Adapt or Cry

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Motoring journalism is a conservative industry but there’s a potential cost involved in clinging to traditions.

Juliet-McGuire-Motoring-JournalistWhen I came in to this industry 14 years ago, I was an outsider. I was all of 24 years old, blonde and a woman – a rare sight among a sea of grey-haired white men in their late 50s. I recall feeling utterly out of my depth, something I would be told repeatedly by many so-called colleagues in the coming years. The landscape is changing but there are still many who need a reality check. It got me thinking lately: why is this industry so threatened by change?

By the traditional definition, I am considered a motoring journalist. I have an honours degree in journalism and I review cars. But I now also present car videos, have a social-media following and am sometimes approached by companies who are willing to pay me to collaborate with them. In today’s terms, I am considered a micro influencer (she says in a whisper).

To widen the net of this discussion, the term “influencer” carries negative connotations because just about anybody and everybody is considered an influencer these days, whether you have 10 million followers, or 10. Where it’s particularly shameful to be deemed an influencer is within motoring journalism. It is a fickle industry and one that breeds jealousy. As fast as you can rise up in this industry, so too can you freefall. And, if you aren’t on the A-list for test cars and launches, then what are you? But the criteria for entry to that coveted list differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some consider print as the only platform that matters, and that’s not always true.

As much as we love to hate social media, we cannot deny its power. I feel shameful of the influencer title only because of the attached stigma. However, when I consider the sound advice I give to people who are looking to buy a car, and those people go ahead and buy said car, I’m proud of that influence because it’s informed by years of experience and a wealth of knowledge. The same applies to many other so-called “influencers” (or “effluencers”, as some brand them/us).

This industry is changing, whether you and I like it or not. Magazines are a more traditional way of delivering motoring content have been supplemented with other channels for communication and entertainment. At the end of the day, all manufacturers want is for their messages to reach an audience that will buy their products. Our job, as motoring journalists, is to report on the cars and industry in an objective way.

Or is that still the case? When you consider people will buy a product purely because their favourite musician posed with it, you have to acknowledge how things have changed and are changing still. Bias doesn’t really factor in here; it comes down to aspiration more than objectivity.

This irks most of us motoring journalists if only because of the hard work and dedication we put into our craft. It threatens our very existence because we can be become fossils at any given moment. But that’s why change is crucial. Adapt or cry.

We can sit back and lambaste influencers for supposedly killing an industry with Instagram photos posed next to supercars, but we can’t deny that it is what petrolheads want to see. It doesn’t mean there is no space for more traditionally minded journalists – or wonderful magazines such as APEX – but there needs to be a willingness to experiment with new forms of media, too.

What we’re witnessing here and abroad is a rebirth of motoring journalism. And I predict we’ll see many more such reincarnations in the coming years as we adapt to a new world and its technologies that will overtake us at a rapid rate if we don’t. But for now, I will go against the grain and carve out an even bigger piece of the pie for myself in an industry that, now but not forever, continues to favour men and traditional media.

About Juliet McGuire

Juliet has been a motoring journalist for 14 years. She has her own website and popular YouTube channel, and contributes to some of the top motoring media brands in the country.