The Road Ahead 09.2008

National Auto Journalists Association. Almost since the start of this newsletter it has been suggested that we start this. Our response has been “Why? The many excellent regional motoring press groups are doing the job.” Now, the answer is “Yes.” Print Autowriters.com: Road Ahead: Photograph by: Quilpublications, particularly newspapers, are slashing staff to offset revenue drops. Gannett is on course to remove 1,000 employees from the chain’s payroll.

The News & Observer Publishing Company is offering buyouts to 40 percent of its staff, including all of the full-time employees in its news room; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will cashier 85 newsroom employees by the end of October, and, as noted in this issue’s Autowriters Spotlight, The Chicago Tribune is paring its staff.

These are just a few of the widespread draconian measures taken by newspapers and other print publications to stay competitive. Too often those cuts include staff auto writers. This happens despite auto advertisers requesting auto editorial to attract readers and relieve margin-to-margin ad carpets in the auto section. It seems as self-defeating as a baseball team fielding only seven players in order to reduce the payroll.

Nevertheless, auto writers are being let go and there aren’t that many print places for them to land. That means a fair share of them will relocate in cyberspace where they will be lumped with the thousands who, to update Coach Bobby Knight, “can hack with a computer.”

Not all of these transplants as well as many of the qualified auto writers already there are convenient to one of the regional associations. No longer operating under an employer’s aegis, they will need certification, credentials attesting to their professionalism and adherence to ethical standards (19 percent of America’s senior marketers acknowledge placing ads in exchange for news stories); a national organization can have the numbers to make various kinds of insurance, (travel and health insurance), warrant discounts, promote and police press car rules offer a unified voice when and if needed, provide visibility at auto shows.

Your comments and suggestions are encouraged.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Re: the decline in print publication employment. this newsletter is overly pessimistic. Although I still write primarily for print, the trend to lower-cost online journalism is hardly something to fear– a lot fewer new magazines collapsing after an issue or two because of the difficulty of getting good distribution. Sure, as IMPA membership chairman I and my committee have to spend more time on the applicants with online credentials, but we have learned how to judge them. Perhaps more of an issue is the vehicle manufacturers’ becoming more anxious to promote their new models to “lifestyle” journalists, many of whom don’t even drive, much less use a manual transmission. A longtime auto tech colleague, who somehow got an assignment to cover for a men’s lifestyle magazine, described for me the preview he attended for lifestyle journalists, and we compared it with one for the same car that I attended just days later. The lifestyle one had more content on cooking, exercise and personal development than on the new product, and only a brief drive program. Does that just represent good “targeting” by the manufacturer or a waste of resources that never get to product-oriented auto journalists? Hey, I don’t make the decisions, and I have to admit some lifestyle journalists have obtained IMPA membership. But at least many of the ones who join IMPA do show up at meetings and our Test Days driving events. So maybe the “breed” will be improved if we give it the chance. And as the cited example shows, “real” auto journalists can get some work from the lifestyle world.

  2. As an online writer who has been an IMPA member for the last two years, I must say that I’ve been impressed with the organization. The first year I attended Test Days, it was fun to see the look on peoples faces when I introduced themselves and they said: “oh yeah…you’re that Canadian guy”.

    It was funny at the time that a good number of American writers had seen my work, yet many Canadians had no idea who I was. I wish I was close enough to visit the meetings, but that isn’t practical. You can be sure that I’ll be heading to Pocono for years to come.

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