24 Comments on “This Is A Blog Post About A Blog Post That Got Someone Fired (Over A Blog Post)...”


  • avatar
    B.C.

    Meh? Autoblog’s content reads like redigested fluff, and I’d seriously assumed it was mostly sponsored content already. That it wasn’t, and that they’re claiming they’re not a bunch of fluffers (wink), is amusing.

    C’mon, man.

  • avatar

    Wow – what a case of extremely poor judgment. I get 5-10 emails per day asking me to help promote one promotion or another and ignore them without exception unless it will get something that I can give away to my readers. Does anyone even bother to read those types of posts on Autoblog? I’m just glad that you never see nonsense posts like that here on TTAC.

  • avatar
    harshciygar

    I’ve only been in the “automotive writing biz” for a couple of years now…but this doesn’t surprise me. None of the perks, fluff, or butt-patting really surprises me.

    I’d like to share a story about the first mainstream media event I ever attended as a wide-eyed wannabe auto-journo.

    It was the New York Auto Show, and I had even gotten there early enough to enjoy to complimentary breakfast. It was much fancier than I had anticipated, and there were hundreds of auto-writers in attendence, waiting in line to get into the hall. I made small talk with a few of them, some who were griping about the gall of whoever’s idea it was to make them line up and *wait* like regular human beings.

    At the breakfast we were “treated” to a presentation whose main purpose I honestly forget. I do remember it was comparing auto-journos car reviews with those of actual consumers…and somehow it came out that auto-journos are more right than consumers, which is absolutely baffling to me. It was the most obvious pandering I have ever seen, and I could not have been the only one to feel that way.

    From there it only got worse as each press conference seemed intent on sucking up to the people who would one day be reviewing the car in question, and there seemed to be an emphasis on journo-friendly features like sporty handling and extra-wide seats.

    It could be because GM and Chrysler were on the verge of bankruptcy, and the auto market was in the crapper at the time…but it struck me as odd that while many journos were mocking one specific high-profile vehicle as something of a joke, they were all quick to lick the balls of the execs in charge, in hopes of getting an exclusive first drive.

    The whole automotive journalistic ethics thing still has me confused, quite frankly. So far, I’ve tried to keep my nose out of anybody’s ass (I think?) and there are points where I wonder at what point does all the wining and dining and ball licking cross the lines of ethical journalism. Because hey, we’re all in it for the pageviews, because that is what pays the bills.

    But where do we draw the line?

    When I go to a test drive event that requires me to stay someplace on an automakers dime, I feel especially torn. Should I hole up in my room and subsist on McDonalds for three days while my colleagues are treated to dinners so fancy I can’t even pronounce half the items on the menu? That might be ethical, but it would also suck, and I’d miss a chance to engage engineers and the like in some serious discussion.

    Should I engage only in technical conversation relevant to the vehicle in question? Or should I try to be personable, chat up whoever it is presenting the car, and try to land myself (and my readers) some sort of scoop or exclusive?

    Should I give back the tote bag full of incredibly useful writing tools I won at a raffle over the summmer at one automaker’s event? It’d be the right thing to do…but I can’t afford most of the useful stuff, and I DID give away most of the fluff stuff (pens, matchbox toys, an iTunes gift card)…but still…wrong?

    Should I just preclude myself from these events altogether? I’ve often considered that the only way to conduct a truly honest car review would be to simply go take test drives at the dealership. This is how most car buyers pick a car anyways, right?

    Still, I worry that the local dealerships would eventually catch on…or worse, the automakers with which I would still need to interact with. Because let’s be honest; most salesmen can’t tell you why this car was engineered this way.

    This business is tricky. Do I feel bad for Mr. Glucker? I’m not sure. The way his email talks about a second iPad and the golden shifter knob…it’s not really endearing, quite damning actually if you ask me.

    Then again, in this down economy, I hate to see anyone lose their job, especially over something that, while ugly on the surface, really isn’t any different from what a number of other autorags are already doing (as you already pointed out with Automobile.)

