Tom-Tom: Automotive Journalism’s Credibility Gap

Tom-Tom: Automotive Journalism’s Credibility Gap

Jack Baruth says he is the only person in American history to hold both a professional BMX racing license and a professional auto racing license. This, combined with five dollars, he notes, will get you a “venti” at Starbucks. He has been writing for publication since 1991 and wrote the unpopular “One Racer’s Perspective” and “BMX Basics” columns for Bicycles Today magazine. In the past several years, Jack has won a few races, lost many more, and received multiple disciplinary actions for contact and rough driving. He races in NASA Performance Touring, the Koni Challenge and the Skip Barber Mazdaspeed Series. You can find him at speedsportlife.com, thetruthaboutcars.com, leftlanenews.com and in Malaysia’s “Wheels Weekly” tabloid.


Automotive Journalism’s Credibility Gap

Autowriters.com Tom-Tom: Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

“If Woodward and Bernstein had been automotive journalists, the Watergate story would have been a five-star review of Richard Nixon’s personal tape recorder.” I’m putting that in quotes, even though I just wrote it, because I think it’s quotable.

Here’s another quotable idea, courtesy of a young autoblogger whom I occasionally read: Manufacturers should stop paying for auto journalists to enjoy unbelievably sybaritic new-vehicle launches, $80,000 free loaner cars disguised as “long-term testers”, and all of the other little bennies of the biz. Instead, the money should be spent reaching out to, and connecting with, the actual customers for their products. In short, auto journalism as we know it needs to die. The denim-jacket fatties and bald old buzzards who shuffle-steer their incompetent way through a driving event, hold down barstools for the evening, and then rewrite the press release during the flight home — well, they should be taken out back and shot.

The color rags should wither and fall from the shelves like autumn leaves, with only the lace-like rotted pages of a MacNeil Products special-advertising section remaining. The functional illiterates who take a free plane ticket to an auto show, have their hands held by PR reps through a scripted sequence of roundtables, and then breathlessly blog about the “awesomeness” of cars they’ve never driven — they will become as difficult to find as their talent was. All change, as they say. Everybody goes home.

It’s interesting to note that special-interest car rags have been around nearly as long as the automobile itself. Autocar was founded in 1895, and the inimitable LJK Setright tells us that it was originally a bit of a shill rag, featuring far-from-impartial opinions to benefit its owner, who also held part of Daimler. The idea of the self-published auto magazine is still with us — nearly every major carmaker publishes an utterly worthless color rag on a quarterly-ish basis, complete with moronic reviews of luxury hotels, expensive watches, and second-tier men’s fashion — but I find it hilarious that the most dignified name in the print trade was corrupt from Day One.

As we’ve all heard, the automobile is the second-most expensive purchase we will make in our lives, unless we buy a used Porsche 928, in which it will be the most expensive purchase we will ever make. It’s no surprise, then, that buyers have been looking for advice since the nineteenth century. In some cases, such as when Patrick Bedard left an engineering career to work for C/D, or when Consumer Reports decided to pay its own money for cars to test (mostly) impartially, the buyer has been well-served by listening to that “expert advice”.

Other examples of automotive “expertise” are closer to being laughable than reputable. Consider the “Wheels” section in nearly every major newspaper. The “Wheels” writers are as numerous as Biblical locusts at the new-car launches, and they descend on the buffet table with the same legendary ferocity, but in most cases they are completely unqualified to review automobiles. They aren’t engineers, race car drivers, or even hopelessly passionate enthusiasts. They’re just the guys who sucked too hard to be permitted to write about something critical, like municipal levies, local flower shows, or country-club golf tournaments.

This is the problem in a nutshell. Real journalists go out and find their stories at their own expense, or their employers’ expense. Automotive journalists are effectively compensated by the manufacturers on which they report. And if an autojourno decides to take a “principled” approach, refusing to participate in press launches or take loaner cars… that writer will be effectively six months behind the competition.

One solution: stop inviting journalists to events. Rather, manufacturers should invite existing customers to attend preview events, and manufacturer-sponsored discussion forums should eventually replace general-interest automotive news sources as the place for consumers to get their information. This doesn’t sound like a very impartial way for consumers to receive new-car information, but trust me: putting a fifty-year-old man who normally drives a used Corolla behind the wheel of a Corvette ZR1 and letting him putter around a racetrack, thirty seconds a lap off the pace, isn’t exactly delivering absolute truth either. Customers, on the other hand, tend to be reliable sources of purchase information. They’ve actually purchased the product in the past. They have credibility.

