By on October 31, 2011

You know, it’s getting goddamned hard for a chap to enjoy a decent corporate-sponsored nosebag from time to time what with the ever-imminent prospect of Jack “Banquo” Baruth popping out from behind a silver soup tureen and shouting “J’accuse!” like some sort of admonitory, jort-clad Visigoth. At least, such I was thinking to myself as I lined the walls of my pericardium with the rich yellow fat best produced by overly-sauced food and moderately crappy wines.

This was in the latter stages of a lunch – sorry – launch I was attending in, admittedly, a very unprofessional capacity. I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up here, but I’m one of those people who can’t say no when offered work; here though there would be no byline, and theoretically therefore, no conflict of interest.

Still, I was keeping one eye open, metaphorically-speaking, for our own favourite Sword of Damocles, as – pardon me good sir, but I believe your trotter is in my trough!

Lifer Automotive Journalist the Size of a Small Moon: “Oh, do beg pardon. Snarfle-snarfle-glub.”

Think nothing of it. Now where was I? Ah yes, the dining room. There I was, surrounded by the ambiance of several tonnes of avoirdupois on the hoof rapidly consuming their considerable body weights in alcohol, rich meats and cream-based sauces. The sound was akin to that of creating a vast clone army of Cookie Monsters and then turning them loose to attack the Nestle Toll House central warehouses. Om, as they say, Nom.

As I sat, replete and idly wondering how much leftover ribeye I could secret away in my pockets for homeward economy-flight consumption before I became drunk enough to lose basic motor skills, a voice hissed at me.

“Psssst!” came the hoarse whisper, “Lime-Green Audi S5!”

Thus it was that I received the secret verbal handshake that identifies those of us for whom the gravy train remains a bemusing through-the-looking-glass experience, best described by TTAC contributor Derek Kreindler as a luxury vacation with people you hate. Not that I object to the free bacon of course.

Fast-forward a bit and here I am again at yet another free-for-all, sipping a Stone IPA I didn’t pay for, noshing on some quote-unquote “vintage”  ribeye – hipsterism for carnivores? – with port-wine reduction. As our gracious host rises to his feet to thank the assembled journalists for coming, thus reminding us all about how important we really are, I’m thinking about Jeff Glucker.

A better writer than I has already covered this topic, but moving forward, the immediate fallout of Gluckergate has been the usual 10-10-80 polarization of those who read, follow and comment on the various automotive blogs and websites that are part of Interwebs 2-point-whatever-we’re-at-now. 10% of people were outraged at Mr. Glucker’s ethical mis-step, and applaud Jalopnik’s no-holds-barred outing. 10% of people (including yours truly) were outraged at Jalopnik’s mean-spirited sensationalization of Mr. Glucker’s misstep, their gleeful attempt to score points off a rival blog, and the offensive odour of holier-than-thou adopted by a site that used to be a cool place to get COTD.

For 80% of folks however, it seems to have been no big deal, business as usual, a Pontiac Tempest in a GM-stamped Teapot that showed up in a giftbag in the free hotel room you were flown to on business class. By the way, these are only approximations – I don’t know how accurate my Scion calculator is.

The consensus seems to be, and I apologize in advance as I’m about to start slopping around the whitewash of generalization here, that automotive “journalism” should forever be aware of the invisible quotes surrounding the latter half of its appellation. At the end of the day, to seize hold of one of the most hackneyed phrases available, the public sees us as little different from those who review TV shows or toasters.

For me, it’s even more simple: there but for the grace of God, go I. Like Jeff Glucker, I am no Baruth or Farago when it comes to “tirelessly savaging his enemies”. Quite frankly, the thought of even mildly inconveniencing an enemy makes me yearn for a nice, long, mid-afternoon nap. No, I’ll have to be content with merely savaging the English language.

And really, fat jokes aside, who am I to begin to cast the stones of ethics at my colleagues when I myself am working towards the same equipment list as the current Nissan Altima: full-size spare tire as standard. If there’s a sin too often revisited at the TTAC offices, it’s that of patting ourselves too hard on the back for being independent, and incorruptible, and outside the mainstream.

