September 3, 2007 – Adapting to the world of new-age journalism

It is a tall order, this business of being a new-age journalist.
Because to report, you must first communicate.
And to communicate, you must first develop trust.
But to be a new-age journalist means to potentially erode that trust with constant questioning — tough questioning.
Questions that might seem too probing, that push the boundaries of what is considered off limits for competitive reasons.
And yet without such probing there is no legitimate reason for a new-age journalist. The Internet dictates that companies’ press releases are now, perhaps more than ever before, truly as their name implies: releases for the public. The public can view and consume them as easily and rapidly as the new-age journalist can.
The only device that is left to the new-age journalist is the tool that makes effective communication so dicey in the first place: the question. Questions that dig beneath the surface of what said companies want you to know vs. what you need to know. In a nutshell, questions that read between the publicly stated lines. Questions like what does that press release mean to you, the reader? How will it affect your business? How will it affect this industry? And, of course, the “why” part of the equation: Why is this company really making this move/announcement?
Simple questions with not-so-simple answers, but ones that have to be asked if the new-age journalist will in fact play a role in the industry.
What is that role?
A trustworthy source, first and foremost. An impartial account at all times. An educator perhaps, a think tank at the very least.
Powersports Business routinely accomplishes all three of those tasks in its reports on this industry. However, we did stray from our objectives in a recent article, a fact that was pointed out to me by a dealer that I have tremendous respect for, Irv Fosaaen.
Fosaaen, a multipoint dealer in Iowa who also serves on the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. dealer advisory council, took offense to a global warming article that appeared in our recent Focus section on snowmobiles (see July 23, 2007 issue, page 15). “I was shocked to see an article with such a clear political agenda appear in a respected trade magazine,” Fosaaen wrote to me. “(The writer’s) statements are very clearly slanted to his particular political agenda and are presented as fact.
“He states that ‘a preponderance of evidence supports that the earth is getting warmer and that increased greenhouse emissions are to blame.’ Certainly there is a theory concerning global warming, but it is only a theory.”
Whether one believes global warming is a theory or scientific fact is not the issue, of course. The fact that we erred in one of our objectives — presenting an impartial account — in trying to obtain the other two goals was not lost on me, something I related to Fosaaen in a phone call. I agree with Fosaaen that we erred in using the phrase “‘a preponderance of evidence” to characterize one side of the global warming debate, as this would imply that one side’s compilation of facts and figures somehow outweighs the other’s.
Fosaaen went on to point out other examples of what he considered to be a biased report and also noted “Powersports Business is not the forum for such a debate. I hope you will continue to provide us with the latest trends and news in the powersports business and leave politics to the National Review.”
This is where we slightly disagree, as I would suggest that all types of politics are now affecting the industry, from the federal government’s eye on ATV youth safety standards to its expressed concern over escalating annual motorcycle fatalities.
Perhaps even this calendar year, politics at the federal level could leave lasting marks on our industry. That’s why we’ll continue to report on these and related issues to discover what impact they’ll have on the industry.
Fosaaen, for the record, is not opposed to Powersports Business covering such topics, even mentioning two other political hot-button issues — sound enforcement and land-use issues — as ones of note. What I believe he’s trying to emphasize is the issues and their potential or real impact on the industry, and not the politics surrounding them, should dominant our coverage.
It is often a fine line to discuss one without the other, but the larger and more important issue here is the expectation of balance within our reporting. Fosaaen demands it, a fact that we appreciate and share with him.
We, as new-age journalists, expect Powersports Business to be your trustworthy source, your impartial observer and, hopefully, your enlightened educator. And when we deviate from our objectives, I hope you’ll call attention to it, just like Fosaaen did.
As we are not without error, our intention is without question. PSB
Neil Pascale is editor of Powersports Business. He can be reached at npascale@ehlertpublishing.com.

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