Breezing through today’s news wires, I was surprised and disturbed to see an article at the Beeb entitled GM Stops Advertising in LA Times. According to the report, Dan Neil, Los Angeles Times automotive writer, had an article published in which he called for the ouster of GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, and now General Motors is refusing to run any adverts in the Times.
Earlier this week, General Motors announced that the same Rick Wagoner had been promoted to run the entire North America operation, a move that generated some controversy in the industry and even produced a bland posting by VP Bob Lutz over at the GM Fastlane Blog.
A carefully worded story in The LA Times explains it this way: “Times spokesman David Garcia said that editors at the paper, which is owned by Tribune Co., had “heard some concerns from General Motors and are examining them. We will look into any complaints GM has about inaccuracy or misrepresentation and will make any appropriate corrections.”
Unsurprisingly, the editors of the LA Times are afraid of coming out with any sort of editorial or op-ed piece on the situation, but I’ll say it instead: grow up, General Motors. Last I checked we lived in a nation that celebrated freedom of the press, the right for individuals to have and share their opinion and perspective with others, and a review, whether of a car or a motion picture, is inherently the subjective opinion of the writer and everyone knows that. Except, perhaps, some sensitive GM salespeople.
I find this particularly situation troubling because I am confident that given the financial troubles of the LA Times and other major newspapers, the publisher will hand down a memo to Mr. Neil explaining that criticizing cars is one thing, but criticizing executives at a major advertiser is unacceptable. Neil will balk, but stick with it, because, well, it’s a job.
Those of us on the inside of the publishing industry, whether magazines, newspapers or television, talk about a “fifth wall” that separates advertising and editorial, allowing the editorial team to have autonomy and freedom from the pressures brought by advertisers.
Imagine, how much would you trust a movie review if you knew that the reviewer was being paid by the studio or star? Or even that the studio had promised to buy a week’s worth of full-page ads if the review was favorable? Or a software review if the reviews editor knew that any unfavorable coverage would result in a major drop in ad revenue and a subsequent pink slip?
By pulling their advertising, GM is trying its darndest to breach that fifth wall, to apply pressure on the editorial team at the LA Times where it hurts most, in their income stream. Let’s hope that the LA Times editorial team can stand up to the pressure and retain its editorial integrity.
I’m skeptical, though, as I said. But maybe I’m just pessimistic about the situation. What do you think?
P.S. to GM VP Bob Lutz: why not blog about your perspective on this situation in your Fastlane weblog?