The Battle Is Over Between Old and New Media

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In a recent President’s Message posted within the Motor Press Guild’s monthly publication, Mile Post, I wrote about a curious run of discussions shared with various members of the OEM and PR community. Normally I would have considered such chats to be a fact of life as a press organization’s President, but the frequency and tone of these conversations started to add up to a bigger story. In the April edition, I wrote:

James Bell, President of MPG
James Bell, President
Motor Press Guild

“The other big topic this month has been the role of organizations like the MPG and how they can best work with the OEMs to provide guidance and “filters” on the ever-expanding media machine. The discussion on old vs. new media is about as relevant today as CDs vs. MP3s … the battle is over. Rather than talking about old vs. new or print vs. electronic, we need to lock arms as a unified automotive community.

This point has been made even clearer to me thanks to several conversations I have had with members of other press organizations as well as several OEMs. This industry is striving for new and creative ways to engage their audiences, and some of them are looking to groups like the MPG for guidance and to help identify the best providers of this new engagement. The value of each member and their specific outlet is no longer the point — it is how well that member satisfies (addresses) the needs of his or her intended audience.

Unfortunately, the manufacturer’s promotional budgets have not been able to keep pace with the expansion of automotive journalism and so many are looking to us (associations like the MPG) for help. My feeling is that our goal is to provide a fair and proactive forum for all participants to meet, share perspectives, self-promote, and ultimately further our craft. The MPG is not alone in the space, as my contemporaries at other press associations have reached out to see how we are tackling this difficult subject.

Ultimately, this business demands a keen sense of responsibility. The “good ol’ days” that I keep hearing about are over, so now is the time to make sure you are offering all you can to the industry that we all love. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when opportunity stops knocking.

Of all of the thoughts that I expressed above, my comment that “we need to lock arms as a unified automotive community” surprisingly has generated the most reaction. It appears that the highly competitive nature of the automotive industry amongst the OEMs has percolated deep into the media corps as well, and this is a shame. As many of you know who share the “Groundhog Day” life of press event to auto show to press event to auto show with me, there is decreasing cohesion among those of us that cover this dynamic industry. The exceptions to this rule are found in the rewarding friendships that develop after a day spent as driving partners “geeking out” over a vehicle’s handling balance and steering feel and an evening breaking bread with the chief engineer responsible for that vehicle’s final state of tune. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Our sense of camaraderie has been threatened by the democratization of automotive media and the proliferation of “channels” that have sprouted to help the OEMs spread their news. I suspect that most of this threat comes from raw and healthy competition for access to the OEMs and their stories, but all too often the comments I hear some of us make about others of us are downright nasty and obviously designed for personal advantage.

I think it is worth a reminder that we are privileged to work in an industry that many of our friends and neighbors would give their right arm to join. This business has every right to keep us sharp and push us to be better at what we do, but it shouldn’t turn us into a roving gang of “ugly and evil stepsisters” along the way.