But when our own Edward N. half-despairingly asks the question, “where is the pride?” I bristle. It’s right goddam here.

No, not necessarily only in the articles and reviews before you now, but in the company I am privileged to keep. It’s in the excellent weirdness found at Glucker’s own Hooniverse website. It’s in the riotous anarchy of the 24 hours of LeMons. It’s in the sensible debate of a Best and Brightest comments section and the in-sensible arguing on the facebook page of a certain be-flipflopped TTAC alum.

Surely, the face of automotive journalism has changed as the face of traditional media has changed; not always for the better, but with a new host of writers and thinkers, and most importantly, with a new kind of audience. Not only that, but also the shoulders of the giants we stand upon are not always as sloping as we New Breed hacks would have you believe: there are many print journalists to whom I humbly doff my cap.

The cogs of the PR machine grind grimly on, just as they always have done, with free lunches and free cars, jewel-like launch settings for economy-grade rides and endless giveaways. But the cogs have chipped a tooth: in internet forum discussions, in the musings of those automotive writers I’m honoured to call colleague and in, quite frankly, a higher calibre of PR folks who actually care about the companies and products they represent, there is pride to be found.

Most of all, dear reader, there is you, the TTAC audience; the some of the people you can’t fool any of the time. It is my humble privilege to lay before you such scribblings as I do and have your own finely-tuned bullshit-o-meters waver the needle if you detect the influence of a comped bar-bill.

In the meantime, I happily wade though rivers of bearnaise to bring you The Truth, ever mindful of my responsibilities to the pull-no-punches ideals set out by our founder, and carried on by the writing and editing staff of TTAC.

Obsequious Waiter: Would Sir laike an aftair-dinnair meent?

No, sod off. I’m absolutely stuffed.

Obsequious Waiter: Oh, but Sir, it’s only wafair-theen.

Oh all right, just the one then.


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31 Comments on “In Defense Of: The Press Junket...”

  • avatar

    “some sort of admonitory, jort-clad Visigoth”

    You owe me for a new keyboard. I snorted so hard laughing that I sprayed coffee all over it.

    All kidding aside, this is exactly why I have faithfully remained a TTAC reader and occasional commentor – TTAC’s writers (and editors) all are quick to “bite the hands that feed”.

  • avatar

    You guys have it too good. You should attend Japanese car launches. All you get is a bottle of water. In summer. In winter, you are lucky if you get the printout of the PowerPoint with an English translation.

    Ever wondered why Japanese are so thin? Now you know.

    I forgot: You get a map how to get there. The map is free. The trip is on you.

  • avatar

    Nice. (An overused but underappreciated word, by the way–for all you literary types.) I also enjoyed the Visigoth reference, and a host of others as well.

    Since you brought it up, this raises a question that’s been bothering me lately (as a response to a comment I made in another recent article): Is what goes on here Journalism or Blog? (And what exactly is the difference between journalism and blog anyway?)

  • avatar
    Alex L. Dykes

    We must be going to different events. The locations are nice, but I would not call them sponsored vacations, I don’t really enjoy travelling without my better half. The food is usually good, but far from fancy and I have to say I usually enjoy the company. Never has an event swayed my opinion on a car, but I do appreciate the ability to network.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree Alex. The best one I’ve been to recently was Mazda’s Skyactiv presentation. Hours in the classroom with the engineers, hours of driving, hours of Q&A. They threw in a free lunch, but it felt like work: I loved it!

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    ” a Pontiac Tempest in a GM-stamped Teapot ”

    Tastily done!

  • avatar

    So. You make pretty the words for so you can minimize the prostitution?

    As [VERY] funny as ,”admonitory, jort-clad Visigoth”* is,

    You seem to be attempting the ‘Beat-Them-To-The-Punch-But-Save-Face/Ass-With-Faint-Damnation’-maneuver from the Book of CYA, Verse 32, Line 4, in “The Malleus Maleficarum”.

