Musings From An Automotive Dinosaur

One Man’s Road Ahead – William Jeanes has had a distinguished career in automotive communications, a craft which he treated as a profession and expected those who worked for him to do likewise. He spoke out on the need for literary and ethical standards in a field of journalism that often invites and sometimes requires compromises in at least the latter and increasingly devalues the former. His voice will be missed now that he appears to be turning to other pursuits.

William JeanesMusings from An Automotive Dinosaur

I’ve followed the Blogosphere vs. Establishment controversy as presented on Autowriters.com during recent months. As some of you know, I spent a few decades as a part of the establishment, most visibly as a writer, an editor-in-chief, and a publisher at Car and Driver magazine. I also worked in the world of advertising agencies for ten years and was thus allowed to see car magazines and automotive writing from a second perspective.

I am now 73; my first for-pay automotive freelance piece appeared in AutoWeek in 1972, and my most recent piece is a less-than-serious history of the automobile that will appear in the May/June issue of The Saturday Evening Post. I recently quit an editor-at-large slot at AOL Autos, and I’m now inclined to log off my laptop insofar as automotive writing is concerned. Why? Because I have other interests that I want to explore in the few years remaining to me before the world succumbs to vapor lock. And because I don’t think automotive writing matters as much as it once did.

For years I’ve been convinced that cars have become too good to support meaningful criticism. Hybrids and electrics have provided some diversion, of course, just as they did in the early 1900s, but that does not change my conviction that the industry has improved and refined itself to the point of dullness. I and my peers have been reduced to the undignified picking of nits. Most of all, a decreasing number of publications have the space or inclination to run long features, which is what I enjoy writing. Further, pay for writers has adjusted inversely to inflation.

With the arrogant belief common to all writers – that someone, somewhere, wants to read what you write – I am going to offer up some thoughts and mention some principles I’ve come to value during the past forty years. As I express my thoughts, with any luck I will irritate both sides of the continuing discussion in equal measure.

I begin by saying that I was a writer before I was a car person even though I pulled a wrench for pay from about age 15. I was 34 before I sold an article about cars (about racing, actually). I was a car enthusiast, but not to the point of hysteria.

When Car and Driver offered me a staff writing position in 1972, I had just been accepted to the University of Arkansas writing program. I opted for the excitement of New York, writing on a daily basis, and pay. I’ve never regretted that decision.

After three and one-half years there, the late David E. Davis, Jr. then creative director at Campbell-Ewald (Chevrolet, Goodyear), brought me into the advertising profession. He called me in 1975, before we ever met, and said, “I sure like your stuff. Why don’t you come out to Detroit and let me teach you the advertising business?” I went, and I never regretted that decision either.

Most automotive writers cannot make the transition from prose writing to copywriting; I never understood why, but it’s so. I learned that advertising writing was a business, a complicated one. At some point, it became obvious to me that automotive writing or, more accurately automotive publishing, was likewise a for-profit activity.

There was no need for a Scarlett O’Hara moment (“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”). I just came to realize that, writer or not, I had no intention of starving in the pursuit of writing. Rightly or wrongly I liked money and still do. According to our President I’ve made a great deal more than my share.

My late father was fond of saying, “You can tell a lot about a man when you watch him get something free.” I believed that, based only on my pre-magazine years. Imagine my reaction when, on my first press junket as a Car and Driver writer, I witnessed the spectacle of a gaggle of automotive writers fighting over free foul-weather gear provided by Volkswagen during a sail to Martha’s Vineyard. You’re right; my throw-up valve slammed into the red zone.

That sad vignette begs the obvious question, “If you’re so all-fired pious, why did you ever accept junkets, trinkets, and dinners from car companies?”

Excellent question.

About the big-ticket item, junkets, the business answer is simple enough. Early access to new products was critical to our success. Couple that with our accountants having discovered that there was a way to avoid travel expenses, and there you are; take it or leave it. The small gift items were easy; just don’t take them, and if you’re the boss, don’t let your staff take them.

I failed at repeated efforts to have our parent company pay all our travel expenses. But I want to add that this was anything but a holier-than-thou act; it was an effort to create a set-apart differentiator with which to beat the competition over the head.

Press cars were another matter. We at Car and Driver drove as many cars as possible in order to maintain a comparison-driven awareness of the market’s products. Was it always necessary to keep on hand enough cars for the entire staff to drive, even those who did no writing or evaluation? The answer is yes, and here’s why.

An independent writer, in his or her conception of a perfect world, can get one press car per week. That’s 52 per year. At Car and Driver, our unwritten requirement for maintaining a useful seat-of-the-pants database was to drive at least 125 cars a year. That is possible only if you maintain and manage a large press fleet at your place of business. I do not think there’s a freelancer or blogger on earth who can do that.

Bloggers and freelancers also do not normally have access to instrumented testing and an engineering staff. At Car and Driver, we emphatically did. So, those of you who routinely savage the establishment, exactly what is it you’re bringing to automotive enthusiasts other than your opinions?

If you say that magazines which take advertising are susceptible to influence by manufacturers, I agree. But the key word is susceptible. Integrity is your choice, and it wasn’t even difficult. If you have 40 automakers as advertisers, you have every reason not to favor one over the other. Doing so, as I’ve said a hundred times, will cause you unshirted misery.

And if you, as I did, forbid staff writers who do road tests from doing freelance work for automakers, your job is that much easier.

Is this a slap at bloggers and freelancers? Not a serious one. A serious one would be to reference the endless stories told to me by public relations folks and fleet managers about “journalists” who are getting by with a single car at home and who are wont to call up and say, “Get a car over here. I don’t care what it is.” I don’t know about you, but if I ever made such a call I would hope to God that a thunderbolt of revelation might tell me that I was in the wrong business.

That “wrong business” thought brings up the question of professionalism. Are you a professional?

Once upon a time, I served an undistinguished term as president of the American Racing Press Association. Its membership was composed of writers and photographers who covered all forms of racing in the United States. Our continuing dilemma was our inability to gain blanket credential approval from the major racetracks. We tried, but we were unsuccessful.

Here’s why we failed: not enough of our members were professionals. I can’t be sure, but it may have been Jim Foster at NASCAR who asked me, “How many of your members make their living covering races?” I do not remember my reply, but it was not “All of them.” Foster’s point was simple: If you don’t make your living at it, you’re not a professional. Never mind your talent level.

When a blogger, or anyone else, requests credentials to an automotive event, it seems reasonable to ask, “Do you make your living doing this?” If the answer’s yes, you win. If not, see us next year. That of course may be oversimplifying.

Assume that an individual blogger has a large audience but does not make much, if anything, in the way of money. Is the press officer not shooting himself in the foot if he refuses a credential? I’d say he was, but I’d say so reluctantly. But my heavens, I read earlier this week that some website or other had set its pay range for an 850-word piece at $25-$300. You do the arithmetic; I don’t want to waste my time. You could make a better living collecting aluminum cans.

Here, I’ll pause and make the distinction between individual bloggers and well-staffed electronic giants such as edmunds.com, autoblog.com, and Kelley Blue Book. And of course the traditional car magazines’ electronic operations.

By and large, existing print media have failed to marshal their considerable horsepower to add compelling electronic executions to what they offer. The reason is simple to an outsider, which I am: Properly done, a hotshot website has the potential to kill off its print sibling. You may not agree with that, but you cannot argue that the reverse is even remotely possible in today’s world of instant, on-demand, information.

Just as certain, no individual one-man or one-woman website can compete, save through copious use of links, with the big guys mentioned above. The individual can’t drive enough cars, do enough – if any – serious instrumented testing, produce enough distinctive copy, or otherwise match the heavyweights. A website that uses many freelance contributors, I might add, faces serious organizational and consistency issues.

I suppose it would be possible for an individual to carve out a niche, such as the absolute best instant photo and video coverage of all auto shows. But, after all, how many of those are there? And could you make a living? You’d be lucky to make travel expenses, although your credential would at least put you in the Eat Free or Die buffet lines and keep you from starving a few weeks each year.

For the past three weeks, I have been cleaning out a building I own. It was filled with more relics than you can imagine, and among them was a copy of the first issue of Automobile Magazine, April 1983. Its founding editor, the aforementioned David E. Davis, Jr., wrote in his opening column that he was proud of the first-rate writers he’d assembled (among them Dean Batchelor, P.J. O’Rourke, Jean Lindamood, Kevin Smith, and even this writer) because, as Mr. Davis went on to say, “…second-rate writers attract second-rate readers.”

