Paul Huizenga: How to Avoid Success as an Aspiring Moto-Journalist
In my time as an editor here at Power Automedia, one of my many responsibilities has been to find and train new writers and photographers. As we grow, we’re constantly searching for more people to help keep the oars on our online slave galley churning (and as you can see, we also need help with metaphors), but it’s harder than you might think to not just find people who are capable of doing the job, but can do it without stepping on their own crank in the process.
Surprisingly, most of the time when someone doesn’t work out, it’s not because they are bad writers or can’t tell an F-bomb from a F-stop – it’s some kind of self-sabotaging behavior. As a public service, and to gather in one place all the things I have to repeatedly say when interviewing a potential new contributor or breaking one in, the following is a brief guide to the things that will keep you out of the business. While some of it is specific to our particular publications, most will apply for anyone looking to start an online automotive career wherever you may have the opportunity.
- Don’t be unreliable or unreachable – This should be a no-brainer. If you can’t hit a deadline or reply to emails, phone calls, and instant messages, your chances in this business are slim. The temptation is to over-promise when an editor asks you for an unrealistic time frame for something, but I would much rather hear you will need a while longer when the piece is first assigned than the day it’s due. Lots of people starting out in this business are doing their work after their day job, or between classes, and we understand that – but only if you’ve given us some warning.
- Don’t be an “expert”– While you might think that your encyclopedic knowledge of all things automotive makes you perfect for the job, I find that someone who is familiar with a particular subject, but not an expert, usually comes up with a better end product. There’s always going to be somebody who knows more about any given topic than you do, and chances are you’ll be interviewing them for the piece you’re working on. “Experts” tend to have a chip on their shoulder – a good contributor knows enough to realize they don’t know enough, and asks good questions instead of making statements.
- Don’t “whack the piñata”– One of the fringe benefits of being in this business is that you will often get free parts as part of doing your job. Unfortunately, some people abuse this – more than once, we’ve assigned some new contributor to do a car feature on their buddy’s ride, only to get a phone call a few days later from some aftermarket manufacturer asking why so-and-so is calling, asking for free parts for a build that’s going to be featured on our site. Trying to work the angles and get free or discounted parts outside the system is a sure-fire way to end your career before it starts.
It sucks to discover something you worked hard putting together is appearing somewhere else, stripped of your name
Don’t break other people’s stuff – Another self-evident truth that apparently isn’t self-evident is that whenever possible, you should avoid driving cars you don’t own off into the weeds, blowing up motors on the dyno, or abusing the property and time of others. I say “avoid” because it won’t always be possible to completely prevent mishaps, but nobody wants to be “the guy who rolled the car at the press intro” or the main attraction in a tragic, yet comic YouTube video that goes viral. Take it from somebody who knows…
Don’t steal other people’s work – We routinely find stories from other online sources, internet forums, and whatnot. But we never pass them off as our own work, and we always credit, attribute, and link back whenever possible. It sucks to discover something you worked hard putting together is appearing somewhere else, stripped of your name – don’t do it to other people. And if we catch you doing it, you’ll be done working for us before you even get started.
Don’t be an asshat – This catch-all covers behavior that might benefit you personally in the short term, but hurts everyone eventually. Yes, putting every car manufacturer and model name you can think of into the tags of your cool video might get you an extra 15 views over the course of the year, but it destroys the functionality of the keyword search. Test it for yourself – go to YouTube and type in “Mustang,” “Corvette,” or “Camaro” (sadly you’ll get as many hits for CamEro) and see how many totally unrelated videos pop up. Sure, it’s hard to get good cell phone video of that car going down the track without pushing in front of the other photographers, but those pros will remember the new guy who got in everyone’s way later, when he’s looking to get hired at their company. About the worst possible thing to have happen at the entry level of this industry is to have an editor already know who you are because you’ve made a bad reputation for yourself.
Like many things in life, just not screwing up too much is enough to ensure a long and prosperous career in automotive journalism. Turn your stuff in, don’t rip off other people, avoid alcoholism, and it’s all good!
If, after all that, you still aren’t scared off, and can manage to follow these rules, you might have a place in our roster of contributors. You can get in touch with us at email@example.com with the specific website(s) you’d like to write for, and our editors will get back to you with more information.