There are a lot of myths about the Automobile Journalism profession and Auto Journalists that somehow get circulated and make it into the minds of mainstream car lovers and gearheads. My colleagues and I are not sure where these perceptions come from but to be honest with you, we sometimes pretend and play along when talking to “regular folk” that our lives are awesome. That just isn't the truth and these are the secrets that Auto Journalist's keep but readily don't want to admit.
1. Auto Writers don't always like our Jobs
People looking in from the outside tend to make the auto writing profession a lot more glamorous than it truly is. I'm not sure why this is, perhaps because they hate their jobs? The truth is auto journalists and writers have good days and bad days just like anyone else. Sometimes we have fun in cars that are not ours and some days we have to worry about meeting a deadline for a story to get paid.
2. We don't always get our requested Review Cars
Often times an auto writer will request a certain vehicle from an automaker, or company that manages fleet review vehicles, and they won't get it. This could because you are too low down on the totem pole which means they can't make time for you in the vehicle schedule. Most of the time auto writers take whatever fleet vehicles they can get when they are offered to them.
It does depend upon what magazine you work for and how well your “name” is established in the business. Even at major automotive publications they don't give out Ferraris, Aston Martins and Lamborghinis to the new guy to test drive for a week. You might get 45 minutes in it but not a whole a week or two. Hell, if I could request exotic and supercars for weeks on end I wouldn't be sitting here writing this article.
3. We don't know EVERYTHING about ALL the cars out there
I know a lot more about cars than the Average Joe walking down the street but I don't pretend to know EVERYTHING about EVERY single car that's ever been built. It's always odd to me that gearheads and people ask us questions and expect auto writers to have some sort of supercomptuer backlog of knowledge about every single car that's been made out on the planet.
We don't expect stock brokers to know about every single stock, photographers to know all models, authors to know about every book in publication. We try our best to keep informed and updated but cars are extremely complicated and there are new technologies that come out all the time.
4. Most of us don't make much money
Depends on who you work for and what you do for that particular auto magazine. In general though the auto writing profession does not pay that well and for some reason most people don't understand this. John Davis gave some pretty spot on advice if you want to be an auto journalist, “Well first of all decide that you want to starve to death because it is not a profession that pays well.”
The reality is that a lot of people want articles and content about cars, but they do not see the value in paying a lot for it. Also there are a lot of ‘auto writers' out there more than willing to provide articles (even if they aren't very good).
I've fortunately been able to get some decent paying auto writing gigs but by no means have I made a killing doing this. I have other profitable projects and ventures and I've continued to do auto writing as a side-gig. This is pretty common nowadays with a lot of major newspapers and magazines cutting and reducing staff.
5. We drive crappy cars (or don't own a car)
Since I established with secret number #4 that we don't usually make that much money, most auto writers usually buy and drive used cars. Often car guys will refer to the cars we drive as “Crappy Cars!” Personally I have no problem with the Honda Accord I own and think it's great for my needs. I spend more time working on building content than driving. (That's why I'm successful and you just make excuses and complain why you could be a good at this.)
Some auto journalists… don't own a car. This is one secret many don't want to let out. If you get a new car to test drive each week and don't need to worry about paying for insurance and maintenance, why would you own a car? Sometimes when they drop off a car at your house they even leave it with a full tank of gas. So we don't even worry about paying for gas, which is nice since you may not be able to afford it. 🙂
6. We don't buy New Cars that often
Just because you see us driving new cars this does NOT mean we have the money to purchase them, pay for insurance, and maintain and repair the car. Too many of you car lovers and gearheads do this math in your head;
Auto Writing + Fun = Money for All the Cars I want
That's not how it works. Reread secrets #4 and #5 again if you still are having trouble grasping what you just read.
7. We have limited time to Read other Auto Magazines
I wish I had all the time in the world to read all the auto articles that are published on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. The reality is that I don't since I'm either working on my own articles or working on other ventures that produce revenue. It's not possible to read every auto magazine and auto blog if you want to be successful writing about cars.
I do try to keep updated with industry news and other car blogs. Using an RSS reader is major time saver and helps most of us check what others are saying about a particular sotry. Understand that no auto writer can keep up with the massive amount of articles generated each day though.
In addition many auto journalists that are successful are pretty well-rounded individuals. Some of us read other news or topics that interest us outside of cars.
8. We are Prima Donnas (give us free stuff)
To move a certain well-chiseled butt from his comfy desk chair you are going to have to offer him something. Perhaps a test drive in a car he wouldn't normally have the chance to drive, like a concept or prototype. Maybe an invite to a “Luncheon” with free food with lots of free swag.
We are Prima Donnas and expect free stuff and invites to cool events to get a story out of us. You public relations professionals reading this should keep this in mind. Remember we can always write bad stories about you. 🙂
We are poor and cranky bastards that get to test drive cars once in awhile and write about it. What else do you need to know?
If you are an auto writer or auto journalist feel free to leave your thoughts below. Think I missed a something, let me know.