By on November 1, 2011

If you haven’t read Brendan McAleer’s very funny article in defense of press junkets, it is worth your time to do so. Brendan whips his metaphorical pen around and around in the liquefied candy of the public-relations game until a delightful froth appears, just light-hearted enough for guiltless consumption. Savor it, enjoy the sweetness of the metaphors and the tastiness of the characterizations…

…and then come back here and click the jump for your vegetables, as I explain how the PR machine creates journosaurs from idealists, use a little bit of “Freakonomics” to show how “it’s very effective!”, and tell a story about the day I decided to step off the gravy train.

Start with this fundamental insight: Journosaurs are made, not born. Those buffet-browsing, three-hundred-pound beasts who clog the arterial hallways of every auto show and complain in authoritative tones about “understeer” as they circle the track twenty seconds off the pace are the creations of the automotive PR industry, not moths drawn to its flickering flame. Go to your local library and pull up a Seventies issue of Car and Driver. What do you see? You see angry young people. They were engineers and racers who were actively rebelling against the status quo. They were going to test the cars, tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may. Sound familiar? Of course it does.

Thirty-five years later, the names were the same but the men had changed. The young racer was a wizened connoisseur of business-class travel, sending his steaks back and complaining about the tiresome length of a press-event drive loop. The intellectually fearsome literary iconoclast had become a bewhiskered self-parody who, as Johnson writes of Congreve, had committed “the despicable foppery of desiring to be considered, not as an author, but a gentleman.” The English dandy was long dead, as was the amiable raconteur. Only the prematurely balding engineer had remained the same, and he was eventually chucked out the door for “being out of touch”.

Orson Scott Card wrote two books — Wyrms and Speaker For The Dead — exploring the possibility of what I would call morphology masking genetics. In both books, humans come to an alien world and find that the existing organisms can mate with Earth-origin species. The resulting offspring look identical to their Earthly ancestors but carry the alien genes. When idealistic young journalists mate with the automotive PR machine, the offspring is something that looks just like them but carries a new genetic message — and over time, the genes reassert themselves. You can’t fool yourself into thinking that you can sleep with the enemy and remain intact.

Young writers arrive at a press event, see the journosaurs trampling eachother for a free windbreaker or an extra glass of wine, and they say to themselves, “I can withstand this. My integrity isn’t for sale, at least not that cheaply. I’ll take the flights, and the cars, and then I’ll write what I damn well please.” They think they’re resisting the pitch. It’s kind of cute.

Make no mistake. When the automotive PR machine wants to simply buy you, they can write a big check. I sat down a while ago and estimated that a single autojourno friend of mine had received the equivalent of $165,000 in pre-tax benefits from a single manufacturer during the previous year. For a class of people who generally earn under $50,000 annually, that’s a ticket to a whole new lifestyle… and best of all, unlike real income, you don’t have to share it with your wife or your kids. You can live like a king on an endless peregrination across the globe and never have to deal with your family at all. The average newspaper “Wheels” section guy, travel writer, or in-flight magazine scrivener is easily bought with this stuff. They’re the equivalent of Vegas escorts. They take the money, and the gifts, and they open their legs without shame or self-consciousness.

Those of us who consider ourselves writers, who think we have integrity… well, we are like the girls at Byrn Mawr. We need to be romanced a bit before we’ll get our knees dirty. That’s where “Freakonomics” comes in. If you remember that book, it was a very interesting diatribe about how the real incentives in a situation determine behavior. The famous example concerned real estate agents. It was demonstrated that agents who are selling their own homes tend to keep their homes on the market much longer, and turn down more offers, than they have their clients do. Why? It’s simple. When they are dealing with their clients, they’d rather have 6% of $300,000 or whatever today than 6% of $310,000 in a few months. When it comes to their own homes, however, they’d rather wait and pocket that difference.

In Winning Through Intimidation, Robert Ringer talked about how commercial real estate agents work for the seller but form relationships with the relatively few people who do all the buying. As a result, those agents tend to find themselves representing the buyer’s interest to the seller, rather than the other way ’round.

Automotive journalists may work for their readers or their editors, but they form relationships with the PR people. Go look at any autojourno’s Facebook page and see if you can hold the vomit in as you read the cutesy interactions with their PR reps. It’s a cavalcade of in-jokes, faux-world-weary complaints about airports (always mentioned by code, not name) and mutual oral service.

“Hey Bob, you owe me for making me take that Sienna!”

“Oh yeah, buddy! Remember that time that Jake got lost in a Sienna on the drive cause it didn’t have nav? WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE LAST CALL!”

“Hey, see if you can get that press car in brown! That’ll be awesome!”

“You bet, pal! Can’t wait to ROCK THE MALDIVES AGAIN!”