    Anticipating Gluckergate 2.0?

    I am feeling people are going to want Ed to eventually fire you for napping-on instead of savaging the badguys,

    no matter how much expectations are managed up-front.


    And front-running my own argument,

    Yes, I am one of those people who didn’t really know how far outside C&D/MT/R&T, the junket-whoreage really spread, and was kind-of incensed and surprised at Jeff.

    The Visigoth’s article was kind of a surprise.

    So, either way:

    I find your lack of faith disturbing.

    *(side note: in my nightmares, he always has the voice of Cookie Monster)

    • 0 avatar

      First, thank you for the Cookie Monster thing. I will forever now read all JB’s facebook posts in the style of Alastair Cookie from Monsterpiece theatre.

      Secondly, yes, I – shoddily – constructed this entire bit just to include that “jort-clad Visigoth line”.

      Thirdly, I’m not sure I’m “napping-on” the badguys (whoever they might be), my intent was merely to indicate a level of humility rather than hubris, and to suggest that I don’t walk into these things thinking that my TTAC badge makes me the Last Gunslinger. There are many folks in the auto-writing sphere who I would consider to be better-informed, better writers than I and they aren’t swayed by these events either.

      It’s up to our Visigoth to axe-murder those who are swayed (he’s much better at it than I could be anyway); my job isn’t to sit in judgement of the people, just the cars.

  • avatar

    I have dealt with these questions for years. “Who are you to tell me what is the best way to…”(take your pick of subject). I found myself immediately out of college without a dime to my name passing judgement in print on multi-million dollar establishments, many with legacies of excellence and headed and staffed by individuals holding college degrees from impecable colleges and having more experience that I would ever have in the business.

    How dare I pass judgement?
    Who do I think I am?

    I am a vanilla guy. I am your damn market. I am the guy who will drop more money than I should on your damn products. Who are you to tell me that I am wrong? I call the shots based on subjective evaluations based on my experience in sitting my fat behind and consuming what it is you are peddling. Do you subject your palate to your competition? Do you really know what it is like to borrow against your life savings to sit where you fart daily?

    Familiarity breeds contempt. Often the last person who knows his product is the guy living it. The last thing that person has to do out of their career commitment daily is to sample the competition. I do that! That is what I do.

    You want to know why I have chosen your competition over you after you have sunk millions into a redesign? Ask me. Then have the decency to shut up and listen to my answer. And yes, often the reason is completely silly, nonsensical and subjective. And you know what? Your market is coming to the same damn conclusions as I am over the same damn silly, nonsensical and subjective reasons. So, do you have a problem? Damn right you do! Do you want me to be honest about it, or do you want to still get out a ruler and demand that I pull mine out so you can compare it to yours?

    I lived it. You must have an inner compass that has been honed by countless moments of both subjective and objective evaluations. No amount of pampering is going to alter that. I might end up giving you a pass on print about how wonderful you still are, but I am also going to let you know that I am giving you a break, and the next time I will let the truth break you. And, if during my exhaustive evaluations your product completely fails, then there is no amount of pampering that will change that.

    Ties go to the companies – once. After that I report and let your threaten my life for the life of the publication.

    All I have to know is how to compare my lifetime of experiences against your products fairly in order to deliver my work to those who depend upon it. If I can honestly recommend your product to anyone I know, or anyone I have ever met, without squirming – than I can give your products a fair review thinking about that particular user and market. I don’t consider myself special at all, actually. What makes me special is the opportunity to experience the awesomeness of the products within the market I review. No one else but reviewers can deliver on that level of melty yummy goodness.

    Now back off and let me get at that shrimp!

  • avatar
    The Doctor

    Maybe I’m missing something, but to summarise:

    “Yes, I attend press launches and partake of all the sybaritic delights that they offer, but if readers think that I’m being less than truthful in any of the 12 car reviews I’ve done for TTAC over the past 5 years (11 of which endorsed the cars) they can vote with their feet/fingers. THAT is what makes sure I uphold the ethos of my colleagues at TTAC”

    So that’s a rehash of the “I’m incorruptible, me” argument then?

