The path to becoming an automotive journalist is not an easy one. we give you tips on how to make this dream job come true.
posted on Jul 18, 2020 at 07:00:00
Not a day goes by that we don’t have aspiring journalists submitting their resumes and applying (often begging) for a job. Sure, driving great cars and bikes in great places, and drinking and dining along the way, are all awesome, but the reality is that it’s not easy to live that dream. To achieve recognition and respect in the field of automotive journalism, to be able to live this magical life, it takes years of hard work and commitment. It helps if you’re an early riser because sunrise starts are common in our profession and it’s even better if you sleep in, because spending all night in the office to meet some brutal deadlines isn’t uncommon either. When you start out, which is usually at the bottom of the ladder, be prepared to drive a desk more than a car, and you can forget about getting rich quick.
but hey, I don’t mean to scare you. what we do is not just any dream job; it’s simply the best job in the world and all of us in the midst of it wouldn’t trade it for anything in the universe. so what are the qualifications you need to enter our privileged circle?
can you capitalize on your passion?
Everything starts with passion, doesn’t it? but that’s not a requirement, it’s just a prerequisite. We are all passionate about cars and motorcycles (which is why we want to make a living from it), but mere passion is by no means an entry into the world of journalism. Just because you love all things cars, know a lot about them, and are a good driver doesn’t guarantee you a career in this field.
This is the first reality check that shakes the illusions of those who imagine that the media will queue up to hire them and hand them the keys to a Ferrari, just because of the passion they have. This job isn’t just about loving cars, it’s about writing about them in a lucid, engaging, and factual way. And this brings me to the most important question I would ask any journalist: how well can you write?
In this digital age, anyone can write a blog, record a video and become a journalist. but not all bloggers and vloggers are necessarily good journalists, or even great writers. The truth is that writing is a skill that is not easy to master. but if you do, the ability to tell a good story in an engaging way can open many doors (including ours). there are only a handful of automotive journalists who are great writers and that is a privileged group that the media houses cling to. those are the people who are most secure in the best jobs in the world. Can you be a wordsmith like them? it’s very possible, but here are some things you need to know.
whatever language you choose, in which you want to develop your career, make sure you have an excellent command of it. Writing is a god-given talent, and it’s enviable how some of our best writers can come up with clean, easy-to-read prose that doesn’t need much editing, in a very short time. but if you’re less talented with words, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your writing with just plain hard work.
taking a journalism or professional writing course is the obvious way to develop your skills, and gavin, one of our best writers, is a great example of this.
but you don’t really need to have a journalism degree or any degree at all (like yours really!) to make writing your livelihood. in fact, most of our senior editors came to us from completely unrelated professions and with no formal journalism education. Shapur is an accountant and also a priest. yes, not a saint but a priest! sergius has a degree in automotive engineering and renuka was running a successful garment export business before making the switch. Others like Nikhil joined us fresh out of college, but without a journalism degree. the only thing they all had (and still have) in common is that they take their job seriously. very seriously.
so, without some kind of journalism degree, how can you improve your writing?
in a word, read. or in three words, read, read and read. The best way to improve your writing skills is by reading the work of top automotive journalists. the magical way in which they draw the reader in with their word art, the authority they exude, and their ability to inform and entertain their readers will give you an idea of quality journalism.
my favorite names? I grew up reading Brock Yates (from his car and driver days), LJK Setright, Russell Bulgin (both Car Magazine contributors, who sadly passed away, leaving behind a great writing legacy), our own Steve Cropley, and many others. Jeremy Clarkson is as brilliant a writer as he is a TV host and his funny, opinionated and often controversial style is what has earned him demigod status. in fact, clarkson has inspired thousands to want to be just like him. great writers are the best source of inspiration to motivate you to write, and that’s what you should focus on as a first step.
write as much as you can and where you can. Start by writing a blog that you can post on social media, join one of the many forums that eat and breathe cars (they’re great places to learn and interact with other enthusiasts), write for your college newsletter, and just jot down your thoughts. , which could always become a story later. don’t develop an opinion just to impress your readers, and first ask yourself if you are experienced or qualified enough to have one.
then edit your stories over and over again to make them read better. and by edit, I mean keep it simple; maintain structure and flow, eliminate unnecessary words and sentences, and don’t try too hard using flowery language. remember, less is more, especially in this age of instagram where a reader’s attention can’t be more than 15 seconds.
