I have read many messages here on the forum about gun magazines and gun writers. So I thought if I am going to participate here to any extent, as a "gun writer" I should share some information about me and they way I do my job. As for most other writers, I would only be able to speculate on their work or motivations.
I started writing when I was still a cop, mostly for law enforcement related magazines. The pay was terrible but it was fun, and I got to share what I thought was some good information with fellow officers. I have always been a hunter and shooter, and slowly progressed toward writing about those subjects.
When writing I try to tell a story much like I would present a case, laying out the facts to include what I have learned while preparing the story. Of course this could be boring, so when appropriate I try to interject some humor and opinion. Opinion is easy but can ruffle feathers; humor is, well... fun to some and not to others. In the end I feel good gun writing is a mix of information and entertainment.
The question of gun writer honesty always comes up. It is important but I would venture to say that on the average, the information you get in gun magazines has less "spin" than the news you watch on TV! Guys that write in magazines come in all shapes and sizes just like cops, truck drivers and TV personalities: some are bad, some are good, and some are both.
In most instances these doubts of truthfulness come up in regard to gun reviews. You must keep in mind that reviews of new guns are usually based on an example of one. I am sure you will find this hard to believe, but in my experience gun writers do not get "cherry picked" guns (*with an exception I will explain).
I have received for review:
In each of these cases I contacted the manufacturer and advised them of the problem, asking for another sample. This is preferred because I like to report on "out of the box" performance, not corrected performance. In all but two of the cases mentioned, a new item arrived that did indeed work as advertised. The other two guns were repaired.
*As for the "picked" gun exception, I once requested two rifles from CZ to review. I intended on purchasing both, so I asked the PR person if they would select rifles with extra nice wood. He agreed and the rifles arrived with exceptional stocks and I purchased both of them.
This brings up another point: many believe that writers get free stuff all the time. That is true with regard to disposable or low cost items like ammo, cleaning supply samples and so on. Sometimes the lesser price optics are provided free because the manufacturer is better to write off $100 and have his product featured in a magazine article, rather than to try and sell a USED scope.
In most cases writers are offered a reduced price to purchase the item after review. This varies but the price in most cases is at or slightly less than dealer cost. This too makes sense since the item is "used" after the writer completes the test. Free guns are not part of the deal, though I have received two in the last 8 years: winning one in a shooting competition, and the other was a gift from a close friend that works for a manufacturer.
Finally, readers must realize that it is advertising dollars that make magazines possible. News stand sales and subscriptions barely pay postage, so magazines must rely on selling advertisements to make a profit. Advertisers may--I am guessing--get more coverage than non-advertisers, but as for getting a magazine to be untruthful about their product... I don't think so.
As I said in the beginning, there are good and bad writers just like folks in any other profession. Its up to the reader to sort out the ones they like and trust. A writer that has no readers will not last long even if he strokes the manufacturer of every product he tests.
My mom taught me about integrity and God rest her soul, it is the one lesson I learned. I try to report what I found during testing, and base any conclusions on that as well as past experience. Often I will seek out someone that knows a lot about the subject, and also report their opinions and experience.
Sometimes I interject opinion with the understanding it might ruffle a feather or two, but a purely objective and clinical review is just plain boring! I'm human, and want my articles to be interesting to the reader.
I will report problems or things I did not like when I can support these issues with the facts. I will not write a "bad" review, but I will refuse to write a review on an item that just does not work, or one I think is junk. A bad review based on an example of one would be a disservice to the manufacturer and to readers. However, if repeated exposure to a particular item has shown it to be junk I will write that in an article.
This may be a lot of rambling that is of no or little interest to anyone, but it should establish a standard for anything of mine that members may read. And just maybe it will shed some light on articles written by others as well. In the end, the reader must decide who he can really trust.
A final thought: if you have a question about something a particular writer reported on, send them a letter or e-mail. The good writers I know all take pride in communicating with their readers.
A personal note from Richard:
This article was not offered so I could brag about being a gun and outdoors writer, though it is by far the best job I have ever had! It is also the hardest, and maybe why I like it so well. What I hoped to do was shed some light on my work and how some things in this business are done.
There is nothing wrong with criticizing gun magazines, or Internet forums. Some writers (including yours truly) need a slap now and again. I think that anyone writing for magazines or in any public venue must accept that regardless of the topic, there is a reader somewhere that will know more about the subject than the author does! It can be humbling, and it makes writing a challenge that I enjoy very much.
Richard Mann was born and raised in the West Virginia hills and literally grew up in the woods. He has always been passionately involved in some facet of hunting, shooting or fishing. He served in the Army, worked as a municipal police officer, and most recently was a railroad detective, and during that time he obtained numerous certifications in small arms instruction.
With his badge turned in, Richard now writes for a variety of magazines, and has had hundreds of articles published in various outdoors and firearms periodicals. Richard currently works as the rifle editor for SUCCESSFUL HUNTER, as a Field Editor for the National Rifle Association’s SHOOTING ILLUSTRATED magazine, as Contributing Editor for Buckmaster’s GUNHUNTER magazine, and FMG’s Special Edition magazines. He also frequently contributes to the VARMINT HUNTER Magazine and the VIRGINIA SPORTSMAN.
Richard Mann has his own website.