Automotive journalism has survived due to arbitrage of information. As discussed above, we see the product well before the public does, and are granted no-cost access to it through loaners and long-term fleet cars. We have the information and you don’t. If the manufacturers took that “gap” in time and access away, the “experts” would simply vanish.

This is my vision of the future: Joe Customer wakes up on a sunny Sunday. His tablet/smart paper/superphone says to him, “Good morning Joe. You’ve been happy with your Nissan 160Z and you’ve been an active Official Z Forum participant. The new Nissan 180Z is coming to a release event in our town this week. Would you like to chat with an expert system about the car’s features, schedule your own exposure event, or have a complete simulation of the car loaded into your PS6 for a few laps of the old Fuji circuit?” In a world like that, nobody’s reading a color mag. The guy from that mag won’t see the car before you do, and you wouldn’t trust him anyway. You might trust nissanZfan1983, a guy you know on the forums who races Z-cars. Maybe he’ll meet you at the event, or you will chat about it over Skype, or you’ll race each other in a simulator. In any event, you’ll make up your own mind.

That’s the future, and it’s outstanding. But the road to that future is going to be bumpy. The first manufacturer to turn away from the free-ride merry-go-round is going to take a pasting. They won’t be discussed favorably in print or in major blogs. Rumors will fly. Mean things will be said. Snide comments will be made. It will be widely supposed that they have turned away from conventional press PR because their product is antiquated, or second-rate, or simply not good enough for the (*snicker*) “glaring spotlight of journalism”.

In fact, any carmaker who wants to know what it’s like to focus on real customers instead of the press can talk to Tony Crook. Mr. Crook is a former Grand Prix driver who ran Bristol Cars for decades. Bristol doesn’t bother with press drives. There are no press loaners. There are no press events. The auto media is not welcome to tour the factory. Bristol prefers to work directly with their existing customers and find out what they want in a car. Their business grows, such as it does, by word of mouth and exposure to the product in the hands of owners. Go read a Bristol non-review in an English magazine to get a sense of what will be said about any manufacturer who hops off the freebie train. It’s rarely complimentary.

Still, Bristol is alive and Pontiac is dead. There’s a lesson here, if we could only figure it out.

This Post Has 39 Comments

  1. Jack –
    As somebody who writes for The Truth About Cars, I’m surprised you’re not aware of the events you describe happening in the future already taking place. High-end manufacturers (and maybe other manufacturers) already invite existing customers to drive future products ahead of launch. Please don’t pretend to be putting forth a radical new idea that has been around for years.
    I also have to disagree that an automotive journalist needs to be an engineer or racer when 99.9 percent of all consumers will never race their cars – nor were the cars designed for racing. What does being a racer have to do with evaluating a Hyundai Sonata?
    I’ve covered cops without ever having been a police officer. I’ve reported on fires without ever having been a firefighter (but I do have a pair of their boots) and covered law firms without being an attorney.
    I do concur that a good journalist needs to be an enthusiast, though, to be able to effectively communicate information about the products and be passionate about their writing.
    By the way, I have met correspondents from TTAC on press trips. Does this mean even your own website is guilty of feeding at the trough?

  2. I have to reluctantly agree with your assessment of the “denim-jacketed, bald old buzzards” who largely comprise the automotive journalism fraternity. However, a few of us (like me) are indeed race drivers, engineers and guys who have built more engines than most people have baked cakes over a lifetime. I am bald and well beyond midlife but do know more about automobiles and the laws of physics than anyone I’ve ever met – most certainly anyone in the generations behind mine. I’ve never called myself a journalist, just a writer.
    That said, many of us wonder why the auto manufacturers still rely on reviewers with small (less than 50,000) audiences and guys who still insist on manual shifts in everyday sedans even though the statistics show fewer than 1% of buyers want them. It’s been a fun and informative ride over the past 20 years or so but I have to believe that once a few manufacturers drastically reduce their press fleets they’ll never go back. They will rely on customer feedback and viral information flow along with the few remaining consumer pubs that do serious testing. The ones already doing so (Hyundai, Kia and Ford) are netting increased sales and owner loyalty.
    The one problem with the internet, though, is that is the greatest source of misinformation in human history and I believe it will degenerate into an enabler of ignorance. It will cater to the overweight, intellectually shallow American public and its appetite for idolizing everything that is unimportant.
    Your comments are otherwise dead-on. By the way, Pontiac is dead because GM management only listened to other GM management and not to customers. For decades the corporation was the industrial equivalent of the Pentagon. No one knew what the person at the next desk was doing.