We may enter this business as wary outsiders, but we’re embraced so quickly by good-looking, friendly people who just like us for ourselves and want to hear what we have to say… and after a few years of the behavior, we tell ourselves that we’ve earned it, that we are great writers, that these weaselly PR people are servicing us because they recognize our talent. We see through them… but they’ve become our friends, too. And they can be so helpful, with the driveaways, and the high-school reunion rides, and the frequent-flier redemptions to fun vacation spots with a $185,000 car waiting in the airport pickup lot… And they’re so stupid. They are just PR people. We see through what they do. We’re hip to the game. And yet…

Enough generalizations. I will tell you about the day I realized I had fallen down the rabbit hole. I’d done a few years of events, and the PR people, who are never as stupid or vapid as they appear, knew right away how to ring my bell. It wasn’t through money or perks: I had indepdendent wealth and I scorned the free-windbreaker crowd. They came at me through pride. I would be sitting at dinner when a charming but not obviously beautiful woman (yes, they know all your weaknesses; for the homely gay men, in and out of the closet, who make up about a quarter of the business, there are always fresh-faced, ripped-chest PR boys as well) would sit down next to me.

“You’re Jack Baruth.”

“Yes.”

“I read your article on our sedan. It… (smiling) was… tough. But between you and me, it was fair. It’s about time that somebody took us to task on those brakes. I’ve been telling them that we can fool the old guys, but we can’t trick people like you. You have time for another drink?”

Yes. I was tough. But fair. And handsome enough in my own way to seal a deal or two. And then one day I was standing at the auto show, talking to an attractive PR woman a few years younger than me, when an executive from her company came up, and she turned, and she said,

“This is Jack Baruth. He’s been a big advocate for us.” And everybody smiled while the floor dropped out from under me. I felt sick. The room spun. I was somebody’s fucking advocate. I ran back to the room that night and performed a close reading on everything I’d written about that company. Looking for signs that I’d been bought, that I’d fallen down the rabbit hole, that I was molting and becoming a journosaur myself.

I got religion in that hotel room, my friends. I threw down the false idols and recommitted myself to my personal deity. Who’s that personal deity? It’s you. You may be my fan — and I thank you for it. You may hate my guts and look for every chance to unearth a contradiction or mistake — and I love you for that, because you’re making me stronger. But you’re it. I write for you. When I’m in a car, I’m thinking about you. I’m committed to telling you the most truthful things I can. That doesn’t mean I’m here to slam each car in to the ground; he who criticizes every car really criticizes none. You deserve the truth. About the business, about the product, about the way the sausage is made. You deserve to know. I’m not perfect; I will trade reliability for horsepower, soft-touch plastics for handling, and I still fall in love across the room with these fresh-faced little girls in their manufacturer polos. Nor do I expect to last forever in the business. I’ve been making enemies while everybody else has made friends, and one day one of those enemies will pressure TTAC beyond what they can withstand. I know the end of the story.

Young Mr. McAleer has a Porsche 911 press car this week; the company may have a no-Jack-Baruth policy, but they’re too smart to have an explicit no-TTAC policy. If Porsche lets him share his driving impressions with all of you, I believe you will be able to trust him, and trust those impressions. He’s a good man and his heart is pure. But here’s something else you can trust: from now, until the day I’m drummed out of autojournalism or my corpse is strapped into the seat of a burning race car somewhere, I’m your huckleberry. I’ll die, or I will walk away, before I change sides. I work for you, and I won’t forget it.

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92 Comments on “The Advocate: Freakonomics And The Autojourno Life...”


  • avatar

    Bravo Jack, brilliant stuff.

  • avatar
    relton

    Sounds like Robert Farago.

    And that’s a good thing.

    Bob

    • 0 avatar

      Needs more fancypants words. Or at least some spizzarkle.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m disinclined to concur, sir.

        The use of “peregrination” drove me, mid-story, to the reference section*. Were it not for the subtle charge to keep an open mind when said McAleer Porsche story crests the editorial calendar, in light of heretofore clearly communicated Porsche PR tension from the man so frequently at the center of such indictments, that is, straight from the horse’s mouth, I’d consider that a counter-productive move. I mean, why would one risk driving one’s readers elsewhere or, worse still, missing the point entirely? Tsk, tsk.

        In other words, LOL WUT?

        * Thank you for that, Jack.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I apologize for thinking this . . . but I couldn’t help thinking, after reading your piece, “He should read ‘Lost in the Funhouse’,” or just about anything by John Barth after his first two novels.

    Because that’s the image which came to mind after having read this: JB in a house of mirrors, trying to figure the way out, earnestly.

    [Not a dig or a slam, by the way, honest!]

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    “I had indepdendent wealth”

    On a wider scale, this is why revolutions, political and otherwise, are seldom led by the poor (who are too busy surviving) or the very rich (who have already sold their soul). Pride is rightly regarded as the most deadly of the classic sins. Money is for the most part, a subcategory of pride. The desire to be looked upon with admiration by others is universal. Particularly in today’s world, that’s much easier to accomplish by driving a $200,000 car than by living a virtuous life. Kudos, for recognizing that tendancy in yourself. At a much lower level, perhaps I’d point out that being “different” just for the sake of being different (vs pursuit of a wider goal), could be an aspect of the same tendency. It’s especially prevalent in youngest children where the standard roles, “smartest”, “most atheletic”, “cutest”, etc have already been taken by older siblings. One reason most actors were the youngest children … and most comics, the oldest.

    Anyway, I’ll keep reading TTAC. The standard press is not much more than a press release.