I love The Economist for the way it packs news, analysis, and opinion into short, brilliantly crafted articles. the headlines are clever, the editing is impeccable, and just reading this weekly magazine will teach you a lot about honing your writing skills.
so keep it up, post your stories and constantly push yourself to make them read better and better. it’s a great way to build your resume and hopefully land that job offer you’ve been desperate for.
know your stuff
Being a good writer is of course the most important thing for a journalist, but knowing what you’re writing about is just as important. You could be a great writer, but if you have no idea about the auto industry and its products, your story will be worth little.
The auto industry is very complex, cars and bikes are very technical and it’s hard even for engineers, let alone journalists, to keep up with technology. therefore, it is important that you have at least a basic understanding of how the world of cars and bicycles works.
Develop your knowledge by not only reading voraciously, but also meeting the engineers responsible for producing cars and bicycles. and then meet the marketing people who will eventually sell them, to get a feel for how the car business works. In fact, I don’t trust the internet and have found that I have learned the most simply by chatting with company officials who are often happy to share a wealth of experience and knowledge if they feel you are an enthusiastic learner. it arms you with a better understanding of your company’s products, which is always helpful when you get to driving them. And this brings me to the final frontier, the ultimate goal for most automotive journalists: testing cars and motorcycles.
If I had to choose between a very skilled and fast driver and someone who is slower and more experienced, for a job as a road tester, it would normally be the latter. there is a belief that if you can drive fast, have been in rallies, you are automatically a good test driver. It’s a belief I don’t subscribe to. Yes, you need a minimal level of skill and car control to drive high-performance cars and bikes, but it’s experience that hones your judgment, hones your sense of comfort, and amplifies every nuance of the car that those with less experience would. Miss. above all, it makes you more confident.
Another thing you need is perspective. You can’t just get in a Ferrari and comment on how cool it is if you haven’t driven other supercars. Likewise, you can’t drive a Swift and say it’s complete garbage, because all you drove before was your dad’s 3-series. you need the right context, with other cars as reference points, which is what experienced drivers have. The more cars you drive, the better perspective you have to judge and review what you are testing.
so the message here is the same: drive as much as you can, whenever you can, and as much as you can. There’s no better way to develop your skill as a test pilot. and another thing, do not check the car you drive for yourself but for the target customer of the vehicle. There’s no point criticizing the lack of power in a cheap diesel hatchback because you can’t find it fast enough, when the typical customer just wants something that’s cheap to run. The thing is, the experience of buying and owning cars with your own money isn’t something most auto journalists have, so they often focus on the irrelevant and miss the point of the car or bike. that they are testing, by country. mile.
it is important to reiterate that a good road tester will always review a car from the right perspective and gauge how it compares in its own segment.
angle of approach
See also: Kick-Ass Customer Service
in coach india, people have been hired for their talent but fired for their attitude. Unfortunately, this job tends to attract kids who don’t want to start small and go through the grind; They want to become road testers from day one, just to fulfill their dream of riding cool cars and motorcycles. that’s just not going to happen, at least not in this magazine. newbies should feel privileged to have this job and should work twice as hard, putting their hand in everything from updating specs and pricing in the buyer’s guide in the back of the magazine (a really painful job), to repackage content for various digital platforms. , and even washing cars before a shoot. Of course, if you show signs of brilliance early on, the editors will notice and give you the big jobs, and then eventually you’ll be able to travel. creativity is in short supply, so if you have a creative spark, the organization will appreciate you for it.
but to really move up in any organization, you need to be a team player, take initiative and proactively come up with ideas. Help others with their stories and assignments if you can, because the media, many of which are under-resourced, value employees who can multitask. and most important of all, meet the deadlines!