  3. Yo, Jack!
    Your idea about letting the general driving public have at that ZR1 you mentioned IS BRILLIANT! I’ve got an idea! Let’s call it a “Focus Group” and then we’ll design all future product based on how John Q. Public sees the ZR1 through the lens of his s**tbox Corolla!
    Hmmm. Isn’t that what almost killed GM? (It may still. We’ll see.)
    Actually, I believe you are both right AND wrong. The old timers hate the new guys because they think they know everything and the new guys (I am including Women under the “guys” umbrella) hate the old guys because they are dismissed as dilatants and that they actually do know better than the old windbags. And here again, the truth is somewhere in between, and holds the same in whatever business you are in. Do you think it’s any different on Wall Street, politics or behind the counter of your local McDonald’s?
    The seismic shift from print to net as a whole has exacerbated the friction between the “old-line” Journalist and the new Internet Media. Insecurity will do that – to BOTH sides of that equation. Jack, I’m sure that the old-timer who diss’d you and embittered you enough to write your column, really did not comprehend what a major new talent he was dealing with. Perhaps if you took five minutes to engage him/her in conversation, you might have learned something, as he/she would have if he/she had engaged you. There is enough insecurity (and blame) to go around here for everyone – young and old!
    And, I must admit, on the PR side there are just as many dullards as on the media side of things. Why on earth would some of these people get involved with a profession where you constantly have to deal with people, yet they HATE dealing with people? (Oh, you know who you are!) Why do you get involved with automotive PR when you know nothing about, nor care about cars or the car business????
    “A good salesman can sell anything,” or so goes the old wheeze. I know the same school of thought applies to most automotive PR people. They’d be working for Waste Management and would be defending the shipment of untreated solid waste to the Third World if they weren’t working for Colossus Motors, LLC. As one of the old time PR guys says “the bonding agent used to be a common love of cars and the business. That’s gone now. You have know-nothings (good degree, nice suit and a 3 handicap) disseminating meaningless drivel to morons who lap it up like Mother’s milk.” Let’s be truthful – half the Internet out there would agree to just about anything to get a Bentley press car to drive to their High School Reunion.
    To sum up my media view for all the know-it-alls who are new to the business: Shut up, sit down and maybe put your bruised egos back in your shorts and learn something – just like the old-timers did when THEY started out. And to the old-timers – yes, these guys DO want your job and they, as with death and taxes, will inevitably get it. So in the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”
    On the PR side, I think a grassroots movement amongst the media needs to take hold. A groundswell, an outcry demanding that the average PR guy be six-foot tall or under; look like an un-made bed in a suit; and not know which end of a golf club to grip. On the female side, they should at least know what the “swept area of a brake rotor” means and where to find it in the press materials; should refrain from flirting with the media – absolutely no giggling; and keep at least three-feet of personal space between them and the journalist so as not to administer the “accidental rub” (you know who they are and, admit it Jack, you have fallen prey to it yourself, haven’t you?)that just might turn that overpriced, boring-assed Euro-sled in to a “must have, fun-to-driver” for your constituents – print OR on-line.
    OK, I’m done….

  4. Jack,
    Sounds like you agree with my earlier suggestions regarding specialization/expertise .

    “Before you volunteer to specialize in test-driving sports cars, can you explain vehicle dynamics to your grandmother more understandably than Bob Bondurant or Jackie Stewart can? Realistically speaking, if your goal is to become a sports car expert, start by writing interviews and biographies of legends like Bondurant and Stewart, get your SCCA competition license, build and wreck your first few race cars, and really learn about sports cars hands-on, before you ask to go along on that Lambo ride & drive.” (see http://autowriters.com/blog/the-tom-tom-tom-kelley-2/ for the full post.)

