By on March 7, 2016

Cash in Glovebox

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say.

However, during the last few days, it’s become incredibly clear that some automotive journalists don’t have a deep (or shallow) understanding of ethics and disclosure. Even TTAC, at times, has failed to disclose the extent of the consideration offered by manufacturers during press trips.

This is where we fix all of that.

Tonight, the majority of TTAC’s writers got together on Slack (it’s kind of like a big partyline for the digital age) to hash out how we can be as ethical and transparent as possible from now on. We all agreed to five main points.

TTAC writers:

  1. cannot work for an OEM,
  2. cannot take cash from an OEM,
  3. must disclose all consideration provided on a trip as clearly as possible,
  4. must disclose dollar amounts whenever possible,
  5. must disclose the entire nature of a vehicle loaned by an OEM.

This is a (slightly edited, for clarity) transcript of our chat.

@mark: Friday was an eye opener for a lot of people. Wayne Gerdes admitted to being paid by Volkswagen for his records, but that wasn’t the worst of it. There seems to be a collective ignorance of ethical boundaries in this industry. And since we called out Gerdes, people have been calling out TTAC. We need to draw a line in the sand and stand by it.

So, that’s why we’re all here, to democratically draw that line. To what ethical standard do we hold ourselves?

@bark: I think it’s simple. The mission of the site has always been directly in the name: The Truth.

The suggestion that was made by some fellow auto writers was that we have no business regulating the auto writing industry.

To which I say: who else is doing it?

As much as we’d like to think that this business is self-regulating, I think we can all agree that is absolutely not the case.

I think we expect that from the automakers themselves — to a certain extent.

What we DON’T expect is for it to come from the industry that is supposed to be the automakers’ watchdog.

@chrisExactly. Who’s watching the watchers?

As journalists, we have a duty to report what we see, free of bias.

@vojta: Watchers should be watching each other. It’s not our problem that others are not doing it …

@mark: There is more backroom handshaking going on in this industry than there is in government. And I say that as I’m in the middle of watching the latest season of House of Cards.

But what constitutes bias? Perception is everything.

@steph: In the news media, where I’m originally from, there existed something of a “circle the wagons” mentality among journos, aimed at preventing embarrassment-by-association if someone was called out. Many needed to be called out, but the silence would be deafening. It’s culture, plain and simple.

@bark: Excellent point.

I think a lot of “wagen” circling is happening here, and amongst people from whom you’d completely expect it — but also some that you wouldn’t.

@mark: So, this isn’t necessarily about ethics. It’s about changing the culture of automotive “journalism.”

I was surprised there was someone from Automotive News defending someone who was taking money from an automaker.

@chris: I don’t know if we can change the culture of automotive “journalism” so much as we can expose it.

@mark: Isn’t that the same thing?

@chris: Exposing the culture may not change it — it likely won’t. But if we continue to open the curtain to readers, they may begin to demand that the writers disclose all of their relationships.

@bark: I know that there are murky, grey areas around press trips. Believe me, I’ve been on some trips that were far more luxurious than I could afford to take myself.

But straight up cash? How can that be anything other than black and white?

@bozi: There are some grey areas there but taking cash is a line that should not be crossed

@mark: Even cash is a grey area. @vojta does translations for manuals for an automaker. Does that mean he’s on the take?

@bark: No, I don’t think so. Not any more than my working in a non-sales role for an advertising company is.

As a journalist, I think you should recuse yourself from any possible instance where your honest opinion about a car could be affected.

 It’s up to you to disclose that information in the most transparent way that you can.

@mark: I was just going to ask about that — where is the line?

So, is it up to @vojta to disclose that he does manual translations?

I think that’s a valid question.

@steph: Translating a manual is not the same thing as essentially being a public voice for the company. He could be manufacturing tiny screws for an automaker. Disclosing the fact, and being as transparent as possible would negate any perceived conflict in that case.

Then we’d know the real deal if he ever published a ‘the Tiny Screws on XXXX Car are Amazing’ article.

