I imagine right now Travis Okulski's social accounts and probably text inbox is filling up with some rather unsavory responses to his little media leak. I suppose that's to be expected when you're pulling back the veil on the profession and calling people out in a public place. As someone who qualifies as a layman who reads these reviews and occasionally makes a purchase decision based on them, I'd like to give some perspective.

Full disclosure: I'm probably not the typical layman. Cars are a significant part of my life outside of work. My first word was "car" (call my mom, she can verify). I learned how to read English from Autoweek, Car & Driver, and Road & Track. I learned the colors from the Sunday morning classified sections. I've read, watched, and listened to just about every form from just about every outlet I could get my hands on.

Anyway - if you're not familiar, Travis posted this a few hours ago, followed by this:


There was a lot of traffic on twitter, with a lot of journalists criticizing the whole thread and calling out their own for showing their colors. Which, I suppose, is to be expected. I'm sure he's probably catching 7 kinds of hell from friends and colleagues who rely on being friendly to this PR machine to make their living. But this brings us to an important point: you should be exceptionally skeptical of the majority of what you read in terms of reviews of cars.

Those journalists that are making Mr. Okulski the unpopular one now have probably been the recipients of some rather exceptional hospitality on a recurring basis from some of the largest companies on the planet. Which, if you're a company, makes sense. You'd go to great lengths to curry favor with journalists, and, if you're the one giving them the edge on the new Mustang/911/3-series/Sorrento/Niva/Dale which said journalist needs to put on the cover/front page to sell magazines or ad space, you have the edge in the game.

That being said: when you have journalists being flown out to all-expenses-paid trips to the Côte d'Azur for a week to drive around whatever the host wants them to, do not expect someone who isn't at the top of their respective tax bracket to maintain an air of independence about their review. They will not tell you that the steering is numb, that the entertainment system is byzantine, and that the press car broke down twice on their trip requiring serious maintenance.

As laymen - casual readers of car reviews and ardent internet denizens - you can generally tell when someone is plagiarizing a press kit that lists out all the statistics down to the newton-picometers of additional rigidity of the frame of the latest rental fleet fodder over the prior generation and uses the word "dynamic" like it curries any sort of information. These reviews are worthless. Go to the manufacturer's site and they'll give you all that information and (sometimes) better photos of all the colors and options. Some are even decent writers that fall prey to the giving tree - it's hard to make a living as a reviewer when you don't have anything to review.


Most of these folks went to J-school and some even have degrees from places like Missouri or Northwestern where journalism matters - I'm sure most of these folks know they're being catered to and encouraged to write what manufacturers want to hear. That's probably what's making Mr. Okulski so popular - he's lifted the veil for a brief moment as to some of the freeloading and blatant pandering that takes place. Credibility no longer applies to these folks - and people who are reliant on them to make the second largest purchase decision of their lives are going off of a reworded brochure that's been typed up hungover on a flight back from South Africa or Napa Valley.

So, while Mr. Okulski is no longer popular amongst his peers - you, the reader, should encourage this sort of behavior. He's added to the short list of journalists who car companies don't like - the ones who are actually honest. Remember when Chris Harris called out Ferrari? How Derek Kreindler and Jack Baruth and the rest of the TTAC staff have very strict rules about disclosure? How Jalopnik doesn't respect embargoes? This his how you know you build credibility with your audience as someone with Walter Cronkite levels of trust.


Car companies should not like you. They shouldn't have to put you up in cushy hotels and pay your bar tab to get a good review.

They should build good cars.

Keep fighting the good fight, even if it means you're not getting invited to the Amalfi coast reveal of the latest Mirage.

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