    I think I’ll keep reading Baruth (despite his new line of Mills & Boon posts)

    • 0 avatar

      To be accurate: I’ve been to exactly four press launches, the only one of which a related review appears here is the Skyactiv mule. Your comment about the 12 reviews in five years also requires clarification: I did a few sporadic writings in 07/08, took a break post-Farago, and have done a few reviews here since July. I do hope to establish a track record at TTAC, though I am fully cognizant that there is considerable work to be done if I am to establish trust with our discerning readership. Please keep an eye out for upcoming reviews, and please vote with your fingers if you think I’m full of crap: I’ve had the good luck to have some pretty decent rides to review as of late, but do wait for the Sportback review.

      Why, in the name of all that’s holy, would you not keep reading Baruth? Surely you didn’t read this article and think I was proposing myself as an alternative to JB? Christ save us and preserve us in aluminum salts, he’s a far better writer than I; I only allude to him half-joshingly because I think it’s funny (it may prove to not be so – I tend towards self-deprecation, but feel free to fill in the blanks where I may have not deprecated enough).

      • 0 avatar
        The Doctor

        Maybe I should have clarified – because I read the other writers on TTAC, the frequency of my visits is unlikely to be affected by whether I think you’re an honest injun or a corpulent rent-a-gob.

        Having said that, I will read your future reviews with an open mind and empty gallbladder.

        As for Baruth, I read his posts because I feel some bizarre sense of kinship from being part of the 10 people worldwide who had a Phaeton.

  • avatar

    ‘finely-tuned bullshit-o-meters’.

    I’m just going to take a shot in the dark and interject, this must have been a GM or Fiat/Chrysler affair?

    Wine, dine and 69…this is how cars are sold in this neo-malaise…

    Well written, sir.

    And P.S. nomnomnom…:)

  • avatar

    Being a fine, upstanding, highly moral type, I’ve managed to steer clear of all kinds of paid up lunches, freebee’s and other general bribery in the name of remaining honest and independent in my line of work, but everyone has their vices. If there’s free booze on offer – I’m your man.

  • avatar

    I feel sorry for the poor lads, working their fingers to the Beaune.

  • avatar

    Funnily enough, my last press trip involved having drinks with Jack…

  • avatar

    One thing I’ve never understood about automotive writers.

    You folks get paid to do things like drive the Evo X and Boss 302 (often around a track), go offroad in new Grand Cherokee, stage a comparison test where you drag race heavy-duty trucks towing 20000lb trailers, and own a CTS-V for a year.

    I know the grass is always greener, but that’s a pretty sweet gig.

    Yet, it sounds like many of you can be influenced by a free windbreaker or fancy cheese platter.

    If I was in the industry, I’d be worried that if I’m too hard on the new Fiat I won’t get an invite to the next Maserati launch at Trois-Rivières, not that if I’m too hard on the new Fiat I’ll need to pay for my own prime rib and trip to Quebec.

  • avatar

    After some pondering, I’ve concluded that auto journalists need to make a living and have some fun too. Let them eat cake, provided they continue to write sober, entertaining, thoughtful pieces.

    If a car doesn’t live up to expectations, say so. If you think it’s overpriced, be critical. But unless a car is truly a POS, I don’t need to read bloody reviews that gratuitously go for the jugular. Unfortunately, that’s what some think being “independent” means. It’s ok if — to quote Monty Python’s Black Knight after getting his arms hacked off by King Arthur — “it’s just a flesh wound”.

    Ha ha. Did anyone else get Brendan’s “after dinner mint” reference?

  • avatar

    “There’s pride on Bourbon Street.”

  • avatar

    Sorry to spoil the party, but where was Editor Ed before this was published? While most TTAC writing is relatively (and enjoyably) crisp and to the point, this rambling, disheveled monologue could have been cut down by half (at least), and even then I am not sure exactly what the point would be.

    Was the goal was to defend free booze from automakers as well as the right to write while still under the influence?


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