By on December 4, 2013

embargo

In a rather terse and self-consciously matter-of-fact column released earlier today, Jalopnik’s Matt Hardigree drew a line in the sand: the website will not honor any product embargoes not related to new-car drive events and opportunities. He’s careful to point out that it’s business advantages, not ethical considerations, underlying the change in policy.

To the PR people in their metaphorical ivory towers who consider Jalopnik to be nothing but a heavily-JavaScripted sewer for mouth-breathing teenagers, bronys, unemployed Millennials living at home with their parents, and euphoric-fedora-wearing forever-alone virgins who were perma-banned from “9GAG” for failing to meet that site’s minimum IQ requirements, Mr. Hardigree’s decision probably appears to warrant no action other than taking all Gawker-domain email addresses off pre-packaged product communication. The serenity with which they will do so probably closely approximates what the last Brachiosaurus felt as he calmly chewed the first of the day’s ten thousand leaves while watching a bright flash streak across the morning sky, and for about the same reason: their ability to see the future stops at the hindbrain. In the long run, however, everybody will suffer — or almost everybody, including you.


Let’s start by considering the idea of the “embargo”. On the face of it, an auto-journalism embargo is straight-up ridiculous. A car manufacturer decides that they are going to pick a date to release new information about a car. After the date is set, the manufacturer contacts the media and provides them information in a staggered fashion so that everybody has a chance to put said information in front of their customer at about the same time.

It’s at times like these that auto-journalism’s origins — infomercial broadsheets published by manufacturers themselves — are most plainly apparent. In the case of the Mustang, Ford decided that AutoWeek would be “first” and that other sources would follow. This amounts to a direct financial subsidy to AutoWeek, who would theoretically see a substantial rise in circulation with an exclusive new Mustang on the cover. Think about that for a moment. Ford has some power here that can be measured in dollars. If Ford would agree to give exclusive Mustang photos to my personal website, I could look forward to a million-plus hits on that website — and even at ten bucks per thousand hits on the advertising, that would be enough to buy myself something nice.

The new-Mustang pie is big enough to cut into a few different pieces, so other news sources, such as TIME, were invited to participate as well. Had everybody played nice, come New Mustang Day you would have been surrounded by images of the car. It would amount to near-total saturation, reaching nearly everybody who is even dimly interested in automobiles. And if everything had gone properly, the rising tide would have lifted all boats according to Ford’s desires. Insofar as most people can think in a six-month or one-year timeframe, even people who write about cars for a living, it’s safe to assume that a desire to get a starring role in the Mustang review has been on the minds of many people in the business for a while now. Note, for example, that TTAC didn’t receive any embargoed Mustang information ahead of time. We’ll be attending tomorrow’s global reveal meeting in Dearborn, however.

All of this worked perfectly well for decades, until — you guessed it, the World Wide Web. We now live in an era where photos taken at auto shows can be instantly uploaded to websites within minutes, or even seconds with the new Wi-Fi SD cards. (Ironically, the first time I met Mr. Hardigree he was running Compact Flash cards between some rather nonplussed freelance photographers and Ray Wert’s press-room staff at the Detroit Auto Show. He’s always been ahead of the curve, I suppose.) It’s now common for an embargo to be broken on the Web, followed by a flood of reposts and links and whatnot as everybody works at top speed to maximize the clicks before they dry up.

As Mr. Hardigree rather astutely notes in his article, the mechanism of the embargo means that Jalopnik and TTAC are free to publish images of the AutoWeek front cover, even as AutoWeek themselves are unable to do so because they have a signed agreement with Ford explicitly disallowing that behavior. The big bucks that AW was supposed to have made off the embargo will be made elsewhere.

Meanwhile, TIME appears to have completely disregarded the embargo. Presumably, they are unfamiliar with the idea of holding “news” until the subject feels they are ready to have the news printed. Not that TIME is above all sorts of idiocy peculiar to their own brand of “journalism”, but I digress. The bottom line is that the people who played by the rules in the embargo will not benefit.

Which, in the long run, removes any reason to participate in embargoes. As much as AutoWeek doesn’t want to get their news from Matt Hardigree, they like watching him run photos of their own magazine that they, in turn, are unable to publish even less. Better to have a situation where everybody grabs the news at the same time and publishes it as quickly as they can.

And that’s where Mr. Hardigree and Jalopnik come in. Nobody does immediate news like Gawker does. They’re as ruthlessly optimized for that particularly reductionist purpose as a Great White shark. When everybody is free to publish immediately, then the organization that operates with the lowest drag wins. The end of the embargo era will be the Last Trump that signifies the complete ascendancy of the Web over the print rag in the automotive-enthusiast world.

