Are we not journalists? Part 2

One reason I keep doing this magazine-publishing thing year after year is my belief in putting more people on bikes. And my belief that the industry and the cycling media work together to  get more people on bikes. The advertisements that support our magazines not only tell readers about their stuff, but support the journalism that should take place. At Bicycle Times and Dirt Rag we strive for that.

But today my soul is weary. Much like in the more serious and important global political discourse happening in God-Blessed America and the world right now, the bike journalism field is following a steeper and steeper fall-line trail downhill. Pay to play. Where rather than conveying honest, objective opinions, so-call journalists write what corporations pay them to write.

Read on. (But please read part 1 first if you have not, thank you).

http://www.churchoftherotatingmass.com/2014/01/07/are-we-not-journalists/

Recently, in what is now the 2015 ad contract season, I inadvertently  received an email containing a proposal from one of the top mountain bike websites in the world to the marketing department at a parts and accessories and clothing branch of one of the largest bike companies in the world.

Not only did the proposal include the usual “Cost-per-eyeball-per-thousand’ for the site, but it included a specific amount of editorial coverage for 2015. Leaving my heart heavy, especially since the “Client” in question had gotten tons of editorial love from us over the years, yet had never thrown down to support us with an advertising buy.

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This left me questioning. Should I send an invoice to the company that’s getting all the free editorial coverage while not throwing us a dime for advertising support?

Or should we stop covering their products in our magazines as a tit-for-tat response? It’s an option I am considering, but one that I feel would break the journalistic code to tell our readers about stuff they will find interesting.

Does anyone else give a shit about where this is going? It’s looking unlikely. Most of the bike media and the corporate world are playing in the sandbox just fine. They both make money, and you, dear reader know, it is all about following the money.

So look around, do your homework. Take everything with a grain-o-salt. Value and respect real journalism when you read it. And support our advertisers! They get it!

 

 

 

41 thoughts on “Are we not journalists? Part 2

  1. Fahzure says:

    Your response is focused on a “victim” who is being extorted by a “monopoly.” Your concern about outing the victim is well placed, outing the perp, on the other hand, would be doing all consumers a favor. Sucks to be shady.

  2. FCHARLEY says:

    pinkbike….

  3. tom stokes says:

    Thanks for keeping “church and state” separate. I always felt a little slimy paging thru the majority of glossy bike mags. Never get that feeling with Dirt Rag or Bicycle Times. Keep the faith brother!

    • Maurice says:

      Just to set the record straight, since 1989 I have written reviews for the magazines I own, and I still do. Some people think this should change to avoid any hint of inpropriety.

  4. Matt says:

    Thanks for the insights and nope, no surprise there. Everybody in cycling is scratching for every dollar they can — it’s a tough biz. Any reader who thinks product reviews are objective is truly fooling themselves.

    • Adam Newman says:

      The reviews I write for DR and BT are 100 percent objective. It is shady practices like this that have led to the degradation of readers’ trust and cynicism like this.

  5. Bill them. Charge them like a wounded bull. It’ll make a point, especially when you cover their responses in detail and with transparency.

  6. aprenty says:

    Wait..if I pay $25k you’ll guarantee to advertise my shite until 7 million people see it? Where do I sign up? What exactly is the crime here????

    • Cam McRae says:

      I don’t believe that was the point AP.

    • dfhjdf says:

      The crime is disguising advertising as an unbiased ‘review’. And what’s really a crime is that an honest reviewer, be it a magazine or website, is essentially being penalized for their honesty while industry douchebags are being rewarded for lying.

      • mtbsar says:

        Well stated. These type of biased reviews will make readers skeptical of all reviews, even honest ones, and push out the true journalists trying to make a living.

  7. Sal Ruibal says:

    Man, I’m glad I was never much of a gear-head to have anyone take me seriously when it came to technical attributes of the latest two-pronged bungee cord full-suspension bridge front shock. I just wanted to ride the most-fun bike made by people with a sense of humor about being a toy maker.

  8. James Mason says:

    I’m a journalist and former bike shop owner. Very few people are good readers. Just mentioning a brand in an article is worth plenty. That’s why companies pay big bucks for product placement in feature films. How much do you think Specialized paid to have a Specialized bike shop prominent in the later episodes of Seinfeld? While there’s always going to be a slot for this kind of payola there will also always be a market for more honest bike journalism. Let’s just be thankful we’re not in the music business.

  9. Desanthro says:

    This is a massive problem. It stems from the issue of online websites pretending to be journalistic, when the reality is that nobody at them are trained journalists or have spent a nanosecond thinking about ‘separation of church and state’. Web traffic = advertising revenue = $$$ in their pockets. It’s compounded by the fact that we also essentially now have bloggers telling people what to buy, and they have even less integrity than forum-based websites do.

    When I was running a custom bike company a couple of years back, we did a very innovative bike – very worthy of editorial press IMHO – for which we got quite a good test/review. However, during the process we were told there would be no more press for our brand unless we advertised.

