As Linda Water Nelson notes, she has written about automobiles and trucks for almost 25 years, as a technical writer for manufacturers and suppliers, contributing editor for trade media such as AutoInteriors magazine, and a writer for the consumer press, including the Memphis Commercial Appeal and Bumper-to-Bumper. She is currently secretary of the Texas Auto Writers Association and is a long time member of the Automotive Press Association.
Accreditation and Anarchy
As an autowriter with more than 20 years experience, I am amazed year after year at the variety of approaches taken to accreditation for professional association membership and credentialing for the various nationally-recognized auto shows. Nowhere is there less continuity or logic and, perhaps, at this time when we must recognize expanding new media if we intend to grow, it is the right time for everyone to reevaluate and regroup.
I am a board member for the Texas Auto Writers Association and am pleased that we, as a professional association, require annual accreditation of our members. Yes, there is still a lot of bitching and we have to cajole people to get their annual membership packages in on time, but we evaluate every entry and insist on five articles, radio or tv tapes, and photography published or broadcast during the previous calendar year for membership during the current year. Does it mean that we turn people down for membership? Sure. Are they upset? You bet. But the manufacturers have applauded our approach since they are confident that we, as an association, are vetting everyone. They are not spending their ever-dwindling media budgets on people who are not actively writing and broadcasting.
This year we are faced with a challenge. How do we validate bloggers and social media people with the same level of scrutiny? Five tweets certainly does not make an autowriter, and anyone can establish a blog to deliver content to the masses. It will take new rules for that specific digital category. As we wrestle with this, we are aware that automakers are spending more money than ever before to address this category of media. We must acknowledge this by opening our doors – at least a crack, at first – to assure that we stay relevant as a professional group and still maintain our credibility.
This situation leads to another that is both infuriating and unbelievable. Media managers for our key Auto Shows seem so enamored with both new media and foreign press that they deny access to media events for established automotive writers who have been vetted by their local and national associations. I suspect that they approach the question of who is a viable foreign press person by their willingness to pay their way to cities like Detroit to attend auto shows which avoids the issue; and they are trying to be fair to new media and social media by stretching their criteria rather than dealing with vetting. If so, shame on them. American automotive writers who have been fully vetted and accredited by their groups and provide that information to the Auto Nazis who make a judgment call as to whether to credential for auto shows should be in lockstep. If you can prove that you are an autowriter who actively publishes or broadcasts, you should be provided full credentials and access. Anything else is ludicrous.
Does everyone make it impossible? No. The Chicago Auto Show is a prime example of one which encourages participation by automotive professionals whether they are in print, broadcast, or social media. Paul Brian has even offered well-attended sessions during media days so that old media journalists can get more comfortable with social networking and other forms of new media, and that new media people can interact more effectively with everyone else. Every year an effort is made to enhance the digital presence at the Chicago Show and it works. There is less distrust on both sides of the digital divide and the more traditional journalists are trying new avenues for their work.
Organizations that do not embrace all kinds of media in their membership, and auto show management that doesn’t understand that they do the automakers who support them an enormous disservice when they make arbitrary decisions as to who is or is not an active automotive writer could make us all dinosaurs. And, we know what happened to them.
The auto industry has changed and embraced the digital age, while not turning their backs on traditional media. Maybe it’s time for those who credential media for auto shows and are in love with what is new or foreign, and associations that would rather ignore new media —including bloggers and social media —to take that as an example for the future. Not doing so is not an option.