Careers and Jobs as Automotive Writers and Journalists

Home | Diesel Engines | Basic Maintenance + Repair

QUICK FACTS about this job:

  • School Subjects: English, Journalism
  • Personal Skills: Communication/ideas, Helping/teaching
  • Work Environment: Indoors and outdoors, Primarily multiple locations
  • Minimum Education Level: Bachelor’s degree
  • Salary Range: $25,430 to $48,640 to $97,700+
  • Certification or Licensing: None available
  • Outlook: About as fast as the average
  • DOT: 131
  • GOE: 01.02.01
  • NOC: 5121
  • O*NET-SOC: 27-3042.00, 27-3043.00

OVERVIEW

Writers express, edit, promote, and interpret ideas and facts in written form for books, magazines, trade journals, newspapers, technical studies and reports, company newsletters, radio and television broadcasts, and advertisements. They report, analyze, and interpret facts, events, and personalities; review products and services; and persuade the general public to choose or favor certain goods and services. Automotive writers specialize in writing about the automotive industry—from new cars and automotive manufacturers, to technological developments that are making cars more eco-friendly, to the history of the industry and many other topics. Approximately 184,000 salaried writers, authors, and technical writers are employed in the United States. Auto motive writers make up only a small percentage of this number.

HISTORY

The skill of writing has existed for thousands of years. Papyrus fragments with writing by ancient Egyptians date from about 3000 B C , and archaeological findings show that the Chinese had developed books by about 1300 B.C. A number of technical obstacles had to be overcome before printing and the profession of writing evolved. Books of the Middle Ages were copied by hand on parchment. The ornate style that marked these works helped ensure their rarity. Also, few people were able to read.

The development of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the middle of the 15th century and the liberalism of the Protestant Reformation, which encouraged a wide range of publications, greater literacy, and the creation of a number of works of literary merit, prompted the development of the publishing industry. The first authors worked directly with printers.

The modern publishing age began in the 18th century. Printing became mechanized, and the novel, magazine, and newspaper developed.

Advances in the printing trades, photoengraving, retailing, and the availability of capital produced a boom in newspapers and magazines in the 19th century. Further mechanization in the printing field, such as the use of the Linotype machine, high-speed rotary presses, and special color reproduction processes, set the stage for still further growth in the book, newspaper, and magazine industry.

In addition to the print media, the broadcasting industry has contributed to the development of the professional writer. Film, radio, and television are sources of entertainment, information, and education that provide employment for thousands of writers.

Writers have been extolling the virtues of automobiles and related topics ever since German automobile pioneers Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler developed a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine in the 1880s. As the auto industry developed, cars went from novelties to must-haves (for a population that was rapidly expanding to the suburbs and beyond) to status symbols for the rich and objects of adoration for the dedicated hobbyist. Books, magazines, and other media that covered this fast-growing industry soon developed to meet the interest of the car-hungry public. Three of the oldest and most popular automotive magazines are Motor Sport (which was founded as the Brooklands Gazette in 1924), Motor Trend (which was first published in 1949), and Car and Driver (which was founded as Sports Cars Illustrated in 1955). These magazines are still published today.

The International Motor Press Association was founded nearly 50 years ago to represent the professional interests of automotive writers and public relations specialists. Other well-known professional associations for automotive writers include the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, and the National Motor- sports Press Association.

THE JOB

Automotive writers work in the field of communications. Specifically, they deal with the written word, whether it is destined for the printed page, broadcast, or computer screen. The nature of their work is as varied as the materials they produce: books, magazines, trade journals, newspapers, technical reports, company newsletters and other publications, advertisements, speeches, and scripts for radio and television broadcast. Automotive writers develop ideas and write for all media.

Staff writers are employed by automotive magazines and newspapers to write news stories, feature articles, and columns about a wide variety of subjects including new car models and features, industry sales trends, and well-known workers in the field. First they come up with an idea for an article from their own interests or are assigned a topic by an editor. The topic is of relevance to the particular publication; for example, a writer for AutoExec magazine, which is geared toward dealership owners, might be assigned to write an article on how rising gas prices are affecting new car sales. Then writers begin gathering as much information as possible about the subject through library research, interviews, the Internet, observation, and other methods. They keep extensive notes from which they will draw material for their project. Once the material has been organized and arranged in logical sequence, writers prepare a written outline. The process of developing a piece of writing is exciting, although it can also involve detailed and solitary work. After researching an idea, a writer might discover that a different perspective or related topic would be more effective, entertaining, or marketable.

