Sunday, December 28, 2008

A complete lack of evidence is proof the conspiracy is working

“You can’t trust anything you read in motorcycle magazines. They’re all in the pockets of the advertisers.”

You’ve probably read something like this on internet motorcycle forums a dozen times. It’s a known fact that any magazine that accepts advertising is corrupt, right?

I’ve been making my living writing for motorcycle magazines, as a staffer and a freelancer, for most of 25 years, and not once have I ever been told by an advertiser what to write. Nor have I ever been told by an editor to change something I wrote to make it more appealing to an advertiser.

But don’t take my word for it. Trust self-appointed internet-forum authorities like gixxerboy555, turbotom, and VFRlad, none of whom have ever worked for a motorcycle magazine, or even read one all the way through, but know all about them.

As is so often the case with conspiracy theories, no one has stopped to really think this one through.

The assumption is that the more ads a company places in a magazine, the more favorable the editorial coverage is toward that company’s products. If, say, Honda has eight pages of ads in an issue, all the Hondas tested in that issue will get good reviews.

Never mind that Hondas are pretty good bikes, and likely would have gotten good reviews regardless of the ad count. The fix is in.

Or is it?

If there really is a trade of ads for editorial going on, it necessarily has to be done out in the open. Anyone could count the ads in a given issue, evaluate the editorial coverage, and demonstrate a direct and ongoing relationship between the two. If the company that runs the most ads gets the best coverage, case closed, right?

Not necessarily. A company that makes good products, and sells a lot of them, can afford to advertise more than a company that builds poor products that don’t sell as well. So the number of ads in a magazine might not be a reliable indicator of anything other than how successful a company is.

Which still doesn’t convince the tinfoil hats.

A lot of the people who say bike magazines are corrupt believe those that don’t accept ads are somehow above suspicion. Without advertising and its insidious influence, they’re free to tell it like it is.

Or are they?

A magazine that doesn’t run ads would be the perfect place for a crooked advertiser and a corrupt staff to do their dirty work in complete secrecy. With no printed ads to give away the game, the advertiser would be free to lavish the writers with cash and gifts in return for favorable editorial. No paper trail, no smoking gun. The perfect crime.

Of course, both these scenarios—ads for coverage vs. cash and gifts under the table for coverage—are based on the unproven, and might I add totally scurrilous, premise that the people who write motorcycle magazines are sleazeballs whose integrity is for sale to the highest bidder.

If that’s true, why isn’t anybody bidding for mine?

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1 comment:

nee Mary said...

I've worked for four motorcycle mags (or is it five) and never saw any evidence that editorial was for sale. In fact, it's clear to me from the writers and editors I've known that that kind of behavior was completely unacceptable.

Perhaps gixxerboy555, turbotom, and VFRlad are referring to the trade pubs which sell copy space along with ad space (and provide the written copy). That practice makes things somewhat murky but doesn't hold for magazines written for enthusiasts.