By on January 13, 2011

Poor Professor Higgins! On he plods/Against all odds! Well, he had a tough job: changing a girl from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks into a prim and proper member of society. I had a simpler task in mind. I wanted to make sure that my hairdresser/girlfriend/bodyguard, the infamous Vodka McBigbra, could legitimately attend all this year’s auto shows with me. She actually works pretty hard at the events, lugging the Steadicam and obtaining everything from AA batteries to front-row seats so I can keep my Kiton jackets free of wrinkles, but a few of the shows don’t permit “assistants”. Publish or perish is their motto. Not a problem. I decided to make an authentic automotive journalist out of her. How tough could it be?

Meanwhile, our friends at General Motors were working on a not entirely dissimilar project. They’d identified some “bloggers”, given them all-expenses-paid trips to Detroit, and led them on a two-day adventure where they would be fed plenty of talking points to uncritically reTweet along the way. It isn’t cheap to fly people from the coasts to the Midwest, put them up in a top-notch hotel, feed them, and keep them entertained, so naturally GM would want to make sure they got their money’s worth.

The stage was set for a titanic contest. Sure, the playing field wasn’t level. After all, I’ve never gone bankrupt, the UAW doesn’t control my labor supply or my finances, and I didn’t design the 1984 Eldorado. Still, the plucky underdogs from the RenCen had a few tricks up their sleeves to even the odds…

Day One: Sunday, January 9, 2010

Our $99-a-night suite at the Best Western was a short 192-mile jaunt by Town Car, but I decided to use the time to bring Vodka up to speed on the finer points of journalistic ethics.

“You see,” I said, “we are paying our own way, while the GM bloggers are being flown for free from all over the country.”

“But you take free flights all the time, to the new car events,” she replied.

“That’s not the same thing at all. In that case, we are getting access to new cars the only way we can. But the auto show is supposed to be neutral ground. We’re supposed to be reporting news in an impartial fashion. We can’t be tainted by a pre-programmed manufacturer agenda.”

“That stuff you just said,” Vodka opined, “sounds like you just made it up, right now.”

While the GM bloggers were settling into their rooms at the RenCen Marriott, Vodka and I went to the Volkswagen event at the Firehouse. While I fumed about the fact that there was no actual car at the soiree, Vodka knocked back six glasses of wine (“like a free bottle, plus!”) and elbowed her way through the crowd to watch the band “Train” perform “Drops Of Jupiter”.

“This is the most fun business ever,” she said.

Day Two: Monday, January 10, 2010

Early in the morning, GM herded their bloggers into reserved seats to see the Buick Verano unveiling. The Tweets were fast and furious as a dozen sets of thumbs moved in unison repeating the PR word-for-word. Vodka and I didn’t get up that early, but we managed to snag seats for the Audi A6 intro. I was impressed by the introductory video, which showed a confident businessman leaving an ultra-modern house and confronting a variety of weather conditions on his way to an important meeting.

“What a corny, stupid movie,” my companion-in-journalism said. “You had a car just like that and all you did was drive it real fast around people on the highway shoulder and complain about the way the iPod didn’t always work. What does it cost, anyway?”

The next few hours were a dream come true for the GM bloggers, assuming they’d always dreamed of “roundtable sessions” with a series of post-bankruptcy executives. Their Twitter accounts uncritically repeated the ridiculous assertion that GM executives are not permitted social media presence because of “threats”. Words like “humble”, “authentic”, and “sincere” were used in abundance. One blogger repeatedly begged her “Twitter audience” for questions.

I’m with Joel Ewanick. Any questions?

“Do we have any questions?” I asked Vodka.

“Ask where the free lunch is. Or you could ask ‘How dare you?’ That’s always funny.” Upon meeting Hyundai’s PR person, Vodka had an interesting question of her own: “I actually have a Hyundai. It’s pretty good. Right now it’s pretty dirty, too. I’m going to clean it soon. Do you think a lot of people here have Hyundais of their own? Or do they, like, not own cars?”

With a little time to kill, we went to the basement to perform V. McB’s very first comparison test. She drove a Chevy Volt around an indoor track and then hopped into a Lincoln MKZ hybrid. As the Lincoln PR rep discussed the regenerative charging, Vodka stopped him short.