  • avatar
    MrIncognito

    In healthcare, it’s been repeatedly demonstrated that the post-it pads, pens, and other small items that all our attractive drug reps used to give out freely had a huge impact on the prescribing practices of physicians making $200k and up. I can only imagine what the junkets must do to an industry where the average salary is 1/4 what an MD makes.

    In healthcare, the sticky notes and pens have been banned. The drug companies are now reduced to buying us food, but you should probably keep all this in mind the next time you read Car and Driver in the waiting room of the doctor’s office for a refill on an expensive brand name drug.

  • avatar
    NTI 987

    Bravo! Well said.

    Also, I thoroughly enjoyed the Gold-Plated Porsche. Thanks for the book!

  • avatar

    I’ve shared this with my fellow fashion bloggers, some of whom get hit up by PR all the time once they finally get past the velvet rope.

    And since you mentioned high school reunions, I can only think of the one question that will never be answered: What did Ray Wert drive to his reunion? All that build up for… nothing? Like it never happened? Did he even go?

    Jack, I will keep reading your work until your dying breath; figuratively or literally, that’s up to you.

    • 0 avatar

      Re: reunions

      I will admit to asking my contact at a press fleet management company if he could get me something fancy for my son’s wedding. I made it very clear that I was asking for a favor, that it was something extraordinary. He didn’t have anything for me.

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe that’s what ultimately happened at the last minute for Ray, the Jeep truck not available because it was a prototype and the Corvette because it just wasn’t available. Probably took a Town Car instead, which isn’t bad, but not quite the story Wert wanted to tell, I guess.

        I wonder how many autojournos and bloggers like yourself and Wert have asked for favors such as finding the right car for their special occasion, and how many were successful in having their request fulfilled.

  • avatar
    velvet fog

    You’ve come a long ways since the “How to drive fast on the interstate” series.

    Keep it up.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Indeed. From wanting to break your legs after reading the infamous 130mph on the freeway post to this…great, informative writing about the industry that I have not read anywhere else. Keep it up.

      A lot of us like to see the curtain pulled back on the automotive PR Oz, and just getting the information out in public will have an impact. Dropping some names would add to the fun.

      Keep grinding out the sausage.

      • 0 avatar
        Eddie_515

        Wait… how long ago was that? How can I find this series?

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/05/editorial-maximum-street-speed-explained/
        http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/05/maximum-street-speed-explained-part-ii/
        http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/05/maximum-street-speed-explained-part-iii/
        http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/05/maximum-street-speed-explained-part-iv/

        Now that we are a couple of years away from these articles, I can offer a little more insight into why they were written.

        I was absolutely tired of the “winking” way in which the color mags discussed the irresponsible use of public roads. I thought the most forthright thing to do would be to simply instruct the public on how to break the law and kick-start the debate. And since I had been a habitual triple-digit speeder since seventeenth birthday or so I thought I would be able to write believably, and authoritatively, about it.

        I’m not convinced that writing and publishing the stories was the right thing to do, but there you go.

        Incidentally, when I finally met cross-country driver Alex Roy in 2010, he strongly disagreed with almost everything I’d written; not on grounds of ethics, but on grounds of efficacy.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        One of those has perhaps the best comment in TTAC history hidden away there. Full on parody piece that probably took at least as long to write as JB spent on the actual article. So funny I cramped my stomach reading it, and remember it to this day.

      • 0 avatar
        Eddie_515

        Thanks for looking them up and providing the context, Jack. Right or wrong cannot be discussed without laying out the actual behavior and the possible motivations behind it. But the ‘safe’ side of the debate – better yet, the irresponsible portion of that debate (people who stop where there is no stop light for the incoming biker and create a hazardous situation, I am talking to you!) – will always accuse first without even a glimpse of a real argument, and god forbid thoughtfulness, about people who actually ‘speed.’

        I will read them tonight, but I am already savoring the feeling. For what it’s worth, I am not interested because I want to game the system. A few years back, some dear friends of mine lived in Cambridge, MA, and I often drove from NY to visit. I loved – LOVED – the 15/91/84/Masspike, and saw it as my reward racetrack. Never sped much, but never stopped turning pretty good times. I did develop an arsenal of knowledge about avoiding law enforcement back then, so i am expecting your articles to be similar in sharing particular experiences of your life at some point.

        I have so often began commenting, only to erase what I’ve written, since these articles began. I mean the uncomfortable look into the state of the union in automotive journalism. I believe they add up, and represent more than the sum of their parts. On one hand, I still smile at the idea of “truth” – in my discipline, truth, or reality, is defined as socially constructed (Philosophil, your Hegel reference helped me come out of the closet). On the other, I feel deeply about what TTAC is trying to do. I guess I should refine my thinking before I attempt to write some more.

        Once again, thanks for the links, and for the sincerity of your articles.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        “Incidentally, when I finally met cross-country driver Alex Roy in 2010, he strongly disagreed with almost everything I’d written; not on grounds of ethics, but on grounds of efficacy.”

        As someone that dresses up as a cop, in a car dressed up as a cop car, Roy is getting warmer in terms of the best way to be able to drive like an asshole and speed recklessly with impunity.

