The Ethics Of Auto Journalism In Action

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
the ethics of auto journalism in action

Since it began, TTAC has called on all automotive publication to publish disclosure of all manufacturer-provided travel, lodging, food and gifts. The worst offenders: car sections of local newspapers. And no wonder; they remain one of the few profitable portions of many otherwise failing publications. To wit: Joe Clark's [ Fawny Blog] take on the Toronto Star's Wheels section. Calling Wheels "a giant moneymaker" for the paper, Clark links to an editorial where the paper agrees that "accepting free travel to preview cars is not ethically or journalistically sound." So no car junkets, right? Wrong. The Star simply hires freelancers and "outsources unethical behaviour." A quote from freelancer Ted Laturnus in an article in the Ryerson Review Of Journalism says it all. "All I can say to the people who think we shouldn't be taking free trips is, 'Go fuck yourself. Come back to me when you've grown up.' They don't know the side of reality to this business. I do. I've been in it for 20 years. I have no patience for that sorta thing. It's the way the game is played." Note to Ted: we're here to change the rules.

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  • Banovsky Banovsky on May 23, 2008

    @Dinu: Funny you mention that review. It was written as part of a packaged advertorial that ran in one of our magazines last year, digitized, and placed on The writer isn't even an automotive journalist — he's part of our promotions department. Great guy, did advertorial content get labeled as editorial on the website? I'll look into it. M!

  • Dinu Dinu on May 24, 2008

    I could go on and on about the lack of REAL information (i.e. : info that cannot be found in a brochure) Canadian automobile journalists give in their reviews. Here's a roadtest from Carguide that was a complete waste of paper and is a complete waste of bandwidth. And here's one for the City Golf that just skims the surface. Lots of talk about the specs, one comment about the lack of lumbar support, one sentence about how it's over-engineered, two sentences about how the interior quality is good, and one complaint about the black plastic surrounding the stereo. Nothing much on how it actually drives, except that it's good on the highway and your observed gas consumption. Tell us about the acceleration, clutch engagement/the AT's ability to find the right gear, steering feel, braking distances from set speeds, ability to soak bumps yet still take corners. And compare it to other cars. The point of reading the review/road test in the first place is to find out how it drives and stacks-up to other cars in its segment/price range. Anyone can check the web for the spec sheet, but not everyone has more than the usual 20 minutes dealer test drive to analyze all of the vehicle's strengths and weaknesses - that's why we rely on the pros. And that's why more and more people turn to model-specific forums and sites like TTAC; because the mainstream press fails to call it how it is, while masquerading as journalists.

  • Banovsky Banovsky on May 24, 2008

    @Dinu: I agree completely with your assessment of my City Golf article (and unfortunately many of your points were edited out of the final version for 'sensitivity' reasons), but the point is that it was a long-term test car and the wrapup of six months or so of the car being with us. The issue to me is that it says nowhere that the vehicle was provided to us for six months from the manufacturer. I'm not a fan of long-term tests with cars that aren't bought, but unfortunately in our case it's space to fill in the magazine. Not right, but changing. In a place where it's taken us six months to label advertorial content as such, you can imagine the fight we're up against with management and our ad guys. I believe a continued lack of integrity is what will kill our publications. The more pressing issue is how on earth you actually found those reviews on our site, being probably the worst and hardest to navigate on the web. Cheers, M!

  • Autonerd Autonerd on May 24, 2008

    Sajeev -- without getting into detail that will bore TTAC readers to tears, templates work on character counts, not word counts. Each section has a limit, and if that limit is 1,000 characters, 1,001 won't fit. covers some 700+ different topics, and the article template for, say, a product review has to work for all of them -- so adding a disclaimer into the template isn't practical. If I want to put one there, I have to make it part of the article, which means it's included in the character count. Addressing a point that Dinu made: I believe that when it comes to Web car reviews, brevity is the soul of wit -- something TTAC seems to also embrace with its 800-word limit. Long, rambling reviews just don't work for the web, and that means picking and choosing what I talk about. It isn't easy -- in my recent BMW M3 review, I didn't even talk about the M-Power or electronic suspension functions. (Leaving them out, I hasten to add, was not an easy choice.) Yet I did talk about the fact that aluminum trim is a $500 extra. Why? Two reasons. One, I figure that someone reading my M3 review is most likely going to read other M3 reviews -- they don't need to hear the technical facts re-stated for the 8th time. Two, I had to think about what details supported the point I was trying to make about the car, which is framed around my perception of the M3. Did I make the right choice? We'll see what the page view stats have to say. Oh, and to address Holydonut's earlier point -- from what I hear, car reviews are more and more becoming an integral factor in a car-purchase decision. Used to be that car reviews were only read by enthusiasts. Now that the Web has taken over, non-enthusiasts have easy access to reviews, and not just the latest-and-greatest on the newsstands -- if you're trying to decide between a Corolla and a Honda, dozens of expert opinions are just a Google away.