If there’s someone out there undecided about becoming an auto writer, Dave Sedgwick’s recounting of his career should tip the scales.
Many journalists get involved in automotive reporting because they love cars. I got involved because it was such a great story. It was in the late 1980s, and I was a business reporter for the Detroit News.
An opening came up for an automotive reporter, and I jumped at the opportunity. In Detroit, any business journalist with ambition wanted to cover the Big Story.
One of my first assignments was to cover the 1989 Detroit auto show. Until then, the show had been relatively low-key. But the organizers finally decided to go big-time, and encouraged foreign automakers to participate.
Toyota and Nissan responded with back-to-back world introductions of their new luxury brands, Lexus and Infiniti.
It was a hell of a show, and I was hooked. During the newspaper strike of 1995, I moved from the Detroit News to Automotive News, where I held various jobs as reporter and editor.
At Automotive News, I had an opportunity to see the car business as a global industry. I covered auto shows in Frankfurt, Geneva, Paris, Tokyo, Beijing and Shanghai. And I had an opportunity to tour plants and meet executives in places like Brazil, Argentina and Thailand.
The ride-and-drives were fun, too. Years ago, I had a chance to drive through Death Valley in a Ford Contour SVT (of all things) with Parnelli Jones riding shotgun. He knew that area like the back of his hand.
All good things must come to an end, and I got laid off from Automotive News in June of 2009. Like other publications, Automotive News got financially hammered by the recession, and it had to downsize.
Currently I am editor of AutoBeat Europe, a daily newsletter for auto executives. I also freelance articles for AOL’s automotive website. So I’m making enough to pay my bills, and I still have fun.
What does the future hold? I don’t believe that journalism is dead, but there’s no question it will never be the same. In Detroit, the two daily newspapers — the Detroit News and the Free Press — have shrunk drastically. They’re not going to return to their former glory days, when they each had a circulation of 650,000-plus.
Business publications like Automotive News aren’t immune to change, either.
So what does it take for a journalist to prosper? I got a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri in 1977. It was useful training back then, and I think journalism school remains useful today.
In 1977 I got my first job at the Adrian Telegram, a small newspaper where I did some reporting, editing, page layout, photography and editorials. This was a huge help to me in two ways: I learned how to meet daily deadlines, and I learned how to be versatile.
Those two fundamental skills are still in demand. It’s the delivery system — i.e. the Web, Twitter, blogs, etc. — that has been revolutionized. These days, a successful journalist has to be both prolific and versatile — a combination photographer, videographer, writer, reporter, whatever.
It also helps to have the mindset of an entrepreneur. Even if you are a full-time staffer in a media corporation, you should look for opportunities to expand your expertise.
Which is what I’m doing now. I’ve purchased a video camera, and I’m going to get some lessons. Stay tuned.