Automotive journalism is nothing like it was when I first got into this business. Back then, working for a monthly magazine was a leisurely affair.
Today, covering the automotive industry is a nonstop process where your next deadline begins the nano-second you complete the one you’re working on.
When I first started, my editor would mail out an assignment sheet once a month, giving each editor a couple of stories to get done for the next issue. We didn’t do a whole lot of talking on the telephone because long-distance calling was considered too expensive.
We typically worked a couple of months in advance, so I literally could spend weeks diving deep into the details of every story I worked on. It was great training that really taught me a lot about many different aspects of the automotive industry.
Today, there is no such luxury. Most journalists I know face at least one deadline a day and multiple deadlines every week.
In my case, it involves churning out daily radio scripts, producing a daily news show, preparing for a weekly webcast, shooting at least one car review, taping a weekly television program and writing a blog as well as this monthly column.
And that doesn’t include all the travel and other work that must get done.
Today’s journalists also have to dabble in the new social-media outlets that have appeared in the last few years, constantly updating their publication’s Facebook page and Tweeting about breaking news they’re covering.
A lot of reporters who grew up with a pen and notepad now find they have to master using a small video camera, learn how to do video editing and how to encode and post it to a website.
Worse still, for a lot of them, they have to appear on camera and look and sound as if it all comes natural. For many, this is an extremely uncomfortable experience.
A lot of this gets balanced out by having access to amazing amounts of information on the Internet. Otherwise, we couldn’t meet all these deadlines. Plus, we’ve got access to incredible productivity tools, such as the voice-recognition program I’m using to dictate this column into my laptop.
I’m impressed by the caliber of automotive journalists who are coming up through the system these days. A number of them are smarter and better trained than I ever was.
But they tend to be specialists who understand a given part of the industry.
I’m glad I grew up before the world got wired. It gave me the opportunity to take many, many plant tours, visit different companies, read books and reports and interview myriad sources to really understand a topic.
What this new-generation of journalists too-often lacks is the ability to synthesize disparate information from different parts of the industry into a clearer understanding of the overall picture.
And while I wouldn’t ever want to go back to the old ways, ah for the days when I only had one deadline a month to meet!
John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit, and “Autoline Daily,” the online video newscast.