@bark: The definitive line is writing a review about a car when you are paid money to do so.

Simply saying “sponsored by” doesn’t cut it.

Sponsorship means a lot of things.

Gerdes listed about twelve different sponsors in his original post, and was very specific about their involvement — except the part where cash was involved.

@mark: 100000% agree.

I don’t think “sponsored by” cuts it for us. For others it might. For us it definitely doesn’t.

@vojta: For me, the line is where the automaker could exert any kind of influence on my opinions in a review. In my case, it’s pretty unlikely since a) people who I’m getting press cars from don’t know I do those translations b) I don’t even work for the automaker (Škoda, BTW) directly, but through third party, an agency. If I write that some Škoda is a piece of crap, it can’t possible have any kind of consequences on my translator income.

@chris: I’d believe that a disclaimer, like we already do for press trips and loaned cars, should be required for a certain period of time after any paid work for a related OEM. Six months, two years … I dunno.

@bark: How many current auto writers used to work for OEMs? And vice-versa? Bob Lutz has an opinion page at Road & Track. I think he’s pretty unbiased, but he took much, much larger checks from companies than probably the rest of us combined. However, he disclosed that at the bottom of every article.

@chris: Lutz was with EVERY OEM, though.

@mark: Opinion column writing is different, especially the type done by Lutz.

@bark: Agreed. Opinions aren’t reviews.

@vojta: Yeah, Lutz never done any reviewing, did he?

@bark: In a perfect world, we’d buy our own cars and refuse advertising. But that’s just not realistic for 99% of writers.

@vojta: Make that 100%. Even Consumer Report doesn’t buy everything they review.

@chris: Not everyone can be Consumer Reports. Or should be.

@mark: I think when you embark on an unbiased (or supposedly unbiased) endeavour, it definitely need to be disclosed whether an automaker has given us, as an editorial team, ANY kind of consideration — food, travel, lodging, etc. And, when it comes to us, you can’t work for TTAC and an OEM simultaneously. That should be an absolute no-no.

@bark: Without question. Flights, hotels, meals. It’s all necessary to review a car nowadays — especially these “first looks.” I’d be fine with a Hampton Inn and a ticket to the MCL Cafeteria — but also not realistic.

@stephColumnists are required to mention if they ever worked for a political party/politician, regardless of the subject of their column. At least in Canada they are. That should be an easy thing – to make that admission standard on reviews that involved a press trip.

@mark: I think we could put that in someone’s bio at the end of an article when we mention someone’s history. “John Doe used to work for Audi before working for the EPA. Now he’s with TTAC.” Could you imagine?

@bark: So in order for us to provide news at the same time as our fellow reporters, we have to go on a trip or two.

So here’s what I’d suggest: If you’ve taken cash: first of all, DON’T. Secondly, disclose it, along with any other possible perceived compensation (flights, hotels).

@mark: Thirdly, if you know the value of the items received, we should disclose those too.

@bark: Yep — notebooks, hats, etc. All of it.

Lastly, if you are asked a direct question about your relationship with the automaker, just freaking answer it!

@chris: Shall we put a set value per shrimp?

@mark: $1/shrimp.

@steph: Shrimp values differ greatly!

@barkGerdes has caused himself a lot of pain here by not just answering the question: “We’re you paid, when, and how much?”

@bozi: I would suggest that it might be a good idea to give away any items like hats or such to readers or donate them.

@bark: I don’t mind that. The logistics of it suck.

@mark: That’s a tough call, because then we can give them away and it’s benefiting us as a contest. I’d rather just hand everything back to the PR people and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

@bark: Yeah, I agree with @mark.

@bozi: Good point, just don’t take it at all.

@bark: Maybe there’s a dollar limit over which we just don’t accept it. I’m probably going to write in the notebooks, and I need the USB press kit for after the event fact checking. But I don’t really need anything else.

@bozi: Good idea.

@vojta: Good idea. I know guys who do give these things away.

