Wisdom > Opinion

How to deal with freebies if you’re a new motoring journalist

Our youngest staff member has an epiphany

A free car battery? Why not? But then, you might have to compromise your integrity. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

As our most avid readers should know, I’m new to this industry. It has been my dream job, growing up surrounded by all things motoring-related, wanting to be just like those three middle-aged British men squabbling over extravagant cars.

I’d eventually come to learn and experience the perks of working in this industry (well, not everything yet, thanks to COVID), like borrowing cars that most people wouldn’t be able to drive, and receiving cool freebies from generous automakers. Needless to say, it’s quite overwhelming, especially for someone who loves automobiles.

A few days back, I was given the opportunity to get a Motolite Excel battery. Free, yes. Of course, I was excited. The battery in my car was due for replacement, after all. Who wouldn’t say no to this opportunity?

I filled out the forms and waited a few days, and the day finally came. When the new battery was installed in my car, I was ecstatic to drive my steed around. All I had to do was post something on social media, and that was it—I had basically “earned” the battery!

The author removes the battery from his car after realizing something. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

But then, I remembered something. Whenever I saw influencers advertise something on their social-media accounts, it was in the form of this “scripted” post that they had to follow. Even before I entered the industry, I had always regarded these sponsored posts to be too unnatural (apologies to all my influencer friends).

It hit me: To enjoy a free car battery, I had to do something like that. I had to say something nice about the product (and make it appear like I meant it). My parents would tell me when I was a kid: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH.

To be fair, Motolite was not forcing me to write or say anything, period. And I could easily afford another new battery. But as much as I wanted to keep it to myself—I mean, it was a brand-new battery, and they don’t come cheap—I figured that I should pass it on to a friend who needed it more than I did.

The lucky beneficiary of the author's self-denial. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

I found one such friend, who runs a small bike-repair business from his home. He has a Toyota Tamaraw FX, which he was planning to fix up to help him transport his goods around the city. Unfortunately, due to recent events, the older battery in his car had drained, and he had to allocate most of his parts budget to bicycle parts.

Yes, I know it was the wrong size. My Corolla Altis’s battery size is the odd NS60, while the Tamaraw FX uses an N50-sized battery. It’s a little smaller, but his car’s engine started up instantly. I could tell that his face lit up behind his mask.

I’m not writing this to make myself look good, or even to call others out. If a colleague wants to accept a freebie, I’m not judging him (or her). But if I could do my job without having to deceive or mislead my readers, that would be great

I had this notion before that these freebies were part of the job—that they were among the reasons this gig was so awesome. But what I didn’t realize was that the whole thing came with a certain responsibility. Because we are tasked to disseminate information for public consumption, we need to ensure that we respect the trust people bestow upon us—and one way of doing that is to make sure we do not become manipulated mouthpieces for the businesses we cover.

Now, I’m not writing this to make myself look good, or even to call others out. If a colleague wants to accept a freebie, I’m not judging him (or her). One of the main reasons I wanted to be part of this industry is to share experiences (good or bad) with others, and help inform them without the glare. If I could do that without having to deceive or mislead my readers, then that would be great. I’m just 22 years old, and there’s much for me to learn. I’m just glad to have mentors to help keep me pointed in the right direction.

Just as my editor-in-chief told me: I shouldn’t take integrity for granted. Whether you’re a motoring journalist, an accountant, a teacher, a medical worker or a politician, integrity is a must.

To my friend, take care of the car battery. May it help you do many commendable things. To Motolite, I have no idea if your new battery is any good. If it is, rest assured you’re making a deserving soul happy.

Sam Surla

Sam is the youngest member of our editorial team. And he is our managing editor (believe it or not). He specializes in photography and videography, but he also happens to like writing about cars a lot.