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They sold their souls to the devil
Posted March 16, 2007

Tom Anderson
Editor in Chief

It’s said that the only thing that’s constant is change, and nowhere does this seem more true than in the world of journalism.

Gone, it seems, are the days where the straight-talking, father-like anchor would sit in front of a camera and tell you about the day’s most important events, or the newspapers and magazines refused to let readers, advertisers or both influence or dictate their content.

Now it’s all about getting the readers and viewers involved, not to mention bending over backwards to keep advertisers, stockholders and other special interests happy. And that’s just 12 kinds of “not good,” folks.

Don’t believe me?

Next time you’re at the supermarket stop and flip through a copy of a car magazine like Motor Trend or Car and Driver. Chances are you’ll come across what those in the biz call an “advertorial.” Sure, it looks similar to the rest of the editorial content (i.e. auto news, opinion, new car reviews, etc.), and it even displays the mag’s flag prominently, but then you look at the top of the page and see, written in scrawny white lettering, “SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION.”

Yes, this beautifully designed and vibrantly colored section is the work not of the motoring scribes and their layout-guru coworkers, but of the PR department of the automaker whose product or products are being spotlighted. Hell, most even read exactly like a press release!

But Tom, you ask, doesn’t this sort of thing torpedo the magazines’ credibility and appearance of objectivity? Why yes, it does, doesn’t it?

But guess what: The suits upstairs that write the checks and have the final say over anything and everything that goes on are only too happy to sign off on these flagrant displays of prostitution. After all, a happy advertiser is a generous advertiser, and a generous advertiser means plump, juicy bonus checks (not to mention stock dividends) for the publishers and their flying monkeys, er, staffs.

At the other end of the spectrum are automotive blogs like The Truth About Cars and Jalopnik, resplendent in their intact editorial integrity, B.S.-free straightforwardness and, in the case of the latter, overflowing bucketloads of irreverent humor and bizarre fixations.

Are such Web sites the future of automotive knowledge attainment?
Well, I and many other industry watchers think the answer will inevitably prove to be yes.

The whoring pandemic now afflicting the old guard “buff books” will only accelerate the process if it’s allowed to continue, as more and more people become cognizant of the mutual back-scratching going on behind the closed doors of these once proud institutions.

And don’t get me started on TV news. You needn’t look any further than the wall-to-wall-to-wall coverage of Anna Nicole Smith’s untimely croaking to see how the news outlets millions of Americans rely on and trust are auditioning to become the electronic equivalents of US Weekly and The National Enquirer.

And with opinion polls where you can email or text your vote, it’s now become even easier to figure out what American TV viewers want to see, making it easier to boost ratings and, in turn, advertiser revenue.

In other words, all you out there aspiring to become the next Ted Turner or Rupert Murdoch, you’ll make more money giving people what they want instead of what they need.

My point is that unless the traditional and/or mainstream media outlets kick the habit of selling their souls for more wealth, we as the public will have to either start relying more and more on independent sources, or continue to feed off the big guys and replace our traditional grains of salt with entire bags.

Tom Anderson, a senior journalism major, is editor in chief of the Campus Times. He can be reached by e-mail at tanderson1@ulv.edu.