    • Cam McRae says:

      But what about offline web sites?

      Just like in print, there are publications on the web that take integrity seriously and those that take a different approach.

      You sound pretty cynical, so you’ll likely dispute this to the death, but at nsmb.com we spend a lot of time thinking about integrity. Even more than a nanosecond. Integrity has always been more important to us than trying to cash in – and it has cost us advertising dollars more than once.

      We also don’t ban comments from those who disagree with our opinions. Except Mike Vandeman. We made an exception for him. Boy was he mad.

  10. As someone who is starting to look at the options for advertising their new business, a clothing company; Steen Wear, I’ve found the whole idea of having to pay for editorial coverage and bit offputting. I understand it’s now part of the game in much of the industry, but for the costs we are talking above to just get my gear featured in a magazine I would much rather put the money into rider development and community programs.

  11. I’m a former news journalist, and this breaks my heart. Just this week, Romenesko posted a job listing at the Cincinnati paper for a reporter position that would also work with an advertising partner. Google it; it was dreadful. Thank you for being honest. I’ve not been a regular reader, but I will be now. It is a fine line, and it has always been a fine line, but it’s one that needs to remain in place.

  12. Anthony says:

    Not covering their products would be tempting if I were in your shoes. I think the more effective path would be to continue doing what you’re doing, out the site who’s proposal you received, and constantly remind your readers that you don’t operate that way.

  13. alpinehans says:

    This country is in the hole in large part because the leading journalists are not doing their job. This country needs many more of your character, Maurice. Just bought lifetime subscriptions to both the Bicycle Times and Dirtrag.

  14. Michael Hall says:

    This really doesn’t surprise me. Certain companies always seem to win the big comparison tests even when the other products have better numbers. One such rag puts such a heavy bias toward the subjective score its laughable. It’s not surpsrisng when I then see full page glossy ads by said winner in said mag. I feel for you man it’s horrible place to find yourself. Publishing a print anything these days is a tough road and I commend you for doing it and doing it with integrity. All the best.

  15. I run my blog with integrity and honesty as do my contributors, not all bloggers or blogs are created the same. 😉 This integrity also means that we do not get paid for what we do (yet), we do it for the passion of the sport, to get more people on bikes and for fun.

    I knew this type of thing was going on in the industry but have never had confirmation, till now. I have always been amazed that the same day a huge ad goes up on the site they also release a very positive review of the same product…what a coincidence! It sickens me.

    It’s great to see that not all magazines and websites are run this way, keep up the good work Maurice.

    • Lech Zaobryn says:

      yeah, except your blog reads like a robotic regurgitation of all the crap marketing speak you get at pinkbike, mtbr and nsmb.

      • Desanthro says:

        That’s because it is. Almost as bad as Prolly. The worst part is, is that bloggers actually think they’re both impartial and qualified to test and review products, despite the fact that they get given the products mostly/often for free, and have no qualifications in either journalism or product design/testing. When questioned on this, you ALWAYS firstly get a barrage of indignation, and then you get banned from commenting. It’s kind of like the journalist ‘firing’ the editor and legal department. The only qualification you need to be a Netspert(tm) is money and a massive ego.

        • We have received some free product, but mostly we pay industry pricing on products. We will not give a favorable review if we do not like the product and I make that clear to the manufacturer, I have yet to have any of them pull a review.

          We have been contacted by a few companies to do advertorial or paid posts and we refuse them every time.

          We run TMTBL with integrity and honesty and I do hope that shows through in what we do. I will try to avoid marketing speak…but I am a gear whore so it can be hard to resist…lol. Thank you for the feedback.

          You are right, we are not journalists, just people who have a passion for the sport and want to share that passion to hopefully get more people out in the forest, simple as that.

          At least its good to know people are reading out little site…haha.

      • That’s funny because it’s written by 12 people from all over, different experiences and riding styles who do it for the passion. Unless you are talking just about my posts…then okay…thanks for your comment. This is not something I have noticed, but as they say a pig can’t smell his own shit…haha.

  16. wilmatthews says:

    I had a cover for a bike magazine which required approval from the ad department before it could run. I don’t have nearly as high of a vantage point as you do Maurice, but I can smell this stuff happening on the daily in The Industry. The editorial wall that I valued when working for newspapers was easily knocked down with just the prospect of a product release junket and some swag.

  17. bentography says:

    Speaking of a bike brands, I could use the company Kona for instance- they did a complete face lift to their bike line and all you hear is praise about how well they ride. Since we have so many social media outlets these days including a blog like this, we get more bang for our buck with all the information that is available. So when it comes to print we get to put the meat back in the pages. Print doesn’t have a comment section- social media does. The consumers don’t have to be turned on by two page spreads anymore to decide if they want that bike- there is video and blogs like Pinkbike. The Advertiser should be putting money into print to support the cause- not to buy more praise.

