I like Jeff Glucker. He’s a good guy, fun to be around and enthusiastic. He’s the kinda guy you want to take out for a beer. And after what went down tonight, he needs one.
Let’s get two things clear: First, shilling for an automaker on the side and posting a story without disclosing your conflict of interest is wrong. Secondly, I know very few automotive journalists writing for legitimate news organizations that haven’t taken on the odd PR job or two. By and large, we’re poor. And when an automaker shakes a bushel of money at you to pen an advertorial without a byline or rewrite a press release for U.S. consumption, it’s hard to turn down. I’ve done it. Twice. When I was freelancer. And felt scummy enough afterwards to never do it again.
But you know who else has done it? Mike Spinelli, the author of the story calling Glucker out for his misdeeds. He tapped me a few years back to help him write a special auto show section for Hyundai in the Wall Street Journal. I did it, collected a meager paycheck and haven’t done anything of the sort since. It wasn’t worth my time or credibility – even if no one knew about it.
But the Glucker situation is totally different. Not only did he foolishly send out a request to fellow journalists to pimp this Nissan spot, he wrote a story about it on Autoblog. Stupid. Squared. And he got what he deserved.
Neff canning him tonight wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was a moral imperative. And one of the best decisions I’ve seen him make.
Now, we take a fair amount of guff from the buffet-dwellers and holier-than-thou auto-tabloids, and maybe deservedly so. You can take shots at Autoblog for rewriting certain reports, publishing press releases and a fair amount of news regurgitation, but understand this: Advertising and editorial have never intermingled (seriously, I have no clue about our ad department) and while some might see some of our content as the milquetoast of the auto news world, we cover the stories that people care about and we’re independent. We also take what we do seriously.
But what’s rubbed me the wrong way (aside from Jeff’s lack of intelligence for an otherwise smart guy) is how it was handled outside the site. If you’re going to call out a fellow journalist about a conflict of interest, why not go out of your way – if you respect him, his peers or his outlet – to drop the editor a line, ask what’s up and then report on how the situation was handled? 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.
Smart partnership by Google. Inrix has some of the best traffic data collection methods in the business and the biggest gripe I’ve heard about Maps is Google’s decision to nix traffic data a few months back. And considering this won’t be an exclusive partnership, there should be some interesting crowd-sourcing models from Google in the near term. Now, when we’ll finally get our green, orange and red lines back is another question…
☆ Is Everyone Done Freaking Out About OnStar? Good. Now Let’s Face Facts.
Are you carrying a mobile phone? Do you own a GPS device? Does your mobile phone have GPS functionality? Then you can be tracked. Easily. And in most cases, legally.
But that’s not what the sensationalist headlines are about. OnStar’s terms of service have been amended and the gripe heard ‘round the Web is about customers unsubscribing from the service while the two-way connection remains intact. And this is a big deal because…?
The continued connection – which can be severed if you ask OnStar when you cancel your subscription – isn’t Big Brother. It’s data. Mainly data that’s being used by municipalities (nearly all and not being sold to private companies… yet) to improve traffic flow and keep that wonderful traffic information streaming to your devices.
Here’s a fun fact: the majority of traffic data is still being provided by companies like ClearChannel, using such high-tech data gathering devices as… helicopters. Freaking. Helicopters. In 2011.
If you really want really real-time traffic data – not the stale, 15-minute updates you’re getting now – you’re car, your phone, your GPS device, all of it needs to be transmitting data continuously. You want the future? Be willing to pay the price – anonymously.
Ah, anonymity. The battle cry of the ill-informed. Not that anyone could find out your home address, telephone number, credit score, wife’s maiden name, dog’s veterinarian and you’re preferred sushi place with a minor amount of digging. Use FourSquare? Stop reading.
But that isn’t stopping pundits and supposed “security experts” from crying foul. “Your data can’t be anonymized” they say. “You park at home so the system has to know where you live!” Not that your billing address is practically public record and most mailers have a return to sender label if you move. Ever try unsubscribing from the Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog? Good luck.
So what’s the real bitch about? Control. Control of data. Control of services. Control of anonymity. The latter of which is a pipe dream in the 21st century. But until we’re ready to have an honest conversation sans the knee-jerk hue and cry, we’re left with lazy reporting, bullshit “analysis” and clicky headlines that do nothing to inform or evolve the debate. First thing on the list should be to face facts; living in the modern world, you’re not anonymous anymore. Come to grips with that and then let’s have a chat.