DOI link for Automotive journalism
Automotive journalism book
The luckiest man alive today, according to motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson, is motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson. Armed with, he says, nothing more than ‘half a qualiﬁcation in journalism and the engineering ability of a sparrow’ (Clarkson, 2005) he has risen from the obscurity of a local newspaper, the Rochdale Advertiser, to unrivalled prominence as an automotive critic. Luck may have played its part, but nobody should underestimate the talent and sheer hard work that made the most of the good fortune. Now, as mainstay of the BBC’s Top Gear motoring TV show and its monthly magazine spin-oﬀ, and contributor of opinionated, anarchic columns to The Sunday Times and the Sun, Clarkson has become without doubt the best-known motoring journalist – in the world. Clarkson’s screen presence, comic delivery and (underrated) writing ability
might make him a one-oﬀ, but his route into motoring journalism follows a wellbeaten path. Many established motoring writers started their careers as trainee reporters on local newspapers, learning their trade reporting on the whole gamut of topics tackled by the regional press. Basic journalism skills were learned on the job, often topped up with some formal training in shorthand and media law through the newspaper’s trainee system. Eventually they took on the paper’s ‘motoring correspondent’ role or moved on to a specialist motoring magazine to write car reviews and motor industry stories. Alongside these career journalists came refugees from automotive public relations, signiﬁcant examples including the late LJK Setright, a renowned technical writer, and Clarkson’s Top Gear colleague, Richard Hammond. Others developed expert subject knowledge in engineering, motorsport or consumer aﬀairs through formal study, industry experience or a combination of the two and then used that expertise in specialist areas of automotive writing. These are specialists, the likes of Car and Driver’s engineer/racer Patrick Bedard, car designer Robert Cumberford, the late Jeﬀ Daniels whose background was in engineering and racing drivers Mark Hales and Tiﬀ Needell. Often these subject specialists had little or no formal training in the craft of journalism. Today the training of journalists in the UK has largely moved from the training
courses operated by newspaper groups to degree courses run by universities. Though degree courses in media and journalism have seen a rapid rise in popularity in recent years and Master’s degrees in specialist areas of journalism have been on oﬀer for some years, there was no direct academic route into motoring journalism
in automotive editor-in-chief of Haymarket’s motoring titles, the Coventry MA already has alumni working across a range of automotive magazines and websites. But academic study of journalism in any form has its critics, and automotive
journalism is no diﬀerent. One online comment on an automotive article (Noakes, 2008) in the Guardian noted that the author was an automotive journalism lecturer and suggested students of automotive journalism would learn nothing more useful than, ‘The role of high waisted overtight jeans in the mulimedia [sic] age’. Years before, a car magazine for hands-on classic car owners received a note from a reader suggesting that it should employ ‘fewer journalists and more mechanics’. Both comments implied that automotive journalism required no particular skills or abilities, which is both an inaccurate view and a worrying one in an age when the value of any professional writing is being continually threatened.