      • 0 avatar
        Amish Carpool Van

        As a guy with a civil engineering degree who “camps” at 15-25mph over, I can argue speed limits ’til the cows come home. We can talk about the original speed limit on the Penn Pike (none) or Kansas Turnpike (80) or why speed limits in the Eurozone are, on average, 10mph faster than the US, even as their freeways are built to lower standards of geometric design than anything we’ve put in since the 70′s. We can talk about how AASHTO changed the object height for stopping sight distance calculations so that anything with a “design speed” of 60 is now safe at 85.

        Or I can just accept that some people will always view speed as a moral issue, that I’ll never change their opinion, and that any effort should be geared towards convincing lawmakers to listen to the engineers.

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    “This is Jack Baruth. He’s been a big advocate for us.”

    Why not name the car company that saw you as an advocate?

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Beautiful.

    You have a knack for asking the right kinds of questions, Jack. As old Heidegger noted, asking the right questions is actually much harder than it first appears because it demands that you put something of yourself or something that is dear to you at risk. Not everyone can do that, and it actually takes a lot of guts. Well done.

  • avatar
    timmruss

    “But here’s something else you can trust: from now, until the day I’m drummed out of autojournalism or my corpse is strapped into the seat of a burning race car somewhere, I’m your huckleberry. I’ll die, or I will walk away, before I change sides. I work for you, and I won’t forget it. ”

    And for that at least I will remain a faithful fan of your articles…

  • avatar

    free-windbreaker crowd

    The real free-windbreaker crowd, btw, are not the autojournos lining up for freebies. It’s the cadre of folks who sell press kits, diecast models and other branded swag. The autojournos just belly up to the media information booths. The swag dealers bring entire crews.

    It’s funny. The auto show organizers and the autojournos resent swag dealers who manage to get credentials to the press previews for the purposes of getting wares to sell on eBay. The thing is, those swag sellers are there specifically for the freebies but unlike those autojournos who naively insist they can’t be bought by the car companies, the swag dealers more cynically know that they themselves are exploiting the car companies. Of course, marketing and PR guys are even more cynical. They know that the swag dealers are also promoting their brands even as they whine about those same dealers. The car companies know that within minutes of a press conference the swag distributed therein will be for sale online. That’s why Ferrari puts holographic authenticity stickers on their press kits.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    While I certainly appreciate efforts to maintain journalistic integrity, we must examine the other side of the question and that is our willingness to let others do the work for us. In the end, as purchasers of cars, it is our responsibility to seek the truth or live with the consequences.

    I bring this up because I’m car shopping. It’s an ugly, time-consuming business which is ironic, because one would expect the process of driving various objects of desire to be enjoyable. It’s not. But it’s a necessary business because it’s the only way to learn what you really need to know. For years, I’ve wanted to try a certain brand of German sedan. I finally got my chance and came away seriously unimpressed. The model I could afford was, as my car-fanatic sister (who was with us on the test drive) described, “an expensive Volkswagen”. Let’s not even get started on the piss-poor quality of many car salespeople and dealerships, although some are quite good.

    I love reading Jack’s stuff. It’s entertaining and, at times, enlightening. But in the end, I’m the one stuck driving (and paying for) whatever I end up with. And that makes it my responsibility to seek the truth.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      “I bring this up because I’m car shopping. It’s an ugly, time-consuming business which is ironic, because one would expect the process of driving various objects of desire to be enjoyable. It’s not. But it’s a necessary business because it’s the only way to learn what you really need to know.”

      +1! I hate commissioned salesmen and the practice of randomly assigning whoever is up as your salesman when you walk in the door. Easy to get stuck with someone who knows nothing about the product he is selling just because it was his turn to try and make a sale. I despise the way dealships waste time just so the customer has less time to cross shop the competition. I would much rather deal man-to-man with a real employee of the dealership. I’m even willing to make an appointment. Would also be willing to pay for an extended test drive sans salesman.

      • 0 avatar
        Rob Finfrock

        I would much rather deal man-to-man with a real employee of the dealership. I’m even willing to make an appointment. Would also be willing to pay for an extended test drive sans salesman.

        In my experience, it helps to bypass the initial “up” process entirely and do all your research online first. I bought my last three cars after finding the models that I wanted to drive (dealer inventory search is an invaluable tool here) and sending my initial queries via the dealer’s email contact system.

        In all but one case, the salesperson responding (they all had “Internet Manager” or some such title, but that usually means just a senior rep or a fleet salesperson) was very knowledgeable, professional, and respectful of what I planned to accomplish on my first visit: test drive the car, make some notes, and then leave to repeat the process elsewhere with a minimum of hand-wringing. I later returned to the dealer that had the car I wanted, and completed the transaction.

        With online research taking over so much of this process, most dealerships understand the different sensibilities and expectations of Internet shoppers. Generally, once you impress upon the dealer that you know what you’re talking about and know what you want, you’ll be treated with similar respect. It also helps to be able to say “no thank you” with a smile.

      • 0 avatar
        Brobdingnagian

        I’ve bought two BMWs and a Benz in the past decade. Never once did I care what a salesman had to say to me. I came with all the knowledge from my own research. This is the best way to approach most transactions, not just automotive. Medicine, real estate, shoes, it doesn’t matter: everything is being sold to you by uninformed people who don’t give a damn about you. In my own business (financial) the sales crap is so heavy it makes it nearly impossible to work under it. The fact that most consumers are fairly stupid and uninformed only gives support to this godforsaken sales virus that has infected every profession on Earth. No wonder the truth is hard to find.

