Provocative title, huh? Kinda calls into question my recent bit about not using question marks in headlines, but just as was the case last time, the headline is the question—albeit a little less directly.

Don’t worry, it’s not like the Boner Motorcycle Group (yeah, that joke is too easy, I know) has become so enamored with my incessant shit-talking that they’ve decided “redefining what a media company can be” includes scooping up CityBike by way of a truckload of Benjamins, blow, and free passes to their scrambler cosplay campout.

Here’s what I need your opinion on, dear reader: CityBike has always covered variety of motorcycling events, from the Quail Motorcycle Gathering to MotoGP to the MotoBay Classic to flat track racing to the One Motorcycle Show to… well, you get the idea. If it’s about motorcycles, we’re there. Unless it sucks… and we might still go anyway.

Getting media access is generally a piece of pie for a venerable publication such as CityBike. Sometimes the process is a little convoluted and pain-in-the-ass-y, requiring submission of fourteen examples of previous coverage, eleven references from esteemed professionals, an assignment letter from the editor, and any Starbucks gift cards we might have lying around with a balance on ’em. We gladly do that dance, and perhaps surprisingly everyone buys the notion of an assignment letter from me. We are always met with a warm welcome: “We’d love to have CityBike, the New Yorker of moto-journalism, at our event,” and often: “We love what you guys do!”

By the way, there’s a poll at the end of this malarkey—if you’d rather go full-on well-informed American voter-style, you’re welcome to skip the background and head to the ballot box down there at the end. I honestly don’t know why I bothered saying that, though—our readers are discerning, thoughtful folk, and will want the full story.

Here it is: yesterday, I sent an email through the usual, appropriate channels asking about photographer access for an upcoming motorcycle event, one we’ve covered several times before with only the most trivial establishment of “credentials.” In response, I received an email from a media relations guy at a sports management firm: “Thanks for thinking of the event and reaching out. Getting you set up with media credentials is something I can assist with. Would you be able to pre-promote the event on the website in the coming weeks? We typically require that for all media applying. If I can help supply event info or images let me know.”

I went from “We’ll get some rad photos at this thing” to “Well, fuck this bullshit” in less time than it took me to get through D.R.I.’s Reaganomics. That song is a real Moby Dick, at 41 seconds long, but I didn’t need the whole duration to reach this conclusion.

But then I questioned my rapid shift in attitude: was I overreacting? After all, we’d get free, primo access to the event, and I do want such events to be successful. Moreover, I just put our coverage of last year’s One Motorcycle Show on the home page to get people stoked about the upcoming tenth year of that event. Why not show this particular event a little love?

Here’s why: I don’t like having terms dictated to me by some arm’s-length “sports management” agency representing a entertainment company for whom motorcycles are another ticket-selling opportunity, like the circus, for example.

And no, I’m not talking about the Nitro Circus.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, partly because my pal Nick loves it when I mention Propagandhi (or let a typo slip through—I swear he’s keeping track on a whiteboard in his office): we don’t answer to some parent company’s balance sheet, and my roots are decades-deeply entrenched in the hard-work-on-our-own-terms mindset inspired by bands like the Dead Kennedys and record labels like Dischord. Oh yeah, and Propagandhi. Our thing is our thing, and I have no interest in CityBike kowtowing to companies who think moto-journalism is just an opportunity for advertorial, for forced-but-favorable promo placements.

Back when I fancied myself to be something of a musician, loading my shitty half-stack out of a shittier van into even shittier clubs, I despised the concept of pay-to-play. In short, this practice required local bands to buy a number of tickets up front, which members would then hypothetically sell to all their family members and friends to make their money back. In theory, this gave bands that wouldn’t normally get a shot at playing clubs a chance to get in front of a bigger audience, and protected the clubs from losing (too much) money. In reality, it was often the clubs exploiting the bands, instead of investing in the scene.

“Investing in the scene?” What is this, Maximum Rocknroll?

I’m not naive. I know this bullshit backscratching happens all the time, all over the place, and there are already plenty of examples of a pretty screwy juxtaposition of industry marketing and content in the motorcycling world. But not once have I been told that media access was contingent on what amounts to involuntary, unpaid propaganda. Fundamentally, press access is already the “price” of event coverage, and it’s a pretty damn low “cost.” If we’re required to pay to play along by providing free event promotion to gain access to said event so we can then cover the event—provide more promotion—well, that’s advertising, not journalism.

And we’re nothing if not true believers in independent moto-journalism.

But… some may say, just as some said—and probably still say—of pay-to-play: don’t be so precious with your “art,” sport. You’re not writing the friggin’ Odyssey here. Shut up, play the game, and you’ll get to go where the normies will never tread so you can take some cool pictures with your fancy camera.

So I ask you, gentle reader: what do you say? Should we do this deal and run some fluff in hopes of being deemed worthy?


Update: check out the follow-up to the poll here.

8 Responses

  1. Kelly A

    So…what did you say?? They get to have free advertising and they are getting off cheap. Maybe you could have one of your at-large readers cover the show from the consumer standpoint and get the scoop that way.

    • Surj Gish

      Stay tuned. All will be revealed soon.

      Well, maybe not all. Some. Most. You know how it goes. 😉

  2. spragmatic

    Something must be amiss that they NEED free advertising and a FREE article written about their show. Tell them that if their show isnt drawing enough interest that A) they require free advertising and B) they can’t pay for advertising, that it’s probably not worth the venerable City Bike’s staffers attendance. Or its electrons.

  3. Batshitbox

    I voted XOXO (I hope that’s a Hell No) because it was on the opposite end from Hell yeah, but I did also laugh and cry a bit while reading this.
    Use small words while explaining this to them:
    You generate content for your publication through first hand reportage (and other elements).
    This attracts an audience.
    You sell access to that audience to your advertisers, generating profit (hah! revenue, anyway) for you and sales for them.

    Don’t try to get into the whole journalistic integrity thing. You’re talking to an event promoter, all they’ll hear is, “something-stick-in-something-gritty”

  4. Patrick Shaughnessy

    Well, Surj, you sure tainted the survey with that first choice, ha ha! (funny tho!). I was hoping you would promote the event because you don’t know how much you would have benefited your readership (assuming their event is even remotely close).

    Selling out. . . . no, that’s not what you all do. Promoting yes, that what you all do best. Obviously I’m in the minority but I would have counseled you take their offer for the benefit of your readers who would have possibly/potentially/maybe liked to have gone to that event.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Surj Gish

      Well, it wasn’t really intended to be a truly scientific poll, @patrick_shaughnessy:disqus 😉

      We’ve done a ton of promotion of events we care about, that we want our readers to know about—all because we wanted to, not because someone thought they could extort it out of us for press credentials.

      And besides, the event in question is doing TV and other advertising. It’s not a matter of “Hey, can you help out? No one knows about our event.”

  5. Eric

    Tell them GFY. You’re 100% right to tell them off. Pay to play won’t help motorcycling long term, and these jerks know that journos are having a hard time, and they’re trying to take advantage. You’ve earned your following the hard, honest way, and there’s no way I’d change that.


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