Car Journalism and the Road Ahead

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A kid interested in what I do has asked me how to do it and I thought perhaps it might be something of general interest and so have replied, at length:

I’m interested in writing about cars for a living and hoping you can give me some advice since you’ve been there and are doing that. I’m still in high school but have been into cars as long as I can remember, probably because my dad is also. Any pointers would be great!

. . .

Hoo boy. Well, where to start? The best place is probably with a quote from the Doctor – Hunter Thompson – a writer who greatly influenced me when I was your age. He wrote: Writing is a hard dollar.

Indeed.

Especially now.

Hard enough it is to make a buck by the word in good times; much harder in bad times – and damned near impossible without selling your soul by bending knee to the current regime of Wokeness.

I “get away” with being a heretic because I am an established one. Like the Dr., I spent many years – decades – hoeing the fields, including stints writing for “mainstream” media, such as The Chicago Tribune, Detroit News/Free Press and – for a number of years, AOL – when AOL was the Internet. Prior to that, I served a tour as an editorial writer/columnist at The Washington Times in DC, the very heart of darkness. This I was able to do because when I did it, these publications were not yet in the grip of Wokeism and a heretic could get hired – and not fired for being one.

This is near-impossible now. Even the car press is Woke. If you were to be recognized as an unbeliever in the tenets of the Electric Car Cult, say – or “identified” as a straight white male, which would also identify you as a racist/white supremacist – you’d be shown the door if you ever got through it in the first place.

Again, the only reason I get published is because it is me – a known heretic. With a known audience of the same. That carries some weight. You’d have to somehow build up the same kinetic energy, starting from scratch.

But it is not impossible, if you are determined in the manner of Jean Valjean.

I have some tips in that regard but before we proceed, there is a prerequisite. Or at least, I think there ought to be. It is having something to say that is worth saying and having the necessary data bank of knowledge and experience to say it with some degree of authority. One of the teeth-aching things about the car press today is that it is largely populated by people who – channeling Sergeant Schultz – know nothing, nothing! about cars.

Literally.

Not just mechanically but also historically. A Cord? Isn’t that something you pull on? Which brand’s emblem was a rocket? Crickets. You may not know about such things as well, being too young to have known about them first or even second-hand. It is worth knowing such things, because they bear on current things.

I once had a guy – just barely – approach me on a bus full of media people being cattle-chuted to the Javitz Center in New York (RIP) to attend some press briefings – they were called “reveals” in the argot of the car press. This guy wanted to know how I got into writing about motorcycles, which I did and still do in addition to writing about cars. He wrote for a major, heavyweight publication and was interested in adding some bike stuff to his mix.

I asked him about his bikes – assuming he had at least a few, since people who write about bikes professionally tend to have many bikes, just as people who write about cars also tend to have a small or even a large fleet. It goes with the turf, like soy goes with boys.

He had none. Worse, he’d never had one. Worse than that, this geek had never ridden a bike. And he wanted to write about them. Which is like the Pope dispensing advice about marital relations.

I was speechless for a moment before I recovered my senses enough to not rabbit punch him in the Adam’s apple.

Then there was the “case” of the car columnist for The Washington Post, a guy named Warren Brown. A nice guy – and a good business writer, which was his beat. They gave him the car beat, so he began to get press cars – like the ones I get to drive, in order to write about them from first-hand dealings. They brought Warren a new Porsche 911. It had a manual transmission. He had never learned to drive a car with a clutch. The Porsche people had to show him.

Try not to be like these stories. Get experienced, per Jimi Hendrix. Learn about as many cars and the history of cars as you can. Learn as much about everything as you can. Read. Everything.

Drive – and wrench – on as many cars as you can. Consider a stint as a mechanic. Or just work in a shop where that sort of work goes on. You will learn important stuff. Take driving classes – not the insipid “defensive driving” stuff they peddle now. Anyone can cringe with both hands clutching the 10 and 2. You want to get hipped to the real-deal stuff that teaches you how to drive. Learning to ride is also a healthy adjunct as there is a lot of overlap between driving and riding as both are about the passion of movement, under your control.

