Jul 9, 2010

When Readers Get to Peek Under the Hood

"Leaked docs show Motorcyclist caved to advertiser pressure, fired editor" is the title. The gist is, due to advertiser pressure, Brian Catterson (Motorcyclists' editor) fired staff writer Dexter Ford for a story he wrote about Snell helmet standards for the New York Times last fall. I'm not much of a fan of Motorcyclist, mostly because of the magazine's overwhelming endorsement of hooligan exhaust system noise and Catterson's generally abrasive attitude toward anyone who disagrees with him, but this series of emails shows that Brian is even more erratic in reality than he seems in his magazine.

Pretty funny stuff. The Hell for Leather article includes this line, "If true, the emails raise troubling questions about a potentially unethical relationship between advertising dollars and editorial content at the popular magazine. . . " Sorry. I don't think any reasonable person reads Motorcyclists or any other major product-based magazine expecting to see information critical of that industry. Rick Sieman (Super Hunky) with Dirt Bike Magazine was the last seriously critical editor (in my memory) in the history of mainstream motorcycle journalism. I think the manufacturers set fire to his ass and tossed him into a swimming pool full of high test.

Advertisers have the power in the ragstock publication business. Honest industry magazines have stopped asking for subscription contributions because subscribers just don't pay the bills. The folks who pay the bills call the shots. That's pretty much all there is to it. I wish Mr. Ford well. He is a good investigative journalist, but there isn't much call for investigative journalism these days. We've moved into the newspapers/magazines-as-press-releases phase of written communications and, until folks can figure out how to make money on the World Wide Web, that's where we're going to be for a while.

4 comments:

  1. Letter to Shoei,

    I have owned about a dozen Shoei helmets in the last 20 years. I was in the market for a couple of new helmets this week when a friend sent me a link to this article.

    I’ve followed the comparisons of Snell and other safety standards for several years, including the analysis Motorcycle Consumer News provided a while back. Shoei and Arai’s attitude toward providing the truth to riders about the helmets they wear and the standards used to test them convinced me to look elsewhere for my next lids.

    As it happened, I read this article, went to my local store with my grandson, and we tried a variety of helmet brands. To my surprise, I found that the HJC models fit me much better than any of the Shoei helmets and my grandson preferred a Shark model. This article saved me some money, made me look at brands I’d not considered, and probably helped me find a better, safer product.

    You may want to consider disconnecting the idiots in marketing from the engineers. In the new world of journalism, you can shut up Brian Catterson, but you can’t eliminate all of the Dexter Fords.

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  2. Unfortunately, you can't always escape the influence of advertiser dollars on the Web either. But, it's the last refuge for many great writers and editors who have been fired from their magazines for A) making too much money (despite their paltry salaries) and B) trying to tell it like they see it instead of writing something that will maximize advertising dollars. Unfortunately, the refugees are having a tough time making a living.

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  3. The funny thing is I just received a copy of Motorcyclist in the mail and I'm not a subscriber. I guess giving it away is the answer to keeping the numbers up for advertisers.

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  4. There are a lot of reasonably decent and, even, pretty good magazines that make no bones of the fact that they get all of their revenue from advertisers. I think the majority of magazines now fall into the category of industry promotional materials with little to no practical consumer value. If Motorcyclist figures that out and becomes a giveaway, it would make sense.

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