    At the risk of stirring up a bit of a hornet’s nest here, let me pass along a story that backs up your point from a slightly different perspective.

    Several years back, at one of the manufacturer ride and drive programs, I was having a conversation with a few designers and engineers about seating. Having purchased a number of new vehicles over the years (about a dozen if memory serves me correctly), including three successive iterations/revisions of one particular brand of pickup, I explained a few of my general points by describing the differences that I, as an owner, had been able to perceive between the outwardly similar seating in those three revisions of the pickups designed and built by the same designers and engineers who were participating in the discussion.

    While some on the manufacturer’s team were a bit surprised that I had nailed each one of the changes that their focus groups did not, the most interesting comment had nothing to do with the conversation’s seating topic. I’ll need to paraphrase here due to the intervening passage of time, but the comment was basically this:

    “In more than 20 years of working in the automotive industry, having attended hundreds of press ride and drive programs, you’re the first journalist I’ve met that has purchased even one of our products, say nothing of two or more.”

    The racing and performance stuff is fun, but the biggest share of autowriting involves telling the audience which new car/truck they should buy. Given our mutual recommendations about writing from a position of expertise, the comment above begs the question:

    “How many new vehicles have each of our autowriting brethren purchased in the last 10 years, compared to the average reader?”

    I suspect that in some cases, the readers may have more expertise in this area.

    What do you think?

  5. Jack,

    While your comments are painfully poignant and truthful, I think the ideal path is somewhere in-between the extremes of quasi-celebrity OE-coddled “journalists” and John Q. Accountant Camry drivers.

    I do believe the OEs exert an inordinate amount of influence over the mainstream auto titles, whether print or online. Much of it comes from the publishers or executives persuading editors to do a favorable review on a particular model, because that OE just happened to sign a 2-year, $2 million advertising contract. The Ivory-tower editors can claim it doesn’t happen, but I’ve seen it myself. It does.

    But in this current day & age of ever-shrinking ad revenue and circulation, it would be naive to ignore the practical business aspects of running a publication. You have to pay the bills somehow. Can you really blame the writers for taking advantage of the “freebies?” Although, as we all know, everything comes with a price, which many would argue in this case is ultimate objectivity and journalistic integrity.

    I don’t have the answer to this conundrum, but I don’t know if anyone else does either.

  6. Jack,

    A lot of your points are dead on, but not sure about your solution.

    When I got into the business, I heard a famous racer complain about a “journalist” who wrote that a car had horrible understeer when the racer had watched his poor driving induce said understeer. A light clicked on. 14 years into the business, I’ve seen some great auto writers/testers who really know cars and know how to drive them, but they’re a tiny minority. Many more can’t drive their way out of a parking spot and could be doing anything, but just happen to be writing about cars.

    That said, would we really rather get ALL of our info from manufacturers and/or “manufacturer-sponsored” forums? Or from owners who often can’t drive, either? A preview already exists in so many online forums, and they’re full of misinformation, purchase-justification, etc. In other words, they have their own problems. Perhaps they’d be more ethical — and more applicable due to real buyers telling others about their experiences — but I’m not sure the Nissan driver each of us chooses to trust will ultimately give better info. And wouldn’t they be subject to being “bought” in similar ways? Potentially?

    “Traditional” automotive media, whether online or in print, is still viable — but it will require walking a tightrope on the ethical side (which should always be questioned, as you have) as well as good, hard information from experts and — imagine this — entertainment value. At least one of the big books seems to be getting that and is turning back into what a car magazine should be. Can’t speak to whether the ad ethics have been addressed, however.

    As for me, I wish carmakers would switch their events to Motel 6s and cheap food. It’ll never happen, but it would chase a lot of the non-car-crazy people out. Car launches are and will continue to be lavish for two other reasons rarely noted: 1) Most major media events are designed to coddle CEOs and high-level auto execs who grace the media with their presence, and 2) the emergence of “lifestyle journalists” (an even better oxymoron), who sample the food, bed, and spa services and write about the car, too. I’m told one even asked the PR people “Do I have to drive the car?” in a low whisper.

    Hmm..maybe I like your proposal better than that end.

  7. Jack:

    If you purport to be an old-school bird-dogger, you should name names. Just like when you covered remand court, zoning commission and all those other “critical” beats. … You did that stuff, right?