From an ethical perspective, this is brilliant. It will mean the end of the cozy relationships, although Mr. Hardigree’s note that he will respect new-car drive embargoes shows that he won’t go any further in pursuit of transparency than the end of a road paved with buttered bread. It will level the playing field between the Big Guys and the Little Guys, which is a good thing. It will remove the manufacturers’ ability to dangle something ahead of the magazines that looks less like a carrot and more like an actual pinata full of cash. Let’s welcome our new insect overlords, shall we?

Yet you, the reader, will find the era of fast-news only slightly more satisfying than a shopping-mall food court. It means that from now until the end of time you’ll get your information about cars filtered through some intern who has limited education, limited talent, limited resources, and a twenty-minute time limit to get it done — with fifteen minutes being nice if you can do it, Jeremy, you know we value the fastest, most hyperbolic writers here at BigBlogCorp. Ironically, the opening sentence of the Jalopnik article bears the unmissable signs of first-draft writing. Get it done, get it out, get it over with.

Faced with the end of their ability to be anything but last to the party, I’m hoping that the magazines will choose being best as an alternative. That they (hey! we! have I mentioned that I write occasionally for the most awesome magazine this side of Black Tail?) will elevate the craftsmanship, the beauty, the truth of what is presented to you on the printed page. That we will all look forward to each issue of our chosen airline companion with the proverbial bated breath, knowing that what we’re about to read will be more carefully composed and thoroughly researched than anything we ever read on the front page of any blog, including this one.

It’s a tough mission, and not everybody will come back from it — but to be shot down in the pursuit of excellence is worthy of admiration itself, and surely the view from one’s parachute, of the filthy masses screaming and Spiderman-picture-posting and “shitposting” all over each other, will have a grisly beauty all its own.

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91 Comments on “Jalopnik Declares War On Embargoes — And It’s A War They Will Win...”


  • avatar
    stryker1

    “That they…will elevate the craftsmanship, the beauty, the truth of what is presented to you on the printed page.”

    Nope! Heard this from editors of publications that went under before. “We’ll stay alive by being the best, most acclaimed, seriousist publication available!”

    What will, in fact, save those who remain will be the strength and entertainment value of the personalities that participate in the operation. Long as you have a Jack Baruth, a Steven Lang, and co. you will be fine.

    • 0 avatar
      old5.0

      I dunno. Tony DeFeo was one of the best automotive writers I’ve ever encountered. In contrast to the polish of a Peter Egan, DeFeo was blue-collar, Old-Milwaukee-and-a-pack-of-Pall-Malls rough. Still, the writing was smart, endlessly amusing and dedicated to “telling it like it is.” Some of his better-remembered stunts included driving into lower Manhattan at 5am one morning and doing a massive burnout in a new Lincoln Mark VII LSC with the WTC in the background, and delivering pizzas in Brooklyn with an ’86 Turbo Regal on loan from Buick (anyone unfamiliar with DeFeo’s writing should google “Tony DeFeo Blondie” for a taste of his style.) It was great while it lasted, but eventually DeFeo’s no-holds-barred style turned off the advertisers, and Cars Illustrated disappeared. What we were left with was little more than paid advertising in the guise of journalism.

      TTAC is blessed with some great writers, including Jack, but the question in the long term will be if electronic media is better equipped to survive the inevitable backlash against truth-telling than paper. I sure hope so.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Without the ‘big bucks’ of exclusive deals, they will cease to have the luxury & resources to cultivate craftmanship. Since it will level the playing field, everything & everyone will migrate to the lowest common demoninator. We will cease to have high quality magazines (too late?), and instead, everything will end up like Jalopnik, which is a shame.

  • avatar
    David Walton

    The race to be first is a race to the bottom; much better to be excellent in the field.

    • 0 avatar
      Piston Slap Yo Mama

      I’m completely baffled at the race to print something – anything – about a new car’s debut. Most informed consumers wait and read the in-depth reviews and criticism, the comparisons with other vehicles in the market segment then make an informed decision. I just don’t get the panic to see a blurry photo of a photo or an artist’s representation when all one has to do is wait a week for worthwhile media to appear. Then again, my demographic is Classic Motorsports where I’m considering the merits of an AMC AMX versus a Mach 1 for my next ride, so perhaps I’m not the trendy type who jumps on every new fad like your typical Gawker consumer.
      That said, TTAC shouldn’t cast stones at Jalopnik considering its own click-bait pieces like Caroline Ellis’ debut “What Your Car Says To Me” about how she’s so amazingly hot that only Mustang drivers have a shot at her pink unmentionables. To my mock surprise, that bit of auto erotic ego-stroking garnered enough comments and page views to give an unemployed Bertel a shiver but also represented a journalistic nadir for this site. Yes, it IS a race to the bottom – I’ll keep giving Tim Suddard my hard earned money, thanks and just be thankful TTAC still has Lang, Murilee and Kreutzer among others.