Consider the blogs in light of Mr. Davis’s statement. In a recent issue of Autowriters.com, bloggers demonstrated what appears to be utter unfamiliarity with their native tongue (e.g. “…newspapers have went under.”) I find this depressing almost beyond endurance. And if you think that’s a sad example, you should read the comments.

Here again, save for the most unusual individual, the biggies at least have the budgets to ensure decent copyediting if not sparkling writing. Whether they do this with any real enthusiasm I do not know.

Something not in question is that bloggers exist, and that there are lots of them. If you were an automaker or an event manager, what would you do with them? Paul Brian and the Chicago Auto Show allotted a whole press day to bloggers. And they let the manufacturers select who came, handing off the difficult question of who deserves (as opposed to wants) credentials. The day was considered a success by most of the manufacturers, and one and all got a better handle on the situation, albeit a hazy one.

Comparing the starting of a blog with the starting of a traditional career in print media, I say that the single most important difference is that the traditional guys had to earn their way into the business. A blogger can just peel off the pajamas, open up shop and proclaim that he or she is a credible source. Credibility, when you get down to it, is everything. You can succeed without it, of course, but you are a fraud. Not that your intentions are evil, but you do not in most cases have enough resources to allow you to know what you’re talking about.

Do I wish that celestial lightning would strike down all bloggers? Of course not. I believe in free speech even if its syntax and spelling are substandard. And there are some entertaining storytellers and commentators out there. Joe Sherlock comes to mind. There are a few others. Very few, led by Peter DeLorenzo whom I consider to be the father of the automotive blog (and who came with established credibility).

What I do wish is that I might be spared endless whining about credentials, press cars, unfairness, and general mistreatment from would-be automotive “journalists” who are demonstrably hard put to write much beyond their request for something free and who dress as if they shopped at Third World yard sales. And who couldn’t get, let alone hold, a job at any professional publication, electronic or otherwise. When your blog’s posted comments, most of which appear to be sent from planets where correct spelling and punctuation constitute felonies, are better than your articles, it’s time to consider retraining. Or, if your enthusiasm for cars is pathologically uncontrollable, suicide.

I will say that there is at least one good quality about all blogs, even the most illiterate: Reading them is voluntary; the same is true for the existing magazines, most of which are well down the road to obsolescence. Bloggers don’t bring much that’s new to the party, and the establishment won’t let anything old escape from the festivities.

Those are my opinions, and I’m sticking to them. It occurs to me that writing none of the foregoing paragraphs gave me any pleasure at all, which reinforces my decision to say goodnight and good luck to the world of automotive writing.

William Jeanes

William Jeanes is the former editor-in-chief of Car and Driver, Classic Automobile Register, and AMI Autoworld Weekly. He was publisher of Car and Driver and Road & Track. His automotive writing has appeared in more than two dozen publications, and his non-automotive work has been seen in Sports Illustrated. The New York Times, Playboy, Playbill, American Heritage, Journal of Mississippi History, Over the Front, and War, Literature, and the Arts. He co-wrote the book Branding Iron with Charlie Hughes and was a senior vice president at two major advertising agencies. He was Writer in Residence at Northwestern University in 2005 and serves on the board of trustees at Millsaps College and on the board of directors for the Eudora Welty Foundation. He and his wife, Susan, the creative director of five automotive magazines, live in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

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41 Responses to “Musings From An Automotive Dinosaur”

  1. John StewartMay 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    Really enjoyed that; reminded me of how much I’d missed WDCMB’s musings lately. Thank you sir!

  2. Jim KoscsMay 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    Absolutely the best piece written on the topic of automotive bloggers, and written by someone with something most bloggers do not have — earned credibility. Best of luck to you, Mr. Jeans, and thank you for your years in this business.

  3. Jim KoscsMay 17, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    My apologies to Mr. Jeanes for misspelling his name in that previous comment.

  4. John Pearley HuffmanMay 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    William,

    Good luck with every future pursuit and thanks for the well-considered and well-crafted thoughts in this piece.

    Feel free to send me any future work you turn down.

    Pearley

  5. John GorehamMay 17, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    I agree with J.P. Huffman. Car and Driver under your guidance was a big part of why I decided to earn a mechanical engineering degree and later to become an automotive writer. My opinion of Car and Driver has changed over the years, but so have I, so I’m not sure if the magazine is not what it used to be, or if I am just aging, or both. Your bitterness towards bloggers is something I need to think a bit about. I don’t really read any. With regards to press access, the last car show I went to on a press day (Boston) had only about 12 attendees and was set up to accommodate about 50 based on the chairs and food put out. It seems there might be room for a few non-pros with good intentions. At least there was that day. Thanks for giving us your work and departing words of wisdom. I hope you continue to dabble and we might see your work again.

  6. Tod RaffertyMay 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Well put.

    Tod Rafferty: Writer first, motojournalist second.

  7. Art SpinellaMay 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    Thank you, William. You have spoken for many of us who were on the auto beat at a time the title “editor” actually referred to someone willing to light your copy afire for a jumbled syntax or a simple hanging participle.

    Writers — any variety — without professional editors are cattle without wranglers. And writers who believe they can be their own editors need only review their work a year after publishing it.

  8. Justacarguy JesseMay 17, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    Well, this is a fine example of a very well written person with a fine command of the English language, and I wish I was as good of a writer, as competant at English, and as fortunate in jobs and subsequent related accomplishments from having the right job at the right time. ( I wish I could type better too!)

    I point out here that I’ve seen that men in the 1970’s was fortuneate to have far more possibilities and potential for good jobs, or whatever jobs they wanted. That’s not the case anymore, and sadly the 73 yr old whom I’m commenting about has no clue how difficult it is to be the one trying to get a job without the work history he is walking away from. Of course he believes he understands because he has hired people, but the last time he tried to break into a field was in the Nixon years, and since then his good fortune and subsequent resume have blown the best jobs his way.

    If he, or anyone else tried to get a job that he’s had, they’d find out they aren’t that lucky in 2011. Unless your resume is solid in ways you aren’t even aware of, you’re not as qualified as the 200 others trying for that job. Unemployment didn’t exist for all I know in the early 1970’s, when any guy with a high school diploma could get a job that paid well enough to buy a house, and a new car. that diploma is useless now, and short of a 4 year degree, and 5 years experience in the field you are applying for you are not competing for the jobs you are applying for, you are just a number in the stats of those who filled out the application.

    The point of that background opinion on jobs, and getting the ones William Jeanes started with, is that they require far more now to get, than William had when he applied for them.

    Writing for magazines is pointed out as not paying well enough to cover eating expenses I believe I read in his piece, and it’s true. Also, from the writers, and photographers I talk to while covering events for myself (that I blog is subsequent and 2ndary to my enjoyment of attending) none of them are making a living at writing or photographing… because people don’t pay for photography, and magazines don’t pay much for anything… and they, like William pointed out, are going out of business… all due to competition from all of us that are doing the same thing.

    If you attend the Grand National Roadster Show, you’ll see that most people are taking pictures.. they seem to me to be there to cover the show, not to enjoy it.

    Similarly to the problem of breaking into publishing in some form as a way of making a living being something Williams generation could do, and ours cannot, is that int he 1920’s anyone could seemingly build their own car company. Not anymore. 100 years ago a lot of possibility existed for the guy who dared to try, but now, a lot of legal red tape, and limited access to the decision makers keep people from becoming the pro they feel they can be, if they had a chance… because: now you apply to an HR department, and not the guy who hired your grandad. Now you fill out applications that are 6 to 10 pages long, instead of showing you can do the job and getting hired. Now you are judged on the resume, the references aren’t checked very often, and a drug test is a preliminary. You think anyone in 1972 tested for pot? Hell no.

    But now the magazines are owned by conglomerates, not the founders like David Davis, Robert Peterson, etc etc etc. The conglomerates like Source Interlink aren’t even reachable by phone, or email. Good luck with that, just try to tell the good folks at Motor Trend Classic that you like that last issue… I tried, and I’m a persistant bastard who does like to make his good or bad opinion known. In the case of Source Interlink, it isn’t going to happen. No way you are going to get the editors email… just a generic that his assistant screens and filters, if you are lucky and can even find that.

