Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner

Article excerpt

AUTO JOURNALISM

Prepped and schlepped: Practices surrounding The Press Fleet sort of put a whole new spin on the phrase, 'car service'

They're called the Press Fleet.

They're scrubbed and shined and tuned and tweaked until they're media- ready. Then they're lined up in their sleek splendor for a date with America's auto journalists.

"We prep 'em and schlep 'em," laughs Alex Fedorak, a spokesman for A&M, formally called Automotive and Media Specialists, of Detroit. "We try to give each journalist a new-car experience."

A&M and companies like it are hired by manufacturers to freshen and fix cars they loan the media to evaluate. It is a practice that may get some attention now that the front pages are filled with stories of Firestone tire tragedies.

"The manufacturers want to make sure we make the best presentation possible," explained Fedorak. "If we find a problem with a car, we immediately notify the manufacturer so they can fix it." And the car journalists won't ever know whether the press-fleet mechanics worked on something small or something Firestone. The press packets the car dealers hand out are filled with positive information. The goal is simple: Keep lemons out of the media lots. There is rarely a shortage of media fleet-mobiles.

"All the manufacturers set aside a certain number of cars for the Press Fleet," explained Bill Collins, a New York-based regional manager for the Ford Motor Co. "We keep our New York press cars at our dealerships, and we prep them there." Ford loans its car for a weekend while other manufacturers or media preparers, such as A&M, make loans for up to two weeks. Plenty of time to critique a Broadway musical, but not much time to rate a car.

"My biggest concern is that you are not getting a sense of what a car is like when you use it for a short period of time," said James G. Cobb, automotive editor of The New York Times.

And Cobb insists that his writers disclose where the cars come from. "We don't hide the fact that the manufacturers provide them," said Cobb. "We're not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes." The Times writers often refer to the loaners as "pampered," note the press cars are not available to ordinary consumers, and don't seem to worry about tweaking advertisers, once losing $500,000 worth of ads from Infinity after a negative story. …

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