Are unpaid bloggers killing motoring journalism? Do we even know what a ‘hobbyist’ is? Is the real threat to the industry from within? Our editor explores.
Neil Briscoe of Complete Car caused something of a social media sensation over the weekend, declaring that motoring journalism was under threat, and that the written word was facing Armageddon. Strong stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Before reading the rest of this article, you need to digest Neil’s well-written piece for the full context. In summary, it says that traditional motoring publications – either online or paper – face being driven to extinction by people who will write for free. Naturally, that gets me a little fired up because as a blogger, I am that someone who writes about cars for no financial gain. Have I killed the motor-journo industry in the same way Jess Glynne has killed house music?
Bloggers often get a bad name. Since starting EngageSportMode I’ve seen constant articles by big-name journalists belittling and rubbishing their status. But we are, after all, an easy target. Anyone with Internet access can start a blog and begin calling themselves a writer. There is no admission process, no qualification needed and no way to be stopped.
As such, it’s completely unregulated and there are no guarantees of quality. Unfortunately there are some sponging bloggers who just want a nice new car for the weekend. Tom Callow wrote an article back in 2012 titled ‘PR people should ignore the blagger bloggers’ that set out the risks of devoting time, and resources, to such talentless freeloaders.
Saying this, some of the most cliche-ridden, hackneyed, tripe-filled garbage I’ve ever read about cars has come from ‘professional’ motoring journalists. One of the things that motivated me to start ESM was a truly awful article in a local newspaper reviewing the Subaru Impreza WRX STI. Written by the paper’s official motoring correspondent, he used every cringe-inducing stock turn of phrase in the book. He then topped it off with some half-hearted proof reading, leaving his review with more spelling mistakes than a YouTube comments page.
Yet this review was written by someone who, in the eyes of the industry, is a ‘professional’ and therefore a writer whose opinion should be valued. No, that can’t be right. Being paid for something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re competent, just that you have convinced someone to pay you money to do it. When it comes to journalists writing about cars, there are many who have no interest whatsoever in the subject. They would rather be writing about houses, holidays or horses, but get shoehorned into writing about cars to meet their editor’s needs.
I started writing for three reasons. I love cars, I love writing, and I hated being made to sit through Grey’s Anatomy on an evening by my fiancée. I wanted something productive to do with my time, so you could probably describe that as a hobby. However, it certainly never began as a career-forging project because, in the words of Clarkson, “there are more astronauts than motoring magazine journalists”.
When I first started writing, I obsessed over the numbers of views ESM received and fretted daily how I could gain more hits. At times I would question why I was spending a full day at work, to come home and spend hours more at my desk, seemingly writing away for nothing. But I persevered because I enjoyed it, and that was my fundamental reason for writing.
I was fortunate enough to win the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Breakthrough Blogger Award and, thanks to Motoring Research, have been given some amazing experiences so far this year. It makes me feel unbelievably privileged, and it’s all as a result of creating a blog in my spare time about a subject that I genuinely love.
Through this I have met some hugely talented writers, who also happen to be incredibly passionate about cars – from the general performance sphere, to the most niche specialisms.
I’ve also met skilled bloggers, with a huge love of motoring, that work all the spare hours they have to create and develop new content. Most of them do it for no money, no glory, no recognition, but purely because they enjoy it.
Car manufacturers have varying attitudes towards bloggers. Some are willing to engage, whilst others will not even give them the time of day. In the case of the latter, it’s hard for an honest opinion to destroy a relationship when there wasn’t even one to begin with. So we bloggers can be edgy and opinionated because, ultimately, we have nothing to lose.
Let’s get this straight. People writing for free is not destroying journalism.
Lazy, sloppy, dispassionate writers regardless of their pay status is what will be the death of the written word. I would sooner trust the words of a writer who is knowledgeable and even fanatical about a subject, rather than a paid ‘journalist’ who couldn’t care less.
If we genuinely want motoring writing to survive, we need strong journalists to act as the inspiration for talented bloggers, and help the stand out ones develop. In the same vein, we need skilled bloggers to push the paid professionals with new ideas and opinions. That is the only way we can ditch the freeloaders and gravy train riders – whether paid or not – to offer the best quality writing.
Ultimately, we all need to deliver the honest truth, as this is what our readers deserve.