Gunwriters: Whores or Journalists?

By Randy Wakeman

You might find it odd that, being a gunwriter myself, I�d approach the subject of whether gunwriting today is honest reporting or a collection of thinly-veiled advertisements generated not only by so-called �journalists,� but also by an industry that seeks to be serviced by a constant drone of praise. This drone of praise, often unwarranted, is both perpetrated and perpetuated by the firearms industry itself.

Theoretically, there should be a respectful, ethical distance between manufacturers and those who evaluate their products. Jack O� Connor, who I consider to be not just a journalist, but a very good one, was wise enough to stay away from product reviews, avoiding the muddy waters we attempt to boat. It was a different era, though, where it was the effort and the words that were salaried positions, not their content.

Clearly, much product review content is subjective rather than objective and it is important to distinguish between the two. Whether a firearm is �attractive� is up to the individual to decide. When a firearm is poorly machined, has unfinished or improperly fitted parts, is made of unsuitable materials, or is designed for inexpensive production at the cost of performance is far less a matter of the eye of the beholder. Some things simply do not function as described and that needs to be reported.

Writers sometimes imply that there is an association between the brand of rifle being reviewed and an animal shot in the course of that review. It apparently works. A brand of rifle associated with a trophy animal seeks to give the ridiculous impression that had it not been for the name stamped on the barrel, the hunt would somehow have been a failure. Most of us, taking a deep breath and perhaps taking a sip of coffee, understand that logic simply doesn�t allow for that type of characterization.

Manufacturers themselves are caught in a bit of a predicament. Gun companies are smallish OEM�s, decidedly tiny compared to most of the nationally recognized names elsewhere in the marketplace. These small companies are asked to shell out perhaps $50,000 for a one-shot full page ad in American Rifleman magazine, regardless if that ad is ever viewed, much less absorbed, much less responsible for results. Yet, without a reasonable amount of 100% consumer-financed advertising (where else?) the same company is viewed as less substantial, less viable and perhaps less appealing.

Unfortunately, the gunwriter must necessarily have a dependency of sorts on manufacturers. We rely on them to produce new, better, improved products--products that are worth writing about in the first place. Not all manufacturers are confident enough (or brave enough) to have their products given close scrutiny. Some opt only for the safest route, that being reviews screened by editors who will forsake honesty rather than jeopardize an advertising account. It is, of course, the editor's job to protect the viability of the magazine, web site, or television show regardless of the sins of omission that sometimes are more than a little self-evident.

What we have, and constantly seek, is a bond of trust that the writer owes his readers regardless of long-standing practices that may impair the harshest of truths. Writers owe their readers their best efforts, even if at a professional cost. In the end, readers who seek it have access to fact-based, experience-based reporting. Sometimes, we seek not new information, but just �information� that validates and bolsters our own past purchases. That�s not the type of content Guns and Shooting Online readers deserve, or get.

In the end, a higher level of journalistic integrity can be aspired to and achieved. It takes manufacturers that, while not always enjoying the report, can appreciate the candidness of its content. It takes readers who really want fact-based opinions, rather than hyperbole or regurgitations of ad-copy. We recently lost NBC�s Tim Russert, a distinguished Washington correspondent with his fair share of detractors. Most people understand now, I believe, that his candidness and enthusiasm set him apart as uniquely influential and beneficial, as well his fairness that was even the recent object of parody.

Sure, there are many �whores� in gunwriting and other media. To propagate and perpetuate this, of course, requires manufacturers and consumers that want these services. Thankfully, many of us do not want and do not bite.

We can all improve by doing our fair share. I won�t allow false information to disseminate from my pen and I don�t believe that Chuck Hawks will either. We will make mistakes, of course, such is the human condition. However, we will hold them to a minimum and correct the published record when new and better information is available.

We want you to let us know how we are doing so that we can improve our efforts. Sooner or later, we can make the ghost of Jack O�Connor smile, even if Elmer Keith might frown a bit in concert.

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Copyright 2008, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.