    Mr. Glucker had a serious lapse of ethical judgement, but given what I have seen at other automotive events, his shilling for Nissan was not that far out of the norm. He just got caught, called out, and utterly humiliated…over a Brittany Spears ad.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      You’re standing on the edge of the pool, trying to decide whether to jump in . . .

      My suggestion would be to define the relationship between you and the car guys from the get-go. Obviously, you depend on them for access to the latest vehicles, etc. Nothing you can do will change that. So, just say: “both you and I are better served by my being candid — but fair — in what I write about your products, regardless of how much exotic food you put in front of me, etc.”

      In defense of the “tempters” I have to say that if I were connected with Acura, I would not be too thrilled by the review of the RDX on this site, for example. To this reader, the review appeared to have been written by a person who was a little caught up in what she believed was a clever turn of phrase, and the result was, IMHO, an over-written piece of snark. I don’t own an RDX, but I test-drove one; and I found the substance of the review, when it stuck to driving characteristics, more or less accurate. But the package was delivered in a pretty unattractive wrapper. So, if I were an Acura flack, I probably would have said something to that effect to the author. Would I ban her, see that on the next junket she got a room in the basement of the hotel next door to the elevator machinery, ban TTAC? Of course not.

      But you and the other party have to define the relationship . . . because consciously or unconsciously, you’re doing it anyway.

      Good luck and good driving!

  • avatar
    cdotson

    I’m not so sure that it’s proper to call out the mostly unnamed “contacts” to which Glucker’s e-mail was sent for not berating his ethical lapses. Nor is it proper to chide the Jalopnik contributor who used the story rather that confront Glucker privately. Personally I think the industry could be made more ethical by transparency and the publicity of this event far more so that burying it via a private ethics conversation even if it results in Glucker “correcting” the offending association.

    Chastising someone for an ethical lapse so that they may extricate themselves from a situation quietly is something I would expect only of a very close personal friend. There hasn’t been any indication that the recipients of Glucker’s e-mail are any closer to him than their common associations within the automotive press. The purpose of sending an e-mail to press contacts is ostensibly so that the information contained in that e-mail would be used by the press, and so it was.

    • 0 avatar

      My interest here is not to see Glucker “quietly extricated” but to see auto writers takes a little pride in their profession. At least Jalopnik cared enough to blow the lid off the situation, that’s something. And as long as the lapses are as egregious as Glucker’s, these kinds of exposes are inevitable and probably necessary. But as harshciygar points out, automotive writing is loaded with every kind of potential ethical dilemma, and no amount of “ethics policing” by Jalopnik or TTAC will ever change that… it just slightly changes the risk.

      I’ts like a kid growing up in a drug neighborhood turning to drug use… seeing your friend get busted, even being busted yourself doesn’t really change your “risk factor” all that much. A support network, being surrounded by people who care about what you do with your life, that’s what really makes a difference. And that’s where Glucker, and this profession, were let down.

      I’m not saying everyone who received that email and didn’t write back saying “Hey Jeff, is there an ethical problem with this, seeing as you are an Associate Editor at Autoblog?” is a bad person. I’m saying this is yet another wake-up-call about the big-picture cultural problem. People like Glucker are absolutely responsible for their own actions, but when the rest of their colleagues enable them until they cross such a fundamental line… well, how much do those colleagues really care about the ethics?

      • 0 avatar

        Since I’m critiquing the larger context here, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that obliviousness is an unsatisfactory excuse for AB’s editors. Within every publication, the ethical tone is set at the top… Mr Neff deserves credit for firing Glucker, but this should be a huge wake-up call for him as well. The fact that, as his commenters point out, this post would have been considered adequate AB content had Mr Glucker asked a co-worker to write it up, is part of the culture that allowed this to happen. And because AB is the biggest car blog out there, Jalopnik is right to argue that this kind of culture reflects poorly on the entire online auto writing community.

        Again, if it takes “policing” and public shaming to stop this kind of abuse, the problem is already way bigger than any one person.

      • 0 avatar
        Monty

        Ed:

        How are you certain that the recipients of Glucker’s solicitation didn’t respond to his email with some chiding or rebukes?

