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Automotive Journalism is Dead

Saturday April 22, 2006

The idea that there is definitely some kind of slant in the media these days and that different automakers seem to not get treated equally by these so-called journalists is consistently getting harder to deny. You don’t have to search very far to see how all things GM seem to have some kind of negative spin put on it these days, or even the proverbial beating of the dead horse, such is the case for some “breaking news” from CTV about the already well-known intake manifold problems encountered on some of GM’s engines. On top of this, reviews done on new products from certain brands are starting to look like press releases rather than an actual review, such as this one about the 2007 Toyota Camry, in which you will find the following excerpts of text. At least, the manufacturers seem to have quite a lot of influence on what gets said, either that or the “journalists” are often apologetic regarding their certain favorites while severely scolding the every fault of the punching bag(s) of this recently turned poor excuse of an industry.

  1. Fit and finish on most of the cars we drove was excellent, though the LE model I sampled had a badly misaligned dashboard panel and a storage compartment door that made scratchy noises when opened and closed. Sato noted these anomalies and said he’d point them out to his colleagues back in Japan. He confirmed that the cars Toyota supplied for the media event were production versions, but don’t expect many that make it into showrooms to have similar problems.

  2. Toyota can be excused for the price hikes, though, as the new Camry is more car for the money. Overall length is the only dimension that remains the same. The new Camry rides on a wheelbase that’s 55 mm (2.2 in.) longer, and width is up 25 mm, or about an inch. While the extra width and wheelbase should translate into a larger interior, Sato said he and his colleagues chose instead to create a more open-feeling interior and eliminate unnecessary space. It’s an approach he said resulted in an interior that’s larger in key areas and smaller in less critical areas, but wherever they may have taken that space away from, it’s not obvious to the naked eye. The car is very spacious and a lot classier inside – even in basic trim levels – than the last generation Camry.

It’s funny how Lutz, for example, is hardly ever quoted when it comes to anything GM, unless of course, to point out some kind of blunder of his or something to that effect.

Whenever the opportunity arises to write or present something about “the big three”, “Detroit”, or whatever they so choose to label them as at the time, Ford Motor Co., General Motors and, to a lesser extent, DaimlerChrysler AG simply cannot catch a break. The so-called “journalists” will exaggerate the negative, repeat old bad news over and over; they’ll even try and put a negative spin on news that should actually be seen as positive! Take the following headline from an article by John O’Dell in the LA Times: Buick’s poor sales epitomize General Motors’ woes. The article in questions speaks of Buick’s supposed poor performance over the last 20 years or so. The problem lies in how the article presents only the negative side of the brand, citing bland products and such. All the while, whenever any of its merits are mentioned, that negative spin comes into play, for example “Buick has received a number of quality awards since, but has been unable to turn them into an effective marketing tool” while talking about the fact that they’re one of the top names in quality.

Let’s not forget to mention some nice little gems of true professionalism as well, such as Fox’s apparently turned car expert Geraldo Rivera, where he states that: “For years, GM’s clearly inept management has been crying about how hard it is to compete with the rest of the world because of the price of labor and especially its pensions. But the bigger reason is that many of its cars stink, and I say that as a present stockholder and former consumer.” and later in that article proclaims that “The real problem for GM, and Ford for that matter, is that too many of their cars are crap.”

While one can not deny that they do have problems these days, such total lack of professionalism or objectivity for that matter should cost many of these hacks their jobs. Why isn’t anything being done then? Well, that’s a good question… The logical explanations seems to be, as the old saying goes, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. In this case, as much of a conflict of interest as it may be, many of the publications involved in automotive industry news have many corporate sponsors that are, naturally, related to the auto industry. It is also a natural part of doing business to want to protect your own interests and try and “scratch the back” of any business partners in hopes that they will in turn scratch yours. The problems pop-up however when these journalists, who are morally obligated to present the facts, tell the story in a neutral way and try and give you an objective view of the event or situation in question, appear to slightly slant things in favor of certain manufacturers for reasons unknown. Of course, my “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” theory is merely speculation, but it would make sense on a business perspective and would definitely not surprise me if it were true. The thing they need to remember however, if this should be the case, is that such a way of doing things would throw what little credibility they have left down the tubes. Unfortunately though, it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between what is real objective unfiltered information and what is essentially advertisement in disguise. This part is more than just speculation however; it’s a well known fact, a real phenomenon going on in the world of journalism and one I have studied in one of my classes this semester as a journalism student. The Canadian Driver review of the 2007 Toyota Camry that I have previously quoted somewhat illustrates this. Unfortunately, there’s not much one can do other than make sure to not form an opinion about any brand or model before actually looking at it open-mindedly for yourself. People base themselves solely on these reviews all too often and this may eventually lead to the demise of the industry’s journalists’ punching bag and that would be quite the shame if another one of America’s greats would fall, and in part due to the sheer ignorance and lack of morals or professionalism in this so-called “journalism”. But hey, who can blame them? After all, in the world of modern journalism: if it bleeds it leads, bad news sells, the more extreme the better and sensationalism is sensational. Let’s just hope that someday their progress will be recognized and they will at least get the credit and respect that they deserve. If ever the General or the good old’ blue oval were to fade into the night, I hope they at least give them a respectful eulogy and feel just a little bit of guilt for the part they played in the complications the caused their death. Sad, very sad…

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