“This has batteries?”

“Well, yes.”

“Batteries wear out. Like, one time I had a cell phone and the battery wore out, and nobody would sell me a new one. How much do batteries cost for this car?”

“Well, we haven’t had to replace any yet, but…”

“I’d want to know that before I bought the car.” We then jumped into a fuel-cell Mercedes B-Class. “How good is the air conditioner if there’s no engine to turn that thing that breaks sometimes?” The Mercedes rep admitted that he wasn’t sure.

I asked her for a decision on our impromptu comparison test. “The Lincoln is much better. The back seat has room in it. It’s more fun. And it’s nicer. I think it’s worth the extra money.”

“The Volt costs more, actually.”

“Why? Aren’t they the same? They do the same thing.”

“There’s a lot of argument about that, actually.”

“That’s ridiculous. They’re the same. Except the Lincoln is nicer. And it doesn’t look so weird. But they should both have more room inside like the Mercedes B-Thing. You’d probably like to have a hatchback like the Mercedes. You would use it to hide guitars from me when the UPS man delivers them.”

Day Two: Monday, January 10, 2010

A Twitter question: If you’re not at the Detroit Show, should you tag your tweets “#NAIAS”? That question didn’t bother the GM bloggers, who were taken off-site for a guided tour of certain GM facilities. In unison they Twitpicced, YFrogged, and Plixied dozens of photos of old GM cars, tagging them all “#NAIAS”. Were they commanded to do so? I don’t know, but I do know that a normally calm and collected Autoblog editor lost his famous cool and Tweeted

Nice of @(redacted) to puke #NAIAS detritus all over Twitter.

With the amount of boring pseudo-news and journalist bitching coming out of Detroit, I almost muted #NAIAS altogether.

This deterred precisely no one. On and on the Tweets went. And while 2010 attendee Joel Feder (who was also present for the 2011 GM program) was careful to fully disclose the financial benefits of being a GM blogger, one wonders whether all of the participants will be quite as ethical about it. It’s also worth noting that Joel was subsequently hired by content-grinder SEO buzzards “High Gear Media”, so in that case GM’s money ended up buying them a friend in the business as well as a friendly blogging face.

Tuesday was a day off for most real journos, but it was a working day for me and Vodka as we struggled with our video crew to film eight segments on the show’s most interesting introductions. I also agreed to appear in a local news segment about the “swag” given to journalists. When the female producer began touching-up my hair, Vodka stormed over and re-fixed it to her preference. Uh-oh. On the other hand, she was remarkably placid when I declared my everlasting love for one of Ford’s PR people. “She does look fabulous in that dress, I must admit.”

Most of the General Motors crew received an extra night in the Marriott, but TTAC doesn’t pay me well enough to buy hotel time on a whim. We were packing for the “meet TTAC” dinner and the five-hour snowy drive home afterwards when Vodka said to me, “Guess what? I found a real story. Like one nobody else has.”

“You’re kidding. When did that happen?”

“Just a few minutes ago. In the hotel lobby. I saw a foreign guy in a wheelchair and I was talking to him. You know how guys always talk to me. He was setting up a party for a German car company and he got hurt. Who’s going to pay for him to get hospital care here? Why did he come all the way over from Germany to do that when there are Americans to do it? Was the scaffolding safe, you think? I’m going to write my first story about this, instead of the stupid Volt. What’s the matter? Why do you look sad?”

“Sweetheart,” I said, “you don’t understand. That isn’t what we do.”

“Yes it is. You said be a journalist. I’m a hairdresser, but you said be a journalist, so I found a story, and I interviewed someone, and now I have a story. Isn’t that being a journalist?”

“It is, it’s just that…”

“It’s just that what?

“We aren’t really… journalists.”

* * *

Many thanks to my love, my companion, and best friend, the woman who is far more complex, intelligent, and dynamic than I permit her to be in my stories, the 32FF girl herself, “Vodka McBigbra”.

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32 Comments on “My Fair Lady: How I Trained A Hairdresser To Be A Better Journalist Than The GM Bloggers...”

  • avatar

    Ok, so I was at the show Monday and Tuesday covering it for smallish midwestern newspaper.  You mean to tell me that some of the clowns getting in my way when I was trying to take photos were paid by GM to be there?
    Confirms my suspicion that Twitter is worse than worthless.