    • 0 avatar
      Piston Slap Yo Mama

      I’m completely baffled at the race to print something – anything – about a new car’s debut. Most informed consumers wait and read the in-depth reviews and criticism, the comparisons with other vehicles in the market segment then make an informed decision. I just don’t get the panic to see a blurry photo of a photo or an artist’s representation when all one has to do is wait a week for worthwhile media to appear. Then again, my demographic is Classic Motorsports where I’m considering the merits of an AMC AMX versus a Mach 1 for my next ride, so perhaps I’m not the trendy type who jumps on every new fad like your typical Gawker consumer.
      That said, TTAC shouldn’t cast stones at Jalopnik considering its own click-bait pieces like Caroline Ellis’ debut “What Your Car Says To Me” about how she’s so amazingly hot that only Mustang drivers have a shot at her pink unmentionables. To my mock surprise, that bit of auto erotic ego-stroking garnered enough comments and page views to give an unemployed Bertel a shiver but also represented a journalistic nadir for this site. Yes, it IS a race to the bottom – I’ll keep giving Tim Suddard my hard earned money and just be thankful TTAC still has Lang, Murilee and Kreutzer among others.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Wow, Edgy.

  • avatar
    jz78817

    whether or not I agree with Jack on this (I mostly do,) I still can’t give any regard to any site under the Gawker umbrella ever since Gizmodo went around sabotaging product displays at CES several years ago. If you want to be taken seriously as journalists, best not to go around acting like a bunch of unsupervised adolescents- one reason the picture in the lede of this article got a chuckle out of me.

    not to mention how firmly they (Jalopnik) have their noses rammed up their own asscracks.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Jalopnik could be a great website, but I think their association with the Gawker Empire hurts them a lot more than it helps.

      I think Murliee and Lieberman are under a 1000 year gag order, but I’d love to know what they think about that place. Those two guys had a great thing going on Jalopnik, but then it seems the overlords pissed it away.

    • 0 avatar
      Flybrian

      I once had a 20 post back-and-forth with someone over the merits of a Mazda5 until I realized that I had two things he didn’t – a clue and a job.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    If only we as a collective could stamp out the scourge of OEM “teaser” shots. I’m not interested in looking a 3/5ths of the rear diffuser of the next Lamborghini. If the design’s stamped out now, Give it all to me NOW. GIMME GIMME GIMME.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      I was just about to post that about, what, a year ago? Jalopnik pledged that they would never again post any teasers. I think it was just after the BRZFRS came out.
      I’m not sure if this decision furthers or diminishes that, because they teased the hell out of the Mustang for the last 6 months or so.

  • avatar
    Travis

    I haven’t read Jalopnik in a while. It hurts my brain. The gawker sites are just too boring for me. Typically, I find that if it’s important enough, it’ll end up on a forum or a site in a more legible format.

  • avatar
    ajla

    People that have been with TTAC from the beginning will remember that Farago (who founded the website) hated press embargos and TTAC regularly broke them, joyfully, at every turn for years.

    In fact, just because I don’t forget anything, RF covered much of what Jack just wrote back in 2005:

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/01/embargo-this/

    It is interesting to read how Jack and Robert tackle the same issue.

  • avatar

    ” The big bucks that AW was supposed to have made off the embargo will be made elsewhere.”

    True, but because every site, including TTAC, published the leaked cover, Autoweek at least gets its brand in front of lots of eyeballs. How much that will translate into dollars and cents I don’t know but it’s worth something.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    There are no embargoes on real news. As opposed to pictures that DB auto PR people e-mail out. And yet some organizations still produce quality news.

    Any auto news source that has nothing to offer than better writing about PR pictures than Jalopnik has no reason to exist.

    An auto news source generating real content, as opposed to rehashing press releases, does not have to worry about being beat to the (no longer literal) press.

    Back in the day the buff book with the latest picture may have gotten the sale at the newsstand, and most people would not buy more than one magazine (although sometimes I would). But now people can read Jalopnik or Autoblog for the latest PR releases, and then TTAC, Hooniverse or some of the Jalopnik kinja stuff for more interesting articles.

