The utterly brilliant photographs in this article were taken by Steinhardt Photography. Go check out his tribe/website/facebook if you like beautiful images. Camera monkeys don't get any better than this guy.
So you want to be a journalist? You're pretty handy on a bike, can get your knee down without even trying and you can string a sentence together without sending the spell-checker into meltdown. Congratulations, a career in journalism awaits!
A little bit about me. I worked as a Staff Writer at a national motorcycling magazine for a couple of years and before that wrote for my own local bike magazine. In that time I got to know a bit about the industry. So without further ado, here's some tips!
The quickest way into journalism is to do it yourself, in the form of a Blog or Vlog. Printed magazines are struggling, big time. Applying for work with the big titles will get you nowhere. Would you believe it, there's this new website called DriveTribe where you can even post your own reviews and videos! If your work is good, you'll find opportunities come your way.
What's the money like?
It goes without saying, you shouldn't ask this when applying for a job in journalism. If financial reward is a priority, you're in the wrong game. My starting salary was £12,000. Living in London... This meant I had to live in a crazy French lady's spare room whilst allowing her to touch me up every week, barely being able to afford to eat. That said, it was a job where it was worth making sacrifices. My salary never exceeded £17,000.
Do I need to be able to write?
If you're after a career in journalism, this has to be the most important factor. Unless you make it as a vlogger, it's essential to be good with words. Spelling and grammar need to be faultless as it's the first thing an editor looks for when a contributor hands over their work. (I realise I've just tied my own noose with this one...) A passion for telling stories and writing in general is a good starting point. The ability to write is definitely preferable to being able to get your elbow down for a shot.
Do I get a free bike and free gear?
One thing a magazine writer has access to is lots of the latest and greatest motorcycles on the market. Unless it's a limited-run bit of exotica like an H2R or a Superleggera, you can probably get your hands on it from the manufacturer's press fleet. There were also long-term test bikes being tested over the course of the year. During that time I would make as many modifications to it as possible to see which ones worked and which didn't.
Journalists are a spoiled bunch and pay for absolutely nothing. Those test bikes you see in the magazines being fitted with Power Commanders, Akrapovic exhausts and carbon-fibre wheels? They're all blagged from the companies and everything except for tyres and clothing gets handed back at the end of the year, including the bikes themselves of course. It seems crazy that Ohlins or BST will hand over products worth thousands of pounds doesn't it? The reality is these articles are responsible for a large chunk of their sales. Most companies actually ask you very nicely if you'd be willing to use their stuff.
The KTM 1290 SuperDuke R was another perk of the job. The leathers, helmet, boots, gloves, tyres and fuel were others.
So it's all wheelies and free bikes? Living the dream! Right?
It does appear like a glamorous life of international travel, new bike launches and pulling wheelies. As fun as that is, some caveats do apply. Those new bike launches are the highlight of the job. A manufacturer will go to great lengths to ensure the journalists on a launch are kept happy. And nothing makes a journalist happier than keeping their hands out their pockets! Everything is paid for on a launch and the hotels are usually 5* jobbies. The only drawback is you're there for 2-3 days at most. There's also a growing trend (which I detest) of being the first to get the launch report online. That means less time at the hotel bar.
Road tests are also a bit of an illusion. Time constraints usually mean you get next to no time on a test bike itself. Any opinions are usually made from a very brief ride. Surprisingly, very little of the job involves riding a motorcycle! A huge part of it involves driving up and down the country in a van collecting and returning motorbikes. I would regularly cover a thousand miles a week in the company van.
Speaking of illusions - even for a good photographer, it'll take many, many runs up and down the road to get a quality shot that's fit for publication. The rider is usually tucked in to give the appearance of speed. To make it easier for the snapper, actual speed is kept as low as possible. Those group shots you see? They need to be made with centimetres to spare - again at very low speeds. Doing this in the depths of winter, repeatedly, is not much fun.
Top Tip: Don't crash! Here you see a very slight throttle miscalculation caused by the presence of a watching crowd.
TOP TIP: Don't Crash!
Crashing is expensive. Crashing brand-new press bikes is not only expensive, it's a massive pain in the arse! I was fortunate enough never to crash because I ride too slowly to fall off. Other colleagues who regularly binned bikes found themselves without a job quite quickly. It's a big no-no. Even trackdays on press bikes were ridden tentatively until reaching the corner where the photographer was camped. Being a reliable, safe rider is a huge part of the job.
Still think you have what it takes to make it as a journalist? Another tip I have is to make friends with a photographer. Ideally one who is also looking to expand their portfolio. Or find Wil Collins Photography on DriveTribe and get in touch! He's very good.
Then get yourself to the nearest bike dealer with your blagging hat firmly in place. Explain you're interested in buying that lovely new bike in the showroom over there - but you need a surprisingly lengthy test ride to make up your mind... The rest should come naturally.
If you enjoyed my rambling above, feel free to share this post around and give it a 'BUMP'.
If you have any more questions about the subject, put them in the comments section
Words: Shaun Pope - Images: Steinhardt Photography