@mark: If there is something truly unique, and the automaker is willing to quote us a value amount for that piece of memorabilia, we should give it away to readers stating the amount it’s likely worth. But … hats, gloves, other small things … just leave it.

@vojta: I won’t partake in it, in TTAC’s case, for obvious logistic reasons. And also because if I were to give anything away, it would be to my Czech readers.

@bozi: Agreed.

@chris: Absolutely.

@steph: The non-essentials.

@jack: I think the days of the big giveaways are over. They ended when OEMs started doing multiple waves. I’ve never left an event with anything worth over a hundred bucks.

@bark: Yeah. I got a pair of rainbow sandals from Hyundai. That was the nicest thing I’ve ever gotten.

@mark: I got a sweater, hat, and gloves from Hyundai while doing a winter test in Quebec. I know they weren’t cheap. I didn’t disclose them at the time (with another outlet). But, I definitely would now.

@vojta: I got a few USB sticks I use to play music in cars. I need a lot of them, because I keep forgetting them in press cars. So, I’m in fact giving them back to automakers, though usually to a different one.

@mark: USB sticks are so cheap. Plus, they usually include materials we need for writing our stories later.

@bozi: Yes, I think USB sticks and informational materials used for fact checking are fair game

@bark: The only thing I’d add is that if you think there’s any possibility of a conflict, just give the assignment to somebody else.

@steph: “I got into this for the USB sticks, what can I say,” … said no one.

@markWe have been talking about trips this whole time. What about actual reviews?

@bark: A trip without a review is a … well, it’s a social wave :)

@mark: I’m thinking a review without the trip ;)

@jack: Don’t take a check from the OEM when you review a car. This is called the Gerdes Rule, or the JF Musial rule.

@bark: Check the glovebox. If there’s cash, leave it.

@mark: But, to what extent do we disclose the variables of the test?

@chris: If there’s cash in the glovebox..photograph the bribe attempt and expose it.

@mark: For my press vehicles, a very nice man comes to my house to pick up my press car and gives me another one. I barely lift a finger.

@steph: Press cars are returned with a full gas tank, so nothing of monetary value changed hands.

@mark: In the United States, most journalists are “gifted” a tank of fuel for their test.

@steph: My God.

@tim: We don’t do that (in Canada). We return the vehicle as it arrived, not accepting a full tank of fuel. It’s common to see reviews, however, which say, “Vehicle and one full tank of gas provided by manufacturer.”

@mark: Should be go beyond that?

@jack: What’s beyond that? There is a reasonable expectation on the part of the reader that if we are reviewing a car and we don’t mention renting it, that we are getting the car from the manufacturer.

@bark: I’d say something like “Maibatsu delivered the 2016 Monstrosity to be driven for a week, along with a tank of gas.” I can’t think of anything beyond that.

@mark: I think that’s a solid way of going about it. If we can’t put a monetary value on it, we should be able to put an effort value on it.

@tim: My question would be, is their disclosure of the full tank enough, or should they not be accepting it?

@bark: I honestly think that gasoline is a fair expense for the OEM to absorb. I mean, we can’t drive the car without it. I don’t think anybody here depends upon press cars as their main source of transportation. So I don’t mind us using the gas, as long as it’s within reason. No trips to Orlando.

@steph: If you used/replaced less than the amount of gas the vehicle came with, disclose that? If we want to be Mr. Clean, I mean.

@vojta: I’m returning the press cars dry, or, to be exact, slightly above reserve. On the other hand, I have to go to Prague for each one, and return it (hour and half each way).

@mark: Reviews: Disclose as much as possible regarding the nature of the vehicle loan.

@tim: For the record: if, when fuel was at its peak here in Nova Scotia, I drove an F-150 and emptied the tank and returned it that way, that would have been a $188.50 gift.

@bark: I’d disclose that then.

@jack: As long as you just used the truck for what you’d have done anyway. If you drove it outside your routine to test it that’s different.

@bark: Seems fair, honestly.

@tim: We, not the OEMs, pay for the fuel here. So there are reasons we don’t empty an F-150’s tank.