    I think I wandered from the point I set out to make, but did still say meaningful things… but back to the point.. today it’s easy to blog. I can show anyone who can understand English, and a laptop’s basic keys how to have their own blog up in about an hour, and they will have a damn fine foundation to add content to.

    I can’t believe anyone can show anyone else how to get a job working for a magazine of even mediocre reputation in a week.

    The world moved on, and writers, like the rest of the population have increased in numbers, and are in far more competition, so are the magazine numbers, and so is the pay for the head honchos.. but the ground floor pay sucks.. if you could get in on the ground floor.

    Blogging on the other hand? Pays nothing. It’s just a hobby, and the most successful people are maxed out on all internet media fronts to stay on to of what might be the next best thing… they all want to see you become their friend on Facebook, follower on Twitter, and 10 other things I don’t even give a damn about. Just websites, icons, and publicity addicts like Jesse James, Chip Foose, Donald Trump, etc etc who have to keep the media machine rolling every day to get keep their name in the news, in the media, in your attention so you buy their hype, their merchandise(James, Foose), watch their reality show(James, Foose, Trump), buy their book (James, Trump)

    So I recommend that you try to put aside the perspective of what the person you are reading is saying, and realize that your perspective and what you are trying to get accomplished are far more important than what a retiree feels about the blogging world.
    He does pointedly offend me when he said that traditional guys had to earn their way into the business. Oh? Unless your job was handed out in the bottom of the Cracker Jack box, everyone had to earn what they have. Some rode the coattails of their family name (2nd generation racecar drivers like Petty, Earnhart, Force, Edelbrock) but the rest of us have earned anything we have.

    I earned my blog by putting the content on the damn framework Google provides, every day I add content, and everyday I get satisfaction that my entire body of work is available to anyone on the planet with internet. All of my content is available, where is Williams? Molding in a library perhaps, if any have kept the Car and Driver old issues (doubtful, it sucked IMHO as a magazine, but I’m not the demographic they were aiming for)

    Substandard syntax and spelling? Sure, but I’m not a person with more than a public high school education and that I can tell that my speech, writing, typing, and syntax suck is obvious. Hell, I’m too damn busy to take extremely costly college english classes, and I don’t have time either. I’m working two jobs, applying online for any job that looks better in hopes of getting one that pays better, blogging, getting to car shows, fiddling on my 1969 R/T, keeping 3 garages is order, and having a relationship with Justacargal plus email correspondance, blog comments, NEWSLETTERS, unsolicited nonsense in my email, and blog tips, plus my reading, magazines, favorite websites, plus movies, TV, and radio morning show… and a hundred other things I can’t think of.

    Anyway, Williams point in the third to last paragraph of his piece, about would be “Journalists” who can’t get or hold a job at any professional publication is pissing me off. No shit, I think I covered why we can’t get jobs in “Professional” publications, and make our own “publication” which is pinching off the demand there once was for “professional” publications. Tom McCahill was a one man juggernaut of auto publications and he was in the right place, right time. Those opportunities don’t exist anymore, and you can’t force them into existance, they’ve been superceded like Facebook is the one to contend with in Social Media, don’t bother trying to make a new Facebook paradigm, and don’t bother trying to make a new Hemmings, don’t bother trying to be the next Henry Ford.

    So it’s mostly pointless to be the next Autoblog, Jalopnik, Ebay, Yahoo and Google… but you can be a writer for Hooniverse as my good friend Bythenumbers.blogspot John has done, or you can be a blogger like me “justacarguy.blogspot” and if your blog content is respected, admired, and honored with “Best of” mentions in other websites and blogs… then “You’ve come a long way baby” and Tah Dah! You are now your own “Publication” and your credentials are subject to your peers acknowledgement of their enjoyment of your blog. Not ever going to get a pulitzer, but when I got ranked 2 spots higher than the New York Times auto blog by Ridelust.com, in their top 25… well I was damn proud of their finding more to enjoy of what I’ve done, than what the paid staff of the New York Times car deprtment adds to their website.

    I disagree with William on another thing he said that pisses me off and insults what I do as a blogger… “Bloggers don’t bring much that’s new to the party”

    Really, pompous jackass? I pull from hundreds of sources of info, websites, Tumblr, magazines, books, tv and movies, car cruises and shows, concours and drag races, Dry Lakes racing and SEMA. Go f yourself. You in all your years of magazine work haven’t added as much content in print as I have on my blog in the last 4 years. For free, in my spare time, while working 2 other jobs, and just for the pleasure of sharing the stuff I find cool.

    Oh, and what I do on the internet isn’t censored, it doesn’t need to be.

    The Smothers Brothers were kicked off TV for good, and all media with advertising have to put up with advertisers calling the level of censorship with dollars and ads. Bloggers have freedom of speech like nothing you ever could when printing oppsite the fold from an advertisement that wasn’t in Playboy (nice pull, that! Good on you!)

    Sadly, you’ve read the last paragraph from Williams where he said that nothing he wrote in the piece gave him any pleasure at all… and that is clearly demonstrative that writing isn’t much fun, but you’ll see that blogging is, it’s all the fun you can fit in the time you have to add to your blog the stuff you like the most.

    Oh, and he started a sentence with a preposition. (Ha!)

    Williams

  9. Justacarguy JesseMay 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    Whoops, left that last word dangling there…

    allow me to finish properly:

    Williams, I congratulate you for deciding to retire, and live a little without work getting in the way of you having a good time. Life is far too short to not retire as early aspossible and enjoy the sunshine, the ride, the breeze, and the beauty all around us.

    I commend you on your accomplishments, they are prestigious, and show a remarkable career and drive to succeed on a variety of facets. Bravo. Truly stunning body to your resume, and I envy you the payscale.

    • Randi PaytonJuly 1, 2011 at 8:49 am #

      What Happened to Automotive Journalism?

      Automotive communications seems to heading in the direction of cable TV, where real news and journalism has become one-sided and opinionated. Marketers have become more focused on getting their messages out via advertising, then the value of the news content they support.

      The love of cars is no longer passed down from father to son, because vehicles are too technical and we not using the new technology that the younger generation uses to communicate. However, more and more consumers are using the new media technology to find true automotive content that can help them make informed decisions.

      While many marketers are trying to embrace the technology, they have forgotten that it is the real content that matters. Technology without content is useless. Some companies are inviting more bloggers and freelancers to press launches, over full service auto media companies with greater reach and influence.

      This commentary written by William Jeanes, former publisher of Car and Driver/Road and Track, is one of the most talked about articles in Automotive Journalism.

      When I entered the profession more than 20 years ago, William Jeanes became one of my mentors. In the commentary, he speaks on the current state of automotive journalism today. My other mentors included Ken Gross of Rob Report and Popular Mechanics; Ed Henry, of Kiplinger; Warren Brown of the Washington Post; Paul Eisenstein of the Car Connection, and many other top automotive journalists. I learned from them and then applied that knowledge to the multicultural market. I then went on to train and mentor multicultural journalists and to build an organization of auto experts who have their pulse on the community and the entire industry. Their time and dedication is spent on developing content that consumers can trust in.

      We patterned our organization around the buff books and consumer reports, because these consumers needed information about everything, to make informed decisions. We apply our expertise to build a complete database to serve multicultural auto buyers. We also conduct exclusive research and historical achieves on the many auto cultures that exist in these markets.

      I continue to see auto communities going from one fad to another. Embracing bloggers or some other fancy idea, but not embracing true comprehensive automotive content that consumers can trust and believe in.

      Our writers drive all new vehicles and therefore can make comprehensive assessments. A consumer is more likely to believe in an award that was selected by a panel of 15 automotive writers, who have driven every new vehicle, then they are to trust a blogger who has only driven a few vehicles.

      It is most likely the reason why some auto company may be gaining market share in the general market, but are not moving the metal in the multicultural market. It may also be the reason why some great vehicles are not in the top 20 purchases by minority consumers, who buy 25% of all new vehicles annually.

      Many auto companies depend on outside sourcing, which focuses all their efforts on brand awareness and do not understand or embrace the value consumer automotive content. Especially for those companies that have improved their vehicle performance and quality, whose main priority should be to change perception. Only comprehensive consumer content by auto experts can change one’s perception about autos. In this case, it should be culturally relevant.