      • 0 avatar

        Monty: I’m not certain, which is why I laid out a range of possible scenarios. Although in fairness, I didn’t lay out what I think is the least-plausible scenario: that a colleague told Glucker he was playing a dangerous game and at risk of losing his job, but he did it anyway. Clearly Glucker’s judgement was lacking, but ignoring a collegial warning would require either extreme stupidity or the sense that AB’s editors wouldn’t find out or care about his poor choice.

        I’ll be candid: because Jalopnik didn’t reference a source for the email (even “one of Glucker’s contacts”), I’m inclined to believe that a Jalop staffer received the email. Incidentally, if Glucker is reading this and wants the truth to come out, he should hit me up at our contact form. I don’t condone what he did, but I’m quite curious as to how he found himself in this position.

      • 0 avatar
        mad_science

        Ed: This is Tim from Hooniverse. Jeff’s been trying to lay low for the last 24 hours for obvious reasons. We’ve been doing a lot of talking, also for obvious reasons (check our masthead).

        Unless he’s lying to to me, the deal is as follows:
        1) He didn’t send to anyone at Jalopnik. It was forwarded to them by someone. I don’t know who.

        2) Your take on obliviousness is (unfortunately) the most accurate one. His quote was that he “actually failed to see the problem until it was pointed out.”

        3) Per the comments at Jalopnik, Wert called Jeff yesterday about the piece while he was driving home. He expressed a desire to run with it quickly. Jeff said he’s call back and, after waiting 30 minutes without hearing anything, Jalopnik ran the post.

        It’s my understanding that, because this was basically a throwaway PR mention, rather than a real endorsement/opinion/review, it was no big deal in his head. I’m not excusing or advocating his actions, just putting the info out there.

      • 0 avatar

        Tim: thanks for the insight. I’m in touch with Jeff (off the record for now), and I’m hoping we can publish his side of the story at some point in the near future.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, gee. . . Somewhere in there, you gotta ask yourself what you’re doing and why you do what you do. If only because when (and if) you get to the high side of 60 (as I am), you realize that your supply of do-overs is coming to an end. Time is precious; don’t waste it doing stuff you might have to apologize for later.

    Think about the folks who clean the toilets at a movie theatre, or who pump out septic tanks. Not a nice job, right? I would hazard a guess that 99% of the people in those occupations do it because they don’t have a choice . . . and they need a meal ticket. No shame in that.

    So I would ask this question of the autojournos (including the wannabes) who are part of a giant lie (and I’m not saying they all are, but, as this example shows, some are): You know what makes you different from the guys cleaning public toilets and septic tanks?

    They probably don’t have a choice about what they do . . . but you do.

    And I’m not interested in excuses based on the asserted presence of enablers, that everybody else does it, etc. Temptation is always there in whatever you do. That you succumbed to it is your fault, and no one else’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Bruce, as someone who has both cleaned movie-theater toilets and stayed in $800-a-night manufacturer-provided suites, I think you’ve made an excellent point here.

      When the Frank Greve article was released, I happened to see the Facebook Wall of an autojourno mentioned in said article. Virtually all of the “anti” comments were along the lines of:

      “LIKE THIS IS NEWS WHAT A JOKE” and
      “SO-AND-SO ALREADY ‘REVEALED’ ALL OF THIS A WHILE AGO”

      Nobody said that Greve was wrong. Nobody defended the morality of taking free trips to Bologna, or receiving what amounts to a one-year high-mileage lease on a $75,000 car (which, by the way, has a pre-tax value of approximately $3400 a month in most tax brackets — more than the median income in the United States). All they could say was that the corrupt nature of the business was known to all.

      Well, it sure as hell wasn’t known to me when I was twelve years old.

      • 0 avatar

        I too witnessed the post-Greves griping that Jack references… which informed my decision to attack the larger culture in this business rather than just Glucker. DC Bruce has it absolutely right… as Dylan put it, you gotta serve somebody. If you aren’t truly committed to your readers, you’re going to end up like Glucker (or worse still, you’ll never get caught and become one of the “pillars” of this profession that lives and breathes the sleaze while maintaining the thinnest veneer of respectability).

