For decades, the print industry has ruled the world by distributing information through mediums like news, features and opinion pieces resulting in unprecedented growth for this sector (Weber: 2000). Over the years, paper consumption and press output has lead to increase in wealth and economic power. Unfortunately today, this trend is losing its momentum due to digitization and computerization of the media (Weber: 2000).
What I intend on doing in this paper is to analyse the changes in working practices of automotive journalists that are now increasingly expected to work across more than one media and that has changed the content they produce. The reason, I have selected this topic is to discuss changing working trends that are now affecting the area of ‘Print Journalism’. Due to changes in technology, we as journalists are required to work through various mediums like magazines, online websites and blogs to maintain a constant flow of information for our readers.
Journalism refers to the production of news reports and editorials through media such as newspapers, magazines, radio, television and the internet.Journalists as writers, editors, photographers, broadcast presenters or producers serve as the main purveyors of information and opinion in contemporary society (Weber: 2000). Print journalism has been around for more than 500 years and has enjoyed a status of ‘cultural technology’ (Weber: 2000). That is to say, that our lives were and will still be dominated by printed matter. As far as the history of journalism is concerned, from informal beginnings in Europe in the 18th century, stimulated by the arrival of mechanized printing and in due course by mass production in the 20th century by electronic communications technology, today’s journalistic enterprises include large corporations with global distribution. The formal status of journalism has varied historically and still varies greatly from country to country. The modern state and hierarchical power structures in general have tended to consider unrestricted flow of information as a potential threat, and inimical to their own proper function.
However, this is not the first time that print journalism has faced competition. The second half of the 20th century has seen various forms of mass media like radio and television make their way into this area of specialization (Weber: 2000). During this period, the journalism field had experienced immense growth as more and more people wanted to become journalists for radio and television (Weber: 2000). Each medium has its own culmination, thus the flow of information through these mediums has to be different. In television news bulletins, each news item is restricted to a time limit. The news so included in a package need to be precise, therefore the individuals required to do the job must be specifically trained. For example a journalist reporting for television must know how to cover stories on television, report live events and so on. Both television and radio have been around for a while, but the latest technology that confronted the journalism industry is the era of multimedia in the mid-nineties that led to world wide web-media convergence, uniting the various media platforms on the common platform of internet technology.
Automotive journalism is a specialised field, therefore the manner in which stories and news articles are written and published are very different from normal reporting. The articles published in magazines and websites vary in size as well as content. In today’s context automotive journalists have to deal with different medium like magazines, online websites, blogs and in certain cases, television programmes. Therefore, the working practices of such a profession are variable.
Having to work for a magazine, then a website and a blog can be quite a job for an automobile journalist. In a magazine there has to be copy flow process that filters an article down to its published version (Gadwell: 2008). It first starts with the journalist submitting the initial story copy. From here it varies from publication to publication, but it is generally the sub-editor, who makes a majority of changes to the copy (Gadwell: 2008). Depending upon publication to publication, the article could either be sent back to a journalist for changes or forwarded to other editors and the fact checkers for review. After the requisite checks, it ends up at the copy editor’s desk, who in turn filters it for grammar, spelling and style guidelines (Gadwell: 2008). Once when this is done and the copy is approved by editor, it goes for design. Eventually it ends up in print. Therefore looking at such a complex process for print journalism, the articles need to be worked on in advance and with regard to automotive magazines, they need to be factual.
Analysis and case study
The convergence of journalism and technology adds pressure to write more vividly than ever before. In my opinion, journalists can no longer settle for straight news coverage. As journalists, what we write has to captivate the audience in a way that other sources of news cannot. There is an art to the craft, in the manner in which we as writers spin words and weave tales to create intrigue and consequent dialogue. Therefore as per my finding, I would say that the flow on content these days varies in quality as well quantity depending upon the medium used. If it is an auto magazine, then the content is going to be more detailed and analytical, whereas in the case of websites, the content is specific and to the point.
In order to determine the objective of my study, I have analyzed one of UK’s most famous automobile magazines ‘Autocar’ for qualitative analysis. Autocar Magazine is one of the oldest magazines, started back in the year 1895. Therefore it forms the main focus of my research. Over the years, this magazine has gained immense fame and is known for its content which is organized, qualitative and informative. The automotive journalists working at such publications are often under pressure to perform as they have to cater to articles for various mediums like online websites and blogs, besides the main magazine. This brings me to my next point – how can a writer/journalist perform with the increasing bombardment of technology like websites and blogs.
For example, the article titled ‘Riding high or riding for a fall’ on the Lotus Evora in Autocar’s latest issue (Sutcliffe, 6 May 2009:19) talks about the cars ride quality. Steve Sutcliffe, the writer of this article has asked the question – ‘how much do you care about the ride quality’. ‘Does it bother you if there’s a distant thump from beneath every time you drive over a badly repaired expansion joint, or do you never really notice and so don’t particularly care about such things?’ This kind of introduction gives a direct impression to the reader that the journalist is not very impressed with ride quality of the new Lotus. Thus looking at this article one can figure out that in print, the content can always be a bit imaginative as well as flowery.
