Cars, Culture, and Etc.

Comment: Ethics and auto journalism

In Comment, Link on May 21, 2008 at 12:02 pm


I completely agree with Joe’s editorial and your response. And the horror with the situation is that in my opinion (having freelanced for them for a number of years), the Star Wheels section has the best ethics policy around.

I personally still follow the Star’s policies, including not accepting gifts over $40. And the air miles issue was still…up in the air…but I decided a few weeks ago to donate the miles accumulated at the end of the year to a charity.

Despite the Wheels writers (and some select freelancers) holding themselves to a high standard, where is AJAC in all of this? Why shouldn’t automakers and journalists come together to revamp the system? They’re all members of the same (fucking) organization.

The fact that nothing has changed yet is proof that the voting majority of AJAC members don’t feel their ethics can be bought — but fail to put concrete systems in place.

I was explaining to a good friend just last week the perk issue, and her first reaction was, “You write about products. Perks are part of the process. What’s the problem?”

I said the problem is that for the car buying public, the wrong (or a bought) recommendation can put them upside-down in an expensive loan for years. Cars can emotionally and financially strain people to the point of breaking.

Consider for a second a single mom with an old car, who turns to a reviewer for a new car recommendation. Reviewers not stating depreciation, residual value, fuel economy, projected reliability, and an honest review of the vehicle can unwillingly put her thousands of dollars in the hole.

I went on to say that although it’s consumer reporting, perks — especially gifts — should simply not be offered anymore. The simplest way to do this is for journalists to say no to gifts, but I maintain the question (and choice) of accepting gifts shouldn’t happen in the first place.

Automotive journalists, when doing their jobs properly, protect consumers from making what is generally the second-biggest purchase of their adult lives.

But throw in the usual turnover of a new car entering our 1.5 car families every 3-5 years…and doing our jobs takes on much more significance.

I just wish I didn’t get slapped by our advertisers every time I’m honest.

  1. I was wondering if I’d just ruffle feathers or if someone would agree … yes, I think AJAC should be the one taking the stand on this. But the reaction I saw to Mark’s suggestion that gifts be limited told me that the status quo is going to remain just that.

  2. […] another Canuck, Michael Banovsky believes that perks should not be allowed. The question is then: who forces manufacturers to conform? AJAC […]

  3. I noticed something interesting today. The Toronto Star has hired a new restaurant critic to fill in while the usual one is on maternity leave. They published a photo of George Clooney (who has left his girlfriend for me, in case you didn’t know), saying that their restaurant reviewers must be anonymous and cannot have their photographs shown in the paper, lest restaurant staff identify them and give them preferential treatment.

    So in that case, why does Toronto Life’s James Chatto seem to start each restaurant review about how the chef is an old friend, how they sat down beforehand and chatted, and how he’s recognized at virtually every establishment in the city?

  4. Oddly enough, I was listening to CBC Radio this week when they had a restaurant critic on the show. (The Current, I think.) Anyhow, he said you wouldn’t be a good manager or chef if you didn’t know the top critics in town…


  5. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Homonymic!

  6. Hello. So how do I say this, without revealing who I am. Imagine a world where journalists actually could accept “gifts” and also give their personal opinion.

    Honestly, I think as long as your are consistent, your readers should be able to gage what your opinions and reactions are. Maybe it is different in the automotive industry, since I really can’t imagine what gifts you are getting but as a journalist, you have jumped through enough hoops to get where you are and quite frankly, should be able to accept what you want to accept.

    Once again, readers, in the industry I work in, can smell spin and influence a mile away. Is that not the case for your audience? or are the stereotypes of “car guys” true?


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