Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Media Vehicles

Cars! Cars! Cars! offered up an interesting perspective on media vehicles, and I thought it was an excellent opportunity to bring up the subject.

First of all, if you don't work for one of the big 4 print mags (or any print publication in general) good luck getting access to media vehicles. For those who don't know, manufacturers in the transportation industries in North America (car, trucks, motorcycles, etc) have a section of the PR and marketing departments that deals with loaning product to journalists. Sounds great doesn't it? Honestly, it's a privilege, but once you see this sort of thing, it makes you wonder how much posturing must be done to ensure a steady supply of these vehicles. For the MSM print magazines, what would they do if they could no longer get access to these vehicles? Of course, for manufacturers, having Car and Driver bash around in your vehicle and put it in print is a relatively cheap form of advertising, but for arguments sake does this privilege lend to subtle pandering?

When I look at the autojournos over seas (ever read EVO, Drive, or what a UK version of Top Gear?) I can see a lot more frank commentary on what manufacturers offer. Do you see that here? Not so much, and it makes me wonder who's being honest. One interesting example comes to mind when I read a review of one of Hyundai's new products (can't remember whether it was the new Sonata or the Elantra) and the reviewer openly complained about the different colors of the dash lighting. And I kept asking myself, has this guy actually been in a new Toyota Camry (which also has it's unique mish mash of dash light colors)? Could it be that Hyundai has less clout and influence than Toyota? In the editing process, do editors tone down complaints about products from the Toyota Leviathan to keep the beast happy?

How does this affect us autobloggers? Well, if the manufacturers get a clue and make it easier for autobloggers to gain access to media vehicles (or even press events), would we see more of the same pandering? At least the large print publications have more leverage (but chose not to use it?), where a solo or small team of bloggers are truly at the mercy of the Media Fleet Manager and his favor.


Blogger carscomblogger said...

Actually most of the cars that are serviced by the media fleets go to daily newspapers since there are only a few magazines. An Autoblog or Jalopnik should certainly warrant immediate inclusion in these fleets (depending on where you're based) especially if you're near a major market. But heck I know they drvie cars form Chicago to Iowa for newspaper writers. And I think some much smaller websites even get treatment here.

My car column before I went to autoblog was in a daily with a 150K circ and I was getting new cars every week. Hence how autoblog got review vehicles before it got big. But everyone after I went Autoblog full time was happy to supply me with cars.

Autoblog is the biggest thing on the internet. I think only Car & Driver is bigger/as big (outside the buyers guides which have inflated numbers). So Autoblog should demand some attn.
Perhaps the turnover is slowing things down? Just complain to your PR contacts.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Cars! Cars! Cars! said...

Web sites are barely a blip and blog sites other than Autoblog and Jalopnik are even smaller.

I wonder if we'd see more pandering... again, it's an access thing. If I were to get 4 GM cars and crapped on them all I bet GM would be hesitant to loan me more cars... so if I wanted to get my hands on the new DTS it might be v hard.

But I am not particularly concerned about access to people, events and cars. Sure I'd like the access but not at the expense of my editorial.

On the flip side, I've been lucky enough to test drive two cars for one of the other sites I do some work for (About Cars, I also edit the reviews that come in from the reviewers for the About Cars site and I've never changed any editorial at all. And I've never personally received a complaint from upper mgmt to change anything. Or heard from any PO'd manufacturer (about a bad review).

The reviews are usually pretty positive, but I don't feel that is from the reviewers (Jason, Aaron, Philip, Colin and BJ) pandering to the manufacturers. I think they complain about the parts they don't like but often it's nothing major.

But I do wonder if us little bloggers would change if given full access and treated like big time newspaper dudes.

10:13 AM  
Blogger carscomblogger said...

I find most newspaper writers like Mateja and Healey and Neil (LA Times) are pretty straight forward. On autoblog and I think through the video on Mph once we get some new cars, people really saw the cars for a long period of time and got more of a sense to them. that hadn't been done before.