@vojta: Once, I did the math. If I scheduled a press car for every week of the year (as I had it while working for TopGear), I could use them as primary transportation. On the other hand, just picking up/returning them would cost me approximately one whole working day in the week. If I spend that working, it would pay me a lease on, say, Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

@mark: So I think we have some rules:

1) Never take cash from an OEM (unless it’s through a third party to do some menial task like translation that has no bearing whatsoever on your view of an automaker).

2) Disclose all consideration provided on a trip and make that clear as day in your coverage.

3) Disclose dollar amounts whenever possible. This means asking PR people for the value of flights, lodging, etc., or at least coming up with your best estimate.

4) When it comes to reviews, disclose the nature of the vehicle loan.

@bark: I’m good with that.

@chris: That works for me.

@steph: Agreed.

@bozi: I agree

@vojta: Yeah, those points are fine with me.

@mark: Anyone want to add anything?

This meeting is adjourned.

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103 Comments on “Slack Chat: We Talk About Disclosure. This Is Where We Stand....”


  • avatar

    Ethics?

    In auto journalism?

    What are those?

    • 0 avatar

      I swear, if I posted something at 3:30 a.m., you’d still be the first commenter.

      Or CoreyDL.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        I also have to confess to keeping one (of many) window open to ttac and periodically hit the refresh button to see what’s added.

        But I don’t always comment.

        These days people multitask. I also have one TV screen on while working on my PCs, mostly tuned to news.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Lol, HEY – I head up to bed roughly 11:00 eastern time, and I don’t generally look at my email after about 7:30 or 8:00pm during the week, and only sporadically on weekends.

        So if you wanna go a good while without me piping up, that’s how to do it.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    So, Sajeev didn’t set the meeting in his Outlook?

    Oh and also why was this staff meeting posted (I mean beyond what is stated)? Its just a tad random that’s all.

    • 0 avatar

      We wanted to open the curtain a bit and show that we’re all on the same page with this. It was a communal effort. We owe it to you guys to be transparent.

    • 0 avatar

      28 cars,

      To be honest I haven’t messed with the Slack thing yet because I’m dealing with too many personal things right now. Even my Piston Slap submissions are last minute these days.

      That said, if you think anyone’s gonna give me stuff for Piston Slapping and (especially) my rants on Vellum Venom, I have some beachfront property in Lubbock I’d like to sell you.

      But if you disagree please do email me ([email protected]) or Mark. My door is always open to discussions about my lack of journalistic integrity.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I’ve been suspecting the real reason Mark is visiting you on your birthday is to carry thousands of Euro that Ford Europe is paying you across the border.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m sure they are thrilled to see me doing things with a MKI Sierra, but sadly no, I have yet to see the payola.

          They are more than welcome to get me an ecoboost crate motor for their creation, it’s not too late for me to dump the Thunderbird Turbo stuff.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        please tell me that [email protected] is also a valid e-mail address.

  • avatar
    Firestorm 500

    @Mark: I guess they camp out here.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Interesting and good to know. Thanks for posting, Mark.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Good rules, and good idea to establish the rules.

    Mark, I’m really liking your direction with TTAC. Well done.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    One thing that I don’t think was brought up was site-wide issues, like with advertising. I don’t run adblock because it’s in my interest to know about current advertising techniques (and because I’ve carefully groomed those who track me to feed me information about pricing on Audi A7s at others’ expense…), so I see what’s out there.

    Based on what I can see of its ad network, TTAC has less than zero influence on what ads show up, but Joe Average isn’t necessarily aware that just because TTAC is slathered with Camry copy for him doesn’t mean it is for the next guy, and he isn’t necessarily aware that it’s almost impossible for TTAC to be influenced by such advertising even if it wanted to be.

    It’s not a necessity, but it might behoove TTAC to have some kind of general-purpose statement about how its site-wide ad system works and explicit explanations of why the ads aren’t going to influence copy (assuming that’s the case as I believe!).