Columnists or commentators analyze news and social issues. They write about events from the standpoint of their own experience or opinion. They might write a column about a recent auto show they attended, the re-launch of a classic car series, or a key player in the industry, such as William Clay Ford Jr., the executive chairman of the board of directors of Ford Motor Company.

Editorial writers write on topics of public interest, and their comments, consistent with the viewpoints and policies of their employers, are intended to stimulate or mold public opinion. A columnist for an automotive association publication, for example, might write a column detailing his or her opposition to new laws enacted by the federal government that limit the growth of the automotive industry.

Corporate writers are employed by large automotive companies such as Ford and General Motors, as well as many smaller companies in the automotive industry. They write news releases, annual reports, speeches for the company head, or public relations materials. Typically they are assigned a topic with length requirements for a given project. They may receive raw research materials, such as statistics, and they are expected to conduct additional research, including personal interviews. These writers must be able to write quickly and accurately on short deadlines, while also working with people whose primary job is not in the communications field. The written work is submitted to a supervisor and often a legal department for approval; rewrites are a normal part of this job.

Automotive copywriters write copy that is primarily designed to sell automobiles, trucks, and other vehicles. Their work appears as advertisements in newspapers, magazines, and other publications or as commercials on radio and television broadcasts. Sales and marketing representatives first provide information on the product and help determine the style and length of the copy. Copywriters conduct additional research and interviews; to formulate an effective approach, they study advertising trends and review surveys of consumer preferences. Armed with this information, copywriters write a draft that is submitted to the account executive and the client for approval. The copy is often returned for correction and revision until everyone involved is satisfied. Copywriters, like corporate writers, may also write articles, bulletins, news releases, sales letters, speeches, and other related informative and promotional material. Many copywriters are employed in advertising agencies. They also may work for public relations firms or in communications departments of automotive companies and large dealerships.

Technical writers can be divided into two main groups: those who convert technical information into material for the general public, and those who convey technical information between professionals. Technical writers in the first group may prepare automotive service manuals or handbooks, instruction or repair booklets, or sales literature or brochures; those in the second group may write research reports, contract specifications, or research abstracts.

Some automotive writers may work as test drivers for publications serving the automobile industry such as Motor Trend or Car and Driver. Test drivers working in this capacity review new models of cars and compare or evaluate them against similar models offered by other manufacturers.

When working on assignment, writers usually submit their out lines to an editor or other company representative for approval. Then they write a first draft, trying to put the material into words that will have the desired effect on their audience. They often rewrite or polish sections of the material as they proceed, always searching for just the right way of imparting information or expressing an idea or opinion. A manuscript may be reviewed, corrected, and revised numerous times before a final copy is submitted. Even after that, an editor may request additional changes.

Automotive writers often have an educational background that allows them to give critical interpretations or analyses. For example, a writer for a newspaper may have a degree in automotive technology, engineering, or design and can interpret new ideas in the field for the average reader.

Automotive writers can be employed either as in-house staff or as freelancers. Pay varies according to experience and the position, but freelancers must provide their own office space and equipment such as computers and fax machines. Freelancers also are responsible for keeping tax records, sending out invoices, negotiating contracts, and providing their own health insurance.

REQUIREMENTS

High School

While in high school, build a broad educational foundation by taking courses in English, literature, foreign languages, history, general science, social studies, computer science, and typing. The ability to type is almost a requisite for all positions in the communications field, as is familiarity with computers. If you plan to work in the automotive industry, it is a good idea to learn as much as you can about the field by taking automotive-related courses.

Postsecondary Training

Competitive writing jobs almost always demand the background of a college education. Many employers prefer you have a broad liberal arts background or majors in English, literature, history, philosophy, or one of the social sciences. Other employers desire communications or journalism training in college. Occasionally a master’s degree in a specialized writing field may be required. A number of schools offer courses in journalism, and some of them offer courses or majors in book publishing, publication management, and newspaper and magazine writing.

