A vehicular answer in search of an occupational question

The inspiration for this blog post was an effort to get a photo of an airplane whose pilot aborted its takeoff and ended up considerably past the airport’s runway. Getting a photo of said plane wasn’t easy because of local geography and because the airport manager wasn’t enthusiastic about my presence. (I seem to have that effect on people.)

That prompted this idea: What should journalists drive?

Note that second word, “should.” The journalists I know, because of journalism’s poor salaries, drive cars that are either small or old, if not both. So perhaps this is a fantasy exercise, but it’s my blog.

Man has always used powered vehicles, whether powered by engines or animals, for work. The first known pickup truck was a Ford Model T whose owner added a flat bed behind the front seats. Ford quickly picked up on that. Those who used cars for business, though, and wanted creature comforts of cars (for instance, heaters) instead of trucks (namely, none) would buy what were called “business coupes,” a car with a front seat and a large trunk to carry, for instance, salesmen’s samples.

Pickup truck manufacturers have occasionally ventured into the world of more-specific-application vehicles, but usually that’s left up to body manufacturers instead of the Big Three.

Dodge advertised “Job-Rated” trucks in 1947.

Chevrolet had a W/T model of its half-ton pickup that was pretty stripped of such niceties as non-vinyl seats and carpeting. The Land Rover Range Rover was developed for, believe it or don’t, British farmers to use on the farm during the day and take the wife to town at night. And for decades GM, Ford and Chrysler have had law enforcement-specification vehicles, though only in the past 20 or so years have they offered police-spec pickups and SUVs. Ambulances were first hearses, then station wagons (sometimes run by police departments), and now mounted on van or truck chassis. Fire trucks often use commercial chassis.

In the early days of TV, converted buses or box vans hauled the 100-pound cameras and lights out into the field for live broadcast, while station wagons or panel deliveries (station wagons without side windows behind the front doors) carried film cameras. One of the unusual stories about John F. Kennedy’s assassination was the mobile unit of the Fort Worth NBC station, whose engine blew up on the way to Parkland Hospital and had to be towed from place to place until after Lee Harvey Oswald’s death.

For this silly exercise the medium of the journalist doesn’t matter; it doesn’t matter anyway because journalists now work in more than one medium, with newspaper and radio reporters shooting video. Our vehicle should be designed as much as possible to be a mobile office. (In seven years of working for one employer I had four different offices and almost a fifth. In three years of working for another employer I had three different offices. I suggested finding a used moving van and moving my desk, chair, filing cabinets, computer and other parts of my office into it. If you choose to do that, find an International moving truck with the DT466 diesel engine, which provides remarkable performance for moving your house. For that matter, I once thought it would be fun to live in a motor home until I determined that (1) motor home furnishings are not like a house’s, you need external access to (2A) electricity and (2B) water, and (3) living in a motor home is illegal in most incorporated communities.)

Even with the electronic tools of the journalism trade much smaller in size than in the old days, journalists still need storage space for them, which is why the best vehicle would be a hatchback, station wagon, SUV, pickup truck or (the horror) minivan. (You can always not use space you don’t need; you can’t use space you don’t have.) Space is needed to write on or download photos to a laptop or tablet. In keeping with the goal of any journalist worthy of the title, staying out of the office as much as possible, we need space for lunch on the go, and perhaps even for sleeping in case of long-duration on-the-scene work. (I draw the line at a bathroom, because, number one, men only need trees.)

I would lean toward the SUV or truck because they are more likely to have four-wheel drive, and getting to where you’re going regardless of weather is a necessity. (Or for getting to various assignments. I once had to get the newspaper’s brand new truck pulled out of a farm field by a tractor, when I was doing a story about a house being moved, because said truck lacked four-wheel drive. I also once slid off the road delivering newspapers when I hit ice, and avoided getting stuck looking for The Point of Beginning, where the Wisconsin-Illinois state line and Grant-Lafayette county line meet and from where the entire state was surveyed, only because I abandoned looking as the alleged road to the location decayed.)

The other reason for a truck-like vehicle is that they might be stout enough for you to stand in the box or even on the roof, to be able to shoot from above and be able to see where you’re shooting. (I could have used the ability to do that earlier this week.)


Photographer  Ansel Adams shot photos of the American Southwest from the top of his Pontiac station wagon.


I haven’t done this, but some people I know have announced games from their vehicles in the case of inadequate on-site facilities. (There are still some athletic fields without press boxes. Those usually were places without telephone lines, too, but the advent of cellphones means you can broadcast pretty much anywhere you can get a cell signal. In the early days of radio sports, decades before games were broadcast over telephone, one announcer broadcasted a game from the passenger seat of his car parked on the sideline, which worked fine until the players crashed into the car and knocked them off the air for 45 minutes.)

The first vehicle that came to mind is from old video I saw on YouTube of a Studebaker Lark Wagonaire being used by a TV station.

The sliding roof on the Wagonaire was supposed to allow owners to haul items taller than the back of the wagon. Apparently TV stations in the early 1960s used that feature to mount a camera (which was much larger than today’s minicams) in back for field video. Apparently few others used it for that, or any remotely similar, purpose because the Wagonaire died with Studebaker Corp.

The closest more current vehicle to the Wagonaire was last decade’s GMC Envoy XUV. That, too, flopped in the marketplace. There is one Envoy XUV on eBay, and it’s a two-wheel-drive model instead of the more desirable four-wheel-drive version.

Not only does Reportermobile need enough space for laptop use (a design feature of the Dodge — I mean Ram — 40/20/40 seat), it needs to have plenty of power ports, preferably with 12-volt inverters. Work sucks the batteries of cellphones and laptops, and after a point professional-quality digital cameras. It also needs space for maps and even atlases, even in this age of the GPS, along with a place for better clothing than you usually wear when needed.

A public-service-band radio scanner needs to be inside, so that the journalist can find where the incident is. (There are scanner apps for cellphones, but imagine the bite out of your data plan.) Driving lights on the front would be useful for photos shot at, say, a dark crash scene if you’re not friendly with the local firefighters who turn on their scene lights for you. (Fortunately, I don’t have that problem.) Amber LED lights mounted in the back window might prevent getting rear-ended at said night crash scene. For that matter, a dashcam might be handy because you never know what you might drive into:

This is a Range Rover customized in Germany with additional headlights and fog lights, as well as a sunroof. Too bad Range Rovers have famously hideous reliability.

You may think what I’m describing would have to be a fancy vehicle. That is really not the case. A journalist’s vehicle is likely to have pens that may or may not work, food wrappers (hopefully not with food still in them, though that probably cannot be guaranteed), old drink cups, old coffee cups, cigarette butts, receipts of unknown origin, napkins, and other detritus inside. One might be better off having an old pickup-truck interior with vinyl seats and rubber floor mats that can just be hosed off.

One other point: Should your vehicle identify yourself as being in the media? I believe the answer is yes, but quietly. (Which would not be defined as putting STEVEPRESTEGARD.COM in big letters on the side of your vehicle.) The Wisconsin Newspaper Association used to give out window stickers that said PRESS on them. Given that journalists are known for parking wherever they feel they need to park, something like that might be helpful in avoiding a parking ticket. Or so you hope.


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