By on June 22, 2012

“It’s just sooooo much better on coke, you just wouldn’t believe it, that’s how I prefer it, really, it’s so much better it almost isn’t worth doing it sober.” Though I remained professionally impassive behind my Prodesign 4360 eyeglasses, I was simply amazed at the story that my old high-school classmate was telling me over a few drinks. Back in 1986, she’d been just another quiet, reasonably pretty girl, and in the present day she’s a suburban housewife with the requisite $70,000 Toyota and the mandatory country club memberships. In between, however, she’d apparently done some pretty crazy stuff, including a couple of cocaine-laced three-way weekend throwdowns in Las Vegas. “You go to Vegas for your car thingies, don’t you?” she inquired, her nostrils flaring in Proustian sympathy.

“Er, not any more I don’t,” I hastily replied. Twenty minutes later I was quite deliberately out the door, heading home on my little Honda motorcycle, and feeling quite square. Not my kind, dear. I’ve never done cocaine. Never plan to. But it seems like every woman I meet nowadays has climbed a veritable Everest of the stuff. Was I missing something? To find out, I decided to ask my resident expert on kink, drugs, department-store clothes-shopping, and all other things vaguely disreputable.

“I suppose sex might be better on cocaine the first few times,” the infamous Vodka McBigbra told me as I knelt in my driveway, scrubbing bugs off my Boxster’s smudged 3M nose shield, “but every guy I ever saw who used coke to enhance sex ended up giving up the sex in order to focus more intently on the coke, you know? There’s just never enough of it, you understand? There are these great hits, but then there just isn’t enough. I don’t think you understand.”

Oh, sweetheart, but I do understand. After all, I’m an automotive journalist.

Our coke in the autojourno game is called “content”. When we start off in that game, most of us take the big hits, shots to the dome through a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill right off a stripper’s D-cups. I’m talking about the first time you come home and there’s a free $75,000 car in your driveway, or the first time you order room service at a press event, or the first time you see a massive, 50/50-blend-suit-wearing fellow standing at the bottom of the escalator at LAX, holding a sign with your name on it. Big hits, the heady rush, the whirlwind of faux importance, the VIP lifestyle. Good stuff, if you like that sort of thing. The content comes easily. It flows from your fingertips. You spend three days partying and write a thousand words.

A year or two later, you’re basically this guy. (Warning: NSFW due to language and violence) You’re under the gun to create content. You have readers numbering in the hundreds, thousands, or millions, and they want to read something right now. If you don’t have it, they will go somewhere else, and they might not come back. Yes, you have a big Mercedes press trip. That’s next week. You need a hit now. Son, it’s time to sell a cheeseburger — or get your knees dirty. Let’s walk down the alley and meet some fiends, shall we?

We’ll start with the absolutely staggering number of news outlets, ranging from bottom-feeding SEO-grinder Motor Authority all the way to the Huffington Post, that uncrticially reported on… a vinyl-wrapped Lamborghini Aventador for sale at Lamborghini Miami. “FIRST GOLD-PLATED LAMBORGHINI!” “FIRST GOLD-WRAPPED LAMBORGHINI!” “ONE OF THE FIRST GOLD-WRAPPED AVENTADORS IN THE GREATER MIAMI AREA!” “EXCLUSIVE VIDEO OF ONE OF THE FIRST GOLD-WRAPPED AVENTADORS IN A 200-FOOT RADIUS — DRIVING FAST! BEING PULLED OVER! JUST SITTING THERE PARKED!”

This is content-kerbcrawling at its absolute worst. It isn’t newsworthy. It isn’t interesting. It isn’t worth reading by anyone at all. It’s simply another piece of content for the mill. I expect this sort of thing from MotorAuthority, which is kind of the Tommy Hilfiger of automotive journalism in the William Gibson sense:

simulacra of simulacra of simulacra. A dilute tincture of Ralph Lauren, who had himself diluted the glory days of Brooks Brothers, who themselves had stepped on the product of Jermyn Street and Savile Row … There must be some Tommy Hilfiger event horizon, beyond which it is impossible to be more derivative, more removed from the source, more devoid of soul. — William Gibson, “Pattern Recognition”

Given that the phrase “gold-wrapped Lamborghini”, in quotes, has over 91,000 Google results at the time of this writing, however, one can safely assume that it wasn’t just the worst of the worst who defaced their WordPress interfaces with this “story”. (That, by the way, is six times as many hits as a random Alexander Pope quote — “What, that thing of silk?” — which I tossed in for contrast.) In a way, it’s a new low for the automotive media. We’ve been pawns of the manufacturers ever since the first “buff book” appeared. Now, we’re pawns of the dealers.

