A few weeks ago I spent 5 days working at the Haymarket offices in Teddington. It was my first opportunity to see how a magazine works and I’m not afraid to admit that at first I was terrified! I’ve got to be honest, I don’t read Autocar that often as it caters towards a more technically knowledgeable audience. I just about know how to change a tire, so that counts me out.
Regardless of this fact, I turned up at 10.30 on the Monday morning before being shown around and briefly introduced to each of the team members. The first thing I was tasked with was to have a look around the internet and see what’s going on in the motoring world to see if there was any news stories that Autocar hadn’t yet covered.
The first thing I found was about a styling pack for the Bentley Conti GT and Alex Kersten, the Junior reporter, asked me to write a story for it. As this was my first attempt at writing a story, especially with Autocar’s particularly all-fact-no-frills ‘house style’, it was perhaps no surprise that my article was not used… Nevertheless that afternoon I sat with Allan Muir who talked me through all the subbing that goes on, and how the pages go between them and the colourists (an external company) before finally being given the green light for publication.
Tuesday I helped write a small section of the magazine, ‘In The Classifieds’, for the new vs old feature. In this case they compared a brand new SLK drop-top against a mid-noughties Maserati GranCabrio that can now be bought for around the same price. I had to find 3 Masers and summarise their advert text into around 25 words. Was pretty satisfying to pick up the magazine at work the next week and see my words down on the page! I had also been asked to write a brief summary of the weekend’s Formula 1 action, which I noticed had been put online when I got home, so all in all a quite satisfying day!
Wednesday was brilliant. By far and away the highlight of the week just confirmed what I had already decided – I really want to be a motoring journalist! And to be more precise, a road tester. I arrived at Longcross Test Track at 9am and pulled in among some brilliant metal. A BMW 1M (more on that in a moment!), a Jaguar XF, BMW Z4 and Porsche Boxster S before the Merc SLK and Bentley Convertible joined shortly after me. My little 106 had never looked so out of place!
The plan for the day was to spend the morning doing tracking and static shots at the track before heading to Shropshire for some more scenic photography in the afternoon. Fortunately it was a lovely day as we were doing a triple test between the Porsche, Merc and BMW – all convertibles. It was also convenient as I spent a lot of time standing around watching static shots (although it was quite interesting to see the meticulous preperation undertaken for even the simplest photos).
Then possibly the highlight of my life, let alone my week. Steve Sutcliffe, the most highly regarded driver in Autocar’s employment, screeched up next to me.
Steve: “Are you the guy on work experience?”
Me: “I am, yeah.”
Steve: “Jump in. Allan asked me to take you out…”
I tried to act cool but couldn’t hide the massive grin that had taken over my face. Steve said he wasn’t going to go too mad, which was a lie. And if it wasn’t a lie I’d LOVE to experience him actually going mad! Started out relatively easy as we drove onto the track where we chatted about what I was up to and my university course. And then we got to the first corner, at which point he dropped it a gear and accelerated. The tires squealed in disdain as they grappled for grip, at which point my inane ramblings about why I chose Huddersfield ceased mid sentence. My smile was now ear to ear and so was Steve’s. We then turned off the main track into what he called ‘the snake’, at which point he put his foot down, the back stepped out, and he held it for what seemed like forever. I hadn’t been expecting that! He straightened up and turned around and repeated this 3 more times. Amazing.
On the third attempt he carried the slide on further than before, picking out a small road between the overgrown rough surface with incredible precision. Sideways. The car straightened up perfectly at the start of this stretch of track and hit a puddle that momentarily blinded us. Steve’s talent was seriously impressive, particularly apparent as he told me “it’s actually not as hard as it seems, you just need to practice.” Mid slide…
After he dropped me off again, Vicky Parrot, a road tester, told me to jump in the Porsche with her. Not a bad day, then. Roof down, we left the test track and it was really interesting sitting and chatting with her about how she got the job and she was really friendly. It’s weird how you kind of put these people on pedestals but they really are just normal people!
After an M&S road side sandwich we, along with Stan the photographer and Richard who had been brought in to drive the third car, finished the trip to Shropshire. Much to my surprise we turned off down past Stonehenge, which I’d never seen in real life. Quite interesting really. Richard was also a really nice guy, I would say he is a couple of years ahead of me career wise and I got on really well with him. He was saying how he’d done a couple of stints at Autocar on work experience, and after the second week they had asked him if we would drive from time to time. It doesn’t pay as well as writing but gives you invaluable experience and, let’s be honest, I can think of worse ways to spend a day. You basically drive a car with the road testers to a location to help with photographs, though he did say that sometimes on particularly long days you can spend 6, 7 maybe even 8 or more hours driving, at which point you tend to start hating whatever it is you’re driving, no matter how much fun it was at the start of the day!
The last couple of days were fairly uneventful, I wrote an email out to entrants for Autocar-Courland’s Work Experience competition and impressed the marketing guy with my basic HTML knowledge, which was nice. I also went through the year’s flat-plans of every Autocar magazine released to find ‘green car’ articles, although I kinda fucked this one up as I only found about half of them… oh well, I’d never even heard of a flat-plan before, let alone read one and interpreted it, so I’ll know better for next time I suppose..! I also wrote a little bit about new gear that was available to buy, all motoring related, to go in the magazine. I think it will probably be in the current magazine, but I haven’t had a chance to have a look yet, so hopefully it was up to scratch!
The final day saw my first proper news article posted on the site. Everyone had a “shit-storm of work”, to quote one staffer, as it was the Goodwood Festival of Speed that weekend, so I was kind of at a loose end on the Friday. In the afternoon I noticed a press release about a new Alfa MiTo, so I wrote a story about it and emailed it over to Alex who was pleased with it. Brilliant! I’d finally got the no frills style down and he said he would post it on the site. Was nice to see my name up on the site and Autocar’s faithful fans commenting on it also made me feel pretty chuffed!
So upon reflection, in all honesty, I could have done a lot better. Looking back I know I didn’t make enough of a nuisance of myself and pester enough people, but this was my first time so its all still a learning process. The problem I found was that, as its a weekly publication, everyone was incredibly busy pretty much all of the time. This kind of put me off because a few times I went round and people were often too busy at that moment and I kind of felt a bit useless wandering back to my seat. I’d love to go back, though. It was a brilliant experience and I want the chance to prove myself again. I’m going to continue to apply for experience at other publications as well.
I love being at work, having a purpose and something to work towards is really important to me. Being in that environment was incredibly stimulating and I can’t wait to have another chance! My confidence is building all the time…