Jonathan Wolman"I owe our readers an explanation and an apology for the lapse that raised questions about our credibility" writes Detroit News publisher Jonathan Wolman today in a response to the blowback caused by the paper's decision to weaken a review of the Chrysler 200 in response to advertiser demands. The decision to edit the online version of the review, which had already appeared in its original form in print, caused longtime auto reviewer Scott Burgess to resign rather than sacrifice his integrity. Burgess discussed the matter this week during a live appearance on Autoline After Hours and in a reader Q&A session at Jalopnik, which broke the story on Wednesday.

Wolman argues that Burgess was asked to "soften a few passages," but that "there was no effort to change Scott's verdict or his reasoning."

Why bother, then? The excuse that "our intent was to improve the piece by making these passages less grating" is an exceptionally thin attempt to cover the paper's backside. Nobody found it "grating" as the paper went to press, but suddenly, web readers are going to start bleeding from their eye sockets when Burgess rightly points out that while the Chrysler 200 is an improvement over the Sebring, that's all it is? This affair hasn't just "raised questions" about the paper's integrity; rather, it's all but ensured that The Detroit News will be viewed skeptically by many people going forward.

For his part, Scott Burgess states that he feels The Detroit News remains a source worthy of readers' trust. In a comment to Jalopnik readers, he says,

"I think nearly every print publication -- including The Detroit News -- are trustworthy. The reason this became a big deal is because it is so rare, it never happened before and it certainly won't happen again at the paper. In 15 plus years I had never had anything close to this happen to me. Journalists are a dogged group of people who work extremely hard, are typically underpaid and want to do the right thing.

In recent years, we've seen a lot of polarization of issues and I think that's been more of a threat from online the changing ways people consumer media. There are a lot more voices out there and papers shouldn't feel threatened by them, they should embrace them. I have always enjoyed the discussion, the debate, thoughtful response and evolution of ideas. There seems to less of that nowadays."

Advertisers must sell product, and it's natural for an auto dealership to complain about negative reviews of the wares it sells. It's also not a stretch to understand how a newspaper would pay attention to an unsatisfied car dealer, as automotive ads are one of the biggest sources of revenue to newspapers. Still, that doesn't get Wolman or The Detroit News off the hook, and a carefully-worded apology is too little, too late when the appropriate action would have been to back up the staff of "expert writers" the apology glowingly brags about.

[Source: The Detroit News]