Most of all, cultivate your voice. That which makes your writing your writing. Do not try to ape other writers you like; let them serve as guiding spirits, to show you where the path is – but walk it at your own pace, your own gait.

The practical tips?

Get in the business. Not the car-writing business. The writing business. Do it however you can do it. Just so your are doing it.

If you can only do it – for openers – writing stories for a local paper about high school sports (as I did) then do that. Anything that gets you a byline and a paycheck and keep on building it from there.

No one is going to hire you to write about cars, no matter how well you may write right now. It is a business much like the NFL and probably harder to make the cut. But you can get into the writing business and use that to leverage yourself into writing about cars, if you have the passion and the determination to make it so. It will not be easy and it will probably take years of Les Miserabling – and there may not be much to write about in the years ahead except for what is being done to kill off cars – though even that is a rich vein of material to write about and we’ll need people who can do it, or rather, who have the skill and the righteous fury to defend the car from the killers.

I still have some gas in the tank and tread on the tires but – as the Dr. once also said – the good times eventually end, for one and all. Sic gloria transit mundi. I would like, when the times comes for me to shuffle off to Buffalo – to go knowing the heresy is in safe hands.

Perhaps, yours.

 . . . 

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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10 COMMENTS

  1. I think car “journalism” is now dead, at least as far as the magazines and larger sites. I have been a subscriber to the likes of Car and Driver and Road & Track for decades and this is my experience:
    1. Car and Driver has switched to something more like Better Homes and Gardens. They have become a huge pusher of the woke garbage, hired a female executive editor who is obviously pushing those views, and are only hiring woke women as writers now. They have now finally killed the mag in the past year with their innane female centric writing and pushing the garbage issues that do not matter. My subscription is up in May and i will no longer subscribe.
    2. R&T has not succumbed to the woke crap, at least to the degree of CD. They still do some good things. BUT, they have moved to some larger format more directed at hipster doofuses. Now I get my subscription renewal and it is now FREAKING $75 PER YEAR. Yeah, I am done with them now too once that subscription ends.

    I guess I am going to have to find another bathroom reading source. Nowadays you have to find a few independent journalists on the web like Eric and I go to Jack Baruth and Hagerty regularly as well. Not many other options out there otherwise.

  2. The only independent journalists today are self employed and begging for a living. Which points out the nature of the beast- that it is become entertainment, that pleasing the audience is the most important thing. If you can maintain your inner truth, and your integrity, and work with that, then you can try to make a run at it.

    I’ve come to believe that America’s greatest folly is the worship of youth. Age brings wisdom and perspective (also dementia and disability, but sometimes wisdom.) Nobody under 40 should ever be a cop or a politician. Nobody under 60 should be a judge.

    So if you’re going to be a truth teller, expect it to come at a cost. Expect to make nothing and be ruthlessly attacked by an army of ants. And be pleasantly surprised if you make a living and some friends at it.

  3. Eric,

    Fine guidance!

    I’d also like to tell you that you’ve inspired me to attempt something similar to what you do here, save for topics of science, rather than cars, but still from the libertarian perspective.

    The scientific disciplines and those who purvey their exploits to the masses are now saturated with those who champion “leftist”, and more at authoritarian, principles and philosophies.

    Science needs representation from someone who doesn’t espouse the elitist model of its roll in society. It needs someone who believes the scientific process is meant to bring into focus the truths of the Universe, unlike all of these sophomoric narcissists who believe “The Science” is a series of decrees, and scientists are the “Deciders” (to use a G.W. Bush term).

    So, thanks for that, Eric. Hopefully soon I can work of the technical end and enter the fray, though probably in a smaller and less frequent way, as you’re quite prolific with your writing. 😉

  4. My advice would be to forget it and pick another path.

    Journalism today isn’t. It is opinionism, manipulism and propaganda. An honest journalist is self-employed or rapidly unemployed.

    And even the POS hacks will be out of a job soon. Since they just recite the “official line”, sometimes bothering to rearrange the words slightly, they can easily be replaced by AI. A large number of articles already are penned by bots.

