november 2008 newsletter

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the road ahead

Peering down the road at what lies ahead for auto journalists would ignore the obvious: the big block in the road for the auto industry itself. True or not, self-inflicted or The Road Ahead: What Lies Ahead for Auto Journalists?a consequence of the extreme economic downturn, Detroit’s need for a bailout, rescue plan or loan has filled the media with fear statistics akin to the Treasury’s plea for helping Wall Street. Warren Brown’s widely reprinted Washington Post column provides a more human perspective on what the domestic auto industry has meant to America. Titled: “An America Without Manufacturing Becomes A Starkly Divided Society,” it makes the point that along with building cars the domestic auto industry built the black middle class, providing steady work and reliable incomes that allowed workers to buy homes, educate their children and enjoy hope. As a self-described black child of the South he tells of watching “legions of neighbors and relatives flee economic apartheid in pursuit of opportunity in the automobile factories of Michigan and Ohio and in the steel plants of Pennsylvania and Indiana.

"People who left the South as field hands to become factory hands spawned generations of teachers, doctors, lawyers, technicians, engineers, inventors, designers, scientists, politicians -- and more than a few journalists. A country without a viable manufacturing infrastructure, a nation lacking a commitment to excellence and innovation in manufacturing could not have authored such progress.”

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times Columnist David Brooks, the yin and yang of Jim Lehrer’s PBS TV News Hour, Shields from the left and Brooks from the right, agreed that Detroit should get help. They also agreed that it should be helped but with conditions and that Detroit as we know it will be restructured and vastly different within five years. They see a need for controls from outside of the industry but questioned if one man could be wise enough to be a “Car Czar.”

Expecting top executives to remedy the situation they helped create is denying the ego, arrogance and aggressiveness that drove them to the top and fits Einstein’s definition of insanity. Those same qualities would defend their past decisions and obstruct change. Lee Iacocca was able to do it at Chrysler (and repay Government–backed loans with interest) because, in addition to his talents, he was not vested in the leadership that put the company in need of Government help.

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new roads

New online-only publication UberDrive Magazine is readying its second issue for early December. Currently a bi-monthly for enthusiasts of all stripes it accents the experience a vehicle provides more than its provenance and destination. For example, editor Donald Roy says: “We will focus on how it feels driving the Baja 1,000 or climbing Pike’s Peak. Instead of skid pad numbers we’ll report on how a car handles in the rain or on a washboard road.” Downplaying the numbers is somewhat surprising since Roy previously was technical editor for Modified Mustang before Source Interlink closed its Toronto office. Since that time Roy has been busy building a network of writers and photographers and expects to go monthly next April. His West Coast Editor is Allan Crocket. Roy can be reached at

Ricardo Rodriguez-Long has launched, the first and only Spanish language news blog dedicated to providing newspapers and consumers with news and information about all new types of transportation that minimize the use of petroleum based fuels. "Hybrids, Electric, CNG, BioFuel vehicles, there is so much happening in transportation technology right now that the consumer needs to understand what the future will bring," said Rodriquez-Long.

Wooden Horse News reports: Hometown Hot Rod Magazine is a new bi-monthly that targets car enthusiasts. The publication features traditional hot rods, customs, events, and people and places from the US Midwest. John Nolan is the editor of the title, which is published by Lucy n Punk Inc. and is sold in bookstores in the US and Canada, and by subscription. Current circulation of 6,000 is expected to increase to 10,000 by summer . . . Late Model Illustrated will debut in mid-November. The monthly is aimed at the dirt late model community and will include tech articles, new products, and coverage of regional and national race events. Tim Lee is the editor of the monthly, which will be published by McLeod Media LLC and be distributed nationally at trade shows, racetracks, selected banquets, major dirt late model events, and by subscription

Also from Wooden Horse: W904 debuted as a bimonthly in Jan. The glossy targets upper-level managers, executives and professionals in northeast FL,  and subscribers to Jacksonville Magazine, publisher of W904. Automobiles are included in the regular content. Joseph White is the editor. Freelance writers can send queries to him at . . . Fleet Solutions has replaced Fleet Executive as the official publication of NAFA Fleet Management Association. The re-branded bimonthly targets automotive fleet managers and includes new editorial content focusing on asset management, business management, financial management, fleet information management, maintenance management, risk management, vehicle fuel management, and professional development. Jason Zawada is the editor of the magazine, which is distributed in the US and Canada.

Former Autobytel road test editor Bob Beamesderfer launched his new blog: Key To The Highway,, in November with his first blog calling for comeuppance for GM executives
and significant concessions by the UAW if GM gets the $25 billion government bailout it seeks.