To be fair, however, there really is a gold-wrapped Aventador out there. It’s for sale at Lamborghini of Miami. Please feel free to contact them about it, and if you buy it, please feel free to delete this website from your bookmarks.

Our next group of crack fiends goes by the name of Limited Slip Blog. At the risk of being more unkind than is strictly necessary, I should point out that “LSB” has no reason to exist. There’s virtually no unique content, there isn’t any insight offered on any topic whatsoever, and there isn’t anything on the site that you couldn’t find on the aforementioned MotorAuthority, complete with higher-resolution photos. The entire purpose of LSB, as far as I can tell, is to get the “founders” some free cars and press trips.

In order to do that, they need clicks, which means they need… you know… content. Until very recently, a lot of their content came from a fellow named Brendon Davis. Mr. Davis, who did not return my request to be interviewed, is supposedly a former parole officer turned AutoZone employee who “track-rats” a 2008 BMW M3. He published multiple reviews of exciting cars like the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon and thus helped satisfy LSB’s growing content addiction.
There was one problem, however: Mr. Davis was plagiarizing content from other blogs, most notably Hooniverse. The CTS-V review? Taken, word for word, from Jeff Glucker’s review. Long-time TTAC readers will be pleased to hear, by the by, that Mr. Glucker has recovered from his slut-shaming by Michael Spinelli and has gone on to have many press cars, press trips, and a manufacturer-funded lifestyle the likes of which your humble author can only dream.

Some of the Brendon Davis “tests” aren’t even plagiarized from existing sources; they appear to be entirely false, created using eBay photographs and Mr. Davis’ own fertile imagination. This is assuming, of course, that Mr. Davis even exists himself. When Hooniverse cried foul, the “founders” immediately “fired” Mr. Davis and refused to provide his contact information to anyone. Mr. Davis’ Facebook and Twitter pages, frankly, look like the kind of thing the 4chan crowd gins up in its spare time for purposes of pranking other Facebook and Twitter users.

Perhaps the “founders” created Mr. Davis for the purposes of publishing plagiarized content, knowing they would eventually be discovered. The scandal, such as it is, has actually helped LSB and brought them readers. No such thing as bad publicity in this game, I suppose. Ironclad, wholly-reliable prediction: someone from Limited Slip Blog will take an overseas trip courtesy of a manufacturer before your humble author does.

It’s tough to fault the LSB guys, even if they knowingly faked everything on their site. Content’s hard to make nowadays. Everybody’s on their knees by the end of the news day. Want proof? Look no further than the lavishly-funded, fully-staffed pot of gold at the end of the Internet auto-rainbow. Under the leadership of editor Ray Wert, Jalopnik’s craving for “uniques” — prioritizing new visitors to the site over established readers — became harder to satisfy than Paul “Mr. P.C.” Chambers’ heroin addiction, and far less conducive to artistic or creative excellence.

This week, Matt Hardigree’s controversial piece gRACEful was attacked as “Gawker gay propaganda” in the comments. It’s hardly that — Mr. Underwood is about as straight as they come, so to speak — but the breathless prose Hardigree uses to describe the man verges on the homoerotic more times than it doesn’t. More to the point, the article represents content-grinding at its worst. Mr. Underwood was a quarter-midget racer in his youth before becoming a respected ballet dancer as an adult, which makes his inclusion in Jalopnik about as reasonable as it would have been for Sports Illustrated to do a profile on Lieutenant William Calley because he once played Little League baseball.

Why do the article? Simple: it’s content, and it got clicks, and it maybe even got unique clicks, presumably from that community of Internet users who closely follow both quarter-midget racing and ballet. Is it news? No. Was it relevant to most Jalops? No. In this case, the Wert Doctrine actually hurt the site, as it would have been more interesting to many readers to see an expanded story on a gold-wrapped Aventador. That wouldn’t be unique content, however, and it wouldn’t get “uniques”.

