Editor’s Blog: A Last Lingering Thought for 2014

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It will be a new year soon, and for some of Asphalt & Rubber‘s more international readers, New Year’s Eve may have already given way to New Year’s Day (Happy New Year, if that’s already the case).

Going through my various feeds, it seems obligatory that we make some sort of Happy New Year proclamation, summarize the stories the site has covered, and share some insight on the inner-workings of our operation here at A&R. The Dude abides, but bear with me first.

It’s hard to believe that Asphalt & Rubber has been going at things for six years now, and the site stands at an interesting crossroad — both in terms of its own growth and progression, but also where the industry stands.

I would have thought at this point in time that there would be a plethora of online sites like A&R coming into the fold, after all there is a viable business model to online moto-journalism — Asphalt & Rubber is proof of that.

Instead I’ve watched the number of reliable and well-executed opinion-driven sites dwindle, with no one else filling the void they left behind.

On the print side, things continue on an interesting path. The top print titles like Cycle World, Motorcyclist, and Sport Rider (among others) have consolidated under the one roof of Bonnier, a company that has made no secret about its for-hire marketing and event services.

It’s not uncommon now to see editors and writers from these publications to appear at OEM marketing events, praising the virtues of the brand in question. A quick look at YouTube, and we can see that these publications also have no problem making thinly veiled video commercials for any brand that pays.

If the numbers I have been told by Bonnier employees are to be believed, this is a more lucrative business model than actually publishing a monthly journal or daily website. That should send a worrying shock through your chair.

Us internet guys used to throw around phrases like “print is dead” and the entrenched industry rags were “bought and paid for” by the OEMs. Those used to be utterances that were grounded in part by hyperbole and in part by reality, but now it feels uncomfortably too true.

The effect has been an in-group and out-group of publications who have become safe harbors of OEMs and other brands, and this is something that occurs on an international level.

This downward spiral isn’t relegated just to the print side of industry though, and sadly it probably started first with the online motorcycle publications that latched onto “lead-generation” business models and became more like referral sales generators than actual news outlets.

This isn’t something happening at small or sole-proprietor publications, either. This year we saw run a patently false news story, the sole purpose of which was to promote another web property the publication’s parent company owned.

Perhaps more interesting than that act, which ruffled more than a few feathers privately, was the lack of any public concern. But as one A&R commenter noted, nobody really cares longer than one news cycle — too true.

I like to end long interviews with the question “what keeps you up at night?” — and if I had to turn the microphone around on myself, it would be these issues.

Are sites like Asphalt & Rubber beholden to the OEMs they cover in their pages, destined to serve as some sort of outsourced marketing department? Or do we still hold true to some of the more basic journalistic principles?

At the end of the day, we are consumer news…we cover a sport, a recreation, a hobby, or on its most basic level, a form of transportation. So, I have no delusions that what we do here at Asphalt & Rubber, or at any other motorcycle publication, doesn’t really change the price of bread in the larger scheme.

But I’m not sure that factors into the equation in the least bit, and I am certain that it doesn’t change our obligation as a publisher to be true to our readers, solely and above anyone else. I don’t think I could start 2015 without at least addressing this issue once in 2014.

If there’s anything concrete I can tell you about the coming new year, it is that our core business model, of telling you exactly how we see it in the two wheeled world, won’t change. Asphalt & Rubber will continue to be a publication that distills this industry into its salient parts. Opinions are welcomed; fluff, spin, and bullshit are not.