Reflection – Life is More than Top Gear

Steve Cropley, Autocar. A Coventry Conversations session

Steve Cropley was presented as the Motoring Journalist of the Year and one of the 5 best journalists in the world. At the age of 62, he has been a journalist for 39 years, 34 of which – specialized in automotive journalism, which he absolutely loves. Although he has gained loads of experience and of course confidence, he’s kept his enthusiasm as if he’d just started writing about cars.

Steve on the current situation on the market:

There are 2/3 more models in the market today than there were in the 1990’s. Thus, they have less airtime and have to compete pretty hard for the attention of the readers and viewers.

Steve on automotive journalism and Autocar:

Autocar’s automotive journalists currently build around 30-40 % of all motoring journalist jobs in the UK. All Autocar’s issues (Autocar magazine, Whatcar magazine, their online versions etc.) are profitable. They claim to be specialists in talking to the readers in the right manner and influence other journalists (which are loyal subscribers of the issues). So there is also a big responsibility involved with working for Autocar.

Steve on improving the sales of a magazine:

Don’t redesign it – rewrite it; It’s not about layout, it’s about content.

Steve on hiring people to work in Autocar:

Postgrads sometimes get one-week placements and internships in Autocar to gain relevant work experience.
Autocar’s staff prefer to hire people they know or have been referred to – for example, if a postgrad has had their placement in Autocar and has made a good impression, it’s most likely when a position is opened that they call them and not advertise the job at all.

It’s good to have:

  • a driver’s licence
  • a brain.

What you get:

  • a 6-month initial contract
  • a pyramide hierarchy

Steve on the car publishing industry as a whole:

There is a constant stream of keen young talent, so you’d better be good. It is a highly competitive business, so you need persistence, competence, willingness, initiative.

Steve on what to read to teach yourself writing:

  • The Sunday Times
  • The Observer
  • Bloggers with parallel jobs
  • Enthusiast writers

Steve on confidence:

“If you can’t stand on your own two feet, we don’t want you.”

When you can’t make it:
“Don’t let your mom make the call!”

Steve on being a good journalist:

  • Always be on time – both for events and for deadlines. Produce good copy on time.
  • Never go anywhere without preparation – make a good prior research, find out what people want to know about.
  • “The news is in the differences.” -> Find out what’s different in this model, this car, this story.
  • Develop an engaging, relevant, reassuring writing style (how you achieve this: read a lot! -> Read in order to write)
  • Make things work well first line to last line.
  • Don’t start with “It’s not easy to describe…” – don’t demonstrate incompetence!
  • Your job involves creating a community from readers.
  • When writing, work for the reader; BE the reader. “I don’t work for the Company. I work for the Reader”.

Steve on bad new trends in automotive writing:

Negativism. Why write 1000 words to destroy an icon? Especially in enthusiast blogs, it’s bad and absolutely irrelevant to write long negative posts about anything. Better: give examples, anecdotes. Don’t just list plain facts.

Steve on career progression:

At the start of your journalistic career, you’re learning, everything’s new and exciting. Then, you get to the confident state, you know your way around, you produce work with ease and it’s good. But after that comes the stage when you think you’re so good that you don’t put enough effort into the work, start to get lazy, write boring texts. And that’s when you get “the bullet”.

Steve on his own work:

You are only assessed based on last week’s jobs.
“I worry about being kicked out every day.”

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