In addition to formal course work, most employers look for practical writing experience. If you have served on high school or college newspapers, yearbooks, or literary magazines, or if you have worked for small community newspapers or radio stations, even in an unpaid position, you will be an attractive candidate. Many book publishers, magazines, newspapers, and radio and television stations have summer internship programs that provide valuable training if you want to learn about the publishing and broadcasting businesses. Interns do many simple tasks, such as running errands and answering phones, but some may be asked to perform research, conduct interviews, or even write some minor pieces.

Writers who specialize in the automotive industry may need degrees, concentrated course work, or experience in specific subject areas. This applies frequently to engineering, industrial design, business, or one of the sciences. Also, technical communications is a degree now offered at many universities and colleges.

Other Requirements

To be a writer, you should be creative and able to express ideas clearly, have a broad general knowledge, be skilled in research techniques, and be computer literate. Other assets include curiosity, persistence, initiative, resourcefulness, and an accurate memory. For some jobs—on a newspaper, for example, where the activity is hectic and deadlines are short—the ability to concentrate and produce under pressure is essential.

To be successful in the automotive industry, you should have a strong interest in automobiles and related technology.

cif-automotive-172.jpg Automotive journalists inspect the Geely 7151 CD at the North American International Auto Show.

EXPLORING

As a high school or college student, you can test your interest and aptitude in the field of writing by serving as a reporter or writer on school newspapers, yearbooks, and literary magazines. Various writing courses and workshops will provide the opportunity to sharpen your writing skills.

Small community newspapers and local radio stations often welcome contributions from outside sources, although they may not have the resources to pay for them. Jobs in bookstores, magazine shops, and even newsstands will offer you a chance to become familiar with various publications.

You can also obtain information on writing as a career by visiting local newspapers, publishers, or radio and television stations and interviewing some of the writers who work there. Career conferences and other guidance programs frequently include speakers on the entire field of communications from local or national organizations.

If you are interested in becoming an automotive writer, read magazines and books about the field. Magazines such as Car Design News (http://www.cardesignnews.com), Automotive Design & Production (http://www.autofieldguide.com), AutoExec (http://www. autoexecmag.com), Road & Track (http://www.roadandtrack.com), and Car and Driver (http://www.caranddriver.com) will help you learn more about the field and the topics automotive writers cover. You also try contact one of the writers for these magazines to see if they would be interested in participating in an information interview about their careers.

EMPLOYERS

Approximately 135,000 writers and authors and 49,000 technical writers are currently employed in the United States; only a small percentage of this total are automotive writers. Approximately one- third of salaried writers and editors work in the information sector, which includes newspapers, magazines, book publishers, radio and television broadcasting, software publishers, and Internet businesses. Writers also work for advertising agencies and public relations firms and work on journals and newsletters published by business and nonprofit organizations.

Automotive writers can find employment with one of the Big Three U.S. automobile makers (General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler LLC), major foreign automakers that have factories or divisions in the United States (Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Hyundai, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz), as well as any of the thou sands of private manufacturing companies.

STARTING OUT

A fair amount of experience is required to gain a high-level position in the field. Most automotive writers start out in entry-level positions. These jobs may be listed with college career services offices, or they may be obtained by applying directly to the employment departments of the individual publishers or broadcasting companies. Graduates who previously served internships with these companies often have the advantage of knowing someone who can give them a personal recommendation. Want ads in newspapers and trade journals are another source for jobs. Because of the competition for positions, however, few vacancies are listed with public or private employment agencies.

Employers in the communications field usually are interested in samples of published writing. These are often assembled in an organized portfolio or scrapbook. Bylined or signed articles are more credible (and, as a result, more useful) than stories whose source is not identified.

Entry-level positions as a junior writer usually involve library research, preparation of rough drafts for part or all of a report, cataloging, and other related writing tasks. These are generally carried on under the supervision of a senior writer.

Some technical writers have entered the field after working in public relations departments or as automotive technicians, engineers, or research assistants, then transferring to technical writing as openings occur. Many firms now hire writers directly upon application or recommendation of college professors and career services offices.

Members of the International Motor Press Association can also access job listings at the organization’s Web site, http://www.impa.org.

ADVANCEMENT

Most automotive writers find their first jobs as editorial or production assistants. Advancement may be more rapid in small companies, where beginners learn by doing a little bit of everything and may be given writing tasks immediately. In large companies, duties are usually more compartmentalized. Assistants in entry-level positions are assigned such tasks as research, fact checking, and copyrighting, but it generally takes much longer to advance to full-scale writing duties.

