The founding of the NZ Motoring Writers Guild back in the 1970s was at the time a bid to provide a more professional status for the relatively few regular writers about motoring of that time.
It was felt the Guild would provide a body to represent the interests of its members in their dealings with the motor industry, and also help to maintain and raise standards.
More than 30 years later, with some of the original NZMWG members still writing, and many more having worked at their craft over a considerable number of years, it was obvious that the Guild’s membership had become overwhelmingly middle-aged (or older), male and relatively static.
To one of the Guild founders, Peter Gill, and executive member Sean Willmott, it was clear that there was no straightforward path aspiring motor noters could follow.
The Guild itself responded enthusiastically to their proposal that a mentoring scheme guided by the Guild could help young writers aiming to carve out a place in our rather specialised part of the journalistic profession.
Guild life member Adrian Blackburn suggested allying the incipient mentoring programme to the work the Journalists Training Organisation was already doing to raise skills in specialist areas such as sports and business news. The ultimate aim was to earn trainee journalists NZ Qualification Authority credits recognising their new skills.
Support was gained from the Motor Industry Association, representing distributors of new vehicles, for successful mentees to gain experience of model launches and road testing. Some publications also offered to publish work from trainees.
A pilot mentoring programme began in 2007, with applications called through the JTO’s membership. To date one Dunedin-based writer has successfully completed a programme of assignments covering a variety of stories, including personality features, industry issues and motor sport.
Christchurch-based veteran motoring writer Brian Cowan has contributed much personal time to advising our first mentee.
The next phase of development of the programme will require more formal integration with the JTO.
When Catherine Wellington applied to the Guild she was a general reporter for a community paper – but had an interest in motoring. She is now the Drivesouth motoring reporter for the ‘Otago Daily Times’.
“Being part of the NZ Motoring Writers’ Guild mentoring scheme gave me the confidence to go for the Drivesouth position when it came up last year,” she said. The fact Catherine was a mentee also assisted her application with her employer.
Catherine says her connection with the Guild was instrumental in her development as a motoring journalist, providing her with the opportunity to discuss content, receive constructive criticism, meet other journalists in the field and establish contacts nationwide.
“When I started it I was a general reporter occasionally writing motoring stories,” Catherine says. “Now I cover motoring and motor sport around the South Island for www.drivesouth.co.nz and the Otago Daily Times.”