    Instead of trying to suck up to a bunch of buff books people no longer read the manufacturers would be better off reaching out directly to consumers. “Register with us and be the first to be e-mailed the official pictures of car XYZ.”

  • avatar
    fredtal

    It’s a little sad to me that being first with the news is more important than the quality of the report.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      I agree. I don’t have any problem with embargoes, as long as everyone gets to release on the same date.

      There will always be an an internal company coordination date because it takes a lot of organization to get information prepared, designed, checked, and vetted.

      The external embargo simply allows the media to take their time to write decent reviews, and it prevents them from competing with each other to rush out sloppy content.

      In other words, you’re going to have a date anyway. What difference does it make if the release date is a month later? Especially when the payoff is that we get more informative, copy-edited articles instead of hokey blog posts and camera phone pictures?

  • avatar
    bodayguy

    Jack, you’re right on the print strategy. I’d say give the magazines exclusive photo shoots and first drives, make sure their best writers get the interviews they need, etc. Then don’t stress out about sneak peek photos getting out, or handout photos getting on Jalopnik or TTAC. That’s all you can do in this age.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    Not for nothing, but if I wanted to read about how Volvo 240s are the best cars in the world, I’d go stick my head in an oven because that’s how that site’s discourse makes me feel.

    I just don’t understand how Jalopnik works. It has some bright patches, but so much of its is just…ugh. I dunno. Gif overload I suppose.

    Even if I don’t agree with some or the majority of the B&B here on a given topic, I can at least stand the read…

    And for the record, when I was running C&G, we honored embargoes.

  • avatar
    Timothy

    Am I the only one with the thought that if Ford doesn’t want pictures leaked (embargoed in other words) than they shouldn’t provide them to media until they are ready? I know breathtakingly little about the print world so I will assume they need the pics ahead of time for layout purposes? Even still I would think that most of this could happen in advance of the actual receipt of images.

    As I stated above, I know almost nothing about print / old media.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “It’s at times like these that auto-journalism’s origins — infomercial broadsheets published by manufacturers themselves — are most plainly apparent.”

    Auto journalism virtually doesn’t exist, largely because there is almost no need for it.

    There aren’t many Watergates in the auto business. New cars are released, engines are upgraded, sales numbers are published, etc. — this stuff is all sourced from the automakers, and it isn’t vital to democracy.

    The automakers can deal with the embargo issue fairly easily by issuing press releases in real time via the internet or email. The embargo system was largely a concession to print magazines and the lead time required for layouts, but those considerations are now barely relevant.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      And here I am agreeing with you again.

      I have to chuckle sometimes about TTAC’s recurring injury over the fact that this is a PR industry designed to move product.

      Do we expect “Yachting” to have in-depth exposes on the seedy underside of the yacht industry? No – you expect it to have semi-interesting reviews of boats.

      The vast majority of cars we read about are cars we will never buy. The whole thing is a consumer exercise with a lot of fantasy mixed in. I respect those who are trying to be trusted sources amidst the PR, and I will support those folks with page views, clicks, and magazine purchases where appropriate. But I can’t remember the last time the auto industry reporting was actually important from a hard news perspective.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        Reporting on towns being scammed by or in cahoots with scumbag redlight camera companies like ATS, reducing yellow lights and tagging people on right turns to pull in massive ticket revenue, has actually led to citizens fighting back with successful referendum.

        The bailout was newsworthy, although overblown compared to the financial bailout, and general government waste fraud and abuse, especially in the military and homeland security.

        The Detroit bankruptcy is newsworthy, and hopefully will form a path that other cities can follow to get out from the debt caused by greedy public sector unions.

        And don’t get me started on the Porsche IMS scandal, i.e. Porschegate.

        But none of that news comes with an embargo. Reputable auto “journalists” can report on it, and report on it well, without needing to cry about how PR photo releases are orchestrated.

        • 0 avatar
          imag

          Fair enough. As you say, none of those stories are embargoed.

          I think the press release approach is appropriate. As far as first drives and reviews, I sympathize a bit with the mags that do real instrumented tests and get swept by an intern, but that’s life in the modern world.

          • 0 avatar
            racer-esq.

            If people valued the instrumented tests then whoever wanted to compete would have to provide them.

            I’m actually surprised that there are not more instrumented tests. A Racelogic VBOX can be had for ~$600 on eBay as of right now. The real issue is likely that most blogs do not have good enough drivers to push the car to the limit, not good enough instruments to measure the car when it gets there.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          The automotive enthusiast press generally didn’t cover the bailout very well. Few gearheads know enough about the industry, economics or bankruptcy to contribute much to it.