Promotion into more responsible positions may come with the assignment of more important articles and stories to write, or it may be the result of moving to another company. Mobility among employees in this field is common. An assistant in one publishing house may switch to an executive position in another. Or a writer may switch to a related field as a type of advancement.

A technical writer can be promoted to positions of responsibility by moving from such jobs as writer to technical editor to project leader or documentation manager. Opportunities in specialized positions also are possible.

Freelance or self-employed automotive writers earn advancement in the form of larger fees as they gain exposure and establish their reputations.

EARNINGS

In 2006, median annual earnings for salaried writers and authors employed in all fields were $48,640 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,430, while the highest 10 percent earned $97,700 or more. In book publishing, some specialties pay better than others. Technical writers earned a median salary of $58,050 in 2006, with entry-level salaries averaging around $35,520 a year.

In addition to their salaries, many automotive writers earn some income from freelance work. Part-time freelancers may earn from $5,000 to $15,000 a year. Freelance earnings vary widely. Full-time established freelance writers may earn more than $75,000 a year.

Typical benefits may be available for full-time salaried employees including sick leave, vacation pay, and health, life, and disability insurance. Retirement plans may also be available, and some companies may match employees’ contributions. Some companies may also offer stock-option plans.

Freelance writers do not receive benefits and are responsible for their own medical, disability, and life insurance. They do not receive vacation pay, and when they aren’t working, they aren’t generating income. Retirement plans must also be self-funded and self- directed.

WORK ENVIRONMENT

Working conditions vary for automotive writers. Although their workweek usually runs 35 to 40 hours, many writers work overtime. A publication that is issued frequently has more deadlines closer together, creating greater pressures to meet them. The work is especially hectic on newspapers and at broadcasting companies, which operate seven days a week. Writers often work nights and weekends to meet deadlines or to cover a late-developing story.

Most writers Work independently, but they often must cooperate with artists, photographers, rewriters, and advertising people who may have widely differing ideas of how the materials should be pre pared and presented.

Physical surroundings range from comfortable private offices, to noisy, crowded newsrooms filled with other workers typing and talking on the telephone, to loud, fume-filled test tracks. Some writers must confine their research to the library or telephone interviews, but others may travel to other cities or countries or to local sites, such as test tracks, auto shows, factories, laboratories, or other offices. Writers who test drive vehicles spend a considerable amount of their workday behind the wheel of a car. These tests may be conducted on a private testing track or on city highways, mountain roads, or in rural settings.

The work is arduous, but most writers are seldom bored. The most difficult element is the continual pressure of deadlines. People who are the most content as writers enjoy and work well with dead line pressure.

OUTLOOK

The employment of all writers is expected to increase at an average rate through 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Com petition for writing jobs has been and will continue to be competitive. The demand for writers by newspapers, periodicals, book publishers, and nonprofit organizations is expected to increase. The growth of online publishing on company Web sites and other online services will also create a demand for many talented writers; those with computer skills will be at an advantage as a result. The fields of advertising and public relations should also provide job opportunities.

Americans have been fascinated with the automobile ever since the first Model T rolled off the production line more than 100 years ago. With countless magazines, books, Web sites, and radio and television shows about cars and the automotive industry, the employment opportunities for writers in the field should continue to be strong.

People entering this field should realize that the competition for jobs is extremely keen. Beginners may have difficulty finding employment. Of the thousands who graduate each year with degrees in English, journalism, communications, and the liberal arts, intending to establish a career as a writer, many turn to other occupations when they find that applicants far outnumber the job openings available. College students would do well to keep this in mind and prepare for an unrelated alternate career in the event they are unable to obtain a position as writer; another benefit of this approach is that they can become qualified as writers in a specialized field. The practicality of preparing for alternate careers is borne out by the fact that opportunities are best in firms that prepare business and trade publications and in technical writing. Job candidates with good writing skills and knowledge of a specialized area such as economics, finance, computer programming, or science will have the best chances of finding jobs.

Potential writers who end up working in a different field may be able to earn some income as freelancers, selling articles, stories, books, and possibly TV and movie scripts, but it is usually difficult for writers to support themselves entirely as independent writers.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The MPA is a good source of information about internships.