    In a nutshell, you’re painting with a wide brush. And if Woodward and Bernstein had been automotive journalists, be assured they could have squeezed some news from even the most structured press event. Try it sometime. It’s not that difficult. For a “real” journalist.

  8. Jack Baruth’s head must hurt from being so much smarter than the rest of us. I appreciate his criticism of us automotive journalists, although I can’t find a reference to his own journalism degree — I mean, would he call himself an engineer, if he didn’t have an engineering degree? I also appreciate his criticism of the wardrobe of automotive journalists, though the photos I can find of him have him wearing either Nomex, or more likely single-layer Proban, which is just sort of sad in a, “Look at me! I own Nomex!” sort of way, or in slacker clothing that makes him appear to be an extra from “Dazed and Confused,” and being that he is, apparently, almost 40, that’s sort of sad, too. Anyway, I suspect his success (cough) as an automotive writer speaks for itself, though I am glad to see he scored that coveted Malaysian tabloid job. As he says, the internet is changing journalism, in that it gives people like him, Pete Delorenzo and Robert Farago — who presumably has returned to his previous profession of using his skill in hypnotism to train used car dealers to screw their customers more effectively, and no, and I not making that up — an outlet to proclaim themselves to be profoundly talented, when no actual print publication would, unless they are, say, in Malaysia, where ink and paper must be way cheap. Stay classy, Baruth, and keep rocking that Nomex.

    1. Hi Pappy,

      I run the rag in malaysia, I admired jack’s work aplenty. Emailed him, and he offered to write FOR FREE just to give us a hand. Can you do that? Will you do that? Can you afford to? I know you’re grossly offended by his ‘attacks’ on useless auto-writers. Well he who gets it – obvious right?

      Take a step back, look into the mirror and say you haven’t quite longed for that trip to Monza invited by Fiat and would do anything to please them by pitching the Fiat 500 against the Mini Cooper S and came out winning.

      Stay classy cowboy.

  9. Boy, there’s no way to counter this without sounding like you’re defending the largess. But I’ve never hidden my appreciation for frequent flier miles and nice hotel rooms, so here goes.

    The image of the bald-headed old guy who downs free drinks then rehashes the press release on the plane home is a great stereotype to grouse about, but I don’t think it’s true. Most of the guys I’ve met, bald or not, write real stories, and if they are prone to waxing enthusiastic, at least they back up their praise. If most of us just repeated the PR line, we wouldn’t have consensus among ourselves that certain cars are crap, or at least have crappy characteristics.

    I know of a journalist who uses press events as an opportunity to show off his driving skills and takes pride in scaring the digested filet mignon out of fellow hacks who haven’t yet learned to avoid him. Please tell me how driving a Honda CR-V at 10/10ths is going to help a 32 year old mother of three decide if it’s the best car for her family and her budget. I’d rather hear what the denim-jacketed shuffle-steerer has to say, thankyouverymuch.

    Why not invite buyers to these events instead of us? Simple: Our value is in the fact that we’ve driven everything. Put someone who drives a 2002 Camry into a 2010 Camry and of course he’ll think it’s great. Our worth lies in the fact that we can say “It’s good, but the Accord has a bigger back seat and the Chevrolet Malibu has a nicer interior.” Readers want expert opinions. They know that they don’t know everything to look for in a new car. And you don’t need to be an engineer or a race driver to have an expert opinion. If I hire a freelancer to write up a Nissan Altima, and I get back four paragraphs on how a CVT with a torque converter is superior to one that uses an electromechanical clutch, I’m sending it back for a rewrite. My readers need to know if the back seat is big enough for their adult friends and if there are grocery bag hooks in the trunk.

    Press junkets are always the thing that D-listers point out when they talk about the corruption inherent in our industry. I’ll admit that I’m sometimes uncomfortable with the amount of money they spend on us — I wonder how much it would help their bottom line if they stopped providing alcohol and backed off the food budget a bit. (Have you noticed the number of one-night events and buffets lately?) Still, junkets make sense — they are the most expedient way to get 100 journalists behind the wheel when you only have 20 cars, and it gives us all the opportunity to report on the story at once. The quicker I can get a story published, the more readers I get, so that’s important to me. Is it wrong for the automakers to foot the bill? My company is doing well, but I don’t know that we could afford to run an automotive channel if they had to spend a grand each time we wanted to cover a new model. I put a disclaimer at the bottom of my reviews stating exactly what was provided and paid for by the automakers. The readers are smart enough to decide if I’m biased or not.

