Internet journalism – the good, the bad and the ugly

I’ve been writing about Saab on the web for nearly seven years now and anyone who’s been following Saab’s journey over that period will know that there has been a lot to read and write about over that time.

I’m fortunate now in that I’m employed by Saab to write for them. I have never been able to claim a lack of bias in my writing, and that’s especially so today. I’m comfortable with that, as I’ve never pretended to be anything but an enthusiast.

Whilst I’m paid by the company, I still try to make sure that there’s some level of balance in what I write. I won’t air all of our dirty laundry, but I will report the bad news. I’ll also make sure that the good sides of this company that are overlooked in the mainstream media get some time in the sun, too.

I’ve been labelled by one editor-in-chief as a corporate PR shill, which I think is a bit rich. Whilst I do have to liaise with PR about market-sensitive stories, and whilst I do maintain a page that speaks to tens of thousands of people per month, I actually sit outside of the PR department at Saab. PR’s job is to speak to the press. My job is to speak on a more personal level to the people and in time, when this is all over, include people in some good Saab experiences and stories. That’s the broad difference, as I see it.

I’d like Saab enthusiasts to be able to read articles on the web and make some judgements about those articles. Too often I hear people panicking about something they see in the news. Yes, we’ve been in some serious situations, but it’s worth bearing in mind that things are generally not as sensational as they are written up to be.

Here’s a few thoughts on some of the various types of information going on out there.

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The good

In my experience, the absolute best source for objective hard news stories on Saab’s situation has been Bloomberg. The guy who covers Saab for Bloomberg is named Ola Kinnander and his stories on any subject to do with Saab are worth reading. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He doesn’t give us an easy ride in any way. But the good thing about Bloomberg’s reports is that they aren’t sensationalist like so many others have been in the last months.

If you see a sensational news story about Saab in your regular paper, look for the Bloomberg (or Business Week) story on the same subject before you draw a conclusion.

Other good sources recently have been Reuters and Just-Auto, though the latter often needs a subscription for some of the more in-depth articles. Trollhattan’s local paper, TTELA, often has good, insightful and local perspectives as well.

There are also a number of Saab enthusiast websites that follow Saab news pretty closely. Many of these offer some insights that regular news outlets don’t, however one has to acknowledge that they aren’t ever going to be 100% objective. That’s the nature of an enthusiast site, after all, but they’re worth following with a measured perspective.

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The bad

The internet has done some wonderful things for journalism and public access. It’s done some terrible things, too, however. Anyone with a few dollars, a laptop and a chunk of time can set up a slick-looking website and express their thoughts on their topic of choice. That’s a good thing. It’s how I got started. It can be a jungle out there, though, and the good sites are often hard to find.

If you get a shonky operator with a decent search optimisation strategy, they’ll have more eyes on their website (which is great for their advertisers) and as long as those eyes keep rolling in, the factual nature of the material on the site can comfortably take a back seat. Scraper sites, which merely lift content from other sites with no regard to its truthfulness are commonplace.

The key for operators of websites in a crowded space like the automotive sector is to have a good headline, one that will show up well on an RSS feed or on Twitter in order to get you to click through and read the story. The more sensational the headline, the better the chance of a click-through.

Just tonight, there have been stories all over Twitter stating that the cars in the Saab Museum were “seized by creditors”, leading to images in the readers’ minds of the vehicles being spirited away and the Museum being left empty. It’s not true, of course, but that’s a sensational headline for you.

Whilst some stories like the Museum story will twist reality into a sensational circumstance, some stories are just flat-out wrong. Several papers have prepared Saab obituaries already, and one made the mistake of publishing it yesterday. And this was a major media player in both print and television services. Beware.

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The (only slightly) ugly

Beware also (but to a lesser degree), the story with an opinion provided by ‘an analyst’. Many news agencies will call someone up and ask for their opinion on a certain set of circumstances. That someone – the analyst – usually comes attached to a respectable sounding company name, and the opinion will usually forecast more of what’s written about in the story.

Think about it: very few of these people, if any, are ever going to stake their professional reputation on being on the wrong side of public opinion. Their analysis will almost always concur with the editorial line within the report. As with regular newspapers, content is king in online reporting. You’ve got to get the story out there and backing it up with a third party who may or may not know the specifics of Saab’s situation gives the story more credence. It also gives the writers an ‘out’ if the story turns out to be incorrect either generally or specifically.

A friend in Stockholm asked me what I thought of this report, this morning.

Whilst I have a great deal of respect for the Automotive News group of industry papers, every opinion piece about Saab right now, regardless of where it comes from, is nothing more than an opinion.

My response to Johan was:

Am not too worried by it, to be honest.

We’ve been canned by every automotive analyst everywhere and they’ve all been wrong so far. We just keep doing what we do. The fact that this guy is a Chinese analyst makes no difference because when it comes down to it, he [probably] doesn’t know much about Saab and what we’ve got to offer.

I should expand on that.

The writer in question has a much better knowledge of the climate in China than what I do, and I respect that. However, he’s not saying anything here that hasn’t been said since the PangDa and Youngman deals were first reported.

And whilst he knows the climate there better than I do, I don’t believe he knows what the details of our deal with PangDa and Youngman, nor the capabilities that Saab can offer as one of the last western brands with a global network and some serious engineering nous. We don’t come in with huge capacity, but we do come in with decades of experience and expertise.

My response, continued….

As with every one of these guys, they see our size and they write us off. What they don’t see is our capability, which is what’s on offer, which is what’s attractive to companies there, which is what’s written up in detail in the submissions that have passed the two hurdles in the Chinese approval process so far.