          Ditto with the Detroit bankruptcy. You’re better off getting that from the business press and some of the local Michigan media.

          Most automotive “news” is of the press release variety. The outlets are rewriting information that came straight from the automakers.

          • 0 avatar

            As someone who produces a monthly automotive magazine – which is also available in print because subscribers have requested it – this is an issue which often comes to mind.

            Automotive media is rank with hucksterism. We believe stories of people who actually own the vehicles and DO things with them are more meaningful than 300-word opinions hacked together after a weekend with a presser; the ways our shared automotive experiences impact society.

            Journalism excellence requires making the significant interesting and relevant, so stories of bailouts and recalls and international treaties, etc. need to be reported, but what’s the litmus test?

            How do we ascertain which stories are newsworthy to the point where we expect our trusted automotive journalists to go beyond editorial bents and simple impressions-driven commentary in pursuit of something more?

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            I don’t see the situation is that grim. Most automotive news is about cars and car companies, and most of that information necessarily comes from the automakers.

            If Automaker X claims that Engine Y produces 250 hp, then it isn’t really necessary to assume that the figure is a lie and requires some sort of Deep Throat insider who will provide evidence of a conspiracy. It actually makes sense for the automotive press to simply tell us what Automaker X is saying about the power output of its vehicle.

            A lot of the automotive press is just car porn, and that’s fine. There’s a place for critiquing it, but critiques are opinion pieces, not news.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        “I have to chuckle sometimes about TTAC’s recurring injury over the fact that this is a PR industry designed to move product.”

        It’s only recurring because you’ve been here a while.

        Every year, there’s a whole new crop of “car people” who don’t understand how things work.

        • 0 avatar
          imag

          Accepted. And I realized that I also get a bit righteous about reviews that omit all the flaws in a vehicle, only to loudly proclaim the flaws as soon as the new model comes out…

          …or the “track tests” of vehicles that will not actually provide the advertised performance for a 25 minute track session due to battery exhaustion, brake fade, and massive tire wear.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    VIDEO is the final frontier of automotive journalism. Once a picture is out it is basically public property and has no value. But the entity that does the best first drive review and video will get first dibs. Alex Dykes written articles are good, but I definitely prefer his videos and am a subscriber of his channel. Likewise, whoever gets the Rustang lined up with the most in depth first drive and best first comparo will reap the biggest benefits. Unlike photos and words videos can’t really be completely stolen. I.e. JoeAutoBlog can’t aggregate a Motor Trend video review and republish + profit from it as his own.

    I agree though that the glacial prehistoric mentality of Ford’s PR is almost endearing in its futility/naivete. But at the end of the day everyone wants to see the new Mustang so whatever archaic means they use of disseminating info will “work”.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Video moves too slowly for most non-neurotypical people. I can’t sit still long enough to watch one of those bullshit ten-minute Lieberman handjobs on the MotorTrend YouTube channel. It’s like sitting in a room with a very stupid person who is repeating well-known information to you very slowly.

      And if the comments on YouTube are anything to go by, the world of community-shared video is almost entirely populated by the severely mentally handicapped.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        I agree. Give the car pr0n, spare me the storyline. I suppose it works for some people. I don’t know any of those people though.

        • 0 avatar
          juicy sushi

          I don’t mind narrative when the writer/character-in-front-of-the-camera is good at it. Most aren’t. All I want from a reveal is some nice high-resolution photos to use as wallpaper. What I will pay car journos for is car porn and well-written narrative. Take one cross-country, or across Europe, and give me a story to go with the awwesomeness of the car. That is probably way too expensive to be a viable business proposition for all but a few, but that’s what I would pay for, either in print, or video.

          When it comes time for more practical, nitty-gritty reviews, there are many, but I’ve already narrowed down the number of those I actual find useful and just wait for their reviews before making too many judgements.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        “And if the comments on YouTube are anything to go by, the world of community-shared video is almost entirely populated by the severely mentally handicapped.”

        Ditto for youtubes interface designers, it just gets worse and worse and despite the many polls and complaints, nothing comes of it.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          It’s so frustrating how these unnecessary redesigns are constantly griped at, even by “names”, and yet all Google does is keep making new worse redesigns.

          It’s like Google is old-school General Motors. “We’re Google and we know what you want better than you ever could!”

      • 0 avatar
        MK

        Holy schit JB, NAILED IT.

