There was a lot of hemming and hawing over the 2015 Ford Mustang's weight and the "rumor" that it might be fatter, or maybe not. People seem to think this shows the weakness of printing rumors. Those people are very wrong. It shows the importance of doing so.
Let's quickly review the facts in the Mustang case. Ford isn't rolling out the car to the press until September, to average buyers until a little after that, and they're keeping it from the Europeans until next year. For some reason, Ford decided to launch the car in December — nearly a year early.
Because of this, they scarcely revealed anything about the car when it launched and not much since, instead letting bits and pieces drip out on a schedule that a bunch of marketers were paid a lot of money (maybe too much money) to put together in order to maximize "buzz."
One of the biggest questions about the 2015 Mustang was whether or not they could add an independent rear suspension without also a bunch of weight. Well, duh, they probably can't. Ford tuner Steeda — seemingly trying to show how cool and advanced they are — published information saying it would be about 200-300 pounds fatter.
People freaked out a little bit and then we found out that Steeda was basing this information on a guesstimate and not an actual weight gotten by using a scale.
A few people responded saying that we should get "the facts" about the Mustang weight first and "it might be worth that extra step to verify that 'fact" before publishing anything about it.
Many car journalists roll their eyes when they read comments like these because they know too well how car companies act but, in fairness to these commenters, many of you probably don't how the car world actually works.
It's our own knowledge bias, so let me address it here and let you peek behind the curtain.
Car companies rarely verify anything
What Mike didn't make clear in the original article was that we reached out to Ford. But we were fairly certain that they wouldn't respond, or if they did it would be with "we don't comment on future product." We know this because we've heard it roughly a million times in these situations.
Specifically, Ford released the car six months ago and hasn't told us anything specific on the car's weight or power… kind of important details.
Still, we reached out to Ford and we didn't hear directly from them because they don't want to talk about the car's weight — although indirectly Ford is now slowly rolling out to journalists that, yes, the car is heavier.
R&T says they have a source with knowledge telling them this and we now have one. None of this information we'd probably have if Steeda hadn't slipped up and told the truth. I don't know if Steeda actually weighed the car or not because when we contacted them (yes, of course we did that, too) they were suddenly tight-lipped.
Remember that time we showed the 2014 Corvette more than a year before it debuted? A bunch of GM press people and execs told reporters it wasn't the car. Did they lie? No, but they stretched the truth enough to convince a few people to write stories saying our car wasn't right. How'd that turn out?
Car companies are often smarter than journalists
“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” — George Orwell
The mission of a journalist is to get to the truth, not to obscure it or help someone else roll it out on their schedule. Many people in the car people are dedicated to only doing the latter.
This is one reason why we don't do embargoes. You ever wonder why we've gotten big scoops like the 2014 Corvette, the new Jeep Cherokee, the 2014 Cadillac CTS redesign and other bits of info way earlier than everyone else?
We're not geniuses and we're not psychics. By being one of the few sites willing to publish something car companies don't want out there, no matter what the consequences, people like giving us information.
And there are consequences. When Chris Harris wanted to divulge what Ferrari was doing with press cars he knew no one else would publish it, so he came to us, and we saw any chance of an invite to a Ferrari press trip disappear (for three years and counting) despite being the largest automotive enthusiast news source in the world.
We found out a long time ago that it's better to be in the secret telling business than the secret keeping business.
But a lot of people don't think this way and they get their editorial schedule essentially dictated to them. We try not to play that game.
The Truth Is Out There
That Steeda — a well respected Ford tuner with better access than most — was willing to talk about the Ford weight issue was, in and of itself, newsworthy.
Let's read what they said again:
Our work is cut out for us because unbeknown to most Mustang aficionados (and not "officially" confirmed by Ford for obvious reasons), the 2015 Mustang ended up gaining 200-300 pounds in this remake – and with weight being the "enemy of performance", there are plenty of challenges needed to ensure that the 2015 iteration of America's favorite Pony Car isn't left at the starting line spinning its wheels against the competition.
As you should now realize, Ford is being hush-hush with their new pony car and Steeda gave us a nice glimpse into Ford's thinking. This wasn't JimBobStangBro69, this was someone in the know.
Did we (and a few others) report that the Ford was definitely heavier? No. We reported that a Ford tuner said so. Given how many people wanted to talk about it, I'd say there was a strong interest in the post. Plus, sometimes the only way to work out a rumor is to talk about it, and we have a great commenter community here and they often get to the truth of the matter.
Just look at the Google Anonymous car story. An open request in our comments helped us reveal that Roush was building the car, beating any other source to that information and providing a lot of background.
And the secret of this Steeda thing is, no matter what they're saying now to protect their relationship with Ford, they were definitely right about what they said.
If We Don't Know What We're Talking About We'll Tell You
If you see a "hedge" word in a post, you'll know we aren't 100% sure about something or we're basing it on a particular source and that's maybe our only source.
Things like: reportedly, allegedly, according to, maybe, probably, possibly, might.
We may also put it under the tag Shit We Heard which, I hope, makes it clear the level of information we have. If our source is a commenter, we'll tell you that. If it's another magazine, we'll tell you that, too.
Because while there's nothing wrong with publishing a rumor as a rumor, there is something wrong with publishing rumor as a fact.
We trust our readers enough to make the decision whether or not they think something is credible, and we'll provide as much insight and reporting as we think we need to do to support your decision making, but we never will pretend that something we randomly heard is the absolute truth unless we're sure it's the absolute truth.
Maybe that makes us the "National Enquirer of cars" or "TMZ of auto journalists," but those jokes don't bother me. Better to aim for the truth and sometimes miss than never aim for it at all.
Getting to the truth is sometimes messy, and if you only want to read rewritten press releases you can go somewhere else. I promise I won't be mad.