DetNews Reposts Original 200 Review, Burgess Speaks Out
Under fire for its un-annotated edits to Scott Burgess’s Chrysler 200 Review, the Detroit News has reposted Burgess’s original review even as the departed critic confirmed that those edits were the reason for his departure. The NYT reports
“What we did was wrong because it was done at an advertiser’s request,” said Mr. Burgess, who had been at the paper since 2005. “I was ashamed I made the changes.”
Mr. Burgess said he first tendered his resignation on Monday, but was asked to reconsider. Susan Carney, business editor of The Detroit News, said his resignation was effective on Wednesday.
The episode marked the first time Mr. Burgess had been directed to alter a review due to a negative reaction — from an advertiser or otherwise. “There were plenty of times where I’d written reviews that people were upset about, but we never did what we did on Friday.”
Online changes were made without any notation that the piece was re-edited, which breaches accepted industry practice, said Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute, a journalism training and advocacy center in St. Petersburg, Fla. “What happened gives the impression that content might be for sale, whether that’s real or perceived. And that will cause the erosion of trust in the newsroom.”
DetN business editor Susan Carney admits that the situation was handled “poorly.” Burgess will be appearing on AutoLine After Hours at 7 p.m. ET, and is likely to comment further on the story.
According to his grades, Sanford was an excellent student in grade school. This was an objective evaluation based on Sanford's test scores, homework and classroom participation. According to his peers, Sanford was a psychopathic dork supreme. This was a subjective evaluation based on Sanford's physical stature, dress, social skills, sports acumen, and test scores unrecorded within his peer's mind. The Chrysler 200 is a capable vehicle worthy of consideration of purchase. This is an objective evaluation based on the 200's test scores, marked improvements, and affordability. According to it's automotive peers, the 200 is a psychopathic dork supreme. This is a subjective evaluation based on how the 200 measures up in the eyes of an auto journalist whose salary is paid for by a Paper, and whose editor edited out the most eggregious hate-filled graffiti found written on the stall walls in the boy's room, better known as the Internet. What makes Sanford and the 200 so miserable? It isn't because they don't measure up. It is because both in the world of the grade school classroom and the world of the auto journalist, there reigns tastemakers which can make or break the reputation and acceptance of both Sanford and the 200 in the real world. These tastemakers may be 11 year old tweens wearing AF tops and listening to Bieber on their pink I-pods, or these tastemakers may be 50 year old balding gray goateed-wearing paunchy men listening to Bieber on their pink I-pads. In both cases, the tastemakers use subjective evaluations to determine whether someone or something measures in the pecking order of the competitive world. Sanford and the 200 are hunchbacks with halitosis, bad teeth, back acne, and body odor, wearing ugly ill-fitting clothing. This is going to turn off the tastemakers like Abby the cheerleading tween in Sanford's class, and Mr. Burgess. One day, Abby and Mr. Burgess will discover that they are subjectively out of fashion. For Abby it will be when she wakes up to discover that she has become a 50 year old bald, goatee-wearing, pauchy lady with sagging breasts, and for Mr. Burgess it was this week.
Here in the Wayback Machine, I've set the dial to 2005 and where the phone is ringing on the desk of the VP of National Advertising at the LA Times. On the phone is General Motors' legal counsel, PR director, and the president of the LA Chevrolet Dealer Association. They are not happy. Previously in the week, a well-known auto critic named Dan Neil just had a piece published wherein he ripped General Motors management as inept, called for the dismissal of the top leadership at the then-biggest car company in the world, and opined that GM's continued emphasis on big SUVs and trucks was a fool's errand, and that more time and energy should be spent on quality compact and midsize vehicles (where the company was sorely lacking, and where the market appeared to be heading). The conversation on the phone is brief; the Times will not retract the article. GM decides to boycott the paper. Never mind that Neil (despite the criticism heaped on the critic in other posts on this site) turned out to be mostly right...just as the TTAC GM DeathWatch turned out to be prescient for similar criticism of the General. The Times weathered the boycott, GM slunk back a few months later. Today, in the print news business, things are tough. Sure, it wasn't any good in 2005, but the Tribune Co. had the means to tell a major advertiser they were not going to back down or retract editorial comments made by their industry experts. Let's just say that if you're a print news source in Detroit struggling to stay alive today in the worst economy in the most stricken city in the U.S., you have flashbacks of the LA Times/GM boycott, and market realities get the better of you. I can certainly see how and why DetNews did what they did. From a J-school, theoretical ethics point of view, it was wrong. From a real-world, let's stay open to write another day perspective, they did what they thought they had to. In the end, nobody won. Chrysler's bullying in no way casts them in a favorable light (or their car). And DetNews takes an even bigger hit. Burgess is out of a job. Now, if they could just figure out how to use the WayBack Machine themselves to do it all over again, I'm sure they would all agree: Good Idea.
In college my media and popular culture class was watching a series of films about the portrayal of the media, from Citizen Kane to Network to Broadcast News, for which we had to write a critical analysis. A few of my buddies and I thought we were being intellectually distinct and a bit rebellious by writing scathing analysis of The Paper, the lone "mainstream" film in the bunch. We got the worst grade sin the class. Our criticisms weren't based in comparison of any sort of inherent value the movie might have had, it was all about the marketing and "angle" and general mainstreamedness of the thing. We were supposed to be looking at how the film portrays The Media and the people who constitute it, not compare it to some effete goals of artistic purity or whatever. We were pretentious little shits. Anyway, my point is that sometimes you just want to lash out and attack things you don't personally like, especially when you have a forum, without any professional obligation to do so. The Chrysler 200 is an easy target, politically speaking. A lot of the commenters here are right though - the headline and even the article itself references the car's inability to stand up to the current competition but never describes exactly how that's so. It reminds me of my juvenile rant about The Paper, when I completely missed the point just so I could make my own political statement and ended up with a C. He got fired.
Well, I read the full, "restored" review, and in my opinion, it was a hit job, substituting malevolence for fact-based opinion. No, the editor shouldn't have edited it, he should have handed it back and told Burgess to re-write it, or flat-out refused to print it. Burgess should be miffed that it was edited, but he should be ashamed that he wrote it, and be willing to admit that it was not just his opinion, but a biased rant unanchored by any facts or perspective. Anyone can have an uninformed, biased opinion about anything, but those who have a responsibility to their employer and a soapbox to reach the general public have to be held to a higher standard.