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Does motoring journalism still matter?

In a world where everyone has access to all the car information they could ever want, does the art of motoring journalism still matter?

1w ago

Back in the 'good old days of the motoring media', journalists such as L.J.K. Setright, Dennis Jenkinson, G.N. Georgano, and Russel Bulgin roamed the earth and car enthusiasts relied on their skills to learn about the latest and greatest cars. This helped the reader to develop an opinion on a car without ever driving it and would more often than not, inform them on which cars to spend their hard-earned cash on.

However, do we now live in a world where the art of motoring journalism is becoming irrelevant?

Nowadays, any old Joe Bloggs can go onto the internet and Google anything they wish to know about a car and write about it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but it does put the traditional journalism industry in a tricky situation. Anyone with a Twitter account and a strong opinion can be classed as a journalist – resulting in the rise of fake news and arguably a lesser need for 'real' journalists.

You see, in order to be a proper journalist, at least in my opinion, I think that you have to be fair, thorough in what you write and how you articulate yourself, be correct, have strong morals, be honest, and be a good writer – and that's just the most basic requirements. A combination of all these elements isn't an easy thing to accomplish but it has been done and those are the ones who shine through and rise to the top. Other times, it can just be pure luck or controversy, but then again, they often have many of the attributes mentioned above.

The craft of giving people the facts and offering an opinion is something which we need to stick around, especially in a time where electric vehicles are on the rise. For many people, this is a tricky time because deciding what car to move to isn't easy, with many people not knowing anything about the subject. This is when motoring journalists are needed more than ever, offering their expertise on which cars to buy and the pros and cons of them. A true car reviewer will tell you if a car is crap or not – this is something that is becoming increasingly phased out.

I don't want to point fingers at anyone but some 'influencers' these days do just say a car is good because they've been given one or invited on a press trip. This is wrong and I don't believe they should be swayed so easily. If a trip is about a car, speak about the car and be honest. Nothing angers me more than when someone is not honest, especially if that person knows their audience trust their opinions and could make a purchasing decision following on from what they say.

A lot of us still believe we want to hear solid advice from a trained professional who knows what they're talking about and can lay down all the information in a palatable format for the general reader as well as the enthusiast.

A quote that has stuck with me for years is something Autocar's Steve Cropley once said when asked about the importance of motoring journalism. "First, always remember you work for the reader. You do not work for the proprietor, you certainly don’t work for the advertising department, you don’t even work for the editor," Steve said.

Second, make sure you retain the reader’s attention to the last line of your copy. That, he says, is fundamental: ‘if you don’t do that you have failed," he added.

All of what Steve said is absolutely true and hits the nail on the head of what being a motoring journalist really means. But the reason I decided to write this article in the first place was to highlight other forms of motoring media that is out there and how it is a potential threat to traditional automotive journalism.

^An influencer

'Influencers' are a great example of a big threat to traditional motoring magazines. They often have much larger audiences than even the biggest magazine brands out there and they deliver their content in such a way that engages and excites a younger and developing audience.

How many 12 to 17-year-olds do you know who still read magazines? I am willing to bet very few to none. Video is seemingly a much more attractive format for the youth of today which is absolutely fine. If it's getting people to talk about cars then that's great but it does offer up some concern.

The good old days of the motoring magazine are sliding behind us but that doesn't mean the art of a true journalist is. A world where different strands of motoring media coexist is a world I want to be a part of, but only if it's done right. It is a very interesting time for the world of motoring journalism and as someone who is looking to crack their way into the game, it's a scary time too. Who knows what the future holds for this line of work, but all I know is I am excited to adapt to it as it grows.

And how will it grow? By people like you and I writing things on websites such as DriveTribe. Like James mentioned in the YouTube video above, this is the perfect platform to begin a motoring career, so if you haven't already, make an account and get posting. Who knows, you may get noticed and become the next Jeremy Clarkson.

What do you think the future of the motoring journalist looks like?

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Comments (70)

  • I think it's important that any creative field be disrupted, but that's not to say a field shouldn't have its experts, and that we should assume all are on the same level. Too much of motoring journalism is staid, irrelevant, talentless, and elitist- too much of social media is ignorant, false, cocky without cause.

      7 days ago
  • In the six years I've been a journalist, I've seen just how much this industry has changed. I'd have to be among the very last few people who'll get to say they had their first start in writing with a newspaper and not a website, and who started broadcasting on radio before trying it on YouTube. It's certainly this more traditional start – combined with the way I applied myself at university, having finally found something I loved to do – that I credit my journalistic sensibilities to.

    However, I'm still a child of this internet era, which is why I can recognise how motoring journalism needs to evolve in the wake of influencers dominating what's being consumed from online car media. What the emphasis needs to be placed on incorporating is the one thing traditional journalism hates – personality.

    Anyone who has read a Clarkson column (guessing that's everyone here) will know how important character and humour is to motoring journalism. With the entertainment factor of influencers' content, humour and wit is the perfect tool to get people engaged in something that's still informative. Plus, injecting yourself into the content not only grabs people's attention, but it legitimises those thoughts and opinions you're dishing out as well – and verifiable unbiased opinions are something many still appreciate.

    Now, yes, journalistic conventions do still need to be followed where it's relevant. News pieces should still be news pieces, and they're written a certain way (inverted pyramid) for a reason. When it comes to everything else, though, those rules of journalism are there to be broken. Get creative with it. Bring other worldly elements into your writing; travel or food are ideal candidates. Put in staged pictures of yourself walking past the car; it shows you were really there. Be firm in your convictions, and demonstrate that you have no biases.

    Doing that is how motoring journalism can evolve and stay relevant today.

      7 days ago
    • I couldn’t have said it better myself. Every time I read something Clarkson has written, I am always amazed at the level of skill and his strict balance between humour, fact and delivery. He is a true genius with words and that comes down to his...

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        7 days ago
    • Could not have said it better myself, as said too. I started as a rookie journalist on a suburban community newspaper 25 years ago, and have been a motoring journalist and editor for nearly 10 years of that. I've...

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        6 days ago
  • Anyone can be a journalist, not everyone can be a good journalist.

      7 days ago
  • This is something that has intrigued me for quite some time. These days seldom we see a car mag properly criticize a car - we need to have more Jeremy Clarkson's in the field who can smash the pros and cons of a car without worrying that he might not get a car from the carmaker next time. Motoring journalism these days is only done properly by people like Chris Harris, Clarkson, Hammond, May etc. as they are not afraid to say a few hard words about cars like the Senna without being scared of how McLaren might react to it.

    Phew, rant over. Ta.

      7 days ago
    • Or be like John Coleman and slam the Sandero for no valid reason

        7 days ago
    • agreed. its because everyone who is a car journalist is basically an independent content creator now, more or less. Gone are the days of big publishers with hundreds of employees. And independent creators know that if they review a car...

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        7 days ago
  • It should though, sadly to an increasing number, it doesn't. It is too easy to cobble together any old nonsense and publish on the internet - it even happens on DT where people 'write' about a subject and leave minor details like the facts to be brought up in the comments by those that can be bothered. Just because you can write does not makes you a writer and just because you can write and like cars does not make you a motoring journalist...

      7 days ago