Dealer's Call Leads To Critic's Resignation
Scott Burgess resigned last week as auto critic at the Detroit News soon after his editors, following an advertiser's suggestion, softened Burgess' criticism of the new Chrysler 200 sedan for the paper's digital edition. The 200 is the car featured in the "Imported from Detroit" spot featuring Eminem that first aired during the Super Bowl this year. Said Burgess, in a tweet on Gawker's auto site, Jalopnik, on Friday: "All of the edits could have been made before the story printed, and I would still be working there today."
In essence, Burgess reported, as did Jalopnik, that the new 200 may be improved, but still doesn't stack up to the competition -- and that it's basically the old Sebring with some spiff. "We agreed so much with his assessment, we linked it to [the] 'Morning Shift' [section]," writes Jalopnik editor in chief Ray Wert. He cites sources at the Detroit News who told Jalopnik that editors changed the online version of the review after they got a call from an advertiser -- a local Chrysler dealer -- who objected to the tone of Burgess' review. In Jalopnik, Wert does a side-by-side of the online and offline versions of Burgess' review and highlights what was cut.
Some snippets that ended up on the Deet News cutting-room floor: "If this is the best vehicle Detroit exports, then Glenn Beck is right," (referring to Beck's comments in March in which he contrasted Hiroshima with Detroit, arguing that Hiroshima succeeded because of the free market and Detroit failed because of unions and progressive politics); "Regrettably, the 200 is still a dog"; and this, which came right after his comment that Chrysler was smart to use elements of the new 300 exterior for the 200: "But no number of LEDs can hide a profile that looks like a loggerhead turtle. If this car came in a tortoise shell, the EPA would have to put it on the endangered sedan list to prevent trappers and auto enthusiasts from rightfully shooting it into extinction."
Ouch. "Lots of readers were upset with my review, many called or emailed me," tweets Burgess. "Really, I was never upset over changing the story; I was disappointed in the reasons for the changes."
Wert says the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker itself has nothing to do with this imbroglio, and that it wouldn't be such a bad idea if it said as much. "There is no evidence at all to suggest Chrysler was in any way involved. This was an independent dealer who put the screws to the Detroit News. I think they need to stay out of it. Bu if people are saying Chrysler had something to do with it, they should jump in."
In it jumped. The company tweeted that it, indeed, had nothing to do with it and linked to Jalopnik's latest story on the matter, which includes a comment from Detroit News Publisher Jonathan Wolman: "Our intent was to make an editing improvement, and we obviously handled it poorly. We should have let the online version of his review stand as written, as we did the print version."
Wert points out that the real issue here is how and when the piece was edited. It's not rocket science that edits shouldn't happen after a piece is published unless there are factual errors in the published piece. But that's particularly true of reviews, which -- even with technology -- are at least partly an interpretation of one's experience.
Says Burgess: "The reason this became a big deal is because it is so rare; it never happened before and it certainly won't happen again at the paper. In 15-plus years, I had never had anything close to this happen to me. Journalists are a dogged group of people who work extremely hard, are typically underpaid and want to do the right thing."