360 degree view
An old-school, one-dimensional approach won’t get you very far in a digital world that consumes content avidly and instantly. Today’s journalists have to be multifaceted, and this means that you cannot limit yourself to a medium like the press. You must be able to write an online story, newspaper and magazine features, a piece for the camera for video, and of course, regular posts on social media platforms.
Video is the fastest growing medium fueled by cheap data rates and it pays to invest in some vlogging gear and learn shooting and editing skills. the latest smartphones, a gopro and a few accessories can take care of 90 percent of your photo and video shoots. Becoming self-sufficient is of great value to your employers and to yourself (if you do your own work), as it eliminates the cost of using separate equipment for filming.
As a journalist, the only thing that’s as important as the cars we review are the people behind them. our business is a people business, and we are constantly engaging with public relations teams and company executives who are our main source of authentic content. Networking is very important in our line of work, and if I had to attribute the success of Autocar to one thing, besides the fantastic team we have, it’s our access to key people in the industry. this gives us an advantage when it comes to publishing stories, getting exclusives and becoming the source of content, which is then blatantly copied by other media sites; But I guess that’s something we have to live with. however, the strong relationships we enjoy with the industry have not been easy. it has taken years and years to build trust, credibility and respect. most of our scoops come from relatively young people at companies who know we will never betray our sources. truth be told, sometimes we get our best stories from the main bosses!
Getting direct access to senior management takes time and you have to constantly work on it. Most of the interactions will be routed through the company’s PR teams, whose job it is to monitor what and how much their bosses say! but that’s not a bad thing because with the right line of questions, it’s possible to get a couple of stories out of even a 5-10 minute one-on-one conversation. in fact, the best advice I could give to novice journalists is to regularly attend press conferences, interview as many company officials as you can, and try to come away with at least one story that isn’t in the press release.
Interpersonal skills are important when it comes to getting access to the right people. First of all, don’t run to the buffet the moment the press conference is over. instead, try to strike up a conversation with one of the executives who are usually free after their round of official media interactions. Don’t be shy about talking to older people, and while it’s common for journalists to intrude on conversations, you’ll be respected if you give them some space and choose the right time to approach them.
Another tip is to dress smartly. you tend to be taken more seriously if you wear a jacket, especially by dark-suited Japanese and Korean expats, whose idea of smart casual isn’t wearing a tie.
and finally, don’t risk it. this is something that many self-titled journalists (spoiled no doubt by the PR excesses of some companies) do these days. The biggest mistake you can make is threatening the PR team with a bad story for not inviting you to a pitch or giving you a test car. This not only compromises your credibility as a journalist, but can also permanently damage your relationship with a company. Yes, it hurts when you don’t get invited, but a heart-to-heart with the PR manager is a better way to make sure you’re on the list next time.
our ‘stay humble, stay hungry’ policy will get you places.
where to start
There are many ways to get an opportunity as an automotive journalist because, unlike most professions, you don’t have to be qualified to become one. On one level, becoming a car journalist is the easiest because today, the barriers to entry are very low or non-existent. All you need to do is start your own YouTube channel or blog, invest in a basic camera kit, and start publishing your work. But you’ll be joining millions of others who have taken this route, and standing out from all the car-based channels and websites isn’t easy. manufacturers are also being bombarded by these new “publishers” who have invaded the media space. as a result, companies are becoming selective about who they entertain; so don’t expect media invites and press cars to be presented to you automatically. you will have to work very hard to get noticed and even if you do, you will be constantly fighting against a swarm of youtubers and bloggers who join the rat race every day. An internship with a reputable media house is another way to start, and it’s not too hard to come by. At Coach, we constantly offer internships to students and graduates, and some of these have turned into permanent jobs. As an intern, you must immediately display a flair for writing and industry knowledge, be resourceful in any investigation that comes your way, and be proactive in taking on tasks however mundane. Of course, there is an exception to every rule. Ouseph Chacko just showed up in our office one fine day and said, “I want a job.” he then he came back every day for a week, hoping we would give up. we did, and the talented ouseph grew to be one of our greatest assets. sometimes simple, stubborn persistence works.
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