Not quite the glamour of a Top Gear test day – Dunsfold Aerodrome on a damp morning
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This Guest Blog was contributed by a friend of my son – he’s 20, and he wants to be a motoring journo. ‘Go on this course’ I said, ‘Write me a blog’.

Here it is, pretty much unscathed. No spelling mistakes, though it was late. RALPH MORTON, editor and good guy

Not quite the glamour of a Top Gear test day – Dunsfold Aerodrome on a damp morning

Guest Blog: ALASDAIR ROBERTS  

As a novice in motoring journalism, to be thrown in at the deep end of Headline Auto’s journalist master class was both bewildering and enlightening.

The day began in typical fashion; overslept and had to drive at close to light speed to reach Dunsfold Aerodrome by early morning (early morning being 9 AM… I am 20). Arrived to find the Top Gear test track under the only patch of sky that wasn’t blue!

The plan was to attend various classes aimed at giving an insight into the world of motoring journalism – how the motor industry is performing, and what direction it’s taking. This was to be followed by a chance to drive various cars around the track, with a view to showing us what sort of qualities to look for when reviewing a car’s ride and handling. This is absolutely distinct from thrashing high performance cars around a track, I assure you…

  • Alasdair had to be somewhere other than bed at 9am. Quite a challenge for a 20 year old student

So what did I glean from the day? Well in my (just out of teenage years) mind I was initially under the impression that the most fascinating and enjoyable aspects of the day would be trying to keep an MX-5 from sliding off the drenched airstrip. Obviously as a twenty year old student there would be relatively little that I would learn about motoring journalism that I did not already know through intuition or logical deduction. I was wrong.

Alasdair looking smug in his MX-5, about to go for a whizz

Although much was said about the current state of the car industry (poor), the direction the market was taking (eye catching eco-motors….), and how to develop a writing style, the most useful advice I received was also the most simple, and came mainly from Jamie Oliver. . .

The last class of the day was given by SEAT – a presentation about video journalism. It showed clips of various presenters of television shows, and it was pointed out that they were scripted in such a way that Mr Oliver could make even the simple act of cracking an egg a genuinely interesting and engaging fifteen seconds.

Steve Cropley and Jamie Oliver inspired the budding journalist

This was when I realised the importance of what Steve Cropley, editor-in-chief at Haymarket motoring magazines (What Car? among others), had been saying in the first class of the day. He told us to write for the reader. It seems obvious, but it is surprisingly counterintuitive to remember that you are writing for the one individual who is reading your words (although not literally hopefully).

  • Easy to forget that you write for the reader – as an individual

Ultimately you are not writing for an editor, or a magazine, or even a business car manager, you are writing to engage and affect the reader. This means that a publication as benign as a motoring magazine can almost transcend its purpose as a simple provider of consumer advice to something else. It allows the reader to be absorbed into a dialogue that may not even fully interest them, but because of the way it’s written and presented can engage them personally, like a friend might.

Until then it hadn’t occured to me how the motoring magazines I read help to brighten my day that bit, and how they must do so for others; not only through the content, but through the manner in which the writer has engaged with the reader.

As for the driving experience, all I can say is I’m trying to line up an MX-5 as my next car.

Occasionally we stray from our role as fount of all company car advice. We’ll keep in touch with Alasdair and see how his career progresses.


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