Don’t let anybody tell you the economy’s tough nowadays; when our beloved, game-changing Managing Editor, Derek Kreindler, posted in a Facebook auto-journo group offering cash money to anybody willing to write a pro- or anti-UAW piece for this esteemed publication, only one of the several hundred members even bothered to contact him about it. I don’t know about you, and I don’t know about me, but the bacon-and-buffet junketeer crowd is doing just fine.
That author was New York attorney and fervent social liberal Jamie Lincoln Kitman, who contributed a guest post from a decidedly pro-UAW perspective. We published it exactly as submitted, despite my reservations about some of the Christian-baiting red meat (blue meat?) Mr. Kitman threw to the ravenous crowd in the pursuit of his point. Some of the readers ate it up; some wanted to flay him alive. But the clicks came in at a rate that allowed Derek to buy an Omega “Dark Of The Moon” Speedmaster with his weekly bonus, so I decided to source an opposing editorial.
That anonymously-written piece stirred just as much passion as Mr. Kitman’s contribution, and for a reason; I decided that we would permit just as much wacky button-punching as the pro-UAW opinion had offered. I was chagrined to see that some of the readers referred to it as “racist”. After all, the characterization of Japanese “overlords” in the piece was a deliberate spoof of the deliberately racist and violence-inducing material distributed by the UAW in the Eighties. That material, and the race-baiting tactics employed by the UAW in that decade, arguably led directly to the death of an American citizen at the hands of a Chrysler supervisor and a laid-off Chrysler autoworker in June of 1982. I’m not too stressed about it. This is the Internet, which means that some people read deeply, some people read quickly, and some people read until they see something about which they feel entitled to complain.
So what did we learn from the pieces themselves? Obviously, the answer is Nothing, and if you expected anything else, you’re being silly. Reading one piece by a Manhattan lawyer, and one by a former Honda quasi-employee, and expecting to learn something about the Tennessee situation from either would be roughly equivalent to expecting to learn something about mental illness by listening to W. Axl Rose perform “You’re Crazy”. These are opinion pieces. They are meant to stir discussion and debate.
Which leads to the question: Should we have put “boots on the ground” down there in Chattanooga? Should we have syndicated the content of a local newspaperman, as was suggested? Perhaps we should have, and if this struggle continues perhaps we’ll point Derek’s Aventador south and see what’s happening for ourselves. Arguably, this is the story of the year so far, considerably more important than any of the relatively dismal debuts at Detroit and Chicago. If you want a local opinion and you’re willing to click and read it, let us know in the comments.
What did we learn from the reader response to the posts? That’s a different question. Strictly speaking, the “Anonymous” post was viewed 23% more often than the Kitman post despite being published hours afterwards. It caught up with its “competition” by six PM and never looked back. Given that we paid Mr. Kitman more for his opinion than we paid our hapless, white-polyester-clad assembly-line scrub, that’s disappointing. It suggests that the “name value” of major autojournos is less than zero, a lesson that was learned long ago by the OEMs who are courting the Jen Friels and mommybloggers of the world with Kimpton-and-Ritz-Carlton-level awe-and-awe tactics even as they cut PR budgets on the whole.
It’s not that simple, however. More readers commented on the Kitman article, and ten times as many chose to share it on Facebook with their friends. What does that mean? Does it meant that the pro-UAW piece was more convincing, better-written, more worthy of sharing? Or does it mean that left-leaning readers, who stereotypically value social cohesion and reinforcement of existing opinions more than their counterparts across the aisle, are simply more likely to share this sort of thing? Reading the comments doesn’t clarify matters; the B&B were merciless in their destruction of both the pieces. And when the clicks were counted, neither Mr. Kitman nor Mr. Anonymous managed to ring the bell as hard as a description of two rather unremarkable white Ohioans taking delivery of Ohio’s favorite car.
That’s a shame, because it’s a lot more expensive to buy an Accord than it is to buy a journalist. We can’t do it as often, either.
What’s next for the UAW story? Well, that’s the exciting part: nobody really knows. This is a business where the story is written and handed out in advance, where journalists compete desperately for the favor and attention of the OEMs who treat us all as children to be indulged or punished as the situation merits. This isn’t that. It’s a story that has ramifications and meaning well beyond the VW Passat or the Chattanooga plant or even the UAW itself. It’s subject to change, it’s going to get messy, there will be blood. This story takes place in a world where every dollar, every penny, matters. To Volkswagen, to the workers, to the union, to the customer, to the dealer, to everyone. I think we’ll keep an eye on it. Watch this space.