By on June 17, 2006

menzelphoto.com.jpgThe text after the jump appeared on Karl Brauer's blog "Karl on Cars" on Edmund's Inside Line.  I asked Mr. Brauer for permission to publish it here, without editing or commentary.  Nothing.  (The same response I received when I asked Karl to email me Edmunds' policy on press junkets and public disclosure thereof.) So, under the "fair use" principle, I'm publishing it anyway.  If Edmunds takes TTAC to court, I'll counter-sue for libel and send a note to the IRS asking about the tax implications of junketeering.  If Edmunds sends an email asking TTAC to remove this excerpt, I'll take this post down and publish the email. Anyway, Edmunds may have a million visitors [multiplied exponentially], but at least we have transparency, integrity and a spell-checker. 

Yada Yada Yada… "But one dark side to the "new media" is that anyone with an Internet address can badge themselves an "automotive authority" and subsequently expect the industry (and consumers) to take notice. After eight years at Edmunds I have a keen perspective on how hard it can be to convince the world you aren't just a punk kid with servers in your basement and a desire to get free test drives in new cars. In my case I was a punk kid with LOTS of servers and a desire to get free test drives…but I also wanted to provide accurate consumer information regarding those test drives to over one million visitors a month. That was in 1998, and our monthly visitor numbers are exponentially higher, as is the respect/cooperation we get from the manufacturers.

It wasn't always an easy journey, and I can relate to those publications still trying to achieve legitimacy in this ever-growing space. But I am also annoyed by those publications that break some basic rules of automotive journalism:

1. They target the established guys (like us) with all the usual "you've sold out and are owned by the manufacturers" crap. The most common battle cry is "the manufacturers pay for you to travel somewhere and drive their cars, so you obviously can't write a non-biased report." I think they mistakenly believe that by making such claims they can short-cut the process of becoming established themselves. Hate to rain on your parade guys, but there's only one way to make this trip — provide consistent, high quality automotive journalism over an extended time period (and I'm not talking a weekend, or month or even a year). Do that and the audience will come, followed shortly by respect from the rest of the industry.

2. They go after the manufacturers with false claims of influence to justify their own access to press vehicles. This usually comes in the form of lying about traffic numbers. And yes, I banged on the OEs to get press vehicle access over the years. Hell, I still do, as does everyone else in this space. Trying to get the hottest vehicles as soon as possible is part and parcel of being an automotive journalist. The difference here is that — once you're established — you can accurately claim people will be influenced by your road test content, and thus it's in the OE's best interest to be represented on your site. I've seen plenty of indigant editors out there who refuse to divulge monthly traffic numbers but insist they represent a core automotive Web site. Now why doesn't that behavior pass the smell test? The hypocrysy is also pretty hilarious. Do you think these guys would actually turn down a press event if they once got to the level of actually being invited? Me either.

3. When they don't get their way, they publicly trash said manufacturers and/or established publications. Apparently these guys feel that the best way to inform the automotive consumer/enthusiast is to whine about how nobody pays them any attention. Hey, as an automotive junkie you know what I really want to read about? How about 1,000 words on why manufacturer XYZ is a jerk because they won't give publication PDQ any cars? That's just fascinating stuff, let me tell you. Sure, we may have a First Drive on the Shelby GT500 and Acura RDX going up live tomorrow, but in the end we just can't compete against the ravings of an angry editor at a publication with 800 readers, now can we? Correction — after that latest rant they are down to 728 readers, and dropping fast…

Remember guys — the reader comes first. If you've got a problem with a manufacturer, deal with that manufacturer and spare your audience all the whining. Is there a specific publication I'm talking about here? Yes, there is. But there's no way I'm going to give them any additional publicity, so you'll all have to guess which one. Or maybe you don't care enough to guess (I'm hoping for the latter, as it further suggests a "not-a-moment-too-soon" death for this "illustrious" electronic rag)."

http://blogs.edmunds.com/karl/.ee91b8c

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18 Comments on “A Love Letter From Edmunds...”


  • avatar

    Here’s the response I posted on Karl’s blog (with typos fixed). I’m not boring you with this am I?

    Seems we’ve touched a nerve. Never mind. The Truth About Cars always welcomes a good debate on journalistic ethics (or lack thereof). This, however, is neither a debate nor a good debate.

    As TTAC believes in concision and accuracy, I’ll restrict myself to addressing your three “rules.”

    1. Don’t pick on the big guys? That’s a rule? Sounds more like the charter for a buff book boys club to me. When it comes to press junkets, press cars and other considerations provided by the manufacturers whose products you review, all TTAC asks is fair disclosure. When you name an exotic road one of the world’s best, mention your ride and fail to disclose the fact that the trip, accomodation, vehicle, tax and insurance were provided by the company that made that car, you are acting without integrity.

    2. TTAC has never inflated its site traffic numbers for our site to anyone, ever. This is a libel, and I demand that you retract the statement immediately. Impugning our reputation with a bald-faced lie says a great deal about your standards and ethics. (FYI We currently receive an average 17k unique visitors per day.)

    3. When BMW banned TTAC from driving its press cars because we used the word vagina in a Subaru review and criticized a Lexus, we consider this newsworthy– especially in light of the company’s ad claims of intellectual independence. The posts on this subject received the full attention and support of our readers. (BTW: Our articles are all 800 words).

