Today, we will briefly tackle a topic that arises with the tides’ frequency. That is the matter of journalism in the field of watches and horology. Moreover, I am to clarify some terms for those of you who find yourself occasionally frustrated when reading a publication on your hobby. My goal is to help alleviate any frustration and the potential damage done by reading something untruthful and, most importantly, managing your expectations.
Not a Good Fit
As we descended the stairs, our eyes immediately started picking out familiar faces at the event. Though the lighting in the cramped ceiling venue kept the vibe of a disturbing crime scene in the middle of the night, we saw and registered the faces that gave us pause. These faces belonged to the folks that made a perfect circle when a certain Venn Diagram of behaviours was considered. This was the inability to hold in their liquor and act like fools and embarrass those they were with, and those who also relished events with an open bar and drank and ate as much as they could. They usually end up stumbling home on their own after leaving without saying any goodbyes as part of them starts fighting to reconcile how they see themselves and behave.
“Hey, you! Come here!” The softness of his inebriated eyes heavily betrayed the confidence in the volume of his words.
I looked over and gestured that I was in the middle of a conversation. Too drunk to understand the basic hand gesture of “wait,” my friend seated across the table from me understood and said she would wait for my return. Begrudgingly I made my over, making my way past a half dozen faces who were all pretending to be engaged in conversations that were not audible over the venue’s choice of forgettable music.
“Hey, you,” he repeated. “You write about watches! They are looking for someone to write about watches! Are you cheap?” At this point, I regretted coming over and took note never to entertain requests from such people even when they were in a sober state.
“Sure,” I said in an attempt to make the conversation go by as quickly as possible.
“Well meet my friends. They’re looking for a guy that writes about watches,” he repeated with a glazed yet satisfied grin.
“For fuck’s sakes,” I said under my breath as I turned back to my table to apologize with a single look at those still seated at my table who looked on at me with a mix of sympathy and Schadenfreude. Before I turned back, I saw one member of our table also stumble back as they too had taken the privilege of the open bar too far. “For fuck’s sakes,” I repeated under my breath as I turned towards the new faces ahead of me.
It took a while, but after repeatedly asking what their publication was and what the mission statement of their business was, it was apparent that I was not a good fit.
“Here is my card, and if you two are serious, contact me to set up a meeting to see whether we are a good fit for each other.” They looked at each other and could not hide their irritation.
They expected anyone who identified as a writer to be grateful for an opportunity and take the job blindly. Being a professional musician in a previous life, I had come across such people with great frequency. Those who do not have a professional degree and expertise in a creative field immediately discount the worth of a creative’s work. Outside of the few occasions many years ago when someone would not agree to pay the amount they signed for (yes, I had written contracts for even the most basic performances), most were benign and needed to be educated on the matter of how much one’s time in a specific field costs.
The fact that this happens with some regularity points to some very good reasons as to why it does. Unfortunately, the reason is an ugly one and not one that artists like to discuss, and it has severe consequences as a result. This reason is that the majority of “creatives” ( for the record, I hate this term and that of “content creators”) are not trained and are merely hobbyists—their relative level of work results in a depreciation of the perception of their work. If every musician in every bar, restaurant or subway classically trained at a conservatory before heading off to university to become a professional musician, the public’s conceptions of the level of work they are receiving would have made my life as a young person performing musician a lot easier. I was surprised years later to reencounter this attitude, but this time as a writer.
To quickly clarify how this all ties in with writers are those on social media, YouTube and other venues who did not put in the time to be an expert on the matter which they are writing about. They usually are guilty of making the article or video about themselves and not the product. Thus the end product of their work rarely gives any insight that would be helpful for the reader/potential consumer.
Many months ago, I was warned by a professional writer that works with established venues that the pay is miserable. When looking at their articles, the level of writing, editing, and, most importantly, messaging was poor compared to other publications such as newspapers and magazines such as The Atlantic or The Economist. More distressing was the actual mission of this established venue and how it echoed the repeated concerns from enthusiasts—problems such as the one I encountered last night. And sadly, this is why I am not a good fit for most venues and continue to write on my site and those of people I trust.
The Unrelenting Inertia of Content and its Consequences
“I just read a messed up mainstream watch review,” wrote a good friend. “Watch people are wither criminally stupid or love being lied to.”
The area of concern was once again reading another review which was not truthful. The ‘review’ was just another fluff piece written by a journalist for an established venue that did nothing but extend and reinforce the sentiments that the watch brand’s press releases had done.
I responded by writing the following:
In the case of my friends, they, like the readers, have no idea what goes into diving in a professional.
Thus, the obvious lies to a diver went over her head and that of her readers. Both they and the ppl who bought the watch vehemently defended the lies at first, only to succumb and calm down. (Some of them I did not even bother correcting)
Watch companies have created an ecosystem of comfort and escapism for consumers. It is where they get their profits from.
When it is threatened, those who have been immersed in this environment have an immune system reaction and fight off apparent truths.