        I cannot stand video reviews, way too slow and plodding to be useful. I can barely muster the patience to sit through a Worldstar fight compilation without fast-forwarding so NO WAY am I gonna listen to some chucklehead tell me about a car….. Holy crud!

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        “It’s like sitting in a room with a very stupid person who is repeating well-known information to you very slowly.”

        So, it’s like reading Jalopnik or Autoblog?

    • 0 avatar

      Great as Alex’s videos are, I rarely have time for them. And they are not good for a quick read when the time comes. There is a certain audience for videos, mostly people who have too much free time. That is not everyone in the car-buying segment.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      nope. a video doesn’t tell me any more about a car than a good write up.

      and neither tell me nearly as much as driving said car.

    • 0 avatar

      I use video to augment my reviews, to show things that still photography or text can’t convey as well, like showing the Land Rover LR4’s air suspension going through the various ride heights or action shots of the car being driven. I have very rudimentary video editing skills so I’m not even going to attempt to do a full video review.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        I agree with the general sentiment here. If I come to a car blog my hope that all the relevant info is conveyed in text, and the video is icing on the cake.

  • avatar
    imag

    To me, EVO is the magazine that does exactly what you recommend at the end of your post.

    The quality of their photos and their writing is worth paying for – and it doesn’t matter to me if I get it a month after I read about the car on the internets. It is more insightful, entertaining, and literate than 90% of the online content. I just hope they can keep it up with Metcalfe gone.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Those who create embargoes – and those who abide by them – overestimate the value of their news, which will be Old News next week. I think they’re vain.

    Having said that, I still look for automotive news, reviews, and perspective from a variety of sources just so I don’t have to read the same regurge all the time. Actual reporting requires (and produces) original work worth reading. I can get ‘copy and paste’ anywhere.

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    Just so we’re clear what you’re talking about, it’s in your fourth paragraph: “infomercial broadsheets published by manufacturers themselves.” I’m rather at a loss to see what craft will suffer when the product in question (when discussing embargoed information) is simply manufacturer-produced photos and spec sheets. As Matt notes, they will still honor embargoes on press drives, because while you can leak a photo of the new Mustang over the web, it’s a lot harder to leak an hour of time in the cockpit.

  • avatar
    Banger

    I had a frustrating embargo experience.

    Ahead of a big trade show (astute TTAC editors who know me outside the comments here will know which trade show right away), I was asked to do a 1,500- to 1,800-word piece for a magazine about said trade show.

    A certain title sponsor of said trade show would not release more than a very general teaser quote, and a short one at that. I ran with it. Quoted them on it. Speculated — because that’s all we could really do, other than not mentioning the title sponsor at all — on what they might be bringing to the show. The title sponsor’s big concern? They didn’t want to leak any info to me that might get out a week ahead of the show, when the magazine would start shipping to subscribers.

    Fast forward to one week after deadline for the piece — magazines typically have long lead times, and mine was a full month before the mag was supposed to hit mailboxes — and said title sponsor is sending a full, detailed press release with NO EMBARGO to the top dog at a website for which I am writing.

    Ultimately, it’s the sponsor’s loss. All the other PR folks I called who gave me concrete details about what they were going to bring to the trade show were mentioned at-length in the piece, with in-depth quotes and coverage of what they were bringing to their booth and why it mattered to our readers. The magazine was distributed on the show floor as well as being mailed to untold thousands of subscribers.

    Meanwhile, the title sponsor went unmentioned except for a small blurb — that quote they gave me, plus a few short words of idle speculation that were annotated as such — in the piece. Next time, I hope they’ve learned to discern the important difference between PUBLICATION date and EDITORIAL DEADLINE. If not, the cycle of me not covering their contributions to future trade shows will continue ad nauseum.

    This is yet another example, in addition to the many excellent ones provided by Mr. Baruth, of why embargoes are silly.

  • avatar
    April

    Would this be such a big controversy if it concerned any other car?

    In other words would there be as much outrage of breaking the embargo if it was the new Mitsubishi Mirage and not the new Ford Mustang?

  • avatar

    Jack, you do realize you have a brony writing articles for TTAC?

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Honestly I don’t get the idea of embargos on stuff like this in general, just give the press their info and let them go on about it. Another reason I’d make a bad journalist, I break every dang embargo I get thrown at me for the sake of my readers.

    Also, sometimes its interesting to read Jalopnik and sometimes I question their professionalism when theres a headline like “We’ve been fapping to the wrong Porsche”.

