Detroit News editor and publisher Jonathan Wolman apologized to the newspaper’s readers as well as to auto reviewer Scott Burgess March 19 for editing Burgess’ review of the Chrysler 200 car when an advertiser complained about it. Burgess resigned from the newspaper over the situation.
Burgess’ review was critical of the car. Gawker-owned auto blog Jalopnik posted what it believes are the sections removed (and now restored). The comments in question include Burgess’ comparison of the car’s profile to “a loggerhead turtle” and calling it a “dog.”
When the newspaper asked him to change his review, he agreed to change some parts of the online version of his article (his original review was published in the print edition of the newspaper’s “Drive” section), and then decided to resign.
According to Wolman, the “advertiser complained that some material in the review was acerbic and disrespectful,” which led to the newspaper’s request of Burgess “to soften a few passages in the online version.”
“While our intent was to improve the piece by making these passages less grating, our decision to make these changes after fielding an advertiser’s complaint was a humbling mistake,” Wolman wrote.
In a March 18 article, the Detroit News reported Burgess’ resignation and noted that his review has “been restored” to its original version online. “I quit because of the motivation behind the editing,” Burgess reportedly said in an auto industry webcast.
SiFy.com reported Burgess said: “I regret not standing up and saying, ‘No, we can’t change this.’ I felt I’m just as guilty letting it happen. I kind of felt like a deer in the headlights. I didn’t know what to do.”
Burgess reportedly tweeted to Jalopnik that “All of the edits could have been made before the story printed, and I would still be working there today.”
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The article in question now features a note that “Note: This review has been restored to the original version that was first published on March 10, 2011.”
in a statement to Jalopnik, Detroit News business editor Sue Carney said “a car dealer” was behind the complaint.
iMediaEthics is writing to the Detroit News and Burgess for comment and will update with any response.
Last week, AOL-owned TechCrunch faced a similar issue, when a Moviefone/AOL representative passed on a request from a movie studio publicist to “tone down” its article about the movie Source Code. TechCrunch published the request and said it wouldn’t be changing its content. In response, Moviefone said the e-mail was just to pass on a request, and not a demand.
Hat Tip: Romenesko
UPDATE: 03/21/2011 11:28 AM EST: Jon Wolman responded to iMediaEthics’ e-mail inquiry asking for comment. Wolman wrote: “I tried to crystallize my thoughts in the publisher’s note we published on Saturday.”
We also asked if there was a possibility Burgess would return to Detroit News since his review has been restored and the newspaper apologized. Wolman wrote: “Scott is welcome to return and has said he isn’t sure yet what he’ll decide to do next.”