      Williams Jeanes reinforces what I am observing in the auto industry and the huge budgets that are wasted on strategies that have no automotive knowledge or resonance among consumers, like celebrities, bloggers, and nonauto media.

      • Randi PaytonJuly 2, 2011 at 6:29 am #

        From Warren Brown, the Dean of Automotive Journalism

        “The problem isn’t automotive journalism. The problem is journalism, period. It’s sunk into the cesspool of infotainment. It’s been flushed with a mixture of public ignorance and corporate greed. An increasingly less literate public does not want the details, nuances, complications of real news. They want to be entertained. Violence entertains. The bleeders remain leaders on TV news. Gossip entertains, even if it unfairly destroys reputations. Sports are entertaining. The intricacies of the automobile industry, energy policy, national budgets, and the real geopolitics behind war are less than entertaining.
        So, what?
        So, the public turns away from things that aren’t entertaining. With them go advertisers. With the advertisers go the media bosses. Journalists are told they need to make things upbeat, more attractive for their various audiences. No more “just the facts.” The result is Fox on the right and MSNBC or some other equivalent on the left. The public doesn’t tune in for news. Instead, it selects a channel for confirmation of biases.
        And so it goes in the business of automotive journalism–periodicals for “car guys” and “car buffs,” as if those groups are inherently different from the estimated 13 million people expected to buy new vehicles in 2011, or somehow different from the 40 million who will buy used cars and trucks; as if the environmental, technological, and geopolitical contexts in which we discuss cars today are the same as they were in 1950, when climate change meant finding a way to get to Florida for winter vacation, as if fossil-fueled cars or the concept of the automobile itself are forever, immutable things.
        The entire world is changing, evolving; and the automobile is changing with it. We now have tangible evidence that no one nation, nationality, or ethnic group corners the market on intelligence, creativity, engineering expertise, production quality or efficiency. Honda and Toyota no longer reign supreme in a world with Hyundai, Kia, a resurgent Detroit, and an equally ambitious China and Germany.
        Luxury is no longer an easily defined thing, Neither is value.
        Yet, too many of us in automotive journalism continue to putt-putt in homage to horsepower and speed for the sake of speed in an increasingly shrinking and regulated world on a planet Earth that is beginning to show its age. In much the same manner, journalism at large continues to stuff itself on easily digestible myths of poor or no intellectual nutrition–“conservative” or “liberal” or “independent”; “black vote” or “white vote” or “Hispanic vote,” as if they are all groups containing members who believe, think, and do the same things.
        How ironic.
        We live in an increasingly complex world inhabited by an increasingly simple-minded public led by people who don’t understand the meaning of leadership. Our life has become a “reality show” dependent upon a popular vote rendered by an electorate with neither the experience nor the expertise to cast a meaningful ballot.
        Moses must’ve gone back up the mountain to talk to God. He has left us in a valley of frayed values and shattered intellect. Our journalism has become blogs and social media commentary in search of dollars form advertisers. We are now asked to worship the American Idol and listen to the wisdom of The Voice. Cheers.”–Warren Brown

  10. John RettieMay 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    William: A well reasoned commentary. I have to agree with everything you say. I remember writing my first road test 40 years ago and I had trouble finding anything good to say about the car. Nowadays it’s hard to find anything really bad to say about new cars. Furthermore, there just does not seem to be the same level of interest in cars or auto racing among today’s younger generations.

    • Justacarguy JesseMay 17, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

      I hear the lament about the young generation not being interested in many aspects of auto enthusiasm, and the brass era people have said it, the trans am racers, the musclecar and sports car afficianadoes too… but doesn’t it have relavance that these are all far beyond their income, and their interests have to follow the level of income? Of course. Add to that the perspective that people growing up before the 1980’s had little else to be interested in, whereas kids today have all the world at their cell phone fingertips, and pre 1980s we had Mad magazines, Archie, the boy scout manual, and Hot Rod magazine. Old bikes needed fixing up, junk cars were easy to get parts for from junk yards, and I don’t think these are true anymore.

      Kids in the 40’s and 50’s had junkyards galore with duece roadsters aplenty, what do todays teens have? Immediate obsolecence of everything with a battery, no junkyards and lots of environmental laws keeping them from parking a jalopy where it’s an “eyesore”.

      The brass era horseless carriage person’s comment that no youngsters are excited about them really blew my mind… as if brass era stuff is even possible to find outside a museum, or costs less than a fortune, has anything replaceable froma parts store, etc.

      Sports and race cars? You gotta be rich. Kids are lucky to be able to buy shoes, pay their cell phone bills, and have some change left over for the dollar menu. You might be living on a Starbucks income, younger generations aren’t, the jobs went overseas, the college tuitions have doubled since you went through, and a high school dioploma is useless.

  11. Russ DodgeMay 17, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    I enjoyed those car and Driver pieces that Jeanes wrote over the years, and I find that most of his remarks are on the money.

    He is a bit snobbish in some small ways, but my opinion may be due to most of my 28 years as an auto (and motorsports) journalist having been with weeklies, (with a few dailies thrown in). The magazine guys are major league in their minds, while we weekly writers are maybe double AA, even though we may have more writing ability, I will state that my columns, though no way as exhaustive as those appearing in Car and Driver, do convey a decent amount of information to the reading public having some interest in things automotive.

    At 73, I can not see me retiring. I do keep other interests by writing a fishing column. My outdoor writing and general sports writing predated my automotive journalism, and I get as much satisfaction writing about fishing as I do about automobiles. I also relax by announcing auto races and teaching history and political science at a community college

    I have no iinterest in writing a blog. Hell! I don’t ever read them .

  12. Anne ProffitMay 18, 2011 at 6:46 am #

    It’s always been a privilege to work alongside William Jeanes. I have been a professional automotive/racing writer/photographer since the 1970s (the photography is more recent) and, while I don’t make a “living” at my profession, it is the only thing I do to earn the funds needed to keep food on the table.

    William’s comments are exceptionally well-taken and Truth with a capital T. While it’s hard to find ways to grouse about new cars these days, pointing out the varied personalities of different vehicles and their manufacturers allows prospective buyers the opportunity to make informed decisions on their vehicle choices.

    Thanks for all the good times, William. I’m willing to bet you’ll find some good reason or other to tackle a keyboard and voice commentary on the business of motorized travel once again!
    Annie

  13. Mike DavisMay 18, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    A someone who has been making his living writing since 1953 and reported his first automotive story in 1954 (for Business Week on buyers of the new Continental Mark II) there is much to agree with in Jeanes’ post and some to dispute.

    His definition of professional, for example, as only one who makes his living writing about cars or the auto industry, reflects I think the narrow perspective of his experience. It excludes me, to which–as a third-generation journalist whose first published story was an interview with German POWs for my junior high school newspaper–I must vigorously protest.

    I have had free-lance writing income every year since 1953, moonlighting from salaried jobs until my retirement from 25 years at Ford PR in 1985. This included writing under my own name for Sports Cars Illustrated (predecessor of Car and Driver), Mechanix Illustrated, Special-Interest Autos, Ward’s AutoWorld and Old Cars Weekly; and under a pseudonym for AutoWeek. After turning to books on non-automotive subjects, I was “dragged kicking and screaming” so to speak (actually flattered to be asked) back into automotive writing by a couple of very professional friend-editors who deemed I had something unique to offer.

    For a long time, I had held off writing in the field because I did not want to “take away” income from people who had to make a living at free-lancing, but eventually succumbed because I saw too many good stories being untold by those who wrote but did not have a good sense for what a good story was or how to tell it. So I decided to put my modest earnings from automotive free-lancing, book royalties and lecturing into a special checking account I use for writing expenses and charitable contributions, and continue to live modestly as I always have.

    With a new release this summer, I will have produced (author, co-author, editor-in-chief or major contributor) eleven commercially published books, most in whole or in part on automotive history.

    As to car loans, I rarely seek them, but always remember what my one-time boss, Business Week Detroit Bureau Chief Bill Kroger, told me: how can you expect to write about the auto companies if you haven’t driven their products? (That’s very different from writing juvenile “road tests”–not that there isn’t a market for them, and I confess to writing, if assigned, a few over the last five decades.)

