Tom-Tom rants, raves, rambles and ruminations are volunteered and express the opinions of the writer. Autowriters.Com invites readers to submit a tom-tom. Your reward: a byline and an audience of your peers. All submissions are acknowledged, queued and used at the editor’s discretion.
Keith Griffin’s reviews of new cars and articles about the automotive industry have appeared in national publications like AutoExec magazine and leading regional publications like The Boston Globe and The Improper Bostonian. His automotive writing regularly appears in Hartford Magazine, AutoExec Magazine, Stonebridge Press Newspapers and Life Newspapers among others. He is also a regular guest on local radio stations to explain automotive issues and has done research for a major new car website. Keith belongs to both the International and New England Motor Press Associations and is founder of the Internet Car & Truck of the Year awards.
Since creating the Internet Car and Truck of the Year awards in early 2009 I have more closely followed the automotive blogging community. In those 18 months I have come to the following conclusions: there’s a lot of talent out there, mystery revolves around what makes one blogger more important than another, and bloggers need to come together as a group to professionalize what we do.
One part of the Internet Car and Truck of the Year awards is the Internet Automotive Writing Competition. Open to anybody who writes about automobiles on the Internet, last year’s inaugural contest attracted scores of entries, including some from manufacturer reps who maintain a company blog.
I took an important message away from judging the entries (along with others) and my increased interest in automotive bloggers. Not all writers are twenty-something gearheads with no formal education clacking away one finger at a time in their mothers’ basements. There are talented bloggers on the web with engaging, intelligent writing styles. Names that come to mind include Alex Nunez from Autoblog, Jason Fogelson from About.com, Lyndon Conrad Bell of Sports Car Monitor (who won for a piece written at Examiner.com of all places – the horrors!), Jil McIntosh from Canada, and most things written by Jonny Lieberman, even if he has defected back to the Dark Ages of print.
Actually, bringing up Lieberman reminds me of something else. Good Internet writers can work on both sides of the fence but print scribes struggle when trying to handle the intricacies of search engine optimization, good linking, and other things. Print journalists will sputter in their coffee but there is a science to Internet automotive writing.
Rating the Bloggers
Unfortunately there is no exact science when it comes to rating the automotive blogs, which can end up with one blog getting more prestige based solely on who writes it vs. other blogs attracting tens of thousands of page views a week.
There’s also a disturbing trend towards denying the tools of the trade to automotive bloggers in favor of “mommy bloggers” with the belief the latter is the only place a woman will turn to for car-shopping advice. (It’s the age-old problem of lifestyle vs. trade but in a digital world.) Does nobody else think it’s insulting to women to think them incapable of researching a new car purchase thoroughly by seeking out experts in the field? I wouldn’t buy a car because some guy at www.AllAboutGuys.com told me to nor would I expect women to base a purchase on advice from www.MommyKnowsBest.com. (Neither site offers car advice by the way.)
Both bloggers and manufacturers need to remember that 91% of all automotive purchases begin on the Internet. We’re the information portal for people actually buying cars and not just ogling the pretty pictures. We’re the influencers when it comes to signing on the dotted line.
I’m also aware that word-of-mouth is a valuable marketing tool but when all is said and done, people still come to the Internet to research their new car purchase.
Bloggers as a class need to do a better job of promoting their readership. Some print journos (which is my background) like to say, for example, they have “100,000 readers.” But they don’t – their publications have 100,000 readers. Who knows, in the case of newspapers, how many people are even reading their columns and not “Dilbert”?
On the web, with simple software, you know how many readers you have. It’s a defined measurable quantity. An Internet blogger with 100,000 page views a month has trouble getting review cars, yet a writer for a crappy little daily with 9000 total circulation gets invited on press trips. There needs to be a better system.
That’s one reason the Internet Car of the Year is in the early planning stages of creating an Internet automotive writers group. One thing the Internet does surprisingly well is dilute the influence of its many little fiefdoms. If they could come together, they would be the ruling class instead of being the serfs.
Such a group is going to be necessary because one thing the blogging world needs to do is finally vet itself. A credentialing process, of sorts, needs to be created to bring us as a group out of the basement and into a professional environment. Admittedly, we have to differentiate those of us committed to the craft and those hoping to scam a free Mustang for the weekend.
Just like the members of the MPG, IMPA, NEMPA and MAWA can work together while still being competitors, so, too, must the automotive blogging community. While we will still need to be part and parcel of those groups (if for nothing else than track days), we need to come together to promote ourselves going forward.
Automotive bloggers are at a point in their existence where they need to set definable standards for what they do and demonstrate once and for all they belong at the table.