    I happen to agree with your assessment that serious journalists go out and find their own stories, but I’ve never considered myself a serious journalist. I play with cars for a living. My job is to give my readers an honest opinion that will help them to make a smart purchasing decision. I doubt I could have cracked the Watergate case… but could Bob Woodward tell you whether a Nissan Versa or a Honda Fit is better for first-time parents? I don’t think so!

  10. Oh man Jack! I thought I stirred the pot when I used a title that included the words Traditional Media and Suck!

    Each of you have some good points, Jack included. The only one I have some issues with is Pappy in regards to the journalism degree. Then again, I don’t need a journalism degree to call myself an auto writer rather than a journalist. The Dazed and Confused reference…well, if the bong fits…

    Aaron – don’t challenge them to remove the booze! Suggest they give us cheap beer and wings instead of expensive restaurants and wine. Please don’t take away my beer!

  11. Jack,

    I may be a young-un, but I completely agree with your take on journalism. Who knew someone could pen both this piece of genius and the juvenile TTAC Maximum Street Speed Explained series.

    Economic incentives make it unrealistic for “real journalists go out and find their stories at their own expense, or their employers’ expense.” However, the future of automotive journalism is definitely in the hands of consumers. The internet will provide the proper vehicle; the best attempt I’ve seen is Honk.com (disclaimer: I do write for their blog occasionally). A well-conceived user review site, like a Yelp for cars, should gain as much legitimacy among consumers as traditional “journalism” outlets like car mags.

  12. Dan:

    Yelp and “legitimacy” don’t necessarily go together. And I suggest to you social media is infinitely easier to corrupt than any flesh-and-blood journalist. FYI …

    http://blogs.bnet.com/business-news/?p=869
    http://gigaom.com/2010/03/17/lose-trust-and-you-lose-everything-3-rules-to-live-by/

    Consumer voices add value, but they are still represent a single perspective. Journalists are obliged to present “all the angles.” And can consumers be trusted to perform the gatekeeper function, let alone grasp its significance? Be careful what you wish for.

  13. What I can’t understand is what Jack is doing here at a Ford Fiesta launch in SF. Did he pay his own way? He was enjoying the hospitality like the rest of us. Why not be pure like he suggests and just do the drive event and not eat the meal and stay at the hotel? Can he explain that?

  14. I don’t think Jack’s beef is that the “denim-jacket fatties” can’t do their jobs. He’s ticked because HE can’t do their jobs.

  15. Hi Glenn,

    I was stunned by the level of rage expressed by Jack Baruth and his bit in the most recent Autowriter Newsletter. He sounded like a self-indulgent brat, whose manta is My Way or the Highway! One whose disdain for older writers who have driven thousands of automobiles, and whose articles are intended for those folks who can actually afford the fine cars that we are so lucky to drive, was irritating, to say the least.

    What’s he going to say once he gets past puberty?

    Although they need no defending, older writers have a unique perspective on new cars. And, we know what we’re doing out there — maybe not at the speed the arrogant Baruth likes to carry — but in the same high-speed zone as 99 percent of the people who drive those fine cars.

    I could go on, but why bother?

    Best Regards,

    Bill Moore

  16. Thanks to everyone for responding. Even in this interactive era, I think the reader should have the last word, so I won’t argue any of the above points, save for the following qualifications:

    * I do not have a journalism degree. I graduated from Miami with a BA in 18thC English Literature and some graduate work spent applying Derrida and Focault to the work of Pope and Johnson under the direction of Edward Tomarken, who in turn studied under Northrop Frye, someone of whom I hope even the most jaded journalist would have heard 🙂

    * I have three race suits: my custom-fitted OMP suit that I wear for Grand-Am, a Bell Apex GP, and an old G-Force. I’ll look into this Proban stuff.

    * As long as manufacturer press previews are the only way to see cars in advance of their retail sale, and as long as reader prize timeliness, I’ll attend press events. I am hoping that this situation eventually changes.

    Thanks for reading!

