THOUSAND OAKS, CA: General Motors is positioning a controversial new program to provide college journalists with a free trip to Las Vegas to learn about the company's products as a novel attempt to reach out to an underserved media demographic.
The first-ever GM "College Journalists Event" was scheduled to take place on September 9 and 10 in Las Vegas. The event was designed to bring in students who are reporters for their college newspapers to an event that simulates the type of industry junkets that are standard among the professional automotive press.
Andrea Canabal, assistant communications manager for GM's Western region, said that she and colleague Diedra Wylie, who had the original idea for it, are largely coordinating the program. Both are in their early twenties, and came to GM through its internship program. Canabal said that they believed that students "learn more in a real life setting," and that the college journalists' trip would allow them a "chance to really see what it's like" from a professional automotive reporter's perspective.
The program's focus will be on the culture of car customization, presumably a topic more geared to the youth market. The weekend will feature a speech from an outside consultant. Several professional automotive journalists were also slated to attend to answer students' questions, Canabal said.
The program has generated some dissent in the blogosphere, after a University of North Carolina professor posted GM's invitation and questioned whether such a trip raised ethical questions, including whether it amounted to an attempt of a large corporation to buy off the loyalties of young reporters.
Canabal said that the program, which includes a free trip to Las Vegas and complimentary room and board, followed the same setup that GM routinely offers to automotive news outlets. The Las Vegas location was chosen not for its glamour, she said, but because of its proximity to a nearby GM facility.
"I would hope [the students'] opinion wouldn't be swayed by a free trip," she said.
Canabal also noted that GM had approached the faculty advisors of the college papers first, asking them if it was okay to pitch the trip to the students. The weekend date was chosen so that students would not be forced to miss any school, she added.
Canabal said that ten schools, including Duke, Penn State, Purdue, Washington, and Missouri had signed off on the proposal.
GM is viewing the experience as a pilot program and will evaluate whether or not to continue it depending on its success, she added.