In the case of websites, normally the content is straight forward and to the point. The information so provided consists of material that is relevant for immediate consumption thereby having an instant impact on the reader of a specific article. For instance, if I again take the example of the Lotus, the material available on www.autocar.co.uk is very different from the one in the magazine, though they both cover the test drive. The article on the website gives more specific details like – what the car is all about, how it moves and whether it is worth buying.
In order not to replicate the same information, the article visible on the website has been written by Steve Cropley, Editor and Chief, Autocar magazine. It must be noted that in order to have a constant flow of information for print as well as the multi-media, the editorial team generally has a system of rotation whereby the content so produced is different in terms of writing styles, a view point and certain personal inputs that would be differ from writer to writer. On the contrary, the generation of such type of content can only ensure that the reader gets true and credible information.
What’s the latest is what matters
News can be defined as something fresh, something that people have not heard before and crucially, is of interest to readers ( Randall 2000:23). Automotive journalism holds hard on this fact as getting scoops, publishing spy pictures and breaking news regarding the automotive industry are all the responsibilities of an automobile journalist.
For distribution of news, a majority of automobile publications use their websites as they are quicker than the print medium. In order to be the first, to provide breaking news, journalists are expected to be well connected with the industry so that they can get exclusive stories for their publication. The coverage of auto shows is one area where the content varies from one medium to the other.
For example, the unveiling of Aston Martin’s concept; the Lagonda made headlines on almost all the websites like Autocar, Autoexpress, News Press and so forth. On the Autocar website the news item was titled as the ‘Return of the Lagonda’ by Chas Hallett, Editor Autocar. On the website however, it just stated the facts about the Lagonda in terms of how it was perceived by the industry and the kind of response it got. In comparison to the launch, the magazine on the other hand had in-depth coverage on the latest SUV from Aston. The headline was totally different as it stated ‘you won’t instantly fall in love with it’ (Saunders, 11 March 2009:52). There is a news angle to this story, as Matt Saunders uses the launch to talk about the pros and cons of the rather strange looking SUV. The content in the article is far superior in comparison to the website as it included an interview from Ulrich Bez, CEO Aston Martin about his views on return of Lagonda. Apart from this, the article also talks about the mixed type of response that the vehicle received from the industry as well as the visitors who had come to see the show.
Blogs are nowadays becoming a common phenomenon. In another words, it forms a sub-set of an internet website. It is used as a common medium to share news and information between individuals. The key element here is that automobile journalists often use blogs to give their views on automobiles and have discussions with the readers of their articles. However, it must be noted that this process is not as complex as a magazine, therefore sharing information and news becomes really very easy. “By and large, bloggers enter their copy directly into the blogging platform. They give it a read or two to proof it themselves, and then put it online” (Gadwell: 2008). According to Chas Hallet, Editor Autocar Magazine, blogging is the easiest form for distributing information to your readers. In his view, there is not much work involved as the author writes his or her story and can put it online. In case there are any changes to be made in the copy, it can be easily done by editing the article online itself.
Branded as a failure (Autocar 2009) was a blog written by Hilton Holloway online. The passage talks about the current situation of the car industry where General Motors is facing bankruptcy and therefore Fiat has entered into a technical tie-up with the American automotive manufacturer. Hilton talks about the repercussions that resulted in killing off two major brands like Lancia and Saab which would cease to exist in coming times. Reading such information often raises questions which are then posted online by a perceptive audience resulting in exchange of thoughts and expressions. Therefore journalists often use blogs as a tool to stay in touch with their readers and try to find out whether the information provided by them is user friendly or not.
Many analysts would refer to journalism as a selfless industry and a necessary service to the public. In my opinion journalism today is just not about reporting but it also about how to make your brand a profitable business. Especially when we refer to magazines which need to make enough money to function, for this to happen, the content so provided must be true and factual for readers to buy and appreciate your product.
It must be noted that new forms of media will play an important part in magazines future and the content generated though them. What is interesting is that readers will turn to a magazine brand rather than a stand-alone website simply due to the authority and relationship that the brand has built for itself. The internet has not only changed the pace of news reporting, but has also changed some of the legal ramifications of reporting.
To conclude I would say that the job of an automotive journalist has become ever more demanding due the various mediums through which they are required to churn out stories. More importantly, with so many devices like magazine, websites and blogs at hand, their job has doubled and so has the responsibility for providing fair and correct content.
List of References
Weber, A (2000) Changing Face Of Journalism [online] available fromhttp://blogs.spokenword.ac.uk/karenschlegel/2008/10/07/the-changing-face-of-journalism/ [6 May 2009]
Gadwell, M (2008) The Line Between Blogging and Journalism [ online] available from http://www.maxgladwell.com/2008/09/blogworld-2008-the-line-between-blogging-and-journalism/ [ 8 May 2009]
Holloway, H (2009) Branded As Failures [online] available fromhttp://www.autocar.co.uk/blogs/autocarconfidential/archive/2009/05/06/branded-as-failures.aspx [ 9 May 2009 ]
Sutcliffe, S. (2009) ‘Riding High or Riding for a Fall.’ Autocar 260, (5842)
Harcup, T. (2004), Journalism Principles and Practice, London, Thousand Oaks & New Delhi: Sage
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Randall, D. (2000), The Universal Journalist, London: Pluto Pres
Stoval, J. (2004), Web Journalism: Practice and Promise of a New Medium, Pearson Education Inc