I went home to Arkansas this past weekend for a friend's wedding. This post has nothing to do with the trip other than the drive from Austin to Hot Springs will swallow your soul, the 2005 Toyota Corolla CE is without a doubt the single most boring piece of consumer machinery that has ever been conceived, built and sold in this country, and seeing my old Saab 92x is like seeing an old girlfriend who's married someone else (I certainly don't want her back after the hell she's been through, but that doesn't prevent a few fond memories form tainting any rational response).
No, this is about automotive journalism. Automotive enthusiast journalism, rather. You see, I had a layover in Dallas during the flight back. I decided to see what was what in the magazine rack and decided on European Car Magazine. It's been about four years since I let my Automobile and Car & Driver subscriptions lapse, so I am willfully oblivious to what is going on in the traditional publishing arena. For $6 it was a better investment than Cinnabon. The mag is published by Source Interlink, formerly Primedia, formerly Petersen Publishing. It was a famished looking waif of a book, maybe 100 pages, two-thirds of them ads. There were two features of more than five pages, a couple of build-up and restoration pieces, a bit of news.
I don't expect Dan Neil or Ezra Dyer to write very automotive article published these days, but I hold out a bit of hope for some degree of creativity and originality in an enthusiast mag. This isn't Consumer Reports, after all. I'd hoped the more gonzo stylings of blogs like Jalopnik had lit a small fire under the tuchuses of the luddites. What I found would have caused my college journalism teachers to reflexively gag. Basic grammar and copy-editing errors. Bizarre layouts. Rote, recycled prose. The only words that come to mind are lazy and sad. My wife likes to goad me when I become a whinging, morose heap. Sad turtle. That's how I felt both reading the magazine and about it.
The death knell of American automotive journalism, according to some purists, was Csaba Csere's firing of Brock Yates from Car & Driver. Yates is an ass, but he's also an enthusiast on fire. Avid readers seem to agree a mild renaissance occurred in the late 90s with the advent of Sport Compact Car Magazine under Dave Coleman and Josh Jacquot. Technically well-versed but relaxed and conversational, the book promoted the same sort of gonzo enthusiasm that likely gave rise to the blogs that sustain and nourish the enthusiast community now. Ill-advised comparisons and contests coupled with admiration of the show up and race mentality of pre-commercialized racing might have fostered the LeMons ad Chump Car series.
Maybe that's a stretch... but I recognize the same mentalist mentality that simultaneously asks Why not? and How hard can it be? I suppose credit has to go to Top Gear and even Grassroots Motorports for that. Or maybe the frenzy of rulemaking in more traditional sanctioned racing series like SCCA and NASA that led to an exodus of casual drivers from their ranks.
The print medium is faltering. So what? Does the medium have to be the message? What's the difference between writing for a traditional print mag or writing for a blog? Deadlines? Why is it I see a better quality of writing and editing at Jalopnik? More interesting concepts for pieces? Of course the blog is going to beat the print book to the punch when it comes to breaking news, but what's the excuse for quality photography? It doesn't really matter how the content is published. Right?