  • avatar
    northshorerealtr

    Another piece of great writing–and opening up the process of autojourno life. Always fascinating to read about the sausage-making of other careers!

    But, you capsulated data about real estate agents from “Freakonomics”, and thought you’d appreciate another response to that book: http://money.msn.com/home-loans/how-the-pros-sell-their-own-homes-investopedia.aspx?page=1

    One of the points made in that article was:
    “Levitt and Dubner say their data suggest that a real estate agent “holds out” for a higher price on his own home. Assuming this is true, it is important to remember that when it comes to selling his own home, the real estate agent is the decision-maker. When an agent is selling a client’s home, that seller is in the driver’s seat. The agent must balance his desire to get a price that will please the seller with the need to ensure that the home actually sells in a timely manner — or at all.
    When selling his own house, an agent can afford to gamble on the fact that a better offer might come along — even though this plan will often fall through, particularly if the house stays on the market too long. This is much the same as when your stockbroker makes more money trading for herself than for you: She’s willing to take more risks in her own account than she feels are appropriate in a client’s account.”

    Here’s the other component many assume: the actual cash in the agents account. Using the $310,000 vs. $300,000, 6% commission fee (which is negotiable between seller and agent), after splitting the commission with the other broker bringing in the buyer, and then a (typical) commission split with the selling agent’s broker, the agent who lists the property only ends up with an extra $150 commission for the higher sale. And the SELLER is the one making the call on the transaction–not the agent, despite whatever the agent recommends. A total difference for $600 in comission between the two prices is a non-issue for the vast majority of sellers.

    I believe most Realtors® have far more integrity than some expect (and yes, I’ve been in real-estate-driven industries for more than 30 years). Which would you rather–to be known as a “sellout” writer or a “standup” journalist? (Now, go back and substitute “real estate agent” for “writer” and “journalist”.) And, if you’re in sales, is long term reputation a factor in getting new business?

    You already know the answers to those questions, Jack. And the overwhelming mass of real estate agents do, too.

    Again, another great piece of writing!

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    Jack,

    It is truly a pleasure watching the wheat separating itself from the chaff. Somewhere out there, I think your high school English teacher is smiling.

  • avatar
    tbp0701

    As a reader, let me just say thank you.

    I somewhat understand both the pressures and cost of a stance such as this. I also work with a lot of executives and PR people, likely some of the same ones, although I do not receive perks. I realize that at some point I will probably be fired for my insistence of maintaining some sense of integrity, or at least being able to go home without feeling nauseous over what I did or allowed to happen. Until then, I’ll try to maintain an income while holding on to my ideals.

  • avatar
    slance66

    I always enjoy your stuff Jack, in the way I loved PJ O’Rourke’s C&D pieces. Not clinical reviews (which Michael K does well) but more a description of your experience with the car. Your car knowledge is well beyond PJ’s and you manage to provide impart a unique perspective.

    That said, if you ever were going to plunge down the rabbit hole and live it up on PR perks, wouldn’t it be brilliant to write this piece first? This would give you cover for quite awhile.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    “He’s been a big advocate for us.” Wow, what a blatant, unintentional punch in the gut. As a former aspiring journalist, I can only imagine how that hurt. Just curious, in the next couple reviews of their products do you think you were fair, or did you maybe do a bit of “unadvocating”?

  • avatar
    Monty

    “…PR people, who are never as stupid or vapid as they appear, knew right away how to ring my bell.”

    Jack Baruth

    “Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself.”

    Dale Carnegie

    “I have to be able to sleep at night.”

    Monty – when when appealed to with flattery, and cajoled, and tempted with favours when as an official with a National professional sports league was asked by the other team’s GM to overrule the scoring on a particular play.

    Full credit, Jack. The appeal to your pride was far more subtle than a bribe of a trip or “loaner” car for a year. Recognizing the “rabbit-hole” for what it was, and willingly extricating yourself from it, deserves praise.

    Thank you for believing in us, the readers – it allows us to trust your opinions and reviews.

  • avatar
    harshciygar

    Sigh.

    It’s a Catch-22.

    I can’t afford to pay for my own ticket and hotel room every time there’s a major event outside of the NYC area. Really, I can’t attend anything more than a day’s drive. That’s pretty limiting, and I can only meet so many people at the New York Auto Show. And I’m sure, even for the experienced guys, there are only so many events you can afford to attend on your own dime.

    So at what point did I become a sellout? I’ve taken a few trips on OEM’s tabs. I haven’t been awarded with any sort of test drive, except for a brief day jaunt in a V6 Mustang around Seattle (and only because I had driven 9,000-something miles there in a 22-year old 4-cylinder Mustang.) I expect I’ll be driving the same car to my high school reunion as the one I drive today; the aforementioned ’89 4-cylinder Mustang.

    Honestly, I’d never even think to ask for a nice car because, having attended a private Catholic High School, having a nice car would only lead to more “requests for generosity” (i.e.donations) to the Xavierian brotherhood than I already get. Besides, all those already-rich-bastards won’t be impressed unless I show up in a Bugatti. They haven’t returned my calls unfortunately.

