Nothing but the truth – Aussie Bike Journos on the take? Snag has his say
Motorcycle journalism. I’m guessing you are familiar with it. After all, you visit this wonderful website on a regular basis, do you not? Well, I thought, this time around, we’d examine it. I’m gonna give you the dirt. I may never work again, but hey, eggs and omelettes.
Where to start. Well, the reason I have decided to write on this subject is because a colleague, a pretty big name in the caper, came in for a right barreling on social media. The complainant suggested this bloke was under the influence of bike companies to write favourably of certain bikes when testing. A pretty damning accusation, and one I have had leveled at me from time to time, over 22 years of writing about motorcycles. The suggestion is that monies, or at least favours change hands. That, for the right ‘back scratch’ a journalist will not criticise a product. After all, some in this profession (very probably not myself), can make or break a bike by their critique. I have always thought that we can’t really make one sell its ears off, but we can certainly hurt sales. It’s a very big responsibility and I have seen some fly-by-nighters come and go in this game. When you consider the perks that come with bike journalism (less and less over the years, but there are perks nonetheless) well, it must look like that from the outside.
Now, some home truths.
We get flown all over the planet, to exotic locations, in five-star stupidity. There is often a present on the end of your bed when you get there. The PR girls are incredibly attractive, they laugh at our jokes, even if they are so lame it hurts. Even though most of us look like one of their Dads’ mates. We kinda think that flirty thing is because we are so witty and important.
Dinner consists of 18 courses of degustation, and your personal sommelier is on hand to recommend the 80 year old wine that would go ‘elegantly with your butterfly wings in aspic sir’. Yes, there is no doubt that bike companies make certain that a journo’s comforts are assured.
Now, there can be no doubt that being treated well is better than the opposite when it comes to relationships with distributors. We know them alL by name, after all, they are our major source of information when it comes to telling you guys the facts in regard to product. Mates? I wouldn’t go that far, but yes, the conversations are generally friendly.
So that’s the lay of the land.
Now. I have been writing for magazines and websites since the war was in black and white. And, there is a very seasoned crop of journos in the bike caper that have likewise been around it a very good period of time. I know most of them, and I can categorically say, that I have never seen anyone cop a quid, or be coerced to write a favourable review of a bike, if the thing did not deserve it. Now, it could have happened, but I very much doubt it. It just does not work that way, and the word would get out. Try working in a business as insular as the Australian motorcycle industry and keep a secret like that. Not gonna happen. We talk way too much and we can be a pretty bitchy crew at times as well. Secrets don’t stay secret for long.
Let me relate a story to support this position.
Years ago, I was assigned a particular task by the late Ken Wootton, for whom I worked at AMCN. Spent three years there in the ’90s in the position of News Editor. I remember those days fondly, although I haven’t worked so hard since. Ken was a pedant and very hard taskmaster. He used to drive me berserk with his expectations back then. 16-hour days were the norm. So why remember them fondly you ask? Because Ken taught me a great deal about the correct way to go about this business. He was hard, unfair at times, and a prickly customer on a bad day. But, he was a great editor and journalist. He knew more about the bike world than anyone before or since, and could work like ten men. He was a thorough professional.
Anyway, I was given the task of reviewing the BMW R 1200 C. You know the thing… Bulbous boxer in a cruiser frame. Kinda swoopy, cutting edge looks (ugly as a hatful for mine, but there you go). Made famous by being designed by BMW design guru David Robb and thrown onto the market with a blaze of publicity when it featured heavily in the James Bond epic Tomorrow Never Dies.
So, I take delivery of this thing. I hate it from the minute I lay eyes on it, but looks are subjective (hey, even I get laid from time to time), so I press on. Sitting on it for the first time, I think good old David Robb must have accidentally got too close to a medical marijuana factory, because it is the most uncomfortable thing. Like sitting on a fence post with your arms outstretched and holding your feet six inches off the ground. Yep, ‘orrible.
Then I start it. Clunk the bag-’o-spanners gearbox into something resembling first and head off. Slowly. Painfully slowly. So far, so bad, but a weekend in the twisties may reveal better things.
The front and rear ends were not only not getting along, they were positively divorced. Unsettlingly poorly suspended, woefully slow and uncomfortable. Deciding that the bike could not be this bad, I sent it back to BMW and took delivery of another one. Yep, exactly the same. The whole shebang was a monumental shocker.
So. Now I had to write the piece. And BMW was a big advertiser. I was young, full of piss and wind and determined that I write the piece as I saw it. I decided to write it, then show Ken.
Needless to say, I gave the bike a roasting. In fact, I remember suggesting that the thing should sit royally atop a fire in Bonn, perhaps a Bonn-fire, and be sent to the outer ozone layer, so it could never ruin another motorcyclist’s day. I went on to be even more critical. It was a dog and I was telling you.
Time to present it to Ken. I can see him through the office window, reading my yarn. It seemed like forever.
With a furrowed brow, he came to his office door, said ‘Snag, can I have a word?’
Oh-oh. In I wander, trying too hard to look nonchalant.
‘About the R 1200 C piece. Was it really that bad?’, says Ken. Now, if there was ever a time when BMW may pull all its spend with the magazine, it was going to be there and then. The minute that issue hit the stands.
‘Yep. Worse’, says I.
Rightio says Ken. I’m still standing there, waiting for the sting in the tail. ‘Anything else Ken’, I manage to squeak out.
‘No, should there be?’, he says.
‘No’. And I turned and went back to my desk. Hurriedly.
The story went in the magazine, as I wrote it. Because Ken supported me, and the simple fact is, the bloody thing was terrible, although, if memory serves me correctly, I didn’t see many articles quite as critical as mine. Critical though.
I tell that, to let you know, that by and large, Australian motorcycle journalists tell the truth, and damn the torpedoes. And, the bloke that was getting a hard time on social media, with idiots suggesting he was soft on certain models, would see it exactly the same way. He’s a pro.
We are blessed in this country, for the freedom to tell the truth, and be buggered if there has ever been a suggestion of 30 pieces of silver accepted and even more importantly, there is no long-term Aussie bike journo that sees it any differently.
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