BILL SHEA

Detroit News calls decision to water down Chrysler 200 review a mistake

Bill Shea covers marketing and media issues for Crain's Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News.Bill Shea covers marketing and media issues for Crain's Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News.
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A decision by The Detroit News to water down the online version of a critical review of the Chrysler 200 by auto writer Scott Burgess -- after a car dealer complained -- has drawn fire from the blogosphere and now an admission of error by the newspaper.

Burgess reportedly quit as the The News' auto critics after he skewered the vehicle (which was the car featured in Chrysler's attention-getting Super Bowl television spot) on March 10, calling it "a dog" and prompting a car dealership that advertises in the newspaper to complain about the review.

The News responded to the complaint by toning down the online version of the criticism. The print version was already on the street.

The popular national auto blog Jalopnik posted the original review with the removed portions marked in red. The Web site accused the newspaper of selling its soul when it changed the review to appease an advertiser. A number of other auto websites have picked up on the controversy and have had harsh words for The News.

I talked this morning to Sue Carney, the paper's business editor, and she declined to name the dealership that complained or to discuss details of how the decision was made to change the review.

She said that the decision to alter the review was "a mistake" that "was made with good intentions."

"We didn't handle it very well," she said.

That's something of a reversal of a statement she gave Wednesday night to Jalopnik in which she wrote:

"We made several changes to the online version of Scott's review because we were uncomfortable with some of the language in the original. It should have been addressed during the editing process but wasn't. While it was too late to edit the print version, we were able to make changes online. The changes did not fundamentally change the thrust of Scott's piece.

"A car dealer raised a complaint and we took a look at the review, as we would do whenever a reader raises a flag. The changes were made to address the journalism of the piece, not the angst of a car dealer. We left the print version alone, but the the online environment offered the flexibility to rework language that should have been caught in the editing process."

The paper also issued a blunt statement today from Publisher Jon Wolman: "Our intent was to make an editing improvement and we obviously handled it poorly. We should have let the online version of his review stand as written, as we did the print version."

Burgess' largely positive review of the 2011 Kia Optima appears on the newspaper's Web site today, but that was a piece filed before he resigned. He's worked at The News since 2005, according to a bio that appears on his blog at DetNews.com.

An e-mail seeking comment was sent to him this morning.

You can reach Bill Shea at bshea@crain.com.

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