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the tom-tom

Autowriters.Com invites readers to submit their own Clog
(Online Column).  Your reward: a byline and an audience of your peers.  All submissions are acknowledged, queued
and used at the editor’s discretion. 

Paul Weissler, IMPA Membership Chairman, responds to the anonymous veteran member who last month questioned the professionalism of some of the newer members in attendance at IMPA’s recent Test Days.

What It Means To Be An IMPA Member

I obviously don't know who the IMPA member is who questioned the online members we have, but he doesn't have to fear giving his name. People often ask me how we qualify members with online credentials as journalists, and the basic rule is simple: you have to be earning "bill-paying money" for your work (as opposed to some nominal amounts that might cover a McDonald's lunch). That's our definition of a "professional," and my membership co-chair Shari Hartford, who processes the applications, is relentless in vetting applicants for that qualification, as well as determining validity of "clips" submitted.

The Tom-Tom: Paul Weissler, IMPA Membership Chairman

Paul Weissler

If you're running a website, it has to be as a money-making venture. We check web traffic rankings, review content and look for a "revenue stream" that would justify the time invested as a professional venture. Further, I have personally done face-to-face interviews with applicants. We also work with car makers to check their assessments, but the final call is that of the membership committee. And believe me, we turn down a lot of membership applications every year, including people to whom the car makers lend cars. All that said, we don’t require that you earn your primary income from automotive journalism, only that you have recent clips and earn professional pay for it.

Although most of our journalist members are writers/editors, photographers or artists, we even have members who do other work that results in automotive journalism, including engineering evaluations, even testing cars for TV and magazines.

If you’re a staffer on a general interest magazine or lifestyle website, your automotive work might be 25% of what you do, even less. That’s fine with us, so long as you’re doing automotive on some sort of regular basis and can produce recent “clips.” Even our officers, who are enthusiasts, may fit into that category. And I remember one applicant who confessed his automotive weakness, but said his lifestyle magazine was running automotive copy regularly.  He had to edit it, and he wanted to join IMPA to get a better feel for the industry.

Freelancers just have to show recent automotive clips, and here again we don’t expect you to be 100% automotive (even though I personally am).

Our requirements for PR admissions are outwardly simple: you qualify if you work in a PR capacity for a car company, automotive parts maker, or a large wholesale or retail auto parts marketer. Large enough is somewhat subjective and we do occasionally have trouble with this one. We also have a category called PR Support, which is intended to cover the account execs at the companies that prep and deliver the press pool cars and stage events.

Further, we have a membership review committee that each fall looks at ALL members, and unless a member gets a current activity signoff from the committee, that member must submit a new set of "clips" to renew membership. We usually decline to renew a significant number of existing members.

Yes, "lifestyle" journalists may cause rolling of the eyes among many of us with strong product and/or auto business backgrounds, but if they're doing automotive lifestyle stuff and getting paid for it, yes they qualify. And as I said in my previous letter to your newsletter, if they show up at IMPA meetings and attend Test Days, they'll learn and hopefully become more knowledgeable. We all were beginners once.

Do we occasionally make mistakes with applicants? Have to admit it happens, although rarely, but recently we did cancel a couple of memberships on the qualifications issue, and refunded the dues money.

We also have a category called “IMPA Elders,” a handful of long-time members who are retired (usually ex-officers) who wish to retain their membership. They paid “their dues” (and they continue to pay annual dues). Of course, we all remember Jerry Flint’s “retirement party” about a decade ago. Jerry’s definition of retired seems to be “collect a pension and keep working.”

That’s it. I think IMPA membership procedures are transparent. The usual complaint is that they’re too tight, because we reject many applicants. But my reasoning is that we’re justified, because the automotive industry invests a lot of money in IMPA programs, on the basis of our work to maintain a qualified membership.

Comments? Please go to:

 Tom-Tom rants, raves, rambles and ruminations are volunteered and express the opinions of the writer.


road signs

Wooden Horse reports AutoWeek has reduced its frequency to bi-weekly effective with the January 5, 2009 issue, but will not change its name. "Modifying the frequency of the magazine's distribution allows us to focus on more comprehensive editorial features and vehicle reviews," said vice president and publisher KC Crain.  . . .U.S.News and World Reports will be online only next year. . . . Executives at this year’s American Magazine Conference predicted more magazine closings than openings during 2009. Niche spin-offs like Vogue For Men and Sports Illustrated for Kids soon will be history and more to follow as ad pages dwindle and when environmentalists focus on the connection between paper-making and global climate change.