  • avatar

    “We aren’t really… journalists.”

    Except that… you are.  Good stuff; give us more.

  • avatar

    Sounds like a lot of Haterade from Mr. Baruth.
    I wonder why Ford gets a free pass here? They flew myself and 100 “green” bloggers to Detroit, and gave us a very similar experience to what you’re describing. It was an awesome experience, but it didn’t stop me or others from stepping back and asking questions like why the HELL don’t we get the new Ford Ranger, but those frog-eating Frenchies do? (Actual question I asked the Ford VP of Global Product Development…sans the frog-eating part…but I DID get answer that gives me hope…) I can’t speak to the GM experience, but it doesn’t seem to me all that different from what most car makers (foreign or domestic) have been doing for “real” journalists for years.
    Still, I really liked the story, and give Mr. Baruth kudos for bringing his lovely lady to the madness that is the Detroit auto show. I read the whole story, and that’s why I keep coming back to TTAC on a daily basis.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe Ford gets a pass because they aren’t using our money to buy bloggers. Every dime GM spends was taken from taxpayers and it hasn’t all been paid back. So he has a right to hammer on them all he wants. In fact he was a lot easier on them than I would have been.

  • avatar

    Sorry Jack,
    What the heck are you talking about?  Blah, Blah, Blah… you are writing the same kind of nonsense that kids write in detention when they are assigned a 10 page essay for punishment.

    • 0 avatar

      And I feel kind of embarrassed to read how Jack goes on about her ample bosom, even as far as photo-documenting it here for us? Are you 15 years old, Jack? Such an American obsession….

    • 0 avatar

      Fifteen years old? I can’t wait for the day when he’s that mature. But I will take him the way he is.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Such an American obsession…
      Not necessarily, I, a red blooded American male, whose family has been in this country since 1812, enjoy the fact that my multi-racial fiance seems to have inherited her bottom from the Spanish/Mexican side of her family and her bosom from the Japanese side of her family.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    “That stuff you just said,” Vodka opined, “sounds like you just made it up, right now.”
    She calls you on your potential bullshite.  Good woman to have around.  I know from experience if you don’t have that you start to believe your own crap.  (Which is a highly dangerous thing when you’re as conceded and self-absorbed as I can be, and as many other powerful men can be.)

    • 0 avatar

      I’m certainly willing to concede that you are conceited. ;)

    • 0 avatar
      Otto Krump

      An educator (of teachers) can’t spell conceited? No wonder the Mumbai telemarketers calling me in the middle of dinner speak better English than the kids I deal with at work.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      A. I posted this at 7:39am my time and had not left for central office yet and had only had one of my twelve cups (as indicated by the markings on the pot) of coffee.
      B. I taught History when I was in the classroom.
      C. This isn’t a training or seminar I’m giving

    • 0 avatar

      Chastising Dan’s spelling has become something of a TTAC meme. I mean that in a good way.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      You’re right it has.  (Now it would have been funnier if I’d have done that as “Your right it has.”  But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Did I ever tell you that my HS English teacher gave me a writing award and a dictionary simultaneously?)

    • 0 avatar

      Ok, my two best laughs of the week have come from you–this time your comment about where your fiancee gets her figure from. Jack–sorry, I think Ed. Dan’s comment was funnier than your story, although I enjoyed that tremendously.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    To be sure, you could be a stand-in for the Captain Reynaud character in “Casablanca,” but a good read nonetheless.  The photo of the guy in the red shirt tells it all!

  • avatar

    good story.  who are the four guys in the photo?

  • avatar

    Well, “sordid” really doesn’t appear in ths story, but cynicism does. As a cynical optimist myself, it’s nice when someone sees through “baloney” and lets us know. Unfortunately, most “journos”, like the MSM pretty much parrot the powers-that-be “official” lines, whether government or corporate. That’s why TTAC stands out. Good work, Jack!

  • avatar

    All right, Jack – here’s a question for you: Why can’t a woman be more like a man?

  • avatar

    Nice read, Jack. Great real questions from Vodka. I has a pleasure of meeting her and, yes, Educator is right, she speaks her mind.