This surprisingly not only includes the writers and the hobbyists. Though frequent in comparison, the level of offence that hobbyists feel when they read a review or a post (read content, hold on to that thought for a moment) that is so poorly written that it can not mask its goal of selling watches for a brand, dwarfs when someone points out a lie or a detrimental design flaw in a watch designed for a specific circumstance. I have the privilege of diving at a high level, so I understand intimately what design decisions in a timepiece can be a liability. Most consumers do not. This results in consumers believing what is written in these established venues, for their writers also do not have an innate knowledge or understanding of this. It is not only enough to read about what may work in the field; after thousands of hours of experience, it then becomes apparent what works and what does not.
This is where an expert opinion comes in. Hilariously enough, brands know this and hire faces to stand in as experts. They offer no input, and if they do for some of the brand’s dive watches, they are lying. This to the regular consumer and the obsessive hobbyist makes what they are being told to be taken as irrefutable gospel.
So why is this the case, and what should be done about it?
Regardless of the Economics, This is Not Good Enough
It would have been a forgettable seasonal day in late July, but almost seven years ago, that day had a distinct air of muted anxiety.
“So, which newspaper will you turn to now that Nikkei has bought The Financial Times,” asked one of my closest friends, who also happens to be the only person I know in my age bracket who also reads the newspaper every morning.
Earlier that morning, I did a little research on the Japanese firm and found their website to be (and still is) riddled with comforting terms such as “responsible” and “fair and impartial reporting.”
Even after reading the editor’s letter to the paper’s readers, I responded with a shrug and “I guess I’ll start looking for the bridge when it needs crossing.” Thankfully, I have not had to enquire about the whereabouts of such a bridge, for the reporting has remained fair, impartial, and reliable over the years.
The only noticeable changes I could see was a gradual shift from certain “wealthy folk” lifestyle readers to be phased out for more concrete and hard-editorial work and more advertisements.
How a newspaper, magazine (print or online), or news site generates money is critical. One only needs to look at less mature industries and the publications that orbit them for perspective.
While fields such as automotive journalism have matured to the point where actual journalism can take place while simultaneously having car brands fulfil their advertisements, this has proved to be a challenge in some other industries, including the watch industry.
The primary example that comes to mind was very public in the video game industry in 2007. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the video game industry, the primary source of journalism takes place on websites. The majority of these websites also do reviews for the games, which may be running an advertising campaign on the site. In 2007, the videogame website Gamespot (which is owned by CBS Interactive) had fired their editor Jeff Gerstmann regarding irregularities of review scores for a game titled Kane and Lynch by Eidos Interactive, who was threatening to pull their advertisements from the site due to the mediocre review score the title had received. It is now known that larger companies such as Sony also did this during this period with their Ratchet and Clank franchise.
So why does this matter in the video game and automative spaces, whereas this seemingly does not in the world of watches? To be blunt, it has to do with how heavy the consequences of a negative review are, which leads directly to the most significant piece of the puzzle that watch enthusiasts miss, which is the target and majority share of the audience.
When it comes to motor vehicles, lying about a car’s safety and performance will quickly undermine any credibility of the publication, thus making its existence in the market relatively short. Anyone with the majority of their sense intact needed for the act of driving can quickly tell that they were lied to within the first block of driving the car. This direct line between the review and reality was one that video game publishers did not make, for video game consumers can also gauge the quality of the product quite effectively.
What has resulted in the years since this scandal has been more transparent reporting in the video game industry, and this is something which has not yet happened, and here is why it may never happen.
Our Hobby is Painfully Dumb, and So Are We, But We Are Better Than This
Unlike products such as video games and cars, the quality of watches and the work that goes into them is harder to quantify and justify for the customer who just dropped $8000 on a luxury watch.
Besides wearing well on one’s wrist and being somewhat accurate, the level of investment a customer needs to undertake to differentiate between an entry-level TAG Heuer Aquaracer and a high-end Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is immense. One must understand how movements work, how different materials are used to increase the cost and level of work accomplished on the timepiece (in most cases by machines and not by hand), and how they would perform under the use cases in which they are advertised. This level of investment is so high that even the most seasoned collectors in various watch groups have no idea what they are talking about. By the way, for you, yes you, the collector reading this, this is why your local watchmaker with that prestigious watchmaker degree (not diploma) ignores your group and your insanely stupid circle-jerk of a chat thread.
This opens the door for marketers to get creative and create ridiculous and fictitious narratives surrounding their products. In the automotive space, writers who work for marketing and public relations firms are tasked with painting the rosiest picture of their products for the consumer. This results in them being strategically vague when the picture is not flattering. It is the writer’s job who wears the journalist’s cap to call out these firms and press releases on their falsies for the consumer. Their function within society is to provide this level of clarity for the consumer and help them make an informed decision.
