I am back on the topic of journalistic ethics and being old-school. There is no single trigger that I can connect to the ramble. Instead, the recent few weeks have been full of small things that seem to coalesce into something larger than I expected. Take for instance the closure of a regional edition of a long-standing car magazine brand. Or the attempt to revive defunct brands in the regional car magazine brand space. No, these are but background. I guess some other triggers are to be cast for – and they are aplenty.
I have had a series of conversations with an industry marketing professional, who gives me a view of the magazine industry that is refreshingly different. I am asked why we carry extensive reporting about brands, including some luxury brands, when we aren’t paid for these. Literally, the question was “Who has paid you to give our brand this much exposure?” Yup, their brand – and they have not advertised with us this year. Apparently most other magazines are more radical in their approaches – they send the editorial and marketing staff together for meetings or look for the quid pro quo openly. In this business of getting our backs mutually scratched, we seem to be missing the core reason for our existence. Take the case of the symbiotic presence of the car magazine and the car seller. We are both targeting the same reader/buyer. In the case of the magazine they pay a few dollars – or in our case just 500 baiza. For the typical car we are talking of tens of thousands of dollars. Yet when it comes to communicating with the reader, it seems like the car magazine is treading a lonely path of generosity.
As I explained to my counterpart, our business is to give the readers what they want. So we test cars, travel, go to motorshows, interview important industry figures, cover news and motorsports and even throw in concepts and classics to round off the experience. Over the years, we have become experts in this field and are amply qualified to communicate this to readers. We don’t throw in a ‘car test’ in with any number of non-related stories in return for advertising. We talk cars, bikes and other wheeled objects and our core advertisers are with us for that single reason.
But how do you convince a car trader in Oman to spend with us? After all, we are doing for free what other media in town are ‘charging’ a quid pro quo for – and gaining much needed advertising Rials. So the typical car trader spends his valuable Rials on buying highly perishable newspaper pages for tactical campaigns, leaving us to be looked after by the folks at the regional offices in Dubai. Now that is a problem since we don’t lie about being pan-Arab, we are expected to be looked after by the self-same dealer. Some of the dealers in town cannot even spare a car for a test drive. So we travel to Dubai, drive the car provided by the regional office and then have the same dealers ask why we don’t have an Oman number plate on the car.
There are a handful of professionals in town who understand the value of Oman’s only car magazine and we value their sagacity. In our decade plus existence we have had to prove our worth over and over again, but these hardy souls have been with us all along.
Before you think this is a crib-fest let me allay your fears. We have survived and grown for more than ten years. Our reputation is rock-solid and has been hard-won. Our magazine is among the best in the entire region. And our readers approve. Job done – no, job well done! And we have done this all by staying true to our readers, not by using ‘wasta’ to get advertising and press junkets or by plugging press releases and bartering away our integrity in the search for mammon. We give detailed analytical content that stays true to the journalistic ethos of a car magazine and boy, are we proud of that.