    Nevermind the meme-littered comment sections.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Hardigree

      I think your willingness to toss niceties out the window “for the sake of my readers” would make you a great journalist. When we do anything I always ask “does this serve the readers?” It’s a standard we don’t always meet, but it’s one I think about.

      Also, we have toally been fapping to the wrong Porsche. That’s not a matter of taking the job seriously, we very much do, but it’s about taking ourselves too seriously, which I hope we don’t.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Thank you, I would void all embargoes but I’d never write a peace just to get it out first, an article is only good if its actually informative. Theres always honest product reviews too, I’m sick of how so many journalists will play to a products hype, what goods a dishonest journalist?

        I don’t understand why a company would withhold information on a new product from a journalist though, the more info they have the more time they have to get it into an article, the more info the readers know the more trusting they’ll be in their purchase.

        Right, as far as seriousness goes I just try to uphold my manners.

      • 0 avatar
        doug-g

        Also, we have toally been fapping to the wrong Porsche.

        “Toally”? Fapping can lead to blindness, you should have seen that typo.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      I think many journalists honor embargoes because they think it serves their readers to maintain access to the manufacturer for future pieces.

      They may also think that it serves their readers to have interesting and informative content rather than a knee-jerk paragraph.

      Anyway, clearly the press is changing, and some of it is for the better, some for the worse. I do not defend embargoes where one rag is given an exclusive. They are clear conflicts of interest, as already noted, and should be rebelled against by everyone.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        “I think many journalists honor embargoes because they think it serves their readers to maintain access to the manufacturer for future pieces. ”

        So, the fear of being cut-off by the manufacturer is counter to serving readers? hmm, ok

        • 0 avatar
          Banger

          “So, the fear of being cut-off by the manufacturer is counter to serving readers? hmm, ok”

          ^Says the person who likely has never written automotive news stories or reviews.

          Reviews get a lot of eyeballs on your publication, be it a magazine or newspaper or blog or podcast. Hard as it may be for you to believe, many of us in the automotive journalism trade do think it serves our readership better to let some things slide, get our points across in whatever small way possible when we can, and hope for better access next time.

          The manufacturers have got this game sewn up, pretty much, and they know it. And we know it. And because you’re reading TTAC, you know it.

          Would you rather we writers kowtow to an embargo every now and then (something I hate, which you’ll understand if you read my anecdote earlier in this same comments thread,) thereby assuring future access to press cars and media launch events that will give us an opportunity to state our honest opinion of cars? Or would you rather we break every embargo that is presented to us– in the name of “journalistic integrity,” of course — leading to an eventual cutting-off by the automakers that causes our publication to become little more than a place to rehash press releases from the automakers?

          You have to strike a balance in this business. There are times you play the game, and there are times you stand up to the bully in the pulpit. Just like any professional scenario, you pick your battles and face the consequences of winning or losing them. And believe me, as someone who has spent his life in the newspaper industry outside of autojournalism, you have to play this same game to an extent even in a “hard news” environment. Piss off your sources often enough, and you’ll eventually find yourself on the losing end of your local ratings/newsstand sales/viewership war when that source and all his or her friends quit giving you interviews or official quotes in retaliation.

  • avatar
    Ion

    I think Jalopnik’s mad because they didn’t get any press photos to spoil yet. This is why they can’t really win. All it takes is for enough makes to stop supporting them and soon they’ll be getting their press releases from third parties.

  • avatar
    AoLetsGo

    Yes the world is flat and it is a fast race to the bottom, or insert catchy, latest economic doomsday phrase ______ (here). This economic truth pertains to journalism and many other professions in this great global economy of ours. To survive in these professions you have to be the either the first, the cheapest, the loudest/flashiest/crudest/sexiest, or be able to create something intelligent and beautiful.
    We shall see which of the automobile rags (both print and electronic) have the talent to be a Jim Harrison or Neal Stephenson.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Of course they’ll win. With the web and 24-hr news-cycle. But, I’m a flack and when I give you something embargoed it’s because I trust you and I want to make your job (getting accurate info out) easier – YES that makes my job easier. I’ll still deal with everyone that breaks my embargoes, I have to, but maybe I’ll give out extra tid-bits to those that respect my embargo when they show up at my news conference. Or maybe those guys get a little quicker, easier access to my boss. We’re all play the game after a fashion, and like that other tough business, it’s nothing personal.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    Artificial scarcity almost never works. I say almost because DeBeers has made a fortune restricting the supply of sparkly rocks.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I used to be an avid Jalopnik reader until about 5 years ago when the constant format tinkering and use of the idiot word hoon near killed me from inside.

