Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: | posted May 23, 2014 17:10
Behind the events, the test drives and the articles
A dream job.
That's what many people think about what we do in this industry. In many ways, they're right. We drive, we take pictures, we eat, we write, we drink, we party, we travel, we see the latest cars, we sometimes race and we're all paid to do it.
Sounds like a dream, doesn't it? We can't blame you for thinking that, but those are the things on the surface; most of which are misconceptions about the field.
Just to set the record straight, read on.
(Related read: The Job, the Car and the Fly)
Bashing cars in articles makes for a credible motoring journalist
We like to call this the Clarkson effect: the general perception that the hallmark of a credible motoring journalist is one who makes fun of everything wrong with or even bashes cars for the sake of being unbiased.
The simple truth is that we as writers in the motoring industry cannot just simply bash the car though, admittedly, praise releasers and motoring hacks are somewhat more common.
There are some cars, SUVs, vans, trucks and other types of vehicles out there that we can honestly define as bad. We base this on qualitative and quantitative yardsticks for things like quality, design, comfort, engine performance, transmission refinement, noise suppression, features, pricing, paint finish, 0-100 km/h times, top speeds, handling and even down to the kind of “new car smell” it has.
Take note, however, that what we really cannot say is that a particular car is bad for everyone. Since this part was written on May 4th, remember the wise words from Obi-Wan Kenobi: “...you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”
Think about it. A person who has been used to riding aboard a Mercedes S-Class will scoff at the idea of doing the same aboard a Toyota Camry. A person used to riding aboard a Honda Accord will find that driving a Nissan Sylphy is a downgrade for him. A gung-ho off-roader who drives a modified Nissan Patrol will probably call something like a Subaru Forester a sissy crossover. Someone who drives a Hyundai Genesis will probably sneer at the idea of a Mitsubishi Mirage... what more a Chinese-made hatchback.
It all depends on the point of view of who your intended reader is, and that should really influence how you write a review. Find the balance between pointing out the things you like, the things you don't like and the things that you think need to be worked on. Remember: no car is designed, made or engineered to suit every person's needs, desires or tastes.
A manufacturer can only make a car that can suit a certain type of individual; it's just up to them to make one that suits a bigger chunk or a specific set of individuals in the market.
Like a colleague once said: “a Korean econobox may be crap to you or me, but to someone else it is their Pride... and joy.”
Motoring journalists must max out cars
One of the worst perceptions of motoring journalists is that we have a free hand to perform hard cornering techniques, drift until the tires go bald, push the speedometer to the max, race and otherwise abuse a manufacturer's car in the name of 'testing'.
We can tell you now that it's not true. Not at all.
We've seen it so many times before. A typical scenario involves the manufacturer or distributor inviting members of the motoring media to a racetrack to test a new model or even their entire line-up. They'll tell you to drive it out and have fun, but the moment you come back with the signature scent of abused brakes and clutches they'll look at you and sneer. That's a true story... many times over.
Most (if not all) of the cars we test may be insured, but that doesn't equate to a blank check to max out every single car every single time; sooner or later, regardless of your perception of your skills, something will catch you out. It also doesn't earn you any favors to damage a car or wear out a car to the point that it can no longer be driven by the next automotive journalist in line either at a test drive event or as an individual test drive. Again that's a true story... and many times over too.
As a general rule just go 70 or 80 percent of what the car can do. It doesn't do you (or the profession in general) any favors to return to the pits or the event tent with smoking brakes, flat-spotted tires or body panels that had a disagreement with a tire barrier. There's something called mechanical sympathy. Look it up.
Sure there are times wherein the car may fail you, but those incidents are too few and far in between. At the end of the day you, the driver, are behind the wheel and is in control of the car at all times. There is no one else to blame.
Personally I've operated under the assumption that if you break it, you pay for it because in reality all it takes is one mistake and... BAM!
Congratulations. You are now the proud owner of a fine collection of [insert year, make and car name here] spare parts.
Sure, a manufacturer or distributor may not really charge you for the repairs or for the whole car but -like a vehicle's airbags- do you really want to put it to the test?
Motoring journalists get rich being motoring journalists
Let's get this straight: if you think motoring journalists get rich by being motoring journalists, well, you're wrong. In fact what usually crosses our minds when we see the amounts on our respective paychecks is a collective “Awww... that's cute”.
I have personally interviewed dozens of applicants and I can truly say there are plenty of misconceptions about our compensation packages. How I wish they were true, but when a fresh graduate applying for an Editorial Assistant position is asking for a starting salary that matches that of the Editor-in-chief's you know there's a problem of perception and expectations.