    As to junkets and new-car media conferences, I paid my own way to the last out-of-town new-model intro to which I was invited. I don’t aggressively seek out invitations to media conferences though accept them if they are valuable for my niche interests.

  14. Aaron GoldMay 18, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    I’m always reluctant to criticize someone whose work I admire. But since you are retiring, Mr. Jeanes, and I don’t risk talking myself out of a job with you, I’ll say what I have to say. Apologies in advance for grammatical errors; I’m on a junket with two cars to photograph, one article to write, and not much time to proofread.

    By way of introduction, I’m an online journalist. I have a blog, but I mostly write reviews and buying-advice articles. My publication covers 700+ topics and averages 40 million unique visitors per month, roughly 1.2 million from our Autos channel. Our brand name may seem insignificant compared to Car and Driver or Road & Track, but our audience certainly isn’t.

    Is there still a need for automotive journalism? I’ve got well over a million reasons to say yes. Just because cars have gotten good, and just because you have reached retirement age, does not mean that auto writers are obsolete. Roughly 75 million cars have been sold since I started my career, and buyers still seem to want advice. The fact that they no longer have to deal with hard-starting emissions-choked carbureted V8s doesn’t mean there is no place for “meaningful criticism.” They still need to know which cars have the best back seats or the highest fun-to-drive factor. You may consider those “insignificant nits,” but I consider it useful information, and I take great satisfaction in helping buyers decide if a Ford Fusion is a better fit for them than a Toyota Camry. It may not be as glorious as testing a 458 on the Italian Riviera, but I like to think of it as noble and meaningful. (And, for my publication, profitable.)

    I don’t do instrumented testing, and I don’t know if I would if I had the facilities. Slalom speeds and 0-60 times are great fodder for arguments among armchair enthusiasts, but Joe Average needs to know about performance in passing zones and on-ramps. Writers and engineers know that *being* fast and *feeling* fast don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. We have all driven cars that perform well on paper but fall down in real-world driving, and as you know, an accelerometer is no substitute for a competent writer who has sampled every car the auto market has to offer. Just because one concentrates on opinions vs. numbers does not make one less professional; for my audience, however, it does make one more relevant.

    I think I have a pretty good reputation for delivering coverage in exchange for my driving privs, and yes, I have made calls saying “I have a family trip coming up, here’s the coverage I can provide, is there a minivan I can drive?” Because I write for consumers, I don’t just limit myself to the latest-and-greatest. A quarter million people a year buy Honda Civics, and I want to be sure I have an up-to-date review for them. I’m always eager to drive the newest models, but just because a car isn’t new to me doesn’t mean it isn’t new to thousands of potential readers. So when there’s an opening in my schedule, I unashamedly call up and say “What have you got?” And I write a review and snag a few more readers who might otherwise have passed me by.

    When I started at my publication, I was a part-timer with a day job (coincidentally, as a copy writer). Does that make me any less relevant or any less professional? Well, judging from the fact that I grew my site’s traffic to the point that I *had* to quit my day job to keep up, I’d say no. I’ve evolved, of course, but my philosophy has remained the same. I don’t consider myself a first-rate writer, and maybe I do attract a second-rate audience. But second-raters buy cars too, you know.

    Oh, and about those of us “who dress as if they shopped at Third World yard sales”…

    Press events are busy times for me. Since I don’t write for a major buff book, I don’t have a staff photographer, multiple invitations to each junket or a two-week loan of the car when I get back home (this despite my publication seeing more monthly automotive readers than most of the major magazines). Like many online writers and bloggers, I am the writer, the researcher, the photographer and the editor, and while the tie-and-coat set is downstairs schmoozing and running up the bar tab, I’m up in my hotel room posting an article. I go to junkets to work, and a sport jacket is more bulk to take on the plane (we fly coach nowadays, you know). My jeans may not make the best impression at dinner, but I can only hope that the automakers will judge me on my writing and not my wardrobe.

    Anyway, Mr. Jeans, I appreciate your opinions, but I don’t appreciate the fact that you are driving a wedge between the old school and the new. Are there useless bloggers? Yes. Are there useless magazine reporters? Yes. Is it in an automaker’s best interest to shut me out of a press preview, but invite five people from the same big-name publication? Of course not, but it happens all the time.

    Why does that happen? Because figuring out the Internet is daunting and difficult. Sorting out which web sites are relevant, coming up with standards, asking questions about readership and evaluating professionalism is slow, hard work that is difficult to explain to the higher-ups. It’s far easier to hand your Chief Something Officer a copy of Car and Driver. Editorials like yours help people justify the easy road of dismissing the new school and clinging to the old. That’s too bad, because bloggers and online writers like me have a lot of readers to offer.

    Enjoy your retirement and thanks for all the entertainment and information you’ve given me over the years. See you out on the road.

    Respectfully yours,
    Aaron

  15. Randi PaytonMay 18, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    William, I for one am grateful to you. When I had a vision to launch the 1st national automotive magazine for African Americans in 1995, you agreed to be my mentor. You continued to provide advice and support and even columns in the magazine. With your direction we were able to establish a creditable automotive multimedia platform and annual awards. Although you were the publisher of Car and Driver/Road and Track at the time, we became the first automotive print magazine to launch a web site in 1995. Today, we are planning to launch a Global Social Online Network for the Automotive World and I look forward to your advice and direction. In fact, it could be your retirement plan.

  16. John MatrasMay 18, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    A pro–and you can ask Jim Thorpe about it–is anyone who gets paid. Seriously. That’s the standard we use at IMPA. Of course, there’s some difficulty in deciding what’s really being paid–again, ask Mr. Thorpe–but it’s sort of like prostitution. Or is that advertising copywriting. I forget.

    The fact is that it has become more and more difficult to make a living as a freelancer. When I began in 1980, a dollar per word was a standard baseline. It ain’t that way anymore. And you can’t blame freelancers on that.

    And by the way, some of us remember Classic Automobile Register. Those who don’t can find the latest issues on ebay. That’d be a website.

  17. Steve HarbulaMay 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    Interesting piece with a lot of great points. Like others, I too disagree with the definition of professional as making enough money at something to earn a living. I’ve met plenty of highly paid reporters and columnists who didn’t act with much professionalism at all.

    Professional to me is much more about how you carry yourself. How much you respect your subject matter, your craft and your audience. It’s how you treat people who control the access you seek to events, vehicles, interviews and so on when they don’t give you what you want.

    Give me a “professional” blogger who writes out of their love for the subject and desire to share their insights with others over a jaded “journalist” who mainly writes for a paycheck any day.

  18. Bryan LavioletteMay 18, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    Wow, that was some rant, “Bill” Jeanes. So basically, your point is that bloggers are hurting the cause of automotive journalism, but it doesn’t matter anyway because cars are so good that there’s no point to automotive criticism anymore? Sounds like the rambling of someone sitting in his rocking chair on porch complaining about “the good ole days.” What was the point?
    I have read your stuff since I was in middle school. I was a subscriber to Car and Driver before you were editor-in-chief and I’ve continued to be one since. I had great respect for your work, although I always considered you to be a bit high-brow. Now, my suspicions are proven correct. That column was pure snobbery at its best.
    As a 20-year veteran of the newspaper business, there is no one sadder to see it quickly slip into the annals of history than me. I love print and electronic device will ever be able to replace it. That being said, there are some advantages to the electronic medium, one you are taking advantage of now, by posting this column.
    It sounds as if you think anyone besides the Big Four buff books has no business doing auto reviews because they can’t do instrumented testing. Oh my gosh, the arrogance. While the buff books are certainly important, secondary publications have always served the purpose of offering a counterpoint to their views. Oftentimes, my reviews have been fairly close to those in the buff books. But sometimes, my views have been well outside the mainstream. Anyone doing serious research on such a significant purchase deserves to have the opportunity to read more than four viewpoints, all in the mainstream.
    But, according to you, cars have become so good, there’s hardly a point to automotive criticism anymore. I couldn’t disagree with you more. While cars have undoubtedly improved markedly in recent years, I’ve yet to drive a perfect one. And beyond what is great and awful about any given car is the feeling you get driving it. It’s our job to give our readers the sense that they are behind the wheel, not us.
    How else do you propose people choose their cars? Well, I know you spent a good amount of time on the advertising side, so I suppose you think buyers should just watch the ads on TV to decide what to buy.
    Cars are hugely expensive investments and most people will have to live with their choice for several years. But you remind us how you’ve become quite wealthy. Well good for you, I suppose you can decide to ditch a bad car if you don’t like it and just buy another. Come down off your throne for a moment, Bill, and check out how real people live.
    Others will kiss your ring in hopes that it will somehow lead them to some morsels of work. But I will not.
    Enjoy your retirement.