That’s the end of our tour through the Content Crack Ho Alley this week. Some readers might note that, by covering these items, your humble author is, himself, generating content for TTAC. Perhaps I’m here in more than an observational capacity, eh? It occurs to me that if everyone on this business could simply agree to stop this relentless, savage struggle to generate content, we could then all go forward to create the articles that people really want to see, devote more time to each high-quality feature, and make it more pleasant to be a “car guy” on the Internet. Don’t look for that to happen. Rather, the pressure to grind out the headlines will only increase. After all, as V. McB warned me, “once people start on that stuff, only the strong, or the crazy, ever know when, or even how, to stop.”

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42 Comments on “Avoidable Contact: Cocaine and content, gold Lamborghinis compete with faux reviews and straight ballet-ers....”


  • avatar
    Travis

    I dont care if its random fluffy stories or just hating on other auto news outlets, I read and enjoy most everything you write.

    • 0 avatar
      Alexdi

      This.

      More on point, the debasement of site content doesn’t go unnoticed. I used to be a regular Jalopnik reader. Since they redesigned the site and started running fluff pieces, I don’t bother going any deeper than the main page. The slim possibility something interesting may appear every full moon is the only reason the place is still bookmarked.

  • avatar
    brokeguy

    “Cocaine is a helluva drug” – Rick James

  • avatar

    The biggest problem with being addicted is that you don’t realize that you are until someone informs you of said addicted. Then its too late.

    “Stop sending me car links, you sent me 38 already and it’s not even 7AM!”

    Oops.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    To Jalopnik’s credit, one thing that it has achieved with the “Ronnie Underwood Left The Race Track To Join The Ballet” story is that Limited Slip Blog has not plagiarized it yet.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Jack go listen to “It’s only rock-n-roll”. I live vicariously through you. All of us want or fantasize about a wicked quick ride and a VMBB at our house

  • avatar
    carguy

    It all about the unique page views so sites are prepared to do nearly anything to get them. Jalopnik also like to do barely auto-related stories to get links from non auto websites in order to increase their unique visitor count. Who can blame them on slow car news days?

    Maybe TTAC can join the trend? You could have a track article entitled “Five ridiculously simple tricks to improve your lap times?” and maybe Huffpo will link to it?

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    By the way, as a alternative comparable to Alexander Pope:

    “gold-wrapped Lamborghini” About 94,100 results

    “lime green Audi” About 25,000 results

  • avatar
    replica

    So it comes up over and over that you deserve lavish trips more than others because you write original content. I really enjoy your writing, but the masterbatory implications are a bit overwhelming at times. Do your thing Mr. Baruth, no need to dwell on others that can’t do it as well, even if they do get more “stuff” out of it.

  • avatar
    Feds

    “presumably from that community of Internet users who closely follow both quarter-midget racing and ballet.”

    These people, I want to meet them.

  • avatar
    Commando

    Jack: you have never written a piece in TTAC that I haven’t thorougly enjoyed. I need more of your work. You are my crack.

  • avatar
    ellomdian

    THIS is why I read this site every day, and usually twice or more.

    I now have a very specific journalistic niche scratched, have Pattern Recognition added to my amazon queue, and will be forwarding/linking/referencing this article for a few weeks.

    MORE! MORE! Like any addict, the “I can quit anytime I want” hit isn’t enough anymore. Where can I buy in bulk, from the source!?!

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Getting into a fight is a pretty good way to get some clicks. If R. Farago hadn’t busted knuckles over at Autoline, I wonder if I’d be here today or whether they’d have the audience they’ve got. So how about you get into a fight with Obama, Jack? We know you’ve got the clothes for the gig.

  • avatar
    someclevername

    I’m just glad TTAC never stoops so low as to put out fluff content.

    COUGH

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/tales-from-the-cooler-prius-dethrones-cadillac-in-the-left-lane/#comments

    COUGH

  • avatar
    ringomon

    There’s nothing that I love more than a good plagiarism story (for some odd reason)- but is it just me or are all the external links leading right back to this article?

    How narcissistic can you guy get? (ha ha)

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Great piece, Jack. I love seeing this kind of honest, self-critical, philosophical reflection. Lovely stuff…

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Everyone’s new at this Internet game. Quality still sells, and bullshit doesn’t. I believe I learned of Jalopnik through this site. However, it’s been months since I took a look. I’m do dense to deal with the user interface; and I don’t feel that my struggles in doing so are sufficiently rewarded.

    Over time, the crap will float to the top and be washed away.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Jack reflects because it is the only way that Jack can stop from being pulled in himself.

