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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Auto press group solicits ideas for ethics policy, but at least one member is skeptical

This week, President Emeritus Scotty Reiss asked members of the International Motor Press Association to submit ideas for the group's first ethics policy.


NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Members of the International Motor Press Association and Washington Automotive Press Association met this week for a free technical conference to improve their content and hone their social-media skills.

Five automakers sponsored the event, held at Volvo Cars Manhattan, including a light breakfast and lunch, and an evening cocktail party on the roof of a hotel called Ink 48.

The party, featuring $29 glasses of French champagne and light snacks, was paid for by Drive Shop, which manages new press and marketing vehicles many members can borrow free for "test drives."

In fact, many IMPA members have such a cozy relationship with auto companies and dealers I was surprised to hear President Emeritus Scotty Reiss solicit ideas for the press group's first ethics policy. 

I didn't get a chance to ask her at the conference on Tuesday why she thought the group needed an ethics policy, and she hasn't responded to my emails.

Freebies galore

I'm not sure IMPA is ready for an ethics policy.

"Free" is the operative word at IMPA, which calls itself the country's "oldest organization of automotive journalists and public relations professionals."

Members come from all media -- print, broadcast and Internet -- and include public relations representatives of all the world's automotive manufacturers and suppliers.

In addition to free cars and SUVs to borrow for a weekend or a week, some members have all their expenses paid when they travel to auto shows to report on new models or attend a "reveal" of a new car or SUV.

Few IMPA members disclose these freebies -- including airfare, hotel rooms and fine dining -- and many of their reports are indistinguishable from the advertising and promotion paid for by the automakers and dealers themselves.

Convivial lunches

I joined IMPA in the 1980s, when I wrote a monthly road-test column on new cars for The Record, then in Hackensack, N.J.

After I left the paper in 2008, I let my membership lapse, but rejoined when I began writing a blog, Shocking Car News, which focused on all-electric and hybrid cars, including my 2015 Tesla Model S.

Later, I folded that blog into The Sasson Report, which covers EVs, food, politics, news of Hackensack, where I live, and other topics.

I enjoy the free monthly IMPA lunches in Manhattan, convivial gatherings of writers, public relations people and auto company executives.

But given IMPA's emphasis on members monetizing their content, and the group's distaste for criticizing the industry and dealers, I can't imagine an ethics policy with any teeth.

Climate change 

For example, I don't see IMPA acknowledging how the auto industry damaged the environment in the past century or how auto emissions cause tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.

Few auto writers in the group focus exclusively on all-electric cars and gas-electric hybrids or ever discuss the environmental advantages of owning such a vehicle.

Good luck, Scotty. I sent you my ideas for an ethics policy. But I'm not holding my breath.

At Tuesday's tech conference, IMPA members heard from representatives of Facebook, Volvo and Drive Shop on how they can increase their presence on social media.
Katz's Deli delivered a light lunch, but servers didn't know what was in some of the sandwiches, which is how I ended up eating a chicken-salad sandwich, below, when I thought I was getting tuna fish. (I don't eat poultry or meat).

During the cocktail party atop Ink 48, I asked for a glass of French champagne, which was listed on the bar menu for $29. Delicious.

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