    I did go to a few “lifestyle blogger” conferences at the behest of an OEM. I met a lot of really nice people who didn’t know diddly about cars. Are they all sellouts too? Probably. I tried to cover these events fairly, but going back, it may not seem that way. How am I supposed to talk negative about people and a company that did nothing but present me with overwhelming positivity to the point of puking? It’s not as easy as Jack makes it sound, at least for a young upstart like yours truly.

    I want to grow as an autojourno. But to maintain my integrity, does that mean burning bridges with every OEM that tries to “buy” me? Am I going to inevitably end up as a Journosaur? I dunno. Nobody told me the ethics of reviewing a fucking car were so goddamn complicated.

    I’m no Jack Baruth. I’m not independently wealthy, my racing experience is limited to a single autocross session and a few trips down the drag strip in a 15-second muscle car. Journalism was only offered as a minor at my state school, despite articles repeatedly ending up in the national news (see; bad satire regarding rape.) I was taught how to work at a newspaper, despite regular acknowledgments that print journalism is dying.

    If I screw up, even once, there’s a good chance my infantile autojourno career is over. My fall back plan is mowing lawns. And I really, really don’t want to have to go back to that.

    So please advise; is it too late? Am I already bought and paid for? What falls within ethical, basic human needs (“I refuse to be bought by your gold Port-O-Johns! I’d rather shat my pants!”) and this-is-obviously-a-bribe-you-better-not-take ala Jeff Glucker.

  • avatar
    Twitter: phauser

    Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been watching The Wire in marathon sessions, but this is either a statement of pure integrity or the ultimate auto-journo long con.

  • avatar

    after that description of autojournos, David Davis is stuck in my head like an earworm. For anyone who is unfamiliar with him, he started C&D, or maybe it was Automobile, and in his dotage–when I was aware of him–he wrote column after column on where he went, the great people he hung out with there, the thickness of the steaks, etc. For years, I didn’t know why they didn’t send him off to pasture.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      Read with the correct amount of cynicism his reviews, while biased and soft with regard to the cars, were probably great restaurant and travel reviews.

    • 0 avatar
      Brobdingnagian

      Spot on. He’s the prototype. He always made my skin crawl, no matter how many accolades he received from his fellows. BTW he started C&D and I believe later started Automobile, the latter of which carries on his pretense. I’ve let all my car magazine subscriptions die as I’ve gotten sick of them; after reading Baruth I know why.

  • avatar
    jastereo

    “I’m your huckleberry.” -
    And we will continue to appreciate it! Keep up the great, and entertaining, work Jack. It brings a smile to my face when a new one pops into my google reader.

  • avatar

    “I believe you will be able to trust him, and trust those impressions. He’s a good man and his heart is pure.”

    FOR NOW. Amirite?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    BTW that licence plate is priceless, “LOL WUT”.

    If the manufacturers read your articles as carefully as you do they’d know to send real hookers to you in the hotel bar, not just figurative ones.

  • avatar
    phargophil

    Jack,

    I’ve always been one to be on a personal quest for people with integrity and honesty. Those qualities are not as common as one would hope.

    I believe I may have found such a person. Thank you, Jack.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    There isn’t much to say that hasn’t been said already. I’ll just add that I want to read anything you write.

  • avatar
    cstoc

    I’m sure other long-time C&D readers recognize the writers Jack mentions as David E. Davis, LJK Setright (probably) and Pat Bedard. Pat was the prematurely balding engineer, and he was the major reason I continued reading C&D. His columns revealed many shenanigans played by the general media, the safety industry, and NHSTA, etc. His writing always made sense to me, and I miss it from today’s C&D.

    TTAC has replaced C&D for me, and I look forward to everything Jack writes. The articles peeking behind the curtain of the auto media have been fascinating. Keep it up, Jack!

  • avatar

    I met Jack for the first time at my very first junket (put on in Napa Valley by a certain German car company whose name starts with A and ends with i, if you know who I mean and I think you do). Without Jack there, it would have been one of the most boring weekends of my life.

    The part he’s not mentioning here is that PR flacks and auto-journo hacks are, in nearly all cases, tedious as hell. Being at a press event with them is much like being stuck in a dentist’s waiting room for six hours with nothing to read but a half-torn-up issue of a 2006 time-share-condo trade journal. They get even worse when stuffed full of good food and drink in a sumptuous setting. I can think of just a couple of PR flacks who can carry their end of a proper conversation, and they’re both LeMons racers and probably about to get fired. Having someone like Jack in such a setting is like getting Oscar Wilde at your yearly HOA meeting.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    The “independently wealthy” line makes things a little clearer. It’s gotta be easier to have integrity when there’s no pressure to pay the bills….things get a lot muckier when you have to make hard decisions that effect the basics in life. While I appreciate the fact that we readers benefit from a relatively honest and uninhibited perspective from Jack, chances are the modus operandi would be a bit different if this gig was a necessity. It makes me take some of the denigration of others with a grain of salt. Not that a lot of these already rotten journalists don’t deserve a little scorn….