  19. Terry ParkhurstMay 19, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    The world, and especially journalism, has changed greatly since the time that William Jeanes started out; and he doesn’t seem to understand that. At one point, he says he’d rather sell aluminum cans for recycling, because writing for the Internet pays too little. At another point, he says you can’t be a professional writer, unless you make a living at it.

    T.S. Elliott worked as a bank teller, for years, and he was a pretty good poet. A former teacher and friend of mine, the late Jack Cady, worked as a long-distance truck driver, got his short stories published in a couple of the Best American Short Stories collections and went on to teach writing – as much as it can be taught – for years; while continuing to write novels and some non-fiction. (I believe he is also the Jack Cady who ran a van in the 1972 Cannonball.)

    The changing nature of publishing, and the pathetic money that many, maybe most Internet and traditional publishers pay, demands that many people who are indeed, professional writers, might do something else, in addition to writing (and photography) to make ends meet. The notion that making enough money to have more than one automobile in the garage, indicates the quality of ones’ writing, is completely inaccurate, and woefully out-of-touch with today’s world.

    Furthermore, the idea that automotive reviews based on instrumentation are the only reviews worth reading – or producing – was something that no less an authority than the late, great David E. Davis Jr. dismissed. When he left C/D, to help found Automobile magazine – in 1986, in memory serves, not ’83 – he relished the fact that he could be released from the prison of mere data collection; in terms of accessing an automobile. Read and re-read his piece on the BMW 2002 and understand how an automotive review can be art, more than science; while still giving the reader a complete understanding of the automobile being considered.

    If we’re going to see automotive journalism continue, or journalism in general, we’re going to have to understand that what used to be called “a stringer,” keystroking a review on a laptop computer, with a digital camera plugged in to load photos taken in about 10 minutes time, is the new deal. The key will be to try to meld the best of what has been established by the likes of people such as Brock Yates or David E., with the new technology; and the catch-it-on-the-fly approach of the digital everything. We need not feel defeated, nor diminished, by the rush of change; difficult as it sometimes is to breathe.

  20. Richard TruesdellMay 23, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    William,

    I read your post here with both awe at the career that you fashioned for yourself in our profession, and sadness with the wedge you seem to be driving into our ranks as you exit. Let me explain.

    Maybe you remember me. You gave me one of my first breaks into the world of automotive journalism in 1989 when I produced the first of two mobile electronics special sections for you at Car and Driver. At the time I owned a car stereo store in New Jersey so I guess I had the “expert” credentials to contribute to Car and Driver.

    Over the years I transitioned from a career in consumer electronics retail to being a full-time automotive journalist, but it’s not getting any easier. With the exception of a year as the E-I-C of Car Audio and Electronics and as the launch editor almost two years ago of Chevy Enthusiast, most of my time has been spent as a freelancer. Since 1997 when I made this a full-time career I have written for more than 30 publications around the world, have produced close to 1,000 magazine features, and now have 1TB of automotive images stored online. So even though online opportunities are just about all that’s left to me (and so many others) I think that I’ve earned the tag “professional.”

    This is a difficult time not only for automotive magazines, but for magazines in general. Last fall the publisher of Chevy Enthusiast shut down seven titles, replacing seven niche publications with just a single title, putting three editors out of jobs they truly loved and were extremely passionate about. And just last week, Auto Trader shut down its entire Classics group, putting more talented writers, editors, photographers out of jobs they love. And I don’t think that the carnage will stop there.

    We are at a crossroads. The Internet has had the same paradigm-shifting effect that the printing press had centuries ago. It has already redefined who we communicate, and for us in this profession, how enthusiast automotive information is distributed, which was once the almost exclusive domain of the buff books. And now we have tablets like the iPad to contend with, which in my opinion don’t come close to the quality reading experience of putting ink on paper.

    But I see the handwriting on the wall and am trying to reinvent myself once again and get my professional and financial destiny back in my own hands. Four years ago I founded my own online-only automotive publication, Automotive Traveler Magazine and its supporting web site, automotivetraveler.com. As you know all too well, it’s a struggle in these trying times, trying to stand out among the thousands of automotive web sites just here in the United States, let alone the rest of the world. But we’re making progress, albeit slow. I am trying to avoid what I like to call the “Blockbuster Effect.” What’s the Blockbuster Effect?

    The Blockbuster Effect is when a business model stays too long with the methods of the past, doesn’t reinvent itself, and in a space of just 18 months virtually disappears from relevance. The world of publishing is moving at light speed and we all must adapt unless we are in your position and are ready to retire. As you have paid your dues over the years — I like many others commenting here have been reading you since high school — I wish you the best as you enjoy the rest of your life. You’ve earned that and our respect.

    But for the rest of us, the grind goes on. Fewer publications, fewer pages, and fewer opportunities for those of us who still enjoy our craft with more colleagues than ever fighting for diminished opportunities.

    I read with great interest Aaron Gold’s comments. He and I were at the same press event last week and while some of my colleagues were indeed running up the bar tab, I was up in my room writing text and editing images. Not from that event — I’m working on that this week — but for a project that I had just completed BEFORE heading off to the next event as it had to be posted by last Friday. It’s good to see one of the younger journalists with the same work ethic that I think I’ve become known for.

    In spite of the difficulties (and the low compensation) we have jobs that most envy but I see things getting worse, not better. It is an undeniable fact that the Internet has devalued our profession but that is not to say that all online journalism is substandard (I was going to use the word crap). All I can speak of is what I produce for Automotive Traveler and with a very small team, every article is read by three different people before it is posted, the writer, the voluntary proofreader who serves as a copy editor, and the editor herself. We have very high standards yet typos sneak through the process and there are occasional grammar or spelling errors. But the beauty of the online process is that we go back and fix them. That’s a luxury not afforded to print publications.

    Like so many others here, you had a positive effect on my career and I want to take this opportunity to thank you in a public way. I hope that when you have a chance that you will take a look at how you influenced me. Here’s links in case you’re interested, automotivetraveler.com and the eight issues of the magazine that in many ways you helped inspire, automotivetraveler.com/magazine/magazine.php

    You are one of those who I consider a mentor as well as a professional peer. I wish you well in whatever you do and that the road ahead treats you well.

    Sincerely,

    Richard Truesdell
    Editorial Director, Automotive Traveler Magazine, automotivetraveler.com.

  21. Sam FioraniMay 23, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Mr Jeanes:

    Congratulations on your retirement, so long as it is voluntary. Your tone in the above rant makes me think that it was not.

    In the “good ol’ days,” I remember attending the New York introduction of Classic Automobile Register (of which, I have all issues). When a magazine could be printed and read, you launched that publication.

    On these webpages not too long ago, I wrote of the future of automotive journalism and here you are writing the obituary. I’m not so ready to give up the ghost.

    As the shakeout continues, good automotive publications (online or, Heaven forbid, in print) will bubble to the top while the others will move to the side. Just as the reduced expense of publishing brought about also-rans, the current wave of online publishing will have their hacks. And once this occurs, some people will be paid a living wage and others will still spew the drivel that fills their website where less discerning readers visit. Those of us who care to write readable pieces on well-researched topics will survive.

    And as for cars being “too good to support meaningful criticism,” I’ve heard it before. Nearly every generation has their sages who insist that it doesn’t get better than this. Truth is, every generation has “been reduced to the undignified picking of nits” just to tell the difference between two cars. In hindsight, the “nits” from 1972 were MUCH larger than they are today…which, in turn, are much larger than they will be in another 40 years.

    Also, just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s a “blog.” Some of us actually have editors who care that each piece makes sense. Unlike the bloggers you, Mr Jeanes, assume fill nearly all of the internet, I’m HAPPY when someone enjoys what I write and I never believe people are just waiting for my next piece…I’m writing hoping to make them WANT to read it. It’s why I won’t write 300-word SEO-friendly copy just to fill a website.