The AP has inked a deal with U.S. Cellular to provide international, national and local news on a web site accessible through the wireless carrier’s To Go, nWeb browser and newly launched mobile browser. . . . Press releases are being co-opted as online marketing tools according to a recent survey by Media Post. Once zealously guarded by PR professionals to avoid crossing the line between advertising and editorial, press releases are valued by marketing professionals today for doing just that, carrying their message directly to consumers via online media. One reason for their using press releases to get their message out -  ad budgets are down and going down.

Alan Mutter (aka Newsosaur), a former Chicago and San Francisco newspaper man and now CEO of a Silicon Valley firm, notes that newspapers can’t survive by abandoning print, given that 90% of their revenue comes from print ads and to break even they would have to triple their online sales – two thirds of which come from ad-on sales to customers who are buying advertising in the print product. To make an industry average 15% profit Mutter says newspapers would have to quadruple their online advertising revenue. . . . From a recent Doonesbury comic strip, “It’s tough to leverage a byline in a media environment where anyone who can type gets a byline. I’m competing for eyeballs with millions of narcissists.” That may be one reason why auto makers are putting money into regional event marketing, as Karl Greenberg notes in Media Daily. The events can focus on a specific product and message targeted to specific consumer groups.’s Nancy Herther quotes Christian Science Monitor editor John Yemma on the paper switching to Web-only editions during the week along with Email and a weekend print edition, "the old business model for print journalism is broken." She said the Monitor staff and its church leaders see the internet offering a "tremendous opportunity" for true global distribution of news and information, the Monitor's core mission.


AWcom for targeted news release distribution.

autowriters spotlight

When doors started closing for newspaper auto writers, managing partners Jeff Melnychuk and Malcolm Gunn saw them opening for their Wheelbase Communications Ltd.. Begun in 1995 as a part-time venture while both were working for a large, multinational newspaper corporation, it is proving to be a savvy combination of talents that is successfully filling a growing need created by widespread newspaper staffing cuts. Melnychuk is an award-winning newspaper graphic designer and news editor (a rare combination), while Gunn’s lengthy

Autowriters Spotlight: Jeff Melnychuk


Jeff Melnychuk

background in newspaper advertising sales management helped provide the fledgling operation with the necessary marketing lift-off.

Originally based in British Columbia and now in Moncton, New Brunswick, Wheelbase focused on providing needed automotive content for Canadian dailies. The operational base rapidly expanded to include United Sates newspapers. The company was incorporated as Wheelbase Communications Ltd. in 1998 and became a full-time operation in 2000. At that point, both partners resigned their newspaper management positions to concentrate exclusively on expanding the company’s activities.

Understanding and responding to the automotive-related needs of North American newspapers and enriching the information they, in turn, provide their readers is the company’s primary strength. They know their audience and both Melnychuk and Gunn firmly believe that reader interaction and involvement must be a key element in every automotive section and that any newspaper that ignores this basic philosophy invariably finds both its readership and its advertising revenues under direct attack.

The combination of their shared passion for all things automotive and their lengthy newspaper experience enables them to produce sections with outstanding eye appeal and upbeat features that invite readers into an auto section and whet their appetites for cars without offending dealer advertisers.

Autowriters Spotlight: Malcolm Gunn

Malcolm Gunn

With that in mind, Wheelbase has, over the years, developed a diverse assortment of weekly, seasonal, and annual automotive-themed features that educate and entertain readers and assist newspapers in developing a welcoming environment for their automotive sections. The company focuses on imaginative, easy to comprehend features and attractive design. Far from providing just copy and text, Wheelbase-generated stories and articles are designed to jump off the page and into the reader’s consciousness.

With newspapers constantly seeking ways to streamline and consolidate their operations and instituting staffing reductions, Wheelbase Communications has been called upon to provide content for an increasing number of mastheads. Today, it is the largest operation of its kind on the continent. The company serves a virtual who’s who of North American papers, including some of the largest names and organizations in the business. Although the company specializes in print, it is increasingly supplying a growing number of newspaper online sites with a variety of features as well.

It does so with the help of dedicated staffers (Courtney Hansen and Rhonda Wheeler are regular columnists) plus a number of free-lance writers and artists, all of whom share in the company’s vision of creating timely features that are interesting to read and enhance the quality of the newspapers in which they appear. Freelancers are welcome to query Malcolm Gunn:



pit notes

Dan Jedlicka continues writing about autos for the Chicago Sun Times as he has since 1968 but now will do so from home. His new email address is . . . John Biel of Publications International was quick to point out that the recent handsome edition of Collectible Automobile with a “25” in the logo was not the Anniversary issue Itself ( as reported here last month along with the misspelling of its publisher’s name) – just a masthead teaser for the months leading up to the celebratory milestone issue coming in April ’09 under the watchful eye of the originator and continuous publisher, Frank Peiler.