Magazine Publishers of America (MPA)

810 Seventh Avenue, 24th Floor

New York, NY 10019-5873

Tel: 212-872-3700

Email: mpa@magazine.org

http://www.magazine.org

For information on automotive writing careers, contact the following organizations:

American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association

922 North Pass Avenue

Burbank, CA 91505-2703

Tel: 818-842-7005

http://www.aarwba.org

International Motor Press Association Tel: 201-750-3533

http://www.impa.org

Motor Press Guild

4561 Colorado Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA 90039-1103

Tel: 310-693-4943

http://www.motorpressguild.org

National Motorsports Press Association

P0 Box 500

Darlington, SC 29540-0500

Tel: 843-395-8900

http://www.nmpaonline.com

Western Automotive Journalists

http://www.waj.org

This organization offers student memberships for those interested in opinion writing.

National Conference of Editorial Writers

3899 North Front Street

Harrisburg, PA 17110-1583

Tel: 717-703-3015

Email: ncew@pa-news.org

http://www.ncew.org

This organization for journalists has campus and online chapters.

Society of Professional Journalists

Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center

3909 North Meridian Street

Indianapolis, IN 46208-4011

Tel: 317-927-8000

http://www.spj org

For in formation on scholarships and student memberships aimed at those preparing for a career in technical communication, contact

Society for Technical Communication

901 North Stuart Street, Suite 904

Arlington, VA 22203-1822

Tel: 703-522-4114

Email: stc@stc.org

http://www.stc.org

INTERVIEW

Dan Lyons is an automotive writer and photographer based in New York State. (You can learn more about his career by visiting http://lyonsonwheels.com.) Dan discussed the field below.

Q. How long have you been an automotive writer/photographer? Please tell us about your business.

A. I’ve been writing about new cars for about 17 years; a writer/ photographer of old cars for about 20 years. I began my business as a photographer, not a writer. I had for some time been taking pictures of classic cars and muscle cars that belonged to friends of mine. I decided to try and get my work published, zeroed in on the old car magazines that I liked the best, and started lobbying them to use me as a photographer. Once I’d been successful in doing this for a while, I realized that I’d get more work if I wrote the pieces as well as provided the photography. Giving the editors the whole package removes an impediment to getting published—they don’t have to match up a writer and a photographer.

A few years later, I approached my local newspaper about doing car reviews for their weekly automotive insert—some thing that was locally based and more tailored to their readership than the syndicated reviews that they were running. I started providing new car reviews for them a few weeks later, and have been doing so ever since. That experience in turn has lead to opportunities to write for other publications as well.

So far, I’ve written six books on cars and provided the photography for more than 70 calendars. I don’t know how many road tests I’ve written over the years.

Q. Why did you decide to become an automotive writer?

A. The business is an extension of my lifelong interest in cars.

Q. What do you like most and least about your job?

A. For someone with a long-standing love of cars, the opportunity to drive the latest vehicles is endlessly interesting. On the old car side of my business, the cars are rolling history. They say a lot about the culture and the times that they were produced in. And, the hobby has some great people in it. I’ve been privileged to get to know a lot of them over the years.

In terms of difficulties with the profession, publications (print or Web based) tend to come and go, and their respective editorial staff members even more so. Particularly if you freelance, you are constantly building and rebuilding relationships with people that you will be working with.

Q. What advice would you give to high school students who are interested in this career?

A. Learn to type! You’ll end up logging a lot of time at the key board in this field. The faster you can type, the more seamless will be the flow between your thoughts and their written expression Study your subject matter, practice your craft, find your voice. The ability to express your thoughts clearly and develop a distinctive style will help distinguish you in a crowded field.

Q. What are the most important professional qualities for automotive writers?

A. Product knowledge, communication skills and, most of all, determination. Lots of people would do this kind of work for little or nothing. If you’re going to convince someone that they should hire you instead of them, you need to be good, and you need to be persistent. You also need a hard nose, because it’s going to get a door slammed into it frequently, especially as you’re starting out.

Q. What has been one of your most interesting and fulfilling experiences as an automotive writer?

A. Being among the first to climb behind the wheel of an interesting new car model never gets old. Having the opportunity to drive on some of the race tracks that you grow up reading about is also fun, and really gives you some perspective on just how good the best drivers are. When everything comes together in photography—a fine car in an interesting setting on a beautiful day—it’s one of my absolute favorite things. Seeing classics at close range allows you to appreciate their personalities.

Next: Mechanical Engineering Technician

Prev: Welders and Welding Technicians

Home     top of page