First, since it is incredibly hard for the consumer, enthusiasts and some writers that I have met to discern the finer points about what makes a watch worthy of their hard-earned income, this has allowed the term journalist to be hijacked by the immature and yet-to-be refined business plans of the print/online publications which the mass populace turns to. For the goals of the publication and its writers is not better to inform you about the product; it is to help sell watches for the brands. This requires writing more than simply about how a timepiece wears and how it compares to other watches on the market. It requires a critical approach to everything that encompasses the watch, including the brand’s business practices across their offerings and holding their feet to the fire when it is deserved. You deserve better, and as these frequent complaints about the lack of integrity of journalism within the watch industry prove, you are more intelligent than this. Yet we return to the same hot stove, repeatedly put our bare hands on the heated element, and act surprised each time we are burned. You big dummy!
Second, the audiences and the consequences of misinforming them are vastly different than what the enthusiast would like to believe.
I’m Sorry, It’s Not You, It’s Not Me, It Never Is, And Never Will Be
Even though you, the enthusiast (if you are not a watch enthusiast reading this, let me know who you are so I can belittle what you outwardly identify with and your self-worth at a later date), would like to think that these publications that you scour over are for you, you’re mistaken.
I have had the opportunity to dive (pun intended) deep into many enthusiast groups, and one pattern emerges that rings true for all of them. Enthusiasts are frugal, not cheap. They are informed enough to look for the best bang for their buck, presenting a problem specifically for watch brands. Watch enthusiasts typically do not buy new luxury watches (watches that are $1500 and above). They stalk their ticking prey on their browsers as they hunt for the best bargain to meander away from the pack so they can attack. Making matters worse is that these enthusiasts also do not service their watches with the brands that make their watches. They are educated and informed enough to find an overqualified watchmaker who will do a much better job than a faceless corporation taking hold of your watch for half the year only to return it, having done work you specified for them not to do.
You, the enthusiast, as a result, are not whom the brands want to reach. The wealthy enthusiast who buys everything new and services their watches with brands is also not their primary target either, for they will spend their money as soon as it comes to ripe from their tree in their backyard.
The average consumer buys such a timepiece for an occasion or as a high-end piece of jewelry is their target. They purchase new from the brand’s boutiques or authorized dealers. More importantly, they return to the dealer or boutique to service their watch, and because of their sheer numbers versa you, the poor little enthusiast, thus are a larger pool of income from them to divert their efforts towards.
This is why you, the enthusiast, read the carefully expanded marketing drivel in watch publications with such dismay. These articles are not for you. They are for the working person looking to get something nice as a reward. That’s it. This consumer primarily differentiates between the timepieces based on brand recognition and if there is a captivating narrative or lifestyle surrounding the product. Thus, these are the points which are reinforced in these publications.
Conclusions from an Abandoned Armchair
“Yeah, I think that you two can consider yourselves photographers,” said a retired photographer about myself and another friend in the group video chat. Though we both protested, she followed with her point that silenced both of us.
“When your work is good enough, clients will come to you. They will seek you out with their chequebooks at the ready. This has happened to you two, and you are better off accepting this than not doing so.”
My friend who was grouped in with me was and still is considering changing careers and becoming a full-time photographer. I, on the other hand, have no such plans and made it apparent.
“Granted, some have come forward and are all too happy to pay, but I still would rather not turn the corner from doing this for fun to doing this for the money. Photography brings me joy, and I never want to do it on someone else’s terms,” I said.
“You were also approached to write for money as well last week, right? Did you accept,” asked another participant.
“Nope. Their terms were vague. They had little understanding of the industries they wanted to work with. I have as of yet been able to find a clear-headed enough of a client for my writing than I have found for corporate and family portraits.”
Most of my friends nodded in agreement as they mentally went over their Rolodexes of nightmare clients in all walks of their professional lives. My well-seasoned friend replied, however, with a smirk.
“Well, you’re already fucked on both fronts and do not even know it yet. You might as well call yourself a writer, for even though you have rejected paid work in that regard, your work has carried enough weight for these people to want your brand and work to coincide with theirs.”
“Why do you have to ruin everything,” I replied in jest as most of us giggled before we went on to critique our recent photographs.
At this point, I started to become more careful about what I wrote about and where I allowed my words to be published. As you may or may not have noticed, there has been a shift towards writing for my site and not that of others recently. This came upon the realization that the paths which publications in the watch industry can take are severely limited.
You, the enthusiast, need to be aware of this realization and stop taking publications in your field of interest seriously. First, if the publication has an online store selling the very products they write about, do not take them seriously. If the publication in question has shareholders who own brands which are written about, please do not hold them in the same regard as you would journalists in other industries. If the publication does not have the option to review products for more than a few weeks, do not give their words much weight as to how it performs. If the publication has ever or currently collaborates with the brands they cover, take everything they write with a palette of salt. If the professional being quoted for the product’s performance is being paid by the brand, or even worse, is the brand owner, think critically about what they are claiming and look for alternate sources of information that can corroborate their claims.
For fuck’s sakes, I mouth to myself as I type the last sentences of this article; you are better than this and have continually proven to be an exceptionally bright person. Stop complaining about the journalistic integrity of these sites, and do something about it. This is to stop visiting their websites whenever you are bored, thus generating the numbers they require for their ad revenues. More importantly, stop giving these venues a voice and their legitimacy by being able to exist and behave in the manner that they do.
You big Dummy!