Sometimes a departing executive or editor will leave a note on their desk addressed to their successor.
Inside, the incumbent can expect some kind words of encouragement, or perhaps a joke, as well as some useful insights gleaned through hard-earned experience. I didn’t get such a note on my first day as the editor of Wheels.
Mine was more of an instruction manual.
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‘HOW TO BE A GOOD MAGAZINE EDITOR: SOME TIPS’ shouted the thick document resting on my keyboard. Written by former Wheels deputy editor, Mel Nichols, and placed on my desk by the magazine’s then publisher, Ged Bulmer, the 14-page double-sided document is now as dog eared as a favourite paperback. But there was something missing.
Written during the heyday of print, there was no mention of the internet, of changing audience habits, or battling the perception that editing a magazine is a synonym for managing decline. On that front, it seemed, I was on my own.
And here’s the thing. More people are consuming Wheels content today than they ever have, via this print edition and our many digital platforms. And when you consider the radical change wrought upon the motoring industry in the previous half decade, Wheels hasn’t only had to contend with the unstable state of media.
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With every new issue, it’s been deftly dicing treacherous waters full of car company closures, shifting buyer tastes and the rise of the machines (both electric and autonomous).
Which is why I feel comfortable relinquishing the wheel. Yes, after four years and 50 issues, this magazine will be my final as editor. It’s been a tumultuous ride. Since sinking, nervously, into the editor’s chair, the milestone moments have come thick and fast. The closure of Ford and Toyota’s Aussie plants were the first, but by far the most emotional was when Holden snapped the padlocks on its factories.
Our November 2017 issue, summed up by its beautiful cover image of an FX driving down a dusty road, is the one I’m most proud of. The quality and breadth of story-telling in that magazine encapsulates what Wheels stands for: world-class writing, unrivalled access and depth of reporting, and forthright opinions.
Since then we’ve watched in stunned silence as Holden has imploded totally, and if you need further proof of how quickly the landscape is shifting, consider our ‘Driven to Extinction’ section. When we first conceived the idea to close each issue with a hat-tip to recently departed models, there was some concern that we’d quickly run out of cars to feature.
Now our list extends to the point where we can continue the section for the next year, and more, without breaking a sweat.
But with great change also comes great opportunity. As is Wheels tradition, we’ve driven the agenda and shifted the mindset of our readers through the introduction of our annual ‘Future Issue’ which is always a best-seller. We’ve also tripled our website audience at WhichCar.com.au/Wheels, and made the magazine more premium with our 2018 redesign.
And remarkably, we’ve even managed to tear some youngsters away from their phones. Earlier this year we surprised 12-year-old subscriber Gabriel with a ride in a Ferrari, and many other teens have written in asking me how to become a motoring journo. That fills me with optimism.
I won’t be disappearing entirely. My byline will continue in every issue but instead of editing Wheels, I’ll be working to grow its video presence (and the footprint of all our motoring and industry titles) as Are Media’s Creative Director for TV and Video.
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It isn’t a decision I’ve made lightly. Editing Wheels has been a lifelong ambition, though I’m simply the temporary custodian of a great brand. I’ve always felt the gaze of editors past on my shoulders, but my true taskmasters have been you, our readers. You’re a vocal and forthright bunch not afraid to tell me when I’ve got it wrong. That many of you still consider Wheels the best motoring mag in the world gives me solace that most of the time, I got it right.
So thank you. I’ve loved every second of it.