By Paul Williams
In Canada, the ownership of media is concentrated. This means that one company can own dozens or hundreds of outlets. Consequently, rather than a freelancer having hundreds of individual editors to approach, there’s often one key person handling “automotive” for a large chain. This limits your ability to sell stories to multiple publications.
Note that publications support themselves through advertising, and that the automotive section in newspapers, for example, typically runs advertising from auto manufacturers and local dealers. The editor of the section will primarily look for editorial (articles) that is relevant to the vehicles people are buying, and “classic” cars don’t have a strong advertising base in the mainstream press. It’s the same thing at www.Autos.ca, where we are also very light (by choice) on motorsports. Again, target your articles to the right publication.
There are about 100 working journalist members of AJAC; and that includes 65-70 voting journalists (full-time auto journalists). It is in general an aging population, which is good for younger people entering the field as some of the senior journalists will be winding their careers down over the next few years. But it’s competitive. Other journalists are always looking for outlets, and to establish themselves as well.
You may have noticed the popularity of specialist “tuner” vehicles and their vast range of accessories. The senior journalists in AJAC are largely unfamiliar with this scene, and mainstream publications (in addition to specialist outlets) may be interested in articles that focus on younger consumers.
Most auto journalists are men. In Canada, most know each other, and travel to the same events on a regular basis (for “First Drive” vehicle introductions).
Although automotive journalism is mostly a male domain, that doesn’t mean women can’t succeed in this career. For example, award-winning journalist Jil McItosh is a regular contributor to www.Autos.ca, and is our Assistant Editor. She also writes for the Toronto Star. And Quebec-based journalist Nadine Filion was named Canada’s Automotive Journalist of the Year in 2006. Opportunities exist!
Some for-profit publications will offer work to new writers for very low, or no payment. You may get a byline, however. The practice of soliciting work for no or token pay is not in the interest of working automobile journalists.
All manufacturers operate a fleet of press vehicles for road-testing purposes. Based out of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, each manufacturer’s public relations department typically assigns someone to manage these vehicles. BUT, they are available only to legitimate writers with established outlets. Freelancers pay their own expenses (fuel, pick-up and drop-off).
Car and tire companies continuously organize events to which they invite working journalists. These events generate stories, and typically feature new (to the market) vehicles or new model lines. Travel and accommodation expenses are paid by the manufacturer if you are a freelancer. If you are on salary, your publication may choose to pay expenses.
Automobile journalists travel a lot. If you don’t like travelling, or can’t get time off to attend media events, you will have a difficult time establishing a career.
Still interested? Maybe it’s time to stop dreaming and start writing.