The writer for Automotive News China cites the failed Hummer deal as evidence of a tightening auto industry policy taking effect there. But let’s be clear, here. The failure of the Hummer deal was primarily due to the Hummer brand, which was effectively dead two years before the deal was even conceived. Hummer made products that were good for a very specific customer in a very specific economic and social climate. Hummer’s time passed a long time ago.

It’s not seen as a good career move for an analyst to vote against the odds. Fortunately for them, we live in a goldfish bowl information age where people generally don’t remember who said what, or why. They just move on to the next news article. The fact that we might survive against their predictions won’t have any negative consequences for any of [the reporters or analysts].

The application by PangDa and Youngman is still progressing through the approval process. As we mentioned last week, the deal has passed the local and provincial levels with no problems. We now await approval at the National level. We don’t take the process for granted. We don’t assume anything. We work hard and respond to any queries so that our case is clear.

If we appear confident, it’s not arrogance. It’s just confidence in our partners, and what we have to achieve together.

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Conclusion

Of course, the downside for us at Saab is that we have a constant uphill battle to correct many of the misperceptions out there as a result of the bad reporting that happens at some outlets. That’s a battle we’ll have to keep fighting as time marches on. Results will be the key.

So if you can keep yourself educated and up to date as an interested Saab person, you can go a long way to helping us spread the right message about the company’s situation.

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16 Comments

  1. Good Story Steven! I hope Saab gets through these tough times. The bad state op the economy will not help to find more funding. If NDRC approves and Pang Da and Youngman invest 900 milion euro in total Saab has a chance. It’s tricky that the Chinese are not very rich companies themselves. Most important is the fact that Saab was not selling a lot of cars before this all happened. So a major campaign is needed to get more customers to buy Saab. 200.000 a year should be minimum in three years time. Otherwise the proffitable parts of Saab will be lost for Sweden. Good luck to you all!

  2. So if you can keep yourself educated and up to date as an interested Saab person, you can go a long way to helping us spread the right message about the company’s situation.
    That statement should be as bold as bold can be. Our fans and customers who are well informed need to shout it from the mountain tops and spread the right message about Saab. Really good read here Steven.

  3. Once again, well said.  To be well informed requires time to search out and read details.  Us Saab fans do, but I can understand why some do not take the time.  And as you say, in the fast paced 24 hour news cycle on the web, it is easy to forget who said what and who, ultimately, turned out to be correct.

  4. Great article. I, for one, have learned not to click through on sensational headlines. unless of course they are positive for Saab. 🙂 I’m only one click, but I don’t want my click helping bad journalists.

  5. Great and well-balanced article.  I was going to use the expression “flogging a dead horse”  when it comes to the usually reports about Saab, but Saab is alive and well.  There are only a very few sources (like Bloomberg) which do not have to resort to sensational reporting and actually employ journalists who are very informed about the subject they write about.

    I also want to add that you working at Saab greatly exceeded my expectations.  Not that I didn’t believe you wouldn’t maintain your integrity in reporting the news for Saab but I thought it was going to be a watered down version of your previous work on SU and basically become quite boring.  But it actually became even better because of all the extra insight you have and hands-on reporting you do in Trollhattan and beyond.  Cheers to you, the company, the people and good journalism.

  6. Swade, your articles speak for themselves that you are not a corporate PR shill.  Of course you are an enthusiast who has a positive outlook on Saab.  You’ve proven that you are objective in reporting the good and the bad.  That’s more than I can say about the ugly outlets out there.  I’ll put it out there so you don’t have to.  An editor of a less than truthful site about cars either has an axe to grind with Saab or is such an egomaniac that he will do anything to prove the death of Saab is inevitable.  This includes appalling “investigative journalism” and malicious articles despite how low the hit counts get. 

  7. These are indeed “interesting times”.
    In addition to Inside Saab and Saabs United, I also read NyTeknik, Teknikens Värld and AutoMotor & Sport. I am one of those who is constantly trying to rebuke the disinformation that feeds in the commenters fields at those sites. And who gets hammered for it by the naysayers.
    But who are these naysayers? Why are they doing this? Did their fathers drive Volvos or neighbours drive Saabs? What is driving this constant whining?

    Thank you for being where you are right now, Steve.
    Keep notes, because this will be a good book someday. 🙂

  8. Most of the damage done to the Saab brand is not the production stop, the uncertain future or low sales figures, but the constant speculation in the media by all these ‘insiders’. People who don’t know better are put off Saab because of newspaper headlines more than anything Saab could ever do.

  9. Well said Swade , I too have had a lot of people come to myself and say one thing or another about  what has been said about SAAB cars . The stories are not well informed on the part of the wrighter so I tell them the clown story . Your on a bus a clown sits next to you and begins to tell you how to fix your car , you move away , once home  you get on the net and look for a  “fix” for your car . So much goes into the vetting of information but you never know if it’s the clown you just dismissed or someone who will guide you in a proper way . Not everyone on the net is a clown but you can’t tell
    I go to places that I know give me the best information  , thats why I pay to be on the SAAB cars site for all repair information , and to other trusted sites for the business information . It’s just my way , not the only way but there are a lot of clowns out there.  Dave , Ohio , USA , I Belive in SAAB  cars  =) 

    1. Heh, this post is actually me… Signed in with the wrong account–OOPS. Sometimes hard to keep track of what all these different login things do. So many you have to remember if you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account.

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