    In 10 years there likely will be no journalists left at all. Just AI created corporate/government-approved propaganda.

  5. A generous and thoughtful response. I did my post-grad in journalism, but couldn’t suppress my distaste for the even-then-apparent dishonesty evident in the profession long enough to try and build a career. A big-city editor visited our class one day and told us that ‘every story, no matter how small, has an agenda, usually disguised.’ Today’s journalism has only one agenda, apparently – pushing woke neo-marxist cancel culture – and it’s not disguised at all.
    Any youngster trying to work his way up through the cursus honorum (yes, it’s a purely political ladder these days) of modern media without bowing to the zeitgeist is facing a tough challenge. I wish him luck.

  6. The only advice I would give an aspiring journalist is to be honest in your writings. There are far too many people that call themselves journalists who are lying “sacks of sh!t” and do it for the notoriety and the ability to attend lavish events put on by their “benefactors” (politicians and other “movers and shakers”) who don’t relish truth but want journalists to “make them look good”. An honest journalist (which there are very few of) will not go along with the “pack mentality” that is so prevalent in journalism today, but will always seek and report the truth.

  7. I would add learn how to administer a web site. Having your own infrastructure will continue to be a very important arrow in the quiver and might just land you a job in a small shop. It really isn’t much more difficult than keeping a Windows machine up to date, other than knowing your way around a terminal. Get a Raspberry Pi a few O’Reilly books and have at it. The Pi will set you back $35 and have no problems running httpd and WordPress, as long as you don’t hammer it with too much traffic.

  8. Another thing that might be worth considering, “is there a market for what I want to do?” Markets are always changing, and not only by “official” decree. Another is “what reward do I expect?” Which may connect with the first question if wealth is that reward. If doing what you love feeds you, houses, and clothes you, and that’s all you seek, by all means carry on. Don’t do like so many college grads have done, and borrowed a ton of money to gain an education with no market value at all, preparing for a life that doesn’t exist. Of course one could always pursue such an interest as a sideline or hobby as well.
    But then again, I’m just a worn out retired plumber, so what do I know?

  9. ‘Most of all, cultivate your voice.’ — EP

    What a thoughtful response. The high-school kid interested in writing about cars for a living could have been me, half a lifetime ago — the boy who subscribed to Motor Trend magazine while still in elementary school.

    To find one’s own voice, reading the best of others’ voices — fiction and nonfiction, contemporary and classical — is basic prep, just as musicians learn to play others’ compositions before writing their own. Jimi Hendrix did a brief stint as a studio musician, honing his craft on other peoples’ songs.

    Recently I talked my college-age nephew out of a brief interest he had in the rancid, poisoned wasteland of mainstream journalism. Case in point, today’s fantastical NYT Big Lie:

    ‘President Biden is using his $2 trillion infrastructure plan to prove government can do colossal things that the private sector cannot.

    ‘It will take years to know whether the initiative will have the lasting power of the New Deal or the Great Society.’

    As usual, the Lügenpresse brazenly presumes that even recent history is already erased.

    One could mention the harsh 1937-38 recession and chronic high unemployment during the high tide of the New Deal. But let’s focus on the ‘lasting power’ of Lyndon Johnson’s Great [sic] Society.

    – Johnson withdrew from pursuing the 1968 presidential nomination 53 years ago today, so unpopular was his failing Vietnam war.
    – By 1971, Johnson’s ‘guns and butter’ policy of reckless deficits in the 1960s crashed the dollar and the postwar fixed exchange rate system.
    – The ten years from 1971 to 1981 were marked by high inflation, three recessions, and Paul Volcker hiking interest rates to the high teens to stop runaway inflation.

    ‘Lasting power’ of the Great Society?? Only in the worm-eaten, gender-fluid brain of a naive partisan stenographer, whose dim second-hand knowledge of those years derives only from tendentious revisionist histories written by obscure marxist hacks.

    Very few true voices remain, in a croaking media swamp of poseurs, swindlers and charlatans. Eric is one of the few.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Jim!

      Journalism – as practiced mostly today – is something sad an twisted; second-hand and unconscious, like the mindless braying of a donkey.

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