    1. Um, OK. I guess what you are saying is that “literate” and “knowledgable” are two different things. And I have five race suits, but two were supplied by manufacturers when I raced for their teams, so I plan to donate those to unfortunate street people who have no Nomex of their own.

    2. OK I wasn’t going to reply but because somebody else did. Jack – I was just confused what accepting the manufacturer’s hospitality has to do with driving the cars? You could have easily attended the drive portion without staying at the hotel, taking the free drinks and eating their dinner. BTW, amidst all this criticism of Jack, I did notice he posted some strong times on the rally course yesterday. So, I will respect his opinion when it comes to driving – just not on automotive journalism.

      1. What’s kind of funny is that I didn’t go to the evening party and ended up just having some soda and a piece of bread at the dinner. I ate at the In-and-Out at North Beach that evening.

        Still, you have a point, and it’s the same one that Michael Banovsky made in the blog which originally inspired me to write the article for SSL. If we had any budget whatsoever, I would do as you suggest. I *do* drive at my own expense and return home for any event where that’s an option, such as the Honda Crosstour reveal in Detroit where I only attended the drive and then went home.

        I was quickest in three of the four cars yesterday, with a passenger in two of them, but was completely inept in the Fiesta dual-clutch.

  17. Dear Jack,

    I thought you said *we* should have the last word.

    Hugs and kisses,
    The Readers

  18. I was impressed by the times you were posting with a passenger onboard. I was using somebody else’s camera but I have a shot of you crossing the finish line with 90 seconds on the clock only because your time was so fast you outran the clock before it could reset. As I said before, total props to your driving skills.

  19. Man, would have loved to see such expertise, but they wouldn’t let me out of the rest home for a day.

  20. “I have got to get me one of those denim jackets.” I’m putting that in quotes, even though I just wrote it, because I think everything I write about denim jackets is quotable.

    What is shuffle-steering and where can I learn it?

    Is the value of my work inversely proportional to my waist size? Should I only take the advice of writers who wear slim fit jeans?

    Would it be better if all the illiterates invited to auto shows were dysfunctional?

    When I turn 50, should I plan on a career change? Or can I just buy a brand new Corolla and keep on working?

    What’s worse, being bald, old or a buzzard?

    Is Bristol really the example all other car manufacturers should emulate? Maybe if Toyota had been smart enough to market its bespoke wares the same way Bristol Cars does, they wouldn’t be having such big PR problems now.

    I used the word “bespoke.” And I don’t even have a degree in 18th Century Literature of any nationality.

    Next time I’m in Miami, I’m going to go over to the U and spank the first English professor I can find.

  21. Just read your review of the Fiesta on TTAC. Nicely done, by the way, and I agree with most of your comments. But based on Keith’s observations above, doesn’t your “disclaimer” come up a bit…how shall we say…short?

    “Ford provided the vehicles, gas and insurance for this review.”

    1. That’s the standard TTAC disclaimer, not written nor provided by me. My suggested disclaimer would have been,

      “Ford declined to provide the author with in-call service at an otherwise fabulous hotel.”

  22. Too late…that is what I use…

  23. Touché Jack, Touché.

    Even if some may not agree with any/all of your observations, you’ve certainly earned major kudos for getting everybody talking (typing actually), and for gracefully taking the heat of the responses.

    Clearly, the craft of autowriting is at the biggest turning point in its history, so it becomes important to take a look inward to see where and how we need to adjust to remain relevant.

    Whether we should examine the inner workings with a scalpel or a chainsaw is a matter of opinion, but the need for introspection is absolute. The recent history of the media business is rife with examples of organizations and industry segments that failed to make a timely self-evaluation, and are going or gone as a result.

    Some day when we’re at an event mutually flogging some test vehicles, we’ll need to chat a bit about the relative merits of honey vs. vinegar, but until then, thanks for getting more folks active in the conversation.

  24. Having gone to more than a few ride-and-drives, and enjoyed the cars or trucks offered, in locales where the photo opps helped, I have also been embarassed at the money sometime spent on myself.

    Having also gone to events where journos and vehicle owners of particular makes were both riding and driving machines, I’ve gotten as much, if not more, from such events. SAAB had one such event in the parking lot of racetrack (horse track) I remember as especially worthwhile, in 2003; and Audi had one such event at Pacific Raceways in Kent, WA that helped get the word out amongst owners; and allowed journos a chance to get interviews with people who would make, or break, the company.