  • avatar

    Her opinions and questions are very candid, it’s what I would expect from the pueblo and a woman not versed on cars to ask. My wife asks something similar from time to time.
    Hot looking lady. And excellent article, as usual

  • avatar

    I guess I don’t understand why you’d TAKE a woman to the NAIAS.  Aren’t women supposed to BE the swag there?  Going legit, Jack? Say it ain’t so.

  • avatar

    So what is that Tweeter all about then? I totally fail to understand what decent folks find there, although I accept it can be a powerful tool when you need attention (and support) of someone who normally struggles with any written phrase more complex than “like, wow!”.  

  • avatar

    Wait, where’s the part about her less-than-savory origins, her awful father, how you teach her how to speak properly, how she makes a cartoonish mess of it at first, how you also teach her What to say, how to dress like a Lady, how she still occasionally slips into the old accent at hilarious moments, gets frustrated and screams at you for your dandyish taste in clothes, kicks you in the nuts at formal gatherings by accident, and the part where you realize she is now you and you are now her symbolically, where she’s no longer Eliza Doolittle but has become Audrey Hepburn, and you’re just a bitter old drunk hitting on hot girls with low self-esteem, wishing you could actually deserve one, where your mother was just as rotten to you as her father was to her, and you’d each gone your own ways, etc.?
    +Also. At first, I thought You were going to be the hairstylist.

  • avatar

    For the record, Mazda and Bridgestone paid for my travel and lodging for the ’10 Chicago Auto Show and frankly I hope they do so again.
    It’s admittedly a gray area.
    FWIW, I once gave an interview to a Chicago Trib reporter and gave him the real dope on swag dealers, having gotten to know something about the automotive collectibles market myself. My only condition was that it had to be on background, not for attribution. He agreed so I told him what the complete deal was, from the amateurs who come in and think they can sell something because it says Mercedes on it (most M-B owners are not car guys, for every M-B press kit that sells, a dozen Subaru press cds fly off the shelves because of the WRX and STi) to the serious pros who bring a crew, to the absolute gonifs who will walk away with a case of Dodge Challenger diecast models when nobody’s looking. Unfortunately his editor wouldn’t let him use material from a blind source, so the article wasn’t as good as it could have been.
    Right now in eBay, btw, there are people bidding as much as $100 for one of those Fiat 500 espresso cup ‘n saucers w/ a 4gig usb drive. That’s crazy.
    Hard to say what the coolest swag o’ the show was. The Hyundai Swiss Army thumbdrives with a flashlight and pen are cool (it’s the “flight” model so no scissors or knife). The Ford thumb drives don’t work. Something’s cocked up with the way they copied the files over because Properties shows a chunk of space being used but you can’t see any files and the autorun doesn’t execute properly. Still, they make a nice Ford blue oval key chain and the going rate for 2 gig thumb drives is about $5 so I’m sure that some FoMoCo fans would buy them. Speaking of USB, a lot of the thumb drives were pretty big capacity – 4gb.  When I emptied out all the totes into a cardboard box I realized that there was a lot more memory there than in my first few hard drives combined. My first computer had a 10 meg hard drive. My first “big” hard drive was 320 megs.
    Scion had knit caps, which they often do, and were giving away 3D glasses of the circular polarizing variety so people could watch a couple of HD 3D displays they set up. I’m starting up a 3D web site called Cars In Dimension so I was shooting the show for 3D photos and video and I thought it would be conceptually “meta” to take a 3D photo of a 3D display.
    Other than the espresso cups, and the many press kits on thumb drives there really wasn’t much swag per se at this year’s NAIAS. Oh, right, Tesla gave out Hot Wheels models of a green Roadster.

    • 0 avatar

      Most of this swag is pretty junky, imo. I do like my automoblox, which I got at a New England Motor Press xmas party, and I love my 1/43 scale Boxster. I don’t remember for certain how I acquired it, but I think I bought it for about $25 from a Porsche dealer.

  • avatar

    Replace the cars with airplanes, the bloggers for my former employer, and VMcBB with — wow, I don’t know anyone like her, and I’m suddenly very sad about that — and you’ve pretty much described the larger aviation trade shows, too.

  • avatar

    You say you trained her… I think she is a natural.

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