Rick Popely’s auto writing career began at the junction of opportunity and necessity when he saw a blind ad for a writer who was an auto buff. Out of work, he deemed a passing interest in cars sufficient to reply. Twenty-seven years later he hopes to return to that providential intersect after being
cut along with 40 other Chicago Tribune staffers in August.
This time, however, he brings some impressive credentials to reporting and commenting on automobiles from either the consumer or the business side of the industry. Schooled in journalism, he was editor of the campus daily while a senior at Eastern Illinois University and pursued newspaper journalism for six years, working his way as a reporter from smaller to larger circulation papers when family responsibilities required that he resign from the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle and return to the Chicago area.
That’s where he spotted the blind ad, replied and was hired by Consumer Guide publisher, Publications International, Ltd. He advanced to editor and writer for 12 Consumer Guide publications annually that evaluated quality and performance of new and used vehicles, safety features and fuel economy. He supervised a staff of five direct reporters and assisted in managing a 13-person department and vehicle test program.
After 16 years, he was emboldened to try free-lancing and for the next four years wrote for three major dailies, Kiplinger, Cars.Com web site and others. When one of his contacts at the Tribune said the paper was adding a second auto section and was looking for someone to write for it, he asked them to look no further. During the next seven plus years he explored the psychology as well as the demographics of car buyers and later, switched to the business side, covering the industry’s financial, manufacturing, labor relations and sales and marketing.
Exploring the emotions that motivate consumers fascinate him. “like the guy who buys a full-size pickup to haul a few bags of mulch once a year.” So does learning about labor contracts and the financial realities – “why things are the way they are in the industry.” Currently freelancing, he’d like a post that would make use of his experience but acknowledges that may require moving from the Chicago area.