The drop in Source Interlink’s stock to 0.335 per share may have something to do with Richard Truesdell’s rant in last month’s Newsletter about his being paid once for an article used twice in different publications from the supermarket distributor and publisher’s stable of many titles. Truesdell's lament prompted an “Amen" from LandSpeed Louise Noeth who wrote, “It made me recall the same crap Petersen Publishing used to put us through 20 years ago. If the writers and photogs and illustrators don't hang together, the publishers will surely hang us one by one.”

The long running weekly AutoLine TV show launched the world’s first daily global automotive newscast. Hosted by Autoline’s John McElroy, a new five-minute Autoline Daily is posted at noon every day, Monday through Friday and can be automatically delivered to your computer or mobile device. . . . . ImpreMedia auto editor Camilo Alfaro advises that Andres Oneil in Puerto Rico and Carlos Guzman in Miami help produce the automotive content for the publisher’s 7 newspapers that reach two thirds of the U.S, Hispanic market via the web and print.

Sobre Ruedas award winners in 14 vehicle categories will be announced during this week’s Florida International Auto Show in Miami. Sobre Ruedas is an automotive magazine distributed by Spanish newspapers in the nation’s top 8 Hispanic markets. . . . has re-launched with

SAMA Cheers Kids - Photo by J.Mota/Univsion

SAMA Cheers Kids

a new design to better serve minority car buyers and enthusiasts. . . . SAMA members’ first “Rides ‘N’ Smiles” event brought both to young patients at the Baptist Hospital of Miami and their parents with an afternoon of new car rides at Homestead Miami Speedway. . . . BFSRetail and Commercial Operations were recognized by the EPA for recycling over319,000 pounds of lead wheel weights in 2007 and for its nearly 2,000 stores switching to non-toxic steel weights to replace millions of lead weights annually.

Brenda Priddy advises that the Ebay auction she has been running for injured Detroit auto journalist Frank Washington has raised more than $8,000 to help defray some of his expenses while recovering from a brutal mugging earlier this year. Jim Dunne is splitting the costs of the auction with her so that all proceeds go to Washington. She has more items to post and welcomes more. Contact her at: to donate auction items.

Veteran auto journalist Julie Candler won 38% of the vote in her first try for office, running for State Representative against a Republican fixture from her home district in the Detroit suburbs. Not bad for a newcomer but truly impressive as Detroit News reporter Marney Rich Keenan notes for a woman not only old enough to be the mother of her 54-year-old opponent but old enough to be John McCain’s mom. At age 88 Candler has been an automotive journalist since 1960. And still is. She just polished off an auto show piece for Corp’ Magazine.


lane changes

Sam Moses is now editor-at-large for Paul Pfanner and Jay Penske’s new web site He will cover first drives (launches) and other assignments and will continue to contribute to dot com New Car Test Drive. According to a recorded message on the editor’s phone line, American Driver Magazine has suspended publication but is searching for funds with which to resume. . . . Lauren Fix (AKA “the Car Coach”) is now Automotive Editor-In-Chief of CarZen, “The Internet’s powerful simple car search engine for women.” She is an ASE and SAE member and a co-host of "Female Driven” a new show on Lifetime Television . . . . Kevin Smith has moved from GM to Lotus Cars USA, Inc. in Duluth. GA. where he is now Director of Marketing and PR Communications. E-mail:

Steven Ashley advises he has switched from technical editor to consulting editor for Scientific American and now works from home where he has a new email address: He will freelance on corporate and journalistic projects as well. . . . Sanford Newlin succeeds Sean Wood covering the auto industry at the San Antonio Express News. . . . Mike Willins has replaced Dru Barrios as editor at Advanstar’s Off Road Magazine. . . . Rob Kunkle has departed Makes and Models. Publisher Sam Ballinger now edits as well.

Santa Barbara, Calif.'s, Coastal Woman Magazine which regularly published car reviews, shuttered in September. . . . Alisia Priddle has moved somewhat closer to her Windsor, Canada home by switching from Car and Driver to the Detroit News where she replaced Eric Morath covering Chrysler. . . . Michael Volpe succeeds Jennifer Bellantonio as auto editor for the Orange County (Calif.) Business Journal. . . . The weekly car review at the Ardmore, Okla. Daily Ardmorite, is now the responsibility of managing editor Jeff Hall.

