Paul Weissler, IMPA Membership Chairman, responds to the anonymous veteran member who last month questioned the professionalism of some of the newer members in attendance at IMPA’s recent Test Days.
What It Means To Be An IMPA Member
I obviously don’t know who the IMPA member is who questioned the online members we have, but he doesn’t have to fear giving his name. People often ask me how we qualify members with online credentials as journalists, and the basic rule is simple: you have to be earning “bill-paying money” for your work (as opposed to some nominal amounts that might cover a McDonald’s lunch). That’s our definition of a “professional,” and my membership co-chair Shari Hartford, who processes the applications, is relentless in vetting applicants for that qualification, as well as determining validity of “clips” submitted.
If you’re running a website, it has to be as a money-making venture. We check web traffic rankings, review content and look for a “revenue stream” that would justify the time invested as a professional venture. Further, I have personally done face-to-face interviews with applicants. We also work with car makers to check their assessments, but the final call is that of the membership committee. And believe me, we turn down a lot of membership applications every year, including people to whom the car makers lend cars. All that said, we don’t require that you earn your primary income from automotive journalism, only that you have recent clips and earn professional pay for it.
Although most of our journalist members are writers/editors, photographers or artists, we even have members who do other work that results in automotive journalism, including engineering evaluations, even testing cars for TV and magazines.
If you’re a staffer on a general interest magazine or lifestyle website, your automotive work might be 25% of what you do, even less. That’s fine with us, so long as you’re doing automotive on some sort of regular basis and can produce recent “clips.” Even our officers, who are enthusiasts, may fit into that category. And I remember one applicant who confessed his automotive weakness, but said his lifestyle magazine was running automotive copy regularly. He had to edit it, and he wanted to join IMPA to get a better feel for the industry.
Freelancers just have to show recent automotive clips, and here again we don’t expect you to be 100% automotive (even though I personally am).
Our requirements for PR admissions are outwardly simple: you qualify if you work in a PR capacity for a car company, automotive parts maker, or a large wholesale or retail auto parts marketer. Large enough is somewhat subjective and we do occasionally have trouble with this one. We also have a category called PR Support, which is intended to cover the account execs at the companies that prep and deliver the press pool cars and stage events.
Further, we have a membership review committee that each fall looks at ALL members, and unless a member gets a current activity signoff from the committee, that member must submit a new set of “clips” to renew membership. We usually decline to renew a significant number of existing members.
Yes, “lifestyle” journalists may cause rolling of the eyes among many of us with strong product and/or auto business backgrounds, but if they’re doing automotive lifestyle stuff and getting paid for it, yes they qualify. And as I said in my previous letter to your newsletter, if they show up at IMPA meetings and attend Test Days, they’ll learn and hopefully become more knowledgeable. We all were beginners once.
Do we occasionally make mistakes with applicants? Have to admit it happens, although rarely, but recently we did cancel a couple of memberships on the qualifications issue, and refunded the dues money.
We also have a category called “IMPA Elders,” a handful of long-time members who are retired (usually ex-officers) who wish to retain their membership. They paid “their dues” (and they continue to pay annual dues). Of course, we all remember Jerry Flint’s “retirement party” about a decade ago. Jerry’s definition of retired seems to be “collect a pension and keep working.”
That’s it. I think IMPA membership procedures are transparent. The usual complaint is that they’re too tight, because we reject many applicants. But my reasoning is that we’re justified, because the automotive industry invests a lot of money in IMPA programs, on the basis of our work to maintain a qualified membership.
Tom-Tom rants, raves, rambles and ruminations are volunteered and express the opinions of the writer.