    Every generation believes their the last “great” generation. No matter what I write, I know you won’t be convinced otherwise. With my work I target my idols, like Beverly Rae Kimes and Ken Purdy, instead of the self-important bloggers who darken the industry for the rest of us.

    Once again, I hope you enjoy your retirement. I also hope that when the time comes, I am not as jaded about the industry as you have become.

    All the best, Mr Jeanes!

  22. Mark David BellJune 8, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    William,

    How sad to see you go, but clearly understandable. I wish you the best in your endeavors.

    I was foruntate enough to enjoy your work starting in the early 1970’s at Car and Driver and I’ve tried to read everything you’ve written since. For me, Classic Auto Register may have been the finest magazine of its type.

    You will be greatly missed by those of us who remember and still appreciate what fine automotive journalism is all about.

    Happy travels, William!

  23. Terry SheaJune 10, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    Twenty two years ago this summer, I served an internship at Car and Driver during the tenure of William Jeanes’ stewardship at the mother of all car magazines.

    It was a fantastic, if highly unpaid internship, which William was happy to remind me of upon finishing the summer when he told me, “You were worth every penny.” Surely, it was his line for every intern, but I did successfully fight the urge to return serve and remind him that he got what he paid for.

    I have a lot of respect for William, but I think he makes a grave mistake painting all bloggers with the same brush. As magazines continue to disappear and freelance rates have lagged astonishingly behind inflation — and even regressed in many cases — for the better part of a couple of decades now, it’s not so easy making a living as an automotive journalist.

    Like pro sports, there are far more people vying for the jobs than there are actual openings. On second thought, I am not sure that comparison really stands up.

    How many full-time automotive journalist gigs are there in the country, the kind that put together magazines featuring the long-form journalism that we both love? I would venture to say less than a thousand — and that number might be grossly overrated. But let’s say 1,000 anyway and compare it to professional sports. There are 750 roster spots in all of Major League Baseball, 690 in the NHL, 450 in the NBA and a whopping 1,696 in the NFL. That’s a total of 3,586, not counting players on the disabled, inactive or ineligible lists who might also be getting paid. Practice players and minor leaguers, some of whom may be making major-league money, are also not counted. Adding it all up, there are roughly 4,000 guys in the big leagues any given year.

    The average pro athlete’s career lasts just a few short years. For every Brett Favre or Nolan Ryan, there are countless players like Mark Fidrych or Ickey Woods – players who showed promise, but whose careers flamed out, cut short by injury. There are even more players who simply weren’t good enough to stick around. Given the short shelf life of the average pro athlete, of those 4,000 positions, several hundred, if not 1,000 or so, open up every year.

    William stayed in the business the better part of 40 years. David E. Davis was involved for 50 years. I’m not saying they mailed it in – far from it; but there are plenty of others who do just that. Given the rather small number of jobs and the intransigence of incumbents in editorial positions, it would seem that the odds against becoming a full-time automotive journalist are several times greater than becoming a professional athlete. It’s fairly obvious to most observers when a running back no longer has the legs or the moves to split the defense but not so much in the editorial world, where skills and relevance fade much slower.

    So, William, if you are wondering why people become bloggers, it may be because they are writers who love to write about cars. And since too many old men in the business refuse to make room for them, they have to create their own outlets.

    Freelancers have to hustle. We have to write more than most staffers to make less money. We have to constantly be putting out feelers for more work. Many of us also shoot plenty of the stories we write. That’s two jobs often for the price of one. And we also have to play advertiser for our own “brand” in an attempt to get ourselves in front of more editors.

    To add insult to injury, sometimes we have to chase people down to get paid. Perhaps we could be more “professional” by earning a living if we didn’t get paid six months or even a year after doing a story.

    I would disagree with a lot of the pundits that the magazine business is dying. It is certainly changing and the digital component is growing, but there remains a strong market for well crafted and thoroughly researched journalism in the automotive realm. Advertisers continue to pay more for that than for digital products. But to paint virtually all bloggers with the brush of being unprofessional is erroneous and makes you sound like a bitter old man.

    And being bitter does not sound like the M.O. of the William Jeanes I remember from Ann Arbor some 22 years ago.

    I do hope you and Susan enjoy retirement.

    Cheers,
    Terry

  24. Paul WeisslerJune 19, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    I think William Jeanes has found the perfect reason to get out of automotive journalism: he thinks the cars today are so good that all we’re doing is nitpicking because we have nothing meaningful to write about. With that attitude there’s certainly no reason to continue in this fraternity.

    I personally feel this is the greatest time to be an auto journalist, that there never has been so much interesting stuff to talk and write about. So I plan to stick around, writing about the new cars and their technology, as long as the Good Lord will allow.

    Yes, we also have to keep raising our standards as cars get better, and they certainly have. Just because a car starts, runs from Point A to B, and stops on command is not nearly enough anymore, and that’s a good thing.

    Paul Weissler

  25. Sam FioraniJune 19, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    Amen Paul! I hope we can keep YOU around for many years to come!

  26. Stephan WilkinsonJune 20, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    It’s amusing that many of the above comments are ungrammatical, misspelled, ineptly written, typo-filled, never proofread…in one case from a commenter who essentially boasts that he’s proud of his illiteracy.

    It’s a lot of what has driven William Jeanes from the business. For many of the same reasons, I no longer write a word about automobiles but have become fully involved, and well-paid, as an aviation and military-history writer. Both are fields yet to be overrun by the “Last week I couldn’t spell wreider, now I are one” bunch.

  27. Kevin SmithJune 20, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    William, I almost hope you’re finding better things to do than to follow this thread. But if you have looked in, you’re no doubt delighted to see so many of the commenters, starting with Mr. Justacarguy, forcefully if unwittingly making your points for you. Having an outlet is not the same thing as having something to say, and while the latter was once a prerequisite for securing the former, the precipitous plunge in publishing’s cost of entry has broken that relationship, probably for good. Not worth crying over, just the fact. You and Susan enjoy yourselves. –k

    • Justacarguy JesseJune 22, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

      Kevin, I may have done as you say, but I believe you haven’t a clue what my blog, my outlet of expression and journalism, is. You might think it respectful to see what Justacarguy.blogspot.com is before you damn me as having made the points for William Jeanes. I’m no writer, but understand from the point of perspective of a successful blogger that it’s not necessary to believe that success in media is relative to the years as a magazine or newspaper writer or editor.

      If you had any understanding of the great numbers of failed newspapers and magazines in the past 5 years, the past 10, or the past 200… you’d realize that newspapers and magazines are rarely long term successful, and few last more than a couple decades. Of the biggest of the past, do any thrive? Few if any. Do any look to survive? Few if any.

      Just as Autotrader and Blockbuster were seemingly best at their game, but now bankrupt and out of business… Craigslist and Netflix are the new kings of the hill. In turn, someday they too will disappear.

      You may not have the life experience to discern that just because someone says something, it is not gospel, just an opinion, and W Jeanes opinions aren’t worth anything more than yours or mine.

      I believe I am proof that W Jeanes didn’t know what he was talking about, when he said “Just as certain, no individual one-man or one-woman website can compete, save through copious use of links, with the big guys mentioned above.” Because I have, and am competitive in all the ways that matter with the big guys. I have been ranked in the top 15 best by Ridelust. I am only one guy with no contributors, no team, no advertising, none of the editors, writers, sources, or advantages.

      I am Just a Car Guy, and I am the competition, because I don’t have anyone telling me what I can’t do. No one to answer to. No deadlines to meet, no meetings to sit through.

      I have the admiration and respect of my peers, and the knowledge that one thing makes my blog worth the notice of the “Big Guys” with big payrolls, big staff numbers, and big people to answer to.

      My taste in content is all it takes to compete, because it’s good. I don’t need the office, the pay, the meetings, and advice from others to have better content, that more people enjoy, to beat the competition who have swamped their pages with advertising, lousy stories, endless pages of engine builds, cam comparisons, trans upgrades, etc, ad nauseum. I don’t have to be the best writer of the most eloquent prose, or repay advertisers with using their gear in builds or write ups. I just do what it is that comes natural, enjoy the auto hobby, and let everyone else enjoy what they will. Seems more people like my blog than ANY magazines website. Huh. So much for “Matching the heavyweights” as W Jeanes calls it. They are no match for good content and simple enjoyment of the auto enthusiast world.