    • 0 avatar

      Most of our ads are fed by a network and we don’t have much control over it. We can block certain ads, I think, but that isn’t handled by editorial.

      Every now and then there is a direct buy for our ad inventory (like when all the spaces and background are taken up by Ford). The editorial team is not involved in this. I don’t even know it’s about to happen before it happens.

      Either way, there is no editorial/advertising communication.

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        Right, of course – I’m just saying, *I* understand that, but a lot of people who don’t know how ad networks function might not. If they’re used to seeing big print buys in glossies they may assume that TTAC similarly wants to keep its advertisers happy, even though TTAC doesn’t have control over what ads appear in the way a glossy (or maybe a bigger web site) would.

        Making that clear to casual readers could help ensure they know that editorial is truly independent.

  • avatar
    Mercury Mark 75

    Mark et al.,

    Thank you for this level of transparency. This site is part of my daily internet routine, and statements like this just reinforce my dedication to this site.

    Thanks,

    Brian

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Would it be worth disclosing the same stuff even if you also reviewed a maker’s products for another outlet? Jack seems to bring his filter free full disclosure style to R&T (I still chuckle at the thought of calling friends voicemail to fill the full message length with engine rev’s and laughter) but it might influence someone if Volvo paid for a lavishly entertained party for another site/mag review and then they reviewed another Volvo while reminiscing about the event.

  • avatar

    I really don’t know that this is much of an issue with most of us. I expect that you are being provided vehicles by the manufacturers. I assume it is fueled up and ready to roll. I assume you will consume said fuel. Seems like common sense to me. Disclosure seems unnecessary.

    I do think that if Porsche is flying an American journalist to Europe at their expense to run one of their cars around the Nürburgring and then write about it, that ought to be disclosed. And if a manufacturer is paying you a half years salary to try and set a mileage record then that should be disclosed.

    If there’s anything sexual provided by the manufacturer, I expect FULL disclosure. Every last detail. Think minutia. And a rating. How did she handle? We wanna know that stuff.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      and after I went to the trouble to backspace over the part about the swedish bikini massage team; I mean that’s why I chose Volvo in my comment. I guess old men think alike.

  • avatar
    sambah

    Concerning fuel you might also drive the car 100 extra miles in a week for the sake of spending time in the car. For that kind of thing return the tank empty but if you went antique shopping or something then re-fill accordingly?

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Kudos.

  • avatar
    multicam

    Loved Bark’s reference to Grand Theft Auto

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Kudos to Mark, Jack, Bark, Steph, Tim, Vojta, Bozi, Chris and all others for laying out clear rules that make it clear to readers what is being received of pecuniary value by manufacturers going forward, and otherwise attempting honest, full disclosure in a way few if any other automotive sites match.

    You’re leading the way in this endeavor, regaining your productive auto”critics” roots/mantra, and should be commended for doing so.

  • avatar
    derekson

    Jalopnik has been explicitly stating what they got from the manufacturer in reviews for a while now.

    This whole thing reminds me a lot of the stuff that went down in the video game press.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Ditto, its been going on for longer with the auto press, but they hid the details better than video game stuff.

      Now manufacturers are shifting budgets over to youtube nobodies, since they’re probably a bit cheaper and more influential (since people trust strangers on youtube I guess).

    • 0 avatar
      MrGreenMan

      I appreciate the transparency and think TTAC’s policy is good. Yes, it looks like the video game press and the more ethics-oriented and less suicide-girls parts of Gamer Gate.

      Now, I suppose if history repeats itself, that means we’re all about due to be called names and insulted by TTAC.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    “But what constitutes bias?”

    with this crowd? “Biased” means “you said something nice about something I hate.”

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Keep it real, TTAC, that’s why I come here. Since I signed up in 2010, this is one of only two auto sites I spend any time on. The second one is Curbside Classic.

    Good work.

  • avatar

    Good convo. I like the way you all thought this out.