  • avatar

    This utopian embargo free future of yours misses a key point: The OEMs control access to the cars (or their stats).

    Rather than create a completely equitable future, it reinforces the ability of a PR team to give access to the most compliant. They’ll just do it more selectively, knowing sending the info means it’s an instant story.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    “euphoric-fedora-wearing…”

    Hmmm… I wear fedoras, but certainly not guilty of the other things Jack mentioned! Whew!

    I do have a question, and I have a feeling that Jalopnik being part of the Gawker empire answers it, but please confirm: Why does Jalopnik get so many apparent “scoops” that show up on TTAC and TTAC has to credit the other site for the info?

    I’m sorry, but TTAC is the best overall car site on the web, and to me, it just shouldn’t be that way. Or am I being unrealistic in my reasoning?

    In any event, I’ll anxiously await the new Mustang review on good ol’ TTAC!

    • 0 avatar

      I’m happy to say that Jalopnik didn’t get the scoop on Sir Mix-A-Lot selling his purple Porsche 935 a while ago; car has since been sold to someone in San Francisco, dealer cites privacy as to why I don’t know any more than that. That said, I thought it would have crossed over to Jalopnik during one of their roundups, but I didn’t see anything. Oh well.

  • avatar
    tikki50

    well that makes sense due to their business model. Jalopnik is nothing more than a media whore. They consume news provided by others as their own. OF course they cant comply to embargo’s because the news they post isn’t their own. What a dumb idea to state this, I like the idea of ditching jalopnik then.

  • avatar
    david42

    I would still happily pay $10 a month (yes, that much) for a big, glossy magazine that collected my favorite auto writers from the web and let them use all the words and pics they want. Or put it in a polished iPad app.

    There is quality here (and on a few other sites). It’s worth paying for. Analysis, historical perspective, the classics… these are the things we can’t get from press releases, and if we want them done well, we should pay for them. As many other commenters have said, automotive “news” isn’t really news in the CNN or NYT or WSJ sense. But that “news” is easy to publish, and I think that the old buff books got too addicted to it.

    Jack, what is your estimate of the number of readers and monthly price needed to support a 100% BS-free, no-advertisement (since we’re dreaming) publication that offers the best content (i.e., only the “good stuff” from TTAC, CC, Hooniverse, early-aughts Jalopnik, and anywhere else that you think would make us better enthusiasts)?

    When budgets are limited–which tends to happen when you give away your content for free!–a race to the bottom is inevitable.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    I know it isn’t really the same, but reading these kinds of articles reminds me of the early ’90s when the recording industry was suing its own consumers for illegally downloading MP3s off of Napster.

    While the industries couldn’t be more different from each other, the whole matter still comes down to simple distribution. Record labels had their say at how and when a single or an entire album was released and which record store chains (are those still a thing?) got their grimy mitts on the merchandise first.

    Fast forward to nearly 20 years later and you’re still seeing what happens when a faster, better, more efficient distribution channel comes out. While Napster is no longer with is, iTunes is. It effectively took what Napster came up with and made a legit business model out of it, much to the chagrin of the recording industry, who would still rather have this whole internet thing go away.

    As for magazines, they’re still relying on old business models to hock their wares. They’ve all trimmed down and rely more on freelance writers and artists to put a publication out each month. Some have embraced the internet more than others, such as Motor Trend owned Interlink Companies. What they’ve produced on Youtube with Roadkill and other weekly/monthly videos is impressive and stands on its own ground as a web based entertainment.

    Still, while all of this is happening, the buff books still patiently wait around for media embargoes to run their monthly publications the same way they have been for decades. It’s of no great benefit for anybody in any industry to wait so long for any kind of data to appear to the general public when it can otherwise be released so quickly and cheaply on the ‘net.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    ” euphoric-fedora-wearing forever-alone virgins who were perma-banned from “9GAG” for failing to meet that site’s minimum IQ requirements”

    That comment both hurt and offended. I’ve received a couple of warnings over at 9GAG, but I have never been perma-banned! You need to research things before you start talking vial smack about people. I think you’re just bitter because you’re pale and live in Ohio.

  • avatar
    Cornelius Attenborough

    Why are you babies griping about embargos?

    Apple, Google, and Microsoft have press conference several times a year to debut new products and software. Most of the media outlets get the information at the same time and post it asap (some even live blog the events). If automakers didn’t show the car early, and just had press conferences; would that end the crying about embargos?

    I didn’t understand the arrogance of the Jalopnik editorial. They prove they are independent by not attending a secret press conference?


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