  18. Marco Toniolo says:

    These practices are really bad for all the media, because readers think that every website acts like that, especially if the “biggest” mtb site of the world is doing it.

  19. epicyclo says:

    This is precisely why I no longer buy magazines…

  20. Nils Menten says:

    Sadly I too had this experience many years ago during a stint writing for a national magazine. I reviewed a mostly good product from a Big Company but it had a glaring flaw that I could not pretend I hadn’t seen, so I wrote about it (good AND bad), and much to my surprise got a visit from one of the publishing staff, before it went to press. That sparked a passionate debate among the senior staff on both sides of the house about journalistic integrity and its importance to the audience. My piece got watered down but still did refer to the flaw, and we kept the business for the time being, but I don’t recall what happened long-term. It’s an ugly and pervasive element to the publishing business. Many have resorted to prostituting themselves to stay afloat.

    This is an argument for paying for content, IMO, and you need look no further than the New York Times and others that are slowly weaning their audience off of ad-supported content. It’s been a very long haul for content producers to establish the value of their content when so many are still providing it for free, but the current model is teetering and tales like this should hopefully hasten its demise.

    Please hang in there. There are plenty of people that recognize and value your integrity.

  21. benDE says:

    I provide pay for play for a living in ‘trade journals’. I think that for an educated audience, the business/editorial divide is still important. That said, as it has become the exception, advertise the shit out of it on your site. One of the reasons I am a loyal reader of INRNG, Cyclocosm, and All Hail is that I am confident that they tell you when you are being advertised to and when you are getting ‘neutral content’. Keep it up man and no matter which way you go it is refreshing to know you are very openly aware of and wrestling with this.

  22. Ryan says:

    On PinkBike I recently suggested this was a challenge for the industry and the first reaction from the mods was to call me a conspiracy theorist and make me look stupid. I wrote a personal blog post about it and had one of them weigh in in a more polite way, assuring me it was not the case with at least one issue I mentioned. He also wrote a great article mocking the idea of taking kick backs. It was well written and entertaining.
    But how legitimate was it?
    It seems like the company can’t afford transparency, so they offer clever editorials to stir up the masses in their favor. I would not suggest specific kickbacks are common, but I do know that corporate news sources get a lot of pressure from the top to cover things in a way that favors certain political parties. Does the guy in charge at PB have relationships with SRAM, specialized, or others? If he does does he tend to hire people who have a bias? Does he push his journalists to cover products a certain way? I don’t know, and I hope not, but sometimes it looks that way.
    Thanks for being willing to bite the hand that feeds you if necessary. I hope ethics are more common than they appear.

    • Desanthro says:

      Online media is worse when it comes to ethics. Places like pink bike and mtbr were set up by enthusiasts who know more about how to code in html than they know about journalism. They believe that being private entities means that they have no responsibility to ethics or transparency because “it’s my website, I can do what I like”. They ridicule and quash dissenting voices on the forums from those that do not share their views or let them do whatever they want. I’ve been involved with cycling websites and forums since there were cycling websites and forums, and the rot not only starts from the top but the culture that is permeated those these entities never really truely disappears. It’s essentially safer to assume that they are petty dictatorships rather than some becon of positive collectivism because most have proven time again that that’s all they are.

  23. GreenMachine says:

    Came here via an article on Pinkbike.com, that basically implies they are squeaky clean.
    http://www.pinkbike.com/news/opinion-show-me-the-money.html
    This denial has wound me up and I hope more people come and read your article and these comments.

  24. OldManBike says:

    I would have read this with less skepticism if DR hadn’t just published that e-bike puff piece written an industry flack.

  25. Eric says:

    You do realize Dirt Rag’s policy includes not reviewing ebikes ?

  26. David Z says:

    Same thing happens in the snowboard industry. I feel like it is your responsibility to “out” them for this. Readers of the magazine still cling to the idea of reasonably “objective” journalism, and would likely be shocked (and pissed) to find out that the “Buyer’s Guide” and “Best of…” lists were bought and paid for with ad spend.

    It’s bullshit all around.

  27. Gianni says:

    So you discover a journalistic ethics transgression, and your response is, “How can I get in on it?”

    Huh.

  28. So many layers to this problem:
    1. As others have mentioned, most of the bloggers are cycling enthusiasts, not journalists.
    2. Nobody seems to understand that, no matter what you say and think, your perceptions will be colored by your other relationships (professional or otherwise). You can argue until you die that the two page ad Big Bike Brand took out in no way affected your review of their latest product, but it did, even if it was completely subconscious.
    3. The only way around #2 above is to not accept ad dollars.
    4. But the only way to make #3 work is to charge for content. HA! What grom in the cycling world is gonna pay for content when they have Pinkbike, MTBR, and all the rest for free?

    Journalism never really lived in the cycling industry, but it’s dead anyway.

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