    For what it’s worth, the rules in my universe are that I can accept “incidentals” — food and drink if it’s at an event I’m covering or where I expect to do interviews, *local* transportation (something like a ride back to my hotel if the event is in NYC is okay), and inexpensive trade-show-type swag (hats, pens, that kind of thing), but that’s about it. No hotel, no flights, no junkets. Certainly no cash, ever.

    I can accept a vehicle on loan if I’m planning to write about it, but I have to disclose it very, very clearly.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you, John.

      For those of you who don’t know John, he writes over at the Motley Fool, where they have an extensive disclosure. This is the disclosure from his last piece, and it’s filled with links.

      http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2016/03/07/gms-china-sales-slipped-again-last-month.aspx

      “John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.”

      • 0 avatar

        Here’s mine: TTAC does not own shares in Motley Fool, but it does recommend you read it.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh, yeah, I should have explained that, too. The Fool is different from some other investment-news-and-commentary publications in that we are encouraged to write about stocks we own. But we always always always disclose it clearly at the end of any article that mentions stocks we hold (actually, these days, that paragraph is created automatically by a system that knows what stocks I own. My obligation is to tell the system when I buy or sell something, which I do.)

        (And yes, I do own Ford and GM stock, for reasons I have explained at length over the last several years.)

        • 0 avatar
          MrGreenMan

          It’s just a fairer shake to know that you’re a partisan for this stock, and then we can make a judgement, than being surprised sometime down the line to learn that the crazy guy screaming on television with the giant mallet and bell, who claimed he was a man of the people, just the little guy, looking out for us to buy, was secretly shorting it the whole time. Partisans make sense – they have a position, they want to win you over to that position, and you can listen or not.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    This article is kind of like SNL making fun of Trump. We know you guys are solid and there is a lot of crap in the auto journo world. I guess what I’m asking is to tell us something we don’t know? You already got kicked out of the auto journo FB group…. why not start naming names, or at the minimum telling some more stories?

    For me, I treat most car reviews as entertainment. So if the manufacturers are paying auto journalists it’s of no consequence to me. Chris Harris, the EVO dudes, the MT dudes, they are all entertainers, not reviewers. If I want the truth I come here, go to CR or the homie of homies in the auto journo world, Alex Dykes. Journalism in general has taken a dive and automotive journalism is no different.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    You could narrow it down to one simple rule: tell the truth. Whether or not you refilled the tank isn’t a moral issue, just tell us and move on. I certainly wouldn’t want to pay for enough gas to properly review an F350 dually.

    Maybe you need to set a limit for swag? Anything under $50 is fair game. Anything provided to help you review a car is fair as well: USB sticks, water bottles, notebooks, pens, food at press events.

    My ultimate preference is for you to occasionally review swag. Not every time, but often enough so that we know how the industry is doing. Who’s making you stay at Motel 6 vs. who’s sending you to Tahiti? Which manufacturers give you dollar-store USB chargers vs. good stuff.

    • 0 avatar

      Cadillac’s USB sticks are badass.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I feel like Land Rover would have awesome events.

      • 0 avatar

        The one I was on in December was alright.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        The Discovery Sport launch had journalists crossing a river in Iceland.

        No one complained about the 9-speed transmission!

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          After that they haven’t been too kind on it. And I’m not either. It’s a pretend LR, and a cheap car that costs too much.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            I haven’t seen any coverage after the initial launch.

            The base price is OK, not sure if they build any at that spec. It’s around the same as a loaded Escape or mid-range Explorer. Way cheaper than a competitive Audi, BMW or Volvo.

            I haven’t driven the Disco Sport, but almost purchased an LR2 three years back. The interior, ride and handling were miles ahead of the CUV/SUV competition. Looking back, depreciation has been near zero (used ask is very near what I would have paid new). We went for an actual car instead, because even the best CUV doesn’t drive as well as a good car.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            I don’t care for the Discovery Sport’s design, but it’s definitely the most capable compact-ish crossover on the market, and is much closer to an “SUV” than the X3, GLC-Class, MKC, Q5, or even the XC60 with which it shares a platform. I definitely think it lives up to the Land Rover name.