    Lastly, I’d like to post your editorial on The Truth About Cars without editing or comment. If you want to take the high road on this subject, please email me at [email protected] with permission to do so. Meanwhile, thank you for the opportunity to defend myself and my writers on your site.

  • avatar

    I used to visit Edmunds all the time and participate in their forums. I stopped visiting them around the same time I dropped all the US buff mags. Not only are they full of it most of the time, they couldn’t write an interesting article to save their asses.

    If TTAC is vilified by so many auto manufacturers and big money auto publications, then I am even more confident that I am in the right place.

  • avatar
    paykan GT

    Karl, you’re still a punk kid.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I posted this on Edmunds

    “Hi,

    I’m one of the punk kids with a server that blogs for TTAC. I recently badged myself as an automotive authority. It’s funny because before I made that snap decision one day, I’d never really thought about cars — nor could I in fact “wright” all that well. But man, ever since the money started rolling in, well, I’ve been happy with my scam. Sure, I’m screwing over the readers by having no idea what I’m talking about, but are they the ones with a Ford Focus Automatic parked in their driveways? Gravytrain, baby. Plus, since we actually only have five readers, who cares?

    I’m posting here to just remind everyone of a little known fact that TTAC had the cojones to admit — Edmonds and the buff books and us don’t actually review cars that you could purchase. Journo-testers leave the factory and go to what is essentially a tuning house to get the panel gaps in order, funny noises sorted out, possibly get the engines goosed (I had a MB GL 450 that was keeping up with WRXs) and are finally detailed to within an inch of their lives. It’s a dirty little secret — we review your uber-cars, you feed us filet mignon. Oh, and Shhhh.

    So, when we don’t play ball, it is only natural for those benefiting from the petit mentir to get their feathers ruffled. Just wanted all of Edmond’s billion plus readers to know that.

    See you at the junkets,

    -Jonny-”

    Now, if you will excuse me, I have a Focus to beat to death.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Robert: assuming Karl doesn’t read TTAC anymore, are we down to 727 loyal readers?

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    Edmunds, Schmedmunds. I don’t see why anyone would go there. There are so many ads and popups you can’t find what you’re looking for. It won’t be long before the entire site is the cyber equivalent of the infomercials on cable channel 203 at 1 AM.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Jonny inspired me to speak out:

    “Howdy Karl! Props to you for the primer on Journalism. I’ll keep it in mind if this MBA-thing I’m doing doesn’t work out…ya know, for a punk-kid like myself.

    While I’m at it, thanks the free publicity too!”

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    The reality is that I learned about this from TTAC – not from reading Edmunds. While Edmunds broke a lot of new ground for all of us automotive types it has decayed into an online version of 1970s Motor Trend: the subject of adolescent passions and their minimal financial wherewithall. Today TTAC is one of my primary sources. And as for Karl – why don’t you call Csaba, I hear that he’s hiring writers on the $500 a week plan.

  • avatar
    tms1999

    What is he afraid of? It’s not even ‘real’ competition for edmunds, they are advertizer funded. TTAC so far is free. free as in no charge as well as free as in no strings attached, no unstated allegiance to this manufacturer or that brand. No ads to suffer. No nagging suspicion of being soft.
    “world’s worst gearbox” is a good example of that.
    I’ll keep my reading to TTAC. Edmunds can keep their loyalty to their advertizer and everyone will be happy.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Speaking for myself and probably Farago — TTAC has an allegiance to Porsche… cause they just make such wonderful machines… Anyone with the means ought have a Boxster, and that is that.

  • avatar

    I would call it an “affinity” rather than an allegiance, but I’ll sign the Porsche Boxster S prescription pad anytime.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    Hmmm…. wonder if my HMO would honor that prescription??

  • avatar
    arkangyl

    I thought he was talking about you…I think he missed the point though

  • avatar
    scarpenter

    Tough talk from the McDonalds of online automotive journalism. Really do they expect us to respect their integrity after being told by Chevy commercials to compare their products “head 2 head” on edmunds.com?

    I think a nerve was touched indeed

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Ellsworth M. Toohey is alive and well, working at Edmunds.com

  • avatar

    Farago shrugs.

  • avatar
    dean

    Edmunds? Who are they? A car site of some type?

    Too bad he didn’t mention TTAC by name, because then you could sue for libel. By making vague accusations he keeps his ass out of that sling. And making vague accusations is chickenshit schoolyard behaviour. What a hypocrite.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Absolutely no one I know who is an automotive enthusiast – and that happens to be most of my friends and acquaintances – has ever said to me, “Boy, I was just reading about (name any auto or truck) at Edmunds and they said….”
    Conversely, I quote TTAC or Car and Driver (sorry Robert, but I grew up on Brock Yates and Leon Mandel). A buddy of mine, who is a machinist, relies on the printed edition of Road and Track. (He has no computer but does acknowledge that the magazine is not what it once was, most especially back in the day when John Bond Sr. ran it.)
    The people who use Edmunds to buy vehicles are the same people who use Consumer Reports. (I had one friend who used to quote that mag to me, an architect, who has now passed away from complications related to emphysema.) Edmunds is written for people who evaluate vehilces based on the number of cup holders and placement of same. Furthermore, Edmunds reminds me of what the late Truman Capote once said about the work of (the equally deceased) Jacqueline Susan, “That’s not writing, that typing.”
    Substitute the more preferred term of “keyboarding” and there it is.

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