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How automakers buy reporters

Illustration for article titled How automakers buy reporters

It's the American dream: plucked from obscurity to live the pampered life of a rock star, starlet or, er, an automotive journalist? Two automaker-sponsored contests, from Hyundai and Nissan, promise amateur hacks trips to the New York auto show and press credentials. It's a double win: publicity and free content. What could possibly go wrong?

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Nissan's contest, which the company posted on Facebook this week, solicits video-clip submissions by Nissan owners, who can win a trip for two to be a reporter at the New York International Auto Show — complete with a press credential. Jessica Reed, an account supervisor with the Zocalo Group, the social-media agency running the contest, clarified what the winner gets. "It's for a community member to be our 'Facebook reporter' (loose term)," she wrote in an e-mail. "We'll be walking with them and create content with them to feature on our Facebook page at a later day, just from their Nissan-owner perspective."

Hyundai's version has a built-in pretense of objectivity, which it gleaned from sponsoring the contest with the SEO-hungry High Gear Media. High Gear has already made finding writers willing to work for free part of its business model, so the contest isn't that much of a stretch. Editors of High Gear's The Car Connection will judge submissions from writers, and pick one writer to attend the show and "cover" it as a guest of Hyundai, High Gear and the NY auto show.

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So Nissan's paying for someone to attend the show, and calling them a "reporter"? To be fair, there's enough wiggle room in that definition to accommodate whatever public relations goals the company's setting out for the winner. (At least they didn't say "citizen journalist," the media-industry con of the decade.)

Hyundai/High Gear's scheme doesn't invoke the "R" word, but as GM happily found with the bloggers and tweeters it's been bringing to the Detroit auto show, tagging someone a "guest" puts them in a natural position of deference. For amateurs and blog acolytes who don't have a cranky desk editor with the ghost of Edward R. Murrow haunting their office to watch over their copy, it's a relationship that kills objective reportage deader than Katharine Graham's mink stole.

But who cares, anyway? What, should we muster muster sympathy for the auto journalist who rides his dubious talents all the way to exotic locales, where he's fed, soused and let fly on Estoril or Laguna Seca or Ascari in the world's great sports cars. Please. Now we have to feel sorry that he's being squeezed by automakers that would rather route around media middlemen, or media brands that would rather he worked for free? What's a poor hack to do, enter a contest?

We guess so.

[Hat image courtesy of Zazzle]

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DISCUSSION

So TTAC writes an article about how Acura was bringing its customers out to its events instead of reporters. This being pointed out by Kamil over at Carguydad.com

Now Jalopnik writes an article about how the auto companies are using joe average buyer to be a "reporter" as well

The timing seems quite interesting. Ford made a lot of waves with his Fiesta launch awhile back that ignored the reporters in favor of joe average Facebook user. We have sites, like Jalopnik, saying that the print media is dead and long live the blog!! I mean website or whatever Jalopniks being called because its not a blog.

The new era of reporters are micro bloggers right or wrong. In a lot of ways its wrong but its the way it works. As, correctly, pointed out over at TTAC todays automotive writers dont even really review cars. They file reports in a mad libs fashion and hit submit. So if your a car company thats losing money why would you pay to fly them in? Why not do what Acura did and bring in the people who are most likely to not only buy a new Acura but tell their friends? Like Ford have a contest to get people to want a Fiesta or like this with Nissan where they are preaching to the converted. I dont understand the hate.

Gawker, and now AOL for that matter, preach the new media. Preach that the of the old way is dead. Advertisers dont have the money they used to. They are adapting to the new media pushed so hard by companies like these. In my mind they are using their resources in a manner that makes sense.