In motoring magazines and on automotive websites, you can find all the automotive information you need, whether you’re looking for a Dodge Charger road test, a Volvo XC90 review, or just a comparison between a bunch of popular crossover SUVs. Behind all of those reviews, road tests, articles, and blogs are motoring journalists whose daily job is to inform laypeople about the engine specs, performance, horsepower figures, luxury features, and fuel economy of their favorite car, truck, and SUV models. If you’ve always had a passion for cars, you might consider a career in automotive journalism.
Sometimes, the job is nothing more than penning an article or review about that new Volvo or Dodge model and for this, you need to be a good writer. Other times, you might be lucky to travel to distant locations and drive exotic vehicles. But when you get home, everything must be committed to the keyboard and you have to produce the content for that magazine, website, or TV program. Excellent writing ability is, therefore, a prerequisite, but it’s not the only one.
What You Need To Do The Job
Poynter’s survey of future journalists’ core skills as considered by professionals in the field list these as the five most important ones:
- Using the correct grammar
- The ability to work under pressure and handle deadlines and stress
- Have a sound judgment of what news is
This is a general list of requirements for any type of journalism and only really number five is slightly less relevant to motoring journalism and more to news in general. This goes to show that certain qualities are expected, regardless of what type of journalism you want to pursue. However, these are not the only requirements. On a personal and deeper level, you need to have that little something extra that not only makes you an excellent journalist but an excellent journalist in your specific field. You need to love cars and be obsessed with them.
How To Become A Motoring Journalist
So, you are going to have to jump through certain hoops if you want to become a journalist of any kind and many of these are common to all the fields of journalism. But which steps are important to ensure your best chance of success? We list the most important ones and, although the focus is on motoring journalism, many of these can be almost directly applied to any other form of journalism.
Here they are:
- Get an education. This starts at school and it should be assumed that you love to write if you are considering a career in journalism. Take every opportunity to learn to write better, whether this is being on the editorial team of your school or college newspaper or taking extra writing courses and classes. Studying journalism or obtaining a degree is not always a necessity to succeed in journalism but can be a great help. John Davis, who started MotorWeek, has qualifications in engineering and business administration. Try to write as much as you can and get published as much as possible – these could also earn you valuable credits while you are still studying.
- Be informed. You should be reading a lot in your chosen field of expertise and if this is car-related, your daily reading will be major motoring news sources such as Car and Driver, Edmunds, Automotive News, and Motor Trend. You might already have a motoring magazine collection if you’re passionate about cars. You can never acquire too much knowledge about your field.
- Get actively involved in the motoring fraternity and attend all the car shows, exhibitions, and events that you can. Many international car shows are held in the USA in cities such as New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles and you should attend as many of them as you can. Interact with websites and magazines, write letters to the editor, engage on social media, and get to know motoring personalities.
- Acquire additional knowledge. We never stop learning and take advantage of additional opportunities as they arise or become necessary. Motoring journalists should have a sound understanding of basic engineering principles and many of them were first engineers or have an engineering background, such as our John Davis example of MotorWeek. A technical background will give you the ability to write more engagingly about any type of vehicle and put more automotive pieces within your scope of abilities.
- Accept criticism. Editors can be tough. If you’re freelancing, your articles might get heavily edited or even outright rejected. Some publications will flatly ignore you. You need to roll with the punches, take it on the chin, develop a thicker skin, and see it as a learning experience and an opportunity to get better at your craft. Whatever you do, don’t give up and learn to become self-motivated.
- Compile a portfolio. Keep a record of all your writing and a list of links of your online writing. Put these in your resume and keep them updated, regularly checking that links to websites still work. It is important to have a comprehensive resume and portfolio that cover all the most important work you’ve done, especially if you’ve been published in the public domain. As the size of your portfolio grows, so does your credibility.
- You might have to freelance first. Landing a permanent staff job in motoring journalism might not be easy and competition is rife for such positions. You should accept that you might have to freelance for a while first. Write about the motoring subjects that interest you most to demonstrate your ability to write properly researched articles and to showcase your writing skills. Submit these to all manner of publications that accept automotive content.
- Find your ideal job. Keep in contact with all the motoring people you meet during networking events and shows, as well as with the editors of publications you are contributing to – and that you would like to work for. The more people you know who can advise you when a position becomes available somewhere, the better. Your first job might not be your dream job, or it might not pay much, but once you have your foot in the door and start to establish yourself in the industry, you can start looking for the next opportunity. But at first, some of your dreams and desires might have to take a back seat to what needs to be done in the moment to take the next step. Always think of the big picture.
There is more than one way to reach your goals and it bears keeping in mind that many uneducated people are successful and many educated ones aren’t. While getting a journalism degree sounds like the only way to approach a career in journalism, it’s not the only one. However, the advantages of doing it this way cannot be denied and include access to top-class journalism course content, training in multimedia skills, access to professional mentors, internship programs, and opportunities to start networking while you are still studying.
However, the converse is that many skills journalists need cannot be learned in a classroom, but only out there in the thick of it, in the real world. Journalists often know a lot about how to be a journalist, but more of them are expected to be experts in a certain field nowadays and a normal journalism degree won’t prepare you for that unless you go to grad school. It might make more sense to be good at what you love and learn all about it that you can while picking up the journalistic skills along the way. A text can always be edited, but a true understanding of a subject cannot be acquired in a moment.
Don’t be disheartened if the road to your dream job seems to be tough. Not all of us can become a John Davis or Jeremy Clarkson, but if you love writing – particularly about cars – there are still many opportunities out there. While you work on getting the skills and requirements that we discussed earlier up to snuff, you can always start doing freelance work and pursue your dream as a side hustle while you keep doing what you’re currently doing. Start to lay the groundwork to slowly complete the puzzle that will lead you to your goal.
If cars are your hobby, keep at it and hone your skills until it can become more than that. A hobby that has turned into a passion can become a profession before you know it. Get your resume and portfolio up to standard, keep your ear on the ground, and network at every opportunity. There is always a place for excellence in the world. It just depends on how much you want it and how hard you are willing to work because success is not automatic. You might land your dream job and, as they say, then you’ll never work another day in your life.