    More importantly to the companies, they don’t have to spend money putting up journos as exotic locales, when all that really matters is getting seat time.

    With the budgets now being put forth, likely the days of the long lead press launches, that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, are going to be a relic of the past, soon enough. Maybe that’s not really such a bad thing, after all.

  25. Thanks Jack!
    I thought Autowriters.com and maybe everyone who read it liked to do nothing but DUMP on every word written online.

    As an online writer and OEM engineer, I’m both excited and concerned about the “bumpy” road to the online future. People can trust their peers and community members easier than an unknown “expert” and that makes communities great. On the other hand, opinions and preferences vary widely. I hated the tuning on one of our cars because I swore nobody drove like that, then I met him. Thanks again. I’ll be following your racing and writing online.
    pikesan

  26. I’m neither fat nor bald, but I am closer to 60 than 50 — and I attended the same 2011 Fiesta launch in San Francisco as Jack Baruth. After reading Jack’s diatribe on autowriters.com I just had to check out his review of the Fiesta on TTAC. Then I re-read my own review of the 2011 Fiesta on autos.ca.msn.com. Well call me biased if you will, but I’ll be darned if my review doesn’t contain more objective criticism and useful information about the Fiesta than his does.

    Baruth used up the first 250 words of his review without mentioning the Fiesta at all. And when he did get around to the actual car he failed to observe its cramped rear-seat kneeroom and sub-par cargo capabilities – series shortcomings relative to key competitors.

    Oh, and another thing: On the wave I attended I set the second-fastest time in the Fiesta in the autocross. That’s the funny thing about being older: all those years of actual, you know, experience tend to make a mockery of Jack’s ageist stereotypes.

    Over the years I’ve also noticed a funny thing about journalists who write breathless exposes of the auto-writing business. In criticizing the integrity and competence of their targets, their own stories invariably resort to all the shabbiest techniques of junk journalism: generalising the behaviour of a few to represent the behaviour of the majority; presenting isolated incidents as being the norm; systematically omitting every fact or opinion that might counterbalance their predetermined “angle.”

    And all the while coming across as sanctimonious prigs who think they have cornered the market on journalistic integrity.

    Amidst all his sweeping generalisations and pie-in-the-sky “solutions,” Baruth does make some valid points. And that is the operative word here – “some.” Too bad he didn’t use that four-letter word himself. Everything he says is true – about SOME auto writers. But when it is true, it’s just as likely to apply to writers who are slim, young and hairy as those who are fat, bald and over 50.

    But of course, using that four-letter qualifier would have broken the cardinal rule of cheap-shot journalism: don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

    1. Off topic alert

      I don’t care for Jack’s car reviews because his articles are always about him and his opinions as opposed to the car. Read his review of the Ford Fiesta on ttac. I don’t mind if someone no one has ever heard of gives his opinion on a car, but don’t call it a ‘car review’ when it is clearly an opinion piece.

      1. Er… JT… isn’t that why people read our reviews? To get our opinions? If all you want is facts or PR descriptions, the manufacturers’ web sites have plenty of those.

        I may not agree with what Jack says, et cetera.

        Aaron

  27. “he failed to observe its cramped rear-seat kneeroom and sub-par cargo capabilities – series shortcomings relative to key competitors. ”

    Series shortcomings indeed. When I read about this, it makes me furies. Perhaps Baruth was deleries when he wrote the article!

    Your “series” response makes one thing plain about the old guard – ya’ll got some editors puttin’ in work!

    1. You’re right, Bacon, one spelling error renders Jeremy’s whole comment invalid. Thank you for ensuring that an intelligent conversation among professionals is reduced to the level of jobless 23-year-olds living in their parents’ basement arguing about World of Warcraft.

      Aaron

      P.S. “puttin’”? “ya’ll”? Really?

      1. Thanks, Aaron. You said it.

      2. To the non-Facebook users among you, a curse I am sadly inflicted with, don’t be too harsh on F. Bacon. Look up Frank Bacon if you’re an FB user. His ongoing observations from the world of automotive journalism are priceless and for God’s sake, somebody tell him to update his profile picture.

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