BTW I think you guys are confusing the buff books with the newspapers. Although the lifestyle you hear about (flying all over the world to review a car) is pretty lush for some. most guys just wait until the cars arrive in the local fleets, drive them for a week and then write about them. sure there's an occasional free luncheon etc, but for that you have to sit through press briefings and other corporate stuff. Not to say those aren't educational sometimes too. is certainly big enough to warrant review vehicles. bloggers need to find more of a niche to speak excellently on, like motoringfile (a damn good site, singularly focused). I think only a few will get away with the general stuff like AB and Jalopnik. I don't see newcomers like Leftlanenews for example getting into test cars. But again it's how good the relationship is with the pr staff.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Cars! Cars! Cars! said...

Yeah, I didn't mean getting flown around (a few About writers do get flown around or invited to events) but more access to cars, etc.

The cars that I tested I had for a week each and it worked just like it did for big newspapers (I believe). They drop off the car at your home, you sign some paperwork and then leave. A week later they come back to get it.

Anyway, striking up relationships with the PR people at automakers is something I don't know how to do but I imagine would help :)

11:12 AM  
Blogger Randall said...

The funny thing is, most new cars today are decent and many manufacturers 'get it' more today than 5 years ago.

The nice thing about print mags is they have the resources to do 'comparos' which are the best way to distinguish between models in the same class.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Randall said...

I agree with Dave on the niche issue, especially for smaller blogs. I don't think any of the other bloggers on this site could be lambasted for being too 'general', but it almost makes no sense to try to copy autoblog, jalopnik, and now leftlanenews. They do a fine job of covering the latest news.

Personally, theautoprophet is one of my favorites. It's all about the angle, the expertise, and the opinions... the general news stuff is covered by the 'big' boys.

12:23 PM  
Blogger gabe said...

There is a real connection between reviews that say nothing (good or bad) and ad dollars when it comes to US auto mags. As a auto enthusiast and a consumer that can walk and chew gum at the same time I find it fairly insulting that real opinions are so hard to find. This is why I find myself time and time again standing in line at B&N with EVO and $10 in my hand.

Fleet vehicles. No question the fine folks at the major auto weblogs should get them. For one they offer a fresh perspective and isn't as tied to full-page ads and back slaps. Obviously this requires the auto companies to actually show a little faith. But then again you can't start a buzz without the initial voice.

Singularly focused. I guess that would be me. I have to say that it's not easy to run a site that is so narrow in its scope. First off your limiting yourself in regards to advertising and revenue. It's that focused content that makes it so difficult to turn MotoringFile into a full time job (unless some unnamed auto company bought it). Secondly you better absolutely believe in the brand, the technology, and the future roadmap. If you don't love the car, the company, and the culture, there's no point.

BTW great conversation guys. Thoroughly enjoying the discussion here and elsewhere on the site.

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

While reading all these comments I remembered one Top Gear episode where James goes undercover to test drive a Rover because the company didn't give them a car. That was pretty funny. Here is the link:

12:01 AM  
Blogger Big Ford Fan said...

As a small blog, I thinki it's best for the amatuers like myself to sign up for as many of the test drive events each year as possible. I've attended GM AutoShowInMotion and Mazda Rev It Up and Zoom Zoom events. I'm looking forward to finally getting into Ford Racing Inovation Drive.

But hell, just go to a local dealer and ask to test drive a car. I recently went to a Mazda dealer to test drive a Mazda 6.

If I rent a car, that's like a test drive, isn't it?

I haven't been at this as long as most of you and obviously am not on the same level as most of you. But even little guys like me can get some wheel time if they're resourceful.

6:57 PM  
Blogger carscomblogger said...

Anything can be content if yu do ti right.

I did this review of a rental.

Otherwise those test drive events are great. i even go to them most times.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Big Ford Fan said...

Dave, I hadn't realized that you were at AutoBlog. Nice review. I did a half assed review of the Lincoln Town Car earlier in the year.

I'm no writer that's for sure. But I did love that Town Car

5:41 PM  

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