      I’m not here (on the internet) to compete with magazines and writers, they have to compete with me to earn their pay and keep their jobs, I just share what I like and it’s up to the writers to compete with my content. I am not relying on the freelance contributors that W Jeanes seems to put down. That is what magazine editors need, not bloggers.

      But as W Jeanes disregards the evolution of publishing from paper to computer, and you don’t seem to

  28. Jack BaruthJune 22, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    Permitting William Jeanes to write the eulogy for print rags is like letting Bill Buckner write a retrospective of the 1986 World Series.

    Mr. Jeanes, I was a Car and Driver subscriber for every moment of your tenure, and I was almost always disappointed by the quality of your magazine’s content. Most of the exaggerated failures attributed to C/D — fawning praise for Honda, psuedo-sexual emperor’s-new-clothing descriptions of everyday Bimmers, tired and cliche-ridden prose — happened under your watch.

    Have you considered the idea, even for a moment, that the delusional belief held by every Ray, Richard, and Lauren out there that *they* can write publication-quality prose was at least partly influenced by the universal mediocrity of *your* efforts? Did you even try to come up to the standards of your predecessors? Were you ever interested in anything other than a paycheck and one hundred and twenty-five different cars a year?

    You’re entitled to your opinion on the bloggers, and like a mildly retarded child throwing Jarts(tm), you’ve managed to spear a few easy targets in your fusillade of futile, feckless complaints. Congratulations. The tribe of autowriters has moved to the next camp, and you’ve been left behind to die in the cold with the rest of the other useless old men. Go ahead and moan about it. I forgive you.

    What I cannot forgive you for is the violence you did to what was my favorite childhood pastime. You found Car and Driver as a thriving, maverick publication and you left it as a mummified parody of itself. You consumed resources which will never again be available to any automotive journalist and you produced nothing I can remember. Thanks for nothing.

  29. Kevin SmithJune 22, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Wow. As if we needed MORE proof that online discourse is (usually) petty and feckless and mean.

  30. Tony AssenzaJune 26, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    William,
    The bottom feeders and pretenders aren’t just killing the car journalism business. They’re killing the language. I wish I could claim I saw it coming in 1990 when I bailed out of the car journo business and landed safely in advertising. I didn’t. But watching its death spiral from the outside, what comes to mind is Truman Capote’s take on a famous hack writer; “That’s not writing. That’s typing.” The “great intro” of an article has now devolved to Search Engine Optimized pablum. The bon mot, the killer sub-reference, the dagger of truth delivered in a memorable metaphor? They don’t give a crap because nobody reads anything except Tweets. The current “writers” don’t bring anything to the party because the pool of personal and literary experience from which they drink from is about an angstrom deep. Based on my reading of these clowns, I wouldn’t hire them to write me a ransom note. If having standards relegates me to the wastelands inhabited by “useless old men,” then I’m staking out a homestead right next to Jeanes. And we’ll have a laugh watching your kind Thelma and Louise yourselves right off the mediocrity cliff.

  31. Tony AssenzaJune 27, 2011 at 7:16 am #

    There’s something in my comment an editor would excise. Can you find it?

    • Stephan WilkinsonJune 27, 2011 at 10:33 am #

      The double “from” in “…from which they drink from…” I also think your closing line needs a bit of work, since it’s unclear to whom the “your kind” refers. but what the hell, I love the rest of your comment, particularly that you point out their lack of “personal and literary experience.” I’ve always felt that a certain amount of cultural reference from which one could draw was important. These people know nothing but cars.

  32. Jack BaruthJune 27, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    “I’ve always felt that a certain amount of cultural reference from which one could draw was important. These people know nothing but cars.”

    Mr. Wilkinson, that’s a tough claim to substantiate. If you can lower yourself enough to attend a “blogger” event, you will find a far greater variety of experience and personality than you would among “real” full-time autojournos.

    I can think of three “autobloggers” who have made a million bucks or more in completely unrelated fields. Others hold day jobs such as:

    * Graphic Artist
    * Club DJ
    * CIO
    * CEO
    * Doctor
    * Attorney
    * Engineers — civil, mechanical, automotive
    * Pilot (just like you and Bax, right?)
    * Model
    * Long-haul trucker
    * and, as the saying goes, many more.

    Is it reasonable to suppose that any one of the above individuals might have a wider cultural background on which to draw than the typical J-school-to-autowriter-to-ad-hack-and-back? Is a radiation oncologist who personally owns two million dollars’ worth of cars likely to have seen more of life and understood more about what it means to buy enthusiast-targeted vehicles than someone whose employers were all color rags or ad companies?

    Mr. Jeanes and Mr. Assenza seem to be falling back on the claim that, although they may no longer be relevant, they simply produced higher-quality content than the current crop of autowriters. The difficulty is that this claim is not supported by the historical record. These men didn’t write anything extraordinary when they were pulling down full-time money and perks to do so. Nor were they expected to. This is not a field which rewards excellence in writing.

    They were hacks then, they are hacks now, and the fact that many of the current writers cannot spell does not magically make William Jeanes a John Dos Passos, it does not retroactively elevate Tony Assenza to Hemingway’s mountain, and it does not change the fact that, when he wrote the phrase quoted above, Capote was talking about people just like them.

    • Justacarguy JesseJune 27, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

      Amen. Cultural background? Yup, in spades.

      I’ve trapped mink, been a reactor mechanic, crewed on 2 submarines, restored Dodge muscle cars from a 69 Bee to a 71 Challenger, installed home theaters, inspected vehciles for bombs, and have 150 poetry books and 2 dozen of radio’s golden age scrapbooks that I’m editing.

      I’ve been awarded best auto blog, photographer of the month, and donated 2 gallons of arm squeezin’s.

      I’ve drag raced on Oahu, Maryland, and So Cal. I’ve been to Bonneville speed week and El Mirage 3 consectutive years. Met G Winfield, Barris, Shelby, and other icons. Great people by the way.

      I just turned 40.

      On the othe hand I could have just went from high school to a newspaper to a magazine and stopped there to vacation until I retire. Yawn.

      Pretentious group these auto journalist writers, it would be hell for them to work a real job, be enlisted while stuck in the damn sand box, or wait tables. They claim to be such important writers, and such incredible editors, yet none have a single book that will ever be referred to in literature by any education institution… not even UTI.

      Harper Lee published one book. What the hell did William Jeanes ever do to compare? Nothing but spark a thread of comments after criticizing bloggers. What a maroon

  33. Stephan WilkinsonJune 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    “…you will find a far greater variety of experience and personality than you would among “real” full-time autojournos.”

    An equally tough claim to substantiate. Next.

  34. Stephan WilkinsonJune 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    Gee, Jesse, I was at the original Beatles Shea Stadium concert. Does that count?

  35. Michael HagertyAugust 19, 2011 at 12:14 am #

    I’ve been a big fan of William Jeanes for 30 years. He knows his stuff, both cars and writing. And seeing the name Tony Assenza in this thread brought back fond memories.

    But there’s a disconnect here that I think is fairly common among people fortunate enough to have lived through (as readers as well as writers) the Golden Age of automotive journalism in print.

    The fact is that while those of us who review automobiles online are writing words for others to read, as William and David E. did, it is a different medium, and it brings with it its own standards, many of which are still in the process of defining and refining themselves.

    Car and Driver didn’t spring, fully realized, off the printing press with its first issue, or even first hundred issues, but grew and improved over time. As will today’s online products.

    And it’s not quite as deprived a world as William paints it. My site is a small, but growing one, about to celebrate its third anniversary. But it reviews only a shade fewer vehicles than C/D’s glory days…we go for 104 minimum over the course of a year. We get close to C/D’s 125. Why? Because the readers deserve the coverage.

    Nor are a bunch of guys “peeling off the pajamas…and professing to be a credible source.” At least not successfully. You can spot those guys midway through the first graph. And the folks who manage the manufacturer press fleets with ever-tighter budgets aren’t going to just throw keys at them.

    The new guys who write well and love cars? Gee, William, maybe they deserve to be heard.

    I’ve been reviewing cars for 14 years, on TV and radio, and now online. My colleagues in the Phoenix area who are also online today are, by and large, the people who were established automotive journalists here when I was the new kid.

    You’re painting with a broad brush, William (and Tony)…and smearing some people (Jack Baruth apparently not included) who count you as an influence and a guide to getting where they are now.