Top(Gear)-Notch Effort

Posted: August 17, 2010 in Opinion
Tags: , , , ,

Top Gear Philippines is the local franchise of the British magazine bearing the same name. It is reputed to be the leading automobile magazine in the country. Its website, www.topgear.com.ph, is keeping up with the print version’s popularity, recently hitting 1 million monthly page views.

topgear.com.ph screen shot

Now, in the interest of transparency and complete disclosure, I must share that I served as an intern for the magazine last summer. Still, with total objectivity, I shall highlight the highs and lows of this automotive site.

First off, I must say that the Top Gear website–or any motoring website for that matter–is spared from the usual perils of journalism: rumor-mongering, sensationalism, and pressures of breaking news. Not that these motoring websites are complete immune from them; they just don’t feel the effects as much as political or entertainment sites. And with that, the chances to stray off the ethical path are considerably less.

So now, the critique. Let’s start with the good points.

1. There is a commendable effort on the part of the Top Gear web team to update the articles whenever more information is revealed. Such an example is the new number-coding rules of the MMDA.

2.Just as well, unverified reports are clearly stated as such. In this article about the leaked prices of the Ford Fiesta, it is mentioned that the listed figures are neithed confirmed or denied by Ford Philippines, and that the official announcement is yet to be given.

3. Sources of information, statements, and even photographs are also clearly stated. In this article about a proposed ban on kids from riding motorcycles, the source of the statements and the photograph is properly acknowledged.  The use of hyperlinks was also maximized to determine the source of the information, as shown in this Ferrari World article.

4. It shows now bias, particularly when it comes to car brands. As long as a car manufacturer has newsworthy updates, it would be posted on the site.

However, there are some slips found in foreign news articles that I found quite disconcerting. These slips involve the citation of sources–rather, the lack thereof. In this article about the MINI’s return to the World Rally Championship, Ian Robertson, a member of the BMW board of management, was quoted:

“I am delighted MINI will be represented on one of the most popular stages in international motorsport. The success enjoyed on the rally circuit has made a vital contribution to the image of the brand. MINI customers have always shown great interest in motorsport. I am convinced we will add a few more chapters to our success story in rallying.”

The exact quotation was also published in this WRC article discussing the same topic.

Top Gear PH's MINI-WRC article

Top Gear PH's MINI-WRC article

WRC's MINI-WRC article

WRC's MINI-WRC article

This begs a couple of questions: who was the orginal source of the quote? Or, for that matter, the entire story? Was the article an original creation or an aggregate of different blogs and news sources? Or perhaps it was from the official website of the car manufacturer? This remains unclear since there is nothing that would indicate the origin of the story. No byline to indicate that the article was done from scratch, but no attribution either to indicate that the story was lifted from other sources.

This is very troubling since, when I read the Top Gear story, I immediately got the impression that the article was created with the help of other sources or websites; after all, Top Gear Philippines, as far as I know, has no foreign correspondents who could cover the story firsthand. Yet, there were no sources mentioned other than the quoted personalities. The similar peculiarity is also noticeable in this article about the LA Auto Show, the 25,000th Porsche Panamera,  the Porsche 918 Spyder, and other international news.

In Top Gear’s defense, there are posts that are well-attributed. Here’s such an example: an aggregate of interesting news bits from different sources. This article about the most overpriced cars is also clearly attributed to Forbes.com.

So maybe it was just a simple case of oversight. Still, Top Gear Philippines has to remedy these minor lapses to maintain the impeccable credibility that it has worked hard to establish.

In general, it is an outstanding, top-notch automotive blog and rightfully deserves its reputation as the leading automotive authority in the country. Removing the small chinks in the armor would only make it that much stronger.

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