Last Thursday, I published my latest Uneasy Rider column, comparing mandatory free advertising space as a requirement for media access to pay-to-play and asking our readers what they thought. Should we “sell out?”
The results are in: our readers get us. As of this morning, roughly 9 of 10 readers are on board with CityBike holding fast to our independent moto-journalism ideals.
The answer’s easy, like Sunday morning.
Was it disingenuous to ask for input when I’d already decided? A little, perhaps, but all in fun—we enjoy hearing from our readers and the conversations on this topic have been positively golden.
I’m confident that if I inserted another poll here, along the lines of “Did you really think there was even a chance we’d accept this bullshit devil’s bargain?” The results would be overwhelmingly in the “Nah” column.
Many have asked how I responded. After a quick tête-à-tête with the Master of Puppets here at World Headquarters, to ensure my bad attitude was well-grounded in thoughtful reasoning and not just bad because that’s my default, I replied with the following:
Hi [media relations guy],
As I mentioned in the note I sent yesterday, we’ve covered [event] in prior years, and I’ve never been told that pre-promotion was a requirement for media access. In fact, I’ve never been told that pre-promotion was a condition for media access for any event we’ve ever covered, from MotoGP to the One Show to the Quail Motorcycle Gathering to American Flat Track.
[Entertainment company] used to work with us on advertising in our print edition and poster distribution. If you’re interested, I can put together some advertising options.
Fundamentally, however, access is already the “price” of coverage, and it’s an exceedingly low “cost.” If we’re required to do free promotion of an event to gain access to cover the event—well, that’s advertising, not journalism.
I didn’t hear back. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zilch.
I wasn’t totally surprised: for some organizations (like this one), the relationships implied by “media relations” are pretty one-sided. We prefer a more uh… codependent model; fortunately, there are still lots of companies and organizations that, like our readers, get it, and understand that us telling stories about their stuff—bikes, gear, events, or whatever—is good for everyone, and honestly, more beneficial for these brands than us here at CityBike. Despite the photo above, our efforts at carrying the torch of independent moto-journalism have not earned us piles of money on which to ride our dirtbikes.
Imagine if a reporter for the Chronicle proposed a story to their editor: “There’s an event coming up in Oakland later this month. Looks interesting. I’d like to cover it.” The editor signs off on the story, the reporter contacts the media relations guy and is told that the Chronicle must promote the event—provide free advertising—to be granted press access.
The editor and reporter would have a good laugh at the audacity of that ridiculous request, and probably follow up with whatever the “real journalist” equivalent of sending photocopies of their asses is.
I doubt that scenario would play out, though—presumably the folks from the sports marketing firm know that’d be a no-go. So why do they think it’s ok to require promotion from moto-media, true believers already overextending themselves on behalf of “the sport” or “the lifestyle” or whatever we call it?
At the risk of repeating myself, fuck that.
By the way, totally unrelated: it looks like we’re free January 26th. Pizza party, anyone?