Bill Ayers is long gone and with him his car coverage at the Abilene Reporter News. . . . Evette Chag is the new contact at the Houston Defender, supplanting departed Darrell Ardison. Joe Guy Collier has moved on from The Detroit Free Press and Brent Snavely has replaced him. . . . Alexandria Burris now edits the Sunday auto section at the Opelousas Daily World. . . .Vincente De Lacruz has replaced Jorge Mederos at La Raza Newspaper in Chicago . . . . Woman Motorist is now New Car Buying Guide. Brian Leshon is the editor at . . .  Charlie Vogelheim has departed J.D. Power & Associates. He can be reached at

Jim Redden succeeds Dennis Pittsonparger as automotive correspondent at The Portland (Or.) Tribune. . . . Corina Brooks is now responsible for the weekly Drive section at the Bremerton (Wash.) Sun. Tom Whitehurst is the auto contact at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. . . . Jamie Jernigan has replaced the retired Bernie Marinovich at the Sun Herald in Biloxi. Miss. . . . New Email addresses: Dawn Stover:; Martin Padgett; Bob Golfen:; Alan Wellikoff:  Tom LaPointe;


- 30-


Glenn F. Campbell

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19 MPG, Breakfast, Los Angeles Auto Show
19 WAPA, Luncheon, National Press Club, D.C., Nat'l Auto Dealers Assoc.
19-20 Press Days, Los Angeles Auto Show
20 IMPA, Luncheon, 3 West Club, New York City, NY, Standard & Poor's U/S/ Equity Research Group


2 NEMPA, Holiday Party, Boston, MA
2 MPG, Dean Batchelor Award Banquet, Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, Pomona, CA
2 SAE International Motorsports Engineering Conference, Concord, NC
7 SAMA, Holiday Boat Cruise & Party, Miami, FL
10 APA, Luncheon, Detroit AC, CSM< Worldwide
20 IMPA Meeting, NYC

January 2009

11-13 NAIS Press Review, Detroit, MI
15 MAMA, Annual Business Meeting Outlook, Oakbrook, IL
19-20 Automotive News World Congress


motoring press organizations

The 14 regional automotive press associations provide information and background not easily found elsewhere.
  If they are too distant to attend their meetings, belonging usually gives you access to transcripts or reports of these events and other benefits.


Automotive Press Association, Detroit - Katie Kerwin


International Motor Press Association, NYC, Fred Chieco, President -,


Midwest Automotive Media Association, Chicago -


Motor Press Guild, Los Angeles -


New England Motor Press Association, Boston -


Northwest Automotive Press Association, Port Orchard, WA-


Phoenix Automotive Press Association, Phoenix, Cathy Droz, President- 


Rocky Mountain Automotive Press, Denver -


Southern Automotive Media Association, Miami FL, Ron Beasley, President,


Southeast Automotive Media Organization, Charlotte, NC


Texas Auto Writers Association, Harold Gunn, 


Truck Writers of North America, Tom Kelley, Executive Director,


Western Automotive Journalists, San Francisco  -, Ron Harrison


Washington Automotive Press Association, D.C., Joe Phillips-

across the finish line

Dave Wilkins, a well-liked Goodyear PR stalwart, moved on recently after a short fight with cancer.


talk back

“A true journalist organization wouldn’t involve automotive PR people at any level, apart from scheduling specific events. Nothing wrong with a group involving both, but name it correctly and set-up a few rules to regulate the group. And if it’s a national group, it’s critical to hire some professionals who know how to run a large organization. SEMA’s done a good job of that.”

Steve Parker

(Parker also wants to make it clear he was joking about selling press kits. He says he would never do that.)

“I suspect the basic problem with a national organization is that it can't put on events that attract a national attendance. In a more prosperous year, our Test Days program would draw dozens of PR people from Detroit, California, etc. for regional networking with our journalist attendees. This year, the PR attendance was primarily regional, just a handful of outsiders. Sure, we'll do chit-chat with a national communicator, such as your newsletter, but we have our own (IMPA) communications, plus the days of email commenting that goes on periodically within the 50 of us who are NAC&TOY jurors. From what I can see, the other regional associations do pretty much the same thing, and there also is no shortage of inter-association networking opportunities at the big auto shows. But if it's your dream, hey go ahead and pursue it. I have been known to be wrong, and at the least, I can see where a national newsletter could profitably be operated by offering advertising opportunities, particularly for promotion of press events at automotive shows.”

Paul Weissler

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