That's the reality of our profession. Only a few in our field can honestly say that their paychecks are enough pay for things like a house, education plans or even the cars we test drive on a fairly regular basis. So if you're a family man already, maybe you should consider something else.
The most important thing especially for fresh graduates (or people who want to shift to being an automotive journalist) is that you have to keep a level head at all times and that you have to pay your dues. It's that simple.
Some have noticed that motoring journalists get new gadgets like laptops, cameras, iPads and such. While it's true that we do get quite a few things for free during games, raffles and contests at Christmas parties, events and such, isn't that also true of any company Christmas party? We really are thankful, but there are those who would attend events with prizes as the prime motivation. There are even those who would demand for something or even a payoff. Don't be one of them.
Like you do with any job, making the big bucks takes hard work, perseverance, patience and opportunities opening up at the right time.
Motoring journalists are famous
People have this idea that motoring journalists are quasi-celebrities or even actual celebrities. Not true. Well, at least not for most of us.
Fame does not automatically come with the cards for motoring journalists. Sure, there are times when you feel an undeniable sense of pride and accomplishment whenever your byline comes out in a newspaper, magazine or website. You feel great whenever your name is mentioned at events or when you see your face on TV. It's also fun to rub elbows with celebrities, the elite, the hottest models, industry leaders, politicians, among others, during car launches or exclusive parties.
It's all part of the job but treat it as such: a job.
At the end of the day we're there to work and that's the reason why we're invited to these car launches, motorsport events, drink-all-you-can parties at the trendiest and most exclusive bars in town. Car manufacturers depend on our output as motoring journalists; something that involves ingloriously sitting at your desk the morning after, staring blankly at your computer because you're hung over and stuck because of writer's block. That's speaking from personal experience.
There are a few motoring journalists that have transcended into becoming personalities, and that's all well and good. But if you come into this thinking that you're going to be like that right away, maybe it's time to consider another path in life.
I hear PBB has a spot open.
Become a motoring journalist and you'll be a racing superstar
One of the most common -not to mention the most dangerous- misconceptions in this line of work is thinking that if you become a motoring journalist, you're going to be discovered as the next racing or drifting superstar.
We've seen it so many times before. In my earlier years here I have to admit that I was a bit of a hot shot behind the wheel at events. Everyone makes mistakes especially early on; but you soon ease out those habits.
Why we mentioned this is because it is by far the most dangerous of all, as it invites an attitude of showing off your "skills" like performing drag-style launches, handbrake-assisted turns and trying to kick a front-wheel drive car's tail out... all under the mistaken guise that you're testing a car's limits.
There are events that you're encouraged to go flat out, but those usually take place in the context of a safe and enclosed driving environment with an ambulance standing by. Such events, however, are too few and far in between simply because carmakers and distributors are not looking for the next Senna, Tsuchiya, McRae, Schumacher, Loeb or Earnhardt. And even though they may at times tell you to go flat out, in reality they don't they want their tires, brakes and cars trashed. Or crashed.
You wouldn't do that to your own pride and joy on four wheels, so why do it on someone else's?
It's a job and a privilege, not a right you're entitled to
The lesson in this little story is simple: don't let the job get to your head.
Yes, being a journalist in the automotive industry certainly has a lot of really nice perks and privileges, so much so that there are those who actively and blatantly try to flaunt or abuse the job because they now think they're beyond reproach. To put it bluntly, there are those who think they're astig (Tagalog slang for 'cool') in their own minds.
There are those who attend industry auto shows and pretends to be press or media just for the sake of free merienda (afternoon snack) or a free USB flash drive. There are those who keep on borrowing media test drives without a media affiliation to speak of. There is one who demanded for something from a manufacturer/distributor on the basis that he had just won a particular award. There is one who created a blog but simply hacks press releases, passes them off as own work to continue enjoying the perks of the industry. There is one who has totalled cars consistently and without remorse, regardless of the consequences. There is one special case, however, that involves several damaged cars for various reasons and in separate, reckless incidents that begs many in the industry to wonder how many readers he actually has; if any. It's an unparalleled level of self-entitlement.
These are all examples of what not to be like as a motoring journalist or with any other job, for that matter. These are people who are in it simply for the perks and privileges of being an automotive writer; you can tell by the way the stories are written. If a test drive story reads too much like a press release without any real observations or analysis, you'll know. These writers are not in it for the sake of truly reviewing a new car for the public, a car-buying public who wants to know if a particular sedan, hatchback, SUV, crossover, pick-up, van or MPV deserves their hard earned money in the bank.
Isn't that the reason why you read our stories in the first place?