I like Jeff Glucker. He’s a good guy, fun to be around and enthusiastic. He’s the kinda guy you want to take out for a beer. And after what went down tonight, he needs one.
Let’s get two things clear: First, shilling for an automaker on the side and posting a story without disclosing your conflict of interest is wrong. Secondly, I know very few automotive journalists writing for legitimate news organizations that haven’t taken on the odd PR job or two. By and large, we’re poor. And when an automaker shakes a bushel of money at you to pen an advertorial without a byline or rewrite a press release for U.S. consumption, it’s hard to turn down. I’ve done it. Twice. When I was freelancer. And felt scummy enough afterwards to never do it again.
But you know who else has done it? Mike Spinelli, the author of the story calling Glucker out for his misdeeds. He tapped me a few years back to help him write a special auto show section for Hyundai in the Wall Street Journal. I did it, collected a meager paycheck and haven’t done anything of the sort since. It wasn’t worth my time or credibility – even if no one knew about it.
But the Glucker situation is totally different. Not only did he foolishly send out a request to fellow journalists to pimp this Nissan spot, he wrote a story about it on Autoblog. Stupid. Squared. And he got what he deserved.
Neff canning him tonight wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was a moral imperative. And one of the best decisions I’ve seen him make.
Now, we take a fair amount of guff from the buffet-dwellers and holier-than-thou auto-tabloids, and maybe deservedly so. You can take shots at Autoblog for rewriting certain reports, publishing press releases and a fair amount of news regurgitation, but understand this: Advertising and editorial have never intermingled (seriously, I have no clue about our ad department) and while some might see some of our content as the milquetoast of the auto news world, we cover the stories that people care about and we’re independent. We also take what we do seriously.
But what’s rubbed me the wrong way (aside from Jeff’s lack of intelligence for an otherwise smart guy) is how it was handled outside the site. If you’re going to call out a fellow journalist about a conflict of interest, why not go out of your way – if you respect him, his peers or his outlet – to drop the editor a line, ask what’s up and then report on how the situation was handled? Was it necessary to publicly run Glucker’s name through the mud for this egregious infraction of journalistic ethics? Maybe. But bringing it to his editor’s attention would’ve been a more dignified tact. Then again, that doesn’t advance some kind of (mis)perceived war between auto outlets.
Too bad. But back to work…