  • avatar

    To be fair, the biggest bribe of all to a lot of car writers is just access to the cars. We love cars. We will do anything to get next to the most ridiculous/expensive/outrageous ones.

    For example, I’m totally willing to sell out all my objective-journalism principles to GAZ, if they’ll just fly me to Odessa and give me a low-mile Volga 21 to drive to Magadan. You listening, GAZ?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    So automotive “journalism”, which is largely predicated on writers reviewing expensive machinery borrowed from the companies that sell them, is driven by public relations people.

    This is supposed to be a surprise? Really?

  • avatar
    Force

    Full disclosure up front: I’m a PR flack for an automaker in Canada. Brendan may even be able to guess who I am, though it’s not relevant to this post. Why? Because long before I joined the PR game, I was a die-hard automotive enthusiast of the highest order. I’m still so enthralled by all things automotive that it’s very much how I define who I am. It’s from this perspective that I leave this comment.

    A great article by Jack, as always. Though there are certainly many “interesting” quandaries in the realm of automotive journalism and manufacturer PR, I’ve always appreciated TTAC’s approach. Strong, unbiased assessments are beneficial to more than just the readers of a given publication – it benefits us the manufacturers, too. When someone like Jack gives his impressions of our product, good or bad, the readers of this site know they can take it to the bank. I’d also like to simply mention that there are people on the PR side who truly care about cars in general, theirs and otherwise.

    Keep up the great work.

    Signed,

    An individual on the other side of the fence.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s a reaction that I’ve gotten from some auto PR folks. Our esteemed ed Ed has had similar feedback. As Jack pointed out, Porsche may not like him, but they know that TTAC reviews have credibility.

      Maybe that’s the PR version of what Baruth described as autojournos’ “wobble”. Just as the car writers who regurgitate press releases have to occasionally do a negative review just to stay somewhat credible, maybe the car PR folks make sure that reviewers with integrity also get shuffled into the mix. Sure, they’ll try to turn them into “advocates”, but that’s only because they have credibility with readers in the first place.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        Could it be just a conspiracy, where certain automakers have ‘unfriended’ JB just to know what he really means, so that they can adress some of the problems no other journalist will tell them that their cars have? :P

  • avatar

    Great stuff, Cookie Monster. Thank You!

    Now I’m getting all sentimental and thinking b/c TTAC doesn’t have a PayPal Tip Jar,

    or even a Per-Writer variant thereof,

    that we the Readers should all band together and start an Annual ‘Honesty In Auto-Journalism MacArthur Grant’-Foundation/Masonic Temple Chapter over on Kickstarter or something…

    …-Something to take up the resource-slack left in front of straight-shooters who refuse to take up residence inside Ray Wert’s giant-butterknife-powered adding machine, or sharpen the scissors that festoon the greying hide of Arianna Huffington.

    .
    Some day in NYC, I’ll buy the beers;
    -just please don’t flip out with a hareem of bitches on the dreaded ‘bottle-service’. I’m not yet as wealthy as you.

  • avatar
    Greg B.

    A consistently negative publication, or at least ones negative to certain manufacturers, is really no different from one that recycles the pablum dished up by the PR brigades.

    Auto writing is a dirty business. It’s pretty obvious when you’ve been around for a while. It started back in the old days when Road Test was owned by the Japanese manufacturers who were just establishing a beachhead in America. Motor Trend then started to smell and before long their COTY award became known as being for sale.

    Car & Driver in the ’60s was different, but weren’t consistently negative. They could be outrageous, but unlike many of today’s websites they were outrageous when the subject deserved it. They didn’t hate anything consistently and they didn’t love anything all the time either. That’s what was refreshing. Soon they too sold out, touting every new introduction as being great, only to trash it 6 months later when the next new thing came along.

    Today we have certain sites that are Hyundai/Kia operations, some that are Japanese-centric, some that hate all domestics, some that hate GM… it goes on and on but it seems all are bought and sold. This one is not much different. The “truth” one finds here depends on your point of view.

    I don’t work in the car business, but in an industry that uses similar tactics. The gravy train is always running and I never cease to be amazed at the number of people – people in senior positions making great money – who always are taking the free trip, the free dinner, whatever. I don’t get it. But it seems common practice. After the 10th evening used up eating dinner in some snooty restaurant with some company rep and his visiting brass, I fail to see the attraction, even if the servers are sexy. But I guess different people are motivated by different hings. For me, I’d rather spend an evening at home.

    Good luck, Don Quixote.

  • avatar
    TomHend

    You even used “I’m your huckleberry” correctly Doc.(see below)

    On and off I hear discussions in which people speculate on the exact origin and meaning is of the quaint idiom used by Doc Holliday in the movie “Tombstone.” I’ve heard some wild suggestions, including “huckleberry” meaning “pall-bearer” suggesting “I’ll bury you.”

    Still others think it has something to do with Mark Twain’s character, Huckleberry Finn, and means “steadfast friend, pard.” This is unlikely, since the book of that title was not written until 1883. Tom Sawyer was written in 1876, but nowhere there is the term “huckleberry” used to mean “steadfast friend” or the like.