  • avatar

    “Journalism” has taken a nose-dive since the rise of the internet. As an example, the Huffington Post used to be pretty good sometimes. Since AOL bought it, it’s probably 80-90% fluff. AOL, Yahoo, lots of “news” stories that are junk. Even Slate Magazine (published by the Washington Post Co.), which has a lot of really good stuff, has maybe 30-40 percent junk. Of course, as Jack says, automotive junk journalism has its own unique raison d’etre.

    • 0 avatar
      daveainchina

      Thing is the definition of Journalism has changed since the rise of the internet. Not necessarily for the better either. News has always had some “fluff” to fill in the gaps. However I think that the consumers are just as guilty here as the media outlets. We keep going to these sites, so we end up reading about all this garbage.

      so who is worse? The writers who make this garbage or the readers who continually feed the beast so to speak?

      I think maybe we should look at much of these sites are more infotainment than news outlets. Real hardcore news from what I’ve seen tends to be behind paywalls pretty often(usually professional websites for people in various professions). There is probably a reason for that. Free news sites on the other hand need to keep generating clicks for their advertising $$$ this means they need to keep people coming back.

      I’m not sure in this age where people have the attention span of a goldfish there is much change that we can expect.

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      Journalism has become cut and paste. Any given story is put out by AP and augmented slightly by local news outlets with a small “AP contributed” line.
      The local paper is 75% AP stories, very few are written by employees. No wonder it’s reduced in size by half.
      Gone are the days when reporters actually reported on stories they researched themselves. A journalism degree today means you join the rest of the left wing propagandists in getting the daily talking points out.

  • avatar
    multicam

    What about user-generated content? I can’t speak for anyone else here, but the main reason I come to TTAC is to read the comments.

  • avatar
    Glen.H

    Another way to produce hits and comments on a site is to have one or two editors who are ‘controversial’, often taking a simplistic political idea and applying it to the subject at hand. It is popular in tabloid style news services. An example is here http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/hammer-time-a-tale-of-two-car-cultures/ Remember, kids, the more hits and comments, the more interest by advertisers!

  • avatar
    Tanonas

    Jack, this was an excellent read. Thanks bruva

  • avatar

    Suppose it’s a question of whether you’re producing art or participating in enterprise. If art, then we might throw cares to the wind and focus solely on writing one great piece per week.

    If enterprise, then ignoring the undeniable demand for car stuff to talk about online is foolishness if you want to stay in business.

    Just because you cover car stuff that breaks online doesn’t mean you have to run every crappy press release that crosses the inbox. There is a middle ground for good content, carried by good writing and a good community of commenters.

    /obligatory counterpoint.

  • avatar

    “Tommy Hilfiger Event Horizon”
    -YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    -feeling the urge to cut the tags out of my clothes RIGHT. FREAKING. NOW.

    Good piece, Jack.

    .
    +Shame that Ray Wert still exists in +/-human form, because I’d ordinarily Love to read any blog that has a commenter calling himself, “Disgruntled Titty-Sprinkles Snap Understeer”

  • avatar
    olddavid

    The whole Gawker ethos is to pander to the lowest common denominator. Sort of like my personal foray into speedball back in the 80′s. Hopefully, they’ll grow out of it, but I don’t hold much optimism.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    I love it when you tell it like it is!

    As for Jalopnik, I finally put down that crack pipe. Tried to quit the first time, after their first redesign, but found myself going back there anyway. The format wasn’t actually that bad, just different. I finally quit going to the site entirely after reading a few articles by one of their new guys. They typically had misleading titles, or had nothing to do with cars.

    The articles were things like, “THIS MAN IS OUT TO SAVE THE WORLD” and a few hundred words about a picture of a man on a motorized Rascal scooter on a snowy day. No context, no research on the origin of the picture. Just a few hundred words and a helping of Internet Snark. Or “An in depth look at the world’s cheapest car” but it was entirely about the styling and how he thought it could be changed to make the car look narrower. The one that did it in for me was his styling analysis of Hot Wheels die cast cars. Whenever a friend links me to Jalopnik, I ask who wrote it and refuse to click if it’s from that guy. His articles seem to get a healthy number of clicks, so I guess it’s working.

  • avatar
    eastaboga

    I clicked because of the pic of gold Miura, a golden encrusted Aventador in the zombie, face eating capitol of the world, meh….nice piece though Jack, at some point everything becomes a job, at least on the slow days

  • avatar

    Prodesign 4360 frames are nowhere near as fly as the Prodesign 1163s I wear. Do 4360s look like glasses that Enrico Fermi would have worn? I think not!


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