        What kills me is that there’s so little awareness of this fact, so little interest in defending the reputation of this profession, that auto writers don’t keep each other honest. When someone egregiously (obliviously?) crosses the line they get thrown under the bus, but when a piece like Greves’s is written, the wagons circle and the game continues because “that’s just how this business works.”

        Fuck that. Where’s the pride?

    • 0 avatar

      Hear, hear, sir.

      I can’t help but find this all comically ironic. The bulk of the automotive media is about as far removed from actual journalism as it gets. Is the first obligation to the truth? Is the first loyalty to the citizenry? Is it a discipline of verification? Is there any semblance of independence from those being covered?

      I say no. Not when it’s all so clearly a re-hash of the currently failing legacy media business model: build a large audience, serve up advertising. Yawn. Wake me when we start making the significant interesting and relevant. Let me know when we’re done simply consuming content to kill time and actually start doing something with it that positively impacts lives beyond more commercial consumption. [EDIT: As is often the case here at TTAC.]

      To me, it’s not so much upsetting to see either outlet – the one which predominately does little more (in my opinion) than serve up spoon-fed blather straight out of the marketing department, or the one known for sensationalism and lowest common denominator reporting – play the integrity card, as it is frustrating to see it changes nothing about an industry so obviously bought and sold by those it feigns cover independently.

      Life goes on.

  • avatar

    That said, AB >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> JPNK

    • 0 avatar
      LordDetroitofLondon

      It’s all about personal preferences. I used to be an AB follower for a long time, but gave up on it since ’07. It just got more and more boring.

      Sure, it might be a good place to get some “stats,” but otherwise, just a whole bunch of regurgitated press releases. Jalopnik’s quality certainly did go down over the last 2 years or so, but I still prefer it over AB anyday.

      If I want something fun and like to be involved: Jalopnik and TTAC.

      Dry stats: AB (maybe) or some other glossy rag.

      • 0 avatar
        Nostrathomas

        At the end of the day, each site has it’s strengths, and all of them have their place in my daily reading. I use Autoblog as a solid aggregate of all the car news/updates out there, TTAC for opinions and insider knowledge that I just don’t get anywhere else, and Jalopnik when I want to get my TMZ on.

        The one part of Autoblog that I do find very entertaining and relatively free of gloss is their podcast. While you might not get a huge amount of original industry insight, the podcast does offer honest opinions from car guys who I can relate to.

    • 0 avatar
      gessvt

      Can’t disagree there (Gawker commentariat: the Brain Trust of the Internets), but AB is a lightweight as well. OK for press releases, but my God, they can’t even police spam in their comments.

  • avatar
    Buster Brew

    And when a blog posts a Mini ad as a “Stick vs. Auto” demographic survey isn’t that the Jalopnic calling the Autoblog black?

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    “What kills me is that there’s so little awareness of this fact, so little interest in defending the reputation of this profession, that auto writers don’t keep each other honest. ”

    Maybe it’s not too late for this guy to reposition his target audience?
    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/quote-of-the-day-car-dealer-cliche-edition/

  • avatar

    Well-done, TTAC.

    Amanda Congdon of Rocketboom was fired from CBS for ~less.

    In this job market, I would not be playing Russian Roulette, hell not even Kazakstani Roulette with my income.

    .
    ***Though I Have always suspected that Jack Baruth’s endless love/hate praising/bellyaching S/M about Porsches was the finely-tuned backhand finish-coat on some vast international PR cabal secretly funneling tens or even hundreds into his Monaco Corporation-administered offshore account in the Marshall Islands…

  • avatar
    beefmalone

    What gets me is anyone from a Gawker website having the nerve to talk about journalistic integrity. This is the same company that seems to be intent on having all of their sites post at least one article if not more about how Republicans hate science, Christians are crazy, etc. not to mention a company that allowed one of its major “editors” to post (and cross post) an article entitled “Fuck you, commenters.” Stay classy, Gizz


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