    Still others claim that a victor’s crown or wreath of huckleberry is involved, making the statement “I’m your huckleberry” something like “I’ll beat you!” But no such reference can be found in the historical materials supporting the use of this term in 19th century America. Additionally, “huckleberry” was native to North America so it’s unlikely it was used in ancient Britain as a prize!

    Solutions to such questions are actually very easy to find, since there are numerous dictionaries of the English language in its various periods, and there are dictionaries of English slang. These works simply cull from books, magazines, and newspapers of the period representative usages of the words to illustrate their meaning. I consulted several of these and found the expression to have a very interesting origin.

    “Huckleberry” was commonly used in the 1800′s in conjunction with “persimmon” as a small unit of measure. “I’m a huckleberry over your persimmon” meant “I’m just a bit better than you.” As a result, “huckleberry” came to denote idiomatically two things. First, it denoted a small unit of measure, a “tad,” as it were, and a person who was a huckleberry could be a small, unimportant person–usually expressed ironically in mock self-depreciation. The second and more common usage came to mean, in the words of the “Dictionary of American Slang: Second Supplemented Edition” (Crowell, 1975):

    “A man; specif., the exact kind of man needed for a particular purpose. 1936: “Well, I’m your huckleberry, Mr. Haney.” Tully, “Bruiser,” 37. Since 1880, archaic.

    The “Historical Dictionary of American Slang” which is a multivolume work, has about a third of a column of citations documenting this meaning all through the latter 19th century.

    So “I’m your huckleberry” means “I’m just the man you’re looking for!”

    Now ain’t that a daisy!

    The “Daisy” comment is easier. In the late 19th century “daisy” was a common slang term for “the best in it’s class.” So for “daisy” just substitute “the best” and you’ll have it. It was a short-lived idiom and doesn’t seem to be popular much after 1890.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for that fascinating etymology

      • 0 avatar
        dvp cars

        ……david h….hard to say if you were being facetious, or, like myself, somewhat fascinated, by Tom’s exhaustive research on JB’s curious selection of the word “huckleberry”. Assuming any or all of the various meanings are historically correct (too lazy to duplicate Tom’s alleged findings), I wonder which one Jack had in mind?…….might as well go totally off topic here, how be we turn Tom loose on the term “hoopleheads”, often used by the saloon proprietor in “Deadwood”…..and, one last thought, on what auto site but TTAC are such questions asked?

      • 0 avatar
        Monty

        TomHend – Thank-you for the vocabulary lesson. As David H says, fascinating.

        Another reason why this is one of the best blogs (let alone car blogs) on the whole intertubes thingy.

        I consider myself a huckleberry, or maybe even a persimmon, to the great minds that contribute commentary to this site.

  • avatar

    Jack, it is very hard to tell if one is being sincere in writing. But word choice is key, I’m not a pseudo-intellectual nit-picker,(or a good writer,)so I’m not going to quote anything here. I can feel an overwhelming force of sincerity in what you wrote here, but the weird thing is I got something out of this that wasn’t really written here; your passion lies not with the writing here, or writing for people who are a level above the average car mag reader, it’s really with the cars, and the fair representation they deserve by those with a writing talent and access to a press fleet. Keep it up, 1) so you can live with yourself everyday; and 2) so the passion you keep for the cars never dies.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Quote – “Which brings up another topic: “What is the appropriate tip for an auto detailer?”

    As a detailer (second job actually) I’d say ask yourself this, when you saw how the car turned out, did you say (either out loud or to yourself) holy f…ing sh!t, wow! If so – tip 20%

  • avatar
    jonnyguitar

    Jack, just ignore the pseudo-intellectuals who cloak themselves in churlish pedantry; they’re probably just jealous. By the way, watch out for these women who seem likely to have personality disorders.

  • avatar

    We’ll always have the bar at Travaasa Austin, AMIRITE??

    Great read.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    I can’t imagine you have ever actually attempted to romance a Bryn Mawr girl. Otherwise you wouldn’t have used the words “a bit.” Ask me how I know.

    That being said, Jack, you rock.

  • avatar
    Brobdingnagian

    Thank you Jack. Good luck.

  • avatar
    mad_science

    I refuse to believe the abrupt transition from pointing out how easy it is to buy someone off with their own pride to profusely expressing your loyalty to us, the Dear Readers was unintentional.

    …though I am surpirsed that I’m the first to bring it up.

    Cars and sex are most alike in the heavy blur and mystery between reality and perception when it comes to who’s good, what’s good and how the experts really do it. What works well for the camera and what works well in real life are two different things.

    The public at large has no idea what they’re doing, and probably wouldn’t like what the pros like anyway, but feel compelled to get closer.

    Something something about teenagers and magazines and first times behind the wheel. Or is that “behind the wheel”?

    MT or CD can post 0-60 or 1/4 times, but I know I can’t replicate them. I’m not going to work the other side of the metaphor here.

    The point is auto writing isn’t science. It’s opinions for entertainment.

    I see slim distinction between someone pushing an unduly positive opinion about a car because they like the PR staff, doing the same because they obviously love Porsche and Ford, or doing the same because they have terrible taste in cars and don’t know any better.

  • avatar
    DJTragicMike

    Thanks, Jack. But… I pegged you for an Orson Scott Card fan. That’s ok though.


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