DISCLAIMER: The following is a really long post about the recent dust up between Autoblog and Jalopnik. The post is also full of my own opinions and feelings on the issue. If you do not care then you should probably hit the back button on your browser now and read another post or visit one of the other many automotive sites you probably frequent. If you do care enough to want to know my take on the whole thing then feel free to read on..
If you are anything like me, you read several automotive sites over the course of your day but we all know that two of the biggest are Autoblog and Jalopnik respectively. Both sites started out as an enthusiasts voice to the interwebs and over time developed into giant gorillas; both of which are controlled by much larger entities than themselves (Jalopnik by Gawker Media and Autoblog by AOL/Huffington Post Media Group).
Each site has its die-hard fiercely loyal fans, each site has its own style of journalism, and each site also has its problems. With Autoblog the problem is that sometimes they can come off as a tad boring and they have been accused of being late to break stories or simply regurgitating press releases. When Autoblog says that they “obsessively cover the auto industry” they mean it. Seriously, just because someone is an automotive enthusiast does not mean they care about the monthly sales numbers of nearly all the major automotive brands! Jalopnik on the other hand could be seen by some as the TMZ of the automotive journalism world. Jalopnik takes a more humorous angle most of the time which in my opinion can sometimes make them come off as not being serious about their work. Also Jalopnik has a tendency to post stories that only have a very loose automotive connection. I suppose in that regard I could be accused of the same. I understand that not every automotive enthusiast also enjoys playing racing games or cares that someone put gaudy LED lights on their wheels in an effort to look cool. However, I feel that the products I post about have a stronger connection to the enthusiast community than what a hamburger from a food truck tastes like.
Still though, despite their problems I still routinely visit both sites everyday even if many times they report on the same story. Sometimes it is nice to see what take different people will go with on the same issue. Also despite their differences both sites for the most part co-existed peacefully in recent history, until about two days ago.
Autoblog used to employ a young writer by the name of Jeff Glucker. I say used to because he was fired from Autoblog for breaking a cardinal rule of Journalism in which you keep your writing and your other side work (be it PR, marketing, etc) completely separate and never the two shall meet. Jeff broke this rule when he posted a story on Autoblog (which has since been removed) about a promotion that Nissan was doing in which they (with the help of Britney Spears) would give away a Versa to some lucky person. What the public at large (including Autoblog) did not know was that Jeff was also employed by the advertising agency that came up with the promotion for Nissan and would be compensated each time the story was posted on a major website. As such Jeff (in a not so smart move) emailed all of his colleagues about his connection to the promotion and asked if they could help him out by posting the story on their sites.
Somehow, Jalopnik was on this email list and instead of ignoring said email or trying to smack some sense into Jeff they immediately blew the whistle on Glucker which swiftly got him fired from Autoblog. An official statement from John Neff (Editor In Chief of Autoblog) responded with a statement regarding their position on the issue. He stated that Jeff was in fact released from the staff, all of his previous stories would be investigated to see if he made this same violation with previous posts, and apologized to the readers for the “breach of trust”.
At this point many Autoblog fans are pretty pissed off. Not so much that Jeff committed this journalistic party-foul but more so at how Jalopnik handled the situation. Clearly, what Jeff did was dumb and wrong but instead of quietly alerting Jeff’s superiors about the infraction or trying to warn Jeff directly about what he was doing, Jalopnik put Jeff on blast in what to me looks like an effort to get page views by crucifying Mr. Glucker.
This was further expressed by Autoblog Senior Editor Damon Lavrinc on his personal blog. While Damon does not mention Jalopnik specifically, he makes his aim clear when he poses the question:
“Was it necessary to publicly run Glucker’s name through the mud for this egregious infraction of journalistic ethics? Maybe. But bringing it to his editor’s attention would’ve been a more dignified tact. Then again, that doesn’t advance some kind of (mis)perceived war between auto outlets.”
Ray Wert and Matt Hardigree of Jalopnik then went on a tirade in which they accuse Ariana Huffington for destroying Autoblog and fostering a culture that hurts automotive journalism as a whole, suggesting that Autoblog knew about the conflict of interest but only did something about it after Jalopnik called them out, and even made suggestions that if such a thing were to happen in the future not only the writer who commits the act but the editor the writer was under should be fired too. Really, that last part is kind of a backhanded way of making the case that either Damon Lavrinc or John Neff should be let go for allowing such a thing to happen under their watch.
At this point I was thinking what you guys probably were thinking: “Whoa pump the brakes Jalopnik!”. Despite the fact that Autoblog has never done the same to Jalopnik in recent history, Jalopnik has taken more than a few pot shots at Autoblog but for the most part it has been in fun and could not really be taken as malicious in its intent. However, Ray and Mike’s recent rant has some real salt behind it and to me it just seems really unnecessary.
I realize that by criticizing both sides of this issue I run the risk of both Autoblog and Jalopnik turning their swords on me but this was something I felt needed to be said. I realize that MotorworldHype is not perfect. We are not nearly as huge as Autoblog or Jalopnik nor do we have a massive following. I do not pretend that I am the greatest journalist in the world or even the best writer. I am sure if you scan this very post you will probably see more than a few grammatical errors and such.
I have not reviewed a lot of cars like Autoblog (In fact I have only reviewed three: a Mazda2, Evolution X, and Audi A8), and I do not think I have the stones to make potentially bridge burning risks the way Jalopnik does. MotorworldHype is just may way to talk to enthusiasts about car stuff that I think is cool. We were not bought out by a larger corporation (although I wouldn’t mind if Google or MSN wanted to buy me out for a sizable amount wink wink) and relatively speaking MotorworldHype is a small player at best in this game of auto journalism.
Still, I think that the small guys like us should speak up when things like this happen just so that all the readers out there do not think that the bigger players speak for all of us. Having said that I am going to try to sum up my opinions on this:
Did Jeff Glucker do something stupid and wrong? Yes.
Should he have faced conciquences for what he did? Absolutely.
Was it wrong for Jalopnik go straight to the public with the issue instead of picking up the phone and dialing up John Neff? Not technically.
Was what Jalopnik did classy? No, not in the slightest. Then again, Gakwer Media’s slogan is “Today’s Gossip Is Tomorrow’s News” so you can’t expect people from that camp to ask themselves “What would Walter Cronkite do?”
Do I think people should stop reading Jalopnik? No.
Will I stop reading Jalopnik? I considered it but no I probably will not.
That last part is not a thought that any enthusiast of cars or journalism wants to have. So I make a request to both Jalopnik AND to Autoblog: Please let cooler heads prevail and do not let this unfortunate circumstance escalate into some type of internet civil war between your websites. I use the word “civil” because I consider the automotive culture as a country that we all live in, work in, and enjoy. What really hurts us all is unnecessary in-fighting.
To other journalists and media outlets I think there is a lesson to be learned here. To journalist the lesson is to always be cognizant of journalistic ethics. One of the most important parts of a journalists job is to hold the trust of the reader in high regard. Without that you cannot call yourself a journalist. To media outlets be it magazines or websites I think the lesson is to pay your damn writers more! They are the main reason why readers return to your site, why they consider the products you advertise, and more importantly why they trust your outlet. You cannot have a magazine or website without journalists to create content. The fact that journalists make so little that conflicts of intrest such as the one discussed in this post are so hard for them to resist is ridiculous.
There you have it. I have said my piece on the whole issue. I hope that any animosity between Autoblog and Jalopnik will subside and that things will go back to business as usual.