Objectivity in Motoring Journalism

I would suppose that the holy grail for journalists has to be an objective view of whatever it is their journalistic skills may be deployed to report. But is it actually possible to be completely objective? Clearly not, for we all live different lives, have different experiences and opinions. And, importantly for motoring journalists, the things that give us joyful butterflies in our stomachs and make us smile from ear to ear are also very different. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has enjoyed an album recently seen slated in NME.

Today, flicking through my Sky+ planner, I found the Top Gear New York trip from the most recent series. The choice of cars was entirely predictable: James May in the European supercar, Jeremy Clarkson in the latest big Merc and Richard Hammond in a 911. The subjectivity on show is clear to see, particularly with Hammond’s choice. Clarkson himself said ‘you’ve brought a knife to a gunfight’. Hammond chose the GT3RS despite it not really being on equal measure with his compatriots choices.

In all fairness this particular feature was approximately 1% focussed on delivering opinions on the cars and deciding what is best, and 99% an entertainment feature that just happened to be a road trip. And for a road trip you need a car. And, well, you might as well pick pretty, fast ones that people will like to gawp at. But what happens when you bring subjectivity into serious motoring journalism?

A prime example of this is down at Evo. I subscribe to Evo so my subjective opinion is that it is the best motoring magazine on sale. And as a regular reader I have become familiarised with their journalists’ styles and opinions.  I’m going to pick on Chris Harris, not in a negative way, but he is particularly outspoken about his opinions.

Chris is clearly a big fan of the M division down at BMW. He is also a big fan of going sideways. Now, this leads us down two different lanes of motoring objectivity. Firstly, knowing that he is such an outspoken fan of Beemers, how do I trust that any review is not clouded by this love? The new M5 is a prime example of this, as it breaks from the traditional. If Chris loves it, do we believe the new way is a brilliant evolution for the brand? Or, with the new guts under the metal, will any negative reviews purely be because he is annoyed at change? As a journalist at such a well-respected magazine I highly respect what he says and trust that he is giving me all sides to a story, but if I was in the market for such a car I would be inclined to take a look at what other journos had to say – regardless of whether it was Chris or anyone else who had written that original article.

Then we move onto the sideways action. Chris demonstrates both on Evo’s video pages and the race-track that he possesses super-human driving abilities, the likes of which myself and many others can only hope to even get close to. This ability means his love of ‘natural’ cars – those which reward drivers such as Chris with hugely rewarding drives full of feel, and reward their driving prowess thanks to a lack of electrics getting in the way – is fully understandable. Now to be fair to Chris, this is something that is evident throughout the world of motoring journalism, but I often wonder – if I drove that car, would I find it crap and frustrating?

I consider myself to be a good driver. I am pleased to say that a couple of my friends have said I am one of the few people they trust behind the wheel. But I’ve never driven a car anywhere close to the limit. I’ve never driven on a track. If I got behind the wheel of such a car would the rewarding drive I’d read so much about transfer to my fingers? Or would the comfort blanket of those electronic aids make for a far more rewarding experience.

It could be argued that, well, does that even matter? Personally I highly doubt I will ever be in a position to own one of these vehicles thanks to my prowess on the football field or my hard work in the City, and I would assume the majority of other readers of such magazines are in a similar position to me. This makes reading the articles purely for reasons of entertainment, and having such skilled men behind the wheel to relay their experience is a benefit.

For me, as a budding motoring journalist, I like to think that I can view things objectively. Firstly, however, the fact that I have not driven the vast and varied number of cars most of these journalists have means I cannot compare until at least a short time into my career. In the early days, everything would be amazing when compared to my old 106. It would be like suddenly dating the girl everyone wants after putting up with the girl everyone’s had.

I also have a love of Japanese sports cars. I would always choose a Skyline over something big and American, for example, and I’ve never driven either. Journalists will, of course, have their own preferences. So we’ll keep reading these brilliantly written articles and lusting after the vehicles within those glossy pages. We can also sit back and know that true objectivity is not possible, look at the arguments laid down before us and come to our own informed decisions if it so satisfies us. Motoring is, after all, a pursuit of the heart, not the head.

And one day, hopefully not too far in the future, I will be writing about these cars too. Objectively, of course.

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About Darren Cassey

Originally from Chichester on the south coast of England, I'm currently living in Huddersfield while I study Digital Journalism at University Campus Oldham. My passion is for cars of all kinds - how they look, how they sound and how they drive.
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