            Plus, the fact that it was called Discovery Sport here in the States may mean that Land Rover USA is going to start referring to the big Land Rover as the Discovery again, as it should be.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          Did they get to ‘rescue’ the hottie with the dog sled, like in that VERY realistic commercial?

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      heavy handle – fueling up a pickup right now isn’t too bad. A few years ago it really really hurt especially with a 135 litre tank.

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    Other car reviewers are doing this already, so glad you caught up. The fallback position for so many people nowadays seems to be “they must be on the take” because they disagree with what is being said.

    There is a lot of paranioa surrounding ethics in the US nowadays. At least where I work… I attended a trade show put on by a vendor and won a ($200) TV door prize. Had to fill out a “gift received” form at work. There wasn’t even a check box for “door prize” on the form under type of gift.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I wouldn’t even bother with the price of flights and lodging. Most people know the value of a flight and I know from events I have been to that the hotel can give the OEM a pretty good deal on blocks of rooms.

    John, you don’t happen to be Cathy’s brother?

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    1. In the business world, $25 is usually the threshold for “gifts of inconsequential value.” Thumb drive, hat, mousepad, coffee cup, pen, small toy car, whatever, it’s all inconsequential. Over that should be refused, disclosed, or redistributed.

    2. Trips, yeah, they’re going to be fancy, but on the other hand, I assume all automakers are doing them, so it’s basically a level playing field. Are you going to say MB is better than BMW because MB took you to Spain and BMW to Italy? Probably not. And reading a review of the new E-Class driven around Cleveland with associated pictures isn’t particularly enticing.

    3. On gas, if I ever even wondered about it, I’d assume it was delivered with a full tank, any additional gas over the tank was purchased by the publication, and it was returned with a full/fullish tank if possible. And again, this is another “level playing field” issue where I’d assume it’s equal across carmakers. I’d even chuckle if a carmaker dropped a car off with an empty tank and they were called out.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      It occurs to me: what if a car needs premium? The car comes with a full tank, but it could be a full tank of the cheapest gas the previous reviewer could find.

      That works both ways: automakers could add Octane Boost to a car’s tank to give it better performance, even though they claim it runs OK on regular gas.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      I’d rather see the car driven in Cleveland. Much more relevant to our driving environment in the United States, full of potholes and grim, gray concrete. If I wanted to see pretty pictures of Spain, I would go there and take them myself.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        “I’d rather see the car driven in Cleveland. Much more relevant to our driving environment…”

        The minivan, CUV, or Accord/Camry/Fusion test? Sure. The McLaren 570S or Cayman GT4 or whatever? Make the pictures pretty please.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Someone like Jack can assume the Farago “muckraker” (in a good way) status, whereby he can afford to go to war with manufacturers and point to their weaknesses and the graft they utilize to wine & dine auto “journalists” in order to influence their coverage.

      Or Mark.

      Or Bark.

      *Derek pleasantly surprised me by not being sucked in by manufacturers and standing his ground in pointing out flaws, defects and issues with many press-provided vehicles online reviews.

  • avatar
    Neutral President

    What about TTAC being supported by advertising revenue from the OEMs?

    Ideally, if you wish to appear completely neutral (like Consumer Reports tries to), then you would not accept advertising revenue from the manufacturers, either.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    What’s this ‘ adblock ‘ thing ? .

    I just looked at it on Firefox and the comments say it doesn’t work .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Snail Kite

    Gas, gifts, trips, etc aren’t the real issue. The carrot that automakers hold over the heads of auto journalists is access.

  • avatar
    dr_outback

    How much would you pay to watch the watcher?

  • avatar

    I can’t believe I missed that whole conversation because I was having my wisdom teeth yanked out.

    Disclosure: no automaker paid my oral surgeon bill, sadly.

