Does AJR Hate Cars?
Mon., December 5, 2011
Is it the intent of American Journalism Review to unfairly damage the credibility of legitimate journalists with meritless charges? That seems to be the case with AJR's "Taking Readers for a Ride" by Frank Greve (Fall). In this piece, he positions all automotive journalists as being on the take.
Then he gets personal. He writes that our editorial work here at New Car Test Drive should be labeled as advertising, and he urges our media partners to do just that. But that isn't enough. He contacts them directly, berates them for not doing so, then publishes their response.
That isn't ombudsman journalism, it's advocacy.
Greve is wrong about us. His accusations are without merit. He bases his opinion on supposition. Then he backs it up with weak, flawed examples. It's difficult to believe the University of Maryland's College of Journalism approves of this sort of hack job.
As journalists, we live and die by our credibility. Our expertise and experience are important, but worthless without credibility. Credibility is earned through trust and honest reporting. Our first loyalty at New Car Test Drive is to our readers: consumers in the market for a new car. If consumers see our reviews as useful and credible, they will read them. If consumers are reading our reviews, then Web sites will want to publish them. We don't owe car companies or car dealers or anyone else any favors, contrary to Greve's assumptions. By his standards, any journalist who writes for a publication that sells advertising is corrupted by that advertising. But there are no blurry lines here. There is a big wall between our editorial department and the people who market our reviews. We know that once sold, credibility can never be recovered. Ours is not for sale. Calling our industrious reporting "advertising" is outrageous and insulting, and it unfairly damages our reputation and that of our hard-working correspondents.
We put a lot of time and effort into producing the best, most honest product reviews of new vehicles we possibly can. We take this work very seriously because we know our readers are about to commit hard-earned money for the most expensive product they will ever buy and they are looking to us to help them determine whether it's a car they will enjoy using. For 17 years, consumers have been telling us they like our straightforward, in-depth reporting. So it's frustrating to have someone who admits he doesn't know anything about cars or the car business come along, cloaked with academic approval, and with a wave of his hand declare our work lacks credibility. I respond to his rant only because I value the credibility of our media organization and its contributors.
As editor, I assign and edit reviews and post them online. My duties end there. My editorial base is 3,000 miles from our publisher. Our publisher never meddles with our editorial work, never asks us to go easy on anyone, never tries to steer our editorial product in any way whatsoever. Never.
But Greve takes it as a given that we are unduly influenced by car dealers and manufacturers. We don't buy the cars we test, after all. So we must be corrupt. The evidence he uses to support this charge is beyond weak.
Greve says he knows nothing about cars. He then displays his ignorance by failing to understand the difference between an early, hand-built, pre-production prototype no consumer will ever drive and the real production cars that roll down the assembly line months later. He uses this ignorance to suggest we are trying to cover something up because we didn't write more about an issue we noted on a hand-built engineering test mule that was being used to study aspects of a yet-to-be-introduced model.
As journalists, we live and die by our credibility. My instructors stressed this when I was earning my journalism degree at Washington State University; I practiced it when working as newspaper reporter and earned a state press association award. And I live by it today. Greve may believe in his agenda but that doesn't excuse making baseless charges that unfairly damage journalists' reputations.
New Car Test Drive
Pompton Plains, New Jersey
Frank Greve responds:
There's no question that the best car review syndicate is New Car Test Drive, which Mitch McCullough edits. The problem is, the syndicate's paying clients are not car buyers; they're carmakers, car dealers and owners of Web sites paid to deliver prospects to car dealers. Car buyers certainly are the reviews' intended audience, but what New Car Test Drive delivers to them are reviews that read like independent, third-party appraisals but are, in fact, bought opinions.