An old story this, repeated for many decades and through many a blog: the hardships and triumphs of would-be car writers and those who made it with some scuffed enamel on their pearly whites. It’s been said in one or two online outlets that automotive journalism has lost a certain mystique that it once had– they used to live like rock stars, traveling the globe, beautiful women in their hotel rooms and absurd amounts of alcohol the night before the quick drive that brought them there. Faux playboy status is not what draws me to the job. I don’t aim to entertain readers with crudity or flinging insults at publications I’m jealous of. Richness and wine parties with cucumber finger-food isn’t a delight in which I wish to indulge. Rather my goal is to shed some insight on practical automotive enjoyment can be found– the “fun” in function, and to do so as beautifully as I can polish it.
With a slow-down in not just the economy of 2013, Octobers are notoriously bad (look at 1929), and with that comes a slow down in car reviews and comparisons at CarsDirect (see older blog entries). Most of the new models have been written about by a slurry of contracted writers. Many of those writers are trying to make headway in the very market that I, and undoubtedly a handful of the dozen people who read this post in a years time, are frustratingly familiar with. What would the company need us for once everything has been scribbled about and compared 20 times already?
There’s no being mad about the slow down; I had a few hundred dollars of spending cash to finally put me in the “paid gig” camp of automotive-journalist wannabe’s– a step that I’m sure a large percentage never reach. Now it’s time for me to move on to the next step, leaving me looking at different websites where I can apply some of my finer moments to the interwebervets.
Every writer has their battles, be it small ones like inspiration or writers block, or finding an outlet (or additional outlets) to actually legitimize their position in the field. In the case of the latter, there are three I’m looking at in particular: Scripted.com, Contently.com, and the somewhat larger-name (but slow to be commented on for some folks) Yahoo! Voices.
As of writing this blog post, I can attest to a usual hindrance us car guys come across: no automotive section. Scripted.com does have a “lifestyles” section, but that’s as close as I could come to my specialty, to which I made use of the “Contact Us” section:
I was looking through the different specialties and what I’d really love to write about. While some of them I might be willing, under the right circumstances, my real passion isn’t on the list directly. My specialty lies in cars and the car market– reviews, comparisons and the like. Perhaps car comparisons and reviews are to be held loosely under ‘lifestyles’ to some people, but I think cars are more than a lifestyle.
Seeing as there are far fewer car enthusiasts than there are regular, hum-drum consumers caught up with badge weights (“because it’s a Honda or Mercedes it MUST be good!”), and that the real enthusiast mindset is ever shrinking, no it’s not a lifestyle. Likewise, I’m not here to write about how to change oil or how to choose spark plugs.Yes, I tinker, but am far from a technician. There is a wide variety of car/truck enthusiasts and consumers, and just as wide a market of writers to meet the needs of those wishing to be informed. Speaking for myself and fellow automotive scribes, hacks, and crayon chewers, please open up the market for us a little bit.
What a pity that this suits so much more than just Scripted.com. A great number of decently sized publications disregard the possibility of an automotive section. Here in Northern California we have a chain of “News and Review” outlets, that are both online and print. Walking into businesses throughout Sacramento, it’s rare to find a news stand without the “SN&R” logo. Yet, with a great reputation in the region, a strong readership and website, and their chains that extend as far as Nevada, I don’t see any car section. Can those not be reviewed?
Of course I’m not being objective here. The job market is dismal– there’s no getting around that, and you don’t need to read it here again. Nor do you need to hear that youth aren’t interested in driving anymore because of improved public transport, the added cost of driving thanks to rising insurance and fuel costs against a relatively weak dollar. Yet with those excuses about why cars not being worth writing about, somehow golf resorts (and requisite realtor ads nearby) and four-star restaurants are practical somehow.
Sure, there are hundreds of automotive publications in the United States that a consumer can turn to for their information, but I think it needs to be more localized and personal to the area. Furthermore, the local journalists throughout Northern California tend to be a different generation, trained for print, physical film, and radio-voice coaching. The youngest major automotive media personality I can think of in my region is pushing his upper 40’s and graying. This age gap doesn’t help bud the younger crowd, not just locally but nationally (John Davis and the Motor Week programing have changed very little since the 1990’s). High-end video, sound clips, and photography are just as important as spec sheets and affluent prose.
The simplicity of the Youtube /Drive (Chris Harris’ tests tend to be my favorite segment) and WindingRoad channels are a shining example of what young automotive-driven males want. Furthermore the Petrolicious upstart is another well executed and artful piece of involving media, even though it dabbles more with older European classics of the 1950’s to the 1970’s, often driven by people that (like I alluded to before) live a life of richness and wine parties with cucumber finger-food. Do I find it appalling that someone dared insinuate he lived a dire life thinking he could never own a Porsche, when his first car was a Alfa Romeo Spider, and his parents had a golf club membership? Yes I do. But I’m typing here without fighting cockroaches off the keyboard, and am not living in a clapped out station wagon like my oldest brother had to do from time to time, so who am I to judge?
No matter what, those Youtube channels I pointed out are undoubtedly pulling in the same demographic that my Youtube channel and the Facebook page I have for my car— both bring in 80% or more males, aging 25 to 34 years old. A friend of mine has connections to an editor in a small local newspaper, and has offered to put in a good word. As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I know the reality is all in demographics: who reads that paper or the website? Then consider the two sites I have where I can visually graph my audience as a damned-near polar opposite (which is pretty spectacular considering it lingers around a Toyota Echo). To make the point clearer that the older journalists locally don’t have the younger audience captivated, I know that younger gentleman has an audience that is primarily women over the age of 35– I should know because he asked me to come up to meet him.
Like any of the other posts of the trials and challenges we all face, I guess I’m obliged to say “keep pushing, we all go through it.” Talking about this very same subject with a fellow writer the topic of trying to find new gigs, about how even choosing between new shoes or a stick of deodorant is a way of life, I hear that all the time from a friend “I completely understand, we’ve all been there.” I told him “past tense– still better than present.” Those connections and networks– great and small– go a long way. Now if only this blog post didn’t feel grossly cliche at the end. Perhaps a better plan would be to demotivate others and lessen my potential competition. Soon… soon…..