  • avatar
    Carzzi

    I like that TTAC is taking this on.
    “If you see fraud and don’t shout fraud, you are a fraud” – N. N. Taleb

  • avatar
    greenbrierdriver

    I consider the disclosures as “nice to know”. I take reviews as points of information that are added to my knowledge about vehicles that I will likely never drive, let alone own. Knowing that the vehicle being reviewed was provided to the writer free or that they were flown to a site and fed shrimp can tell me if there might, possibly, be a few rough edges filed off of the review, but it gets kind of obvious if the review is just gushingly positive that maybe there was an influence. The entries here in TTAC and especially many of the comments frequently add some humor to a boring day at the office.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    I’m glad TTAC is raising the bar – it beats having the FTC mandate some disclaimer that becomes as common as a California Prop 65 warning.

  • avatar

    Unless I’m reimbursed by the publisher, I’m not going to pay for that first tank of gas in a press car. Even if I’m using the car for normal personal use, when I’m driving it I’m taking impressions, thinking about the review. Ethically there is no difference between the gasoline, the use of the car, or the insurance to cover it. They’re all provided for the purpose of testing and reviewing the car.

    As for swag, I used to sell automotive press swag, but this isn’t 2002 any more. The most valuable thing I’ve gotten in the past couple of years (not counting potential collectibles like the NSX paper weight) was a Jambox bluetooth speaker at a Toyota event. One of the reporters left her goody bag behind so I gave that one to my daughter.

    As for money, is a $5 gift card to Starbucks like I got for test driving a Mazda CX5 around McCormick Place at the Chicago Auto Show any different than handing me a five dollar bill? For disclosure purposes, I don’t drink coffee and gave it to a clerk at a store I patronize.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      I agree with you on this one, and have stated as much in the Slack Chat. Actually, I often take trips somewhere just because have to get impressions for a review. On one hand, it’s kind of cool getting to go for a trip somewhere far (by Czech standards), on the other, it usually ends up with going 120 miles one way just to eat lunch, take a walk and drive back.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    TTAC is to be congratulated.

    For decades automotive ‘journalism’ has been a contradiction. Instead automotive advertising shill would be the better phrase.

    Have written before about how so many journalists claim the new version of a vehicle is now the ‘best thing since sliced bread’ and trot out all their complaints about the previous version, which when it was unveiled they had anointed as ‘the best thing since sliced bread’ ad naueseum.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    You don’t have to have integrity
    I said you don’t have to have ability, yeah
    So listen kiddies, it’s true what they say
    You don’t need respectability

  • avatar
    Steve Lynch

    In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the few OEMers ever to write for an automotive site, specifically I wrote for TTAC under the name “Virgil Hilts” from 2012 to 2014 before I “came out” upon retirement from Mercedes-Benz Financial.

    Besides not getting paid, which would have been a major issue had I been found out, I kept to the following self-imposed guidelines in the interest of avoiding any accusations of bias:

    1. No road tests (other than my own vehicle, a used S2000 at the time.)
    2. No writing about Mercedes-Benz or its direct competitors, and just to be safe Chrysler, even though we had dumped them 5 years prior.

    I was able to rip on Chrysler Financial in these pages after I retired, and interestingly the story was reprinted in the Mercedes-Benz Financial employee website.

    Wonder if there are any factory folks out there secretly writing now?

  • avatar
    laserwizard

    A really worthless article.

    I assume that if a website or a magazine tests a vehicle, it is loaned to them. And I also assume that you are flown out to manufacturer launch events. And you aren’t Consumer Reports so you don’t buy jack when you test the product.

    I also assume that automotive testers are biased. Most of you are sell outs to anything Japanese – Autoblog is notorious for being pro Honduh.

    I also understand that you are not impartial and have a different set of values than I do. I loathe electronic gadgets and swoopy styling and only like Hondas from the 1980’s and anything after that is just building a car while conning people into thinking that the new ones are as good as the old ones or as innovative. Yes, old Hondas rust more than new Honduhs. Duh.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” WHY ARE YOU HERE ? ” .

    Because : troll .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    Ooh, a Declaration of Principles!

    Can I keep a copy and send it back to you when Jack posts a positive review of Vodka McBigbra’s opera singing?


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