There was a time when The New York Times, which now has two full-time auto reporters, was really interested in covering cars and the auto industry. They even have a blog, like this one, called Wheels, staffed by smart editors and writers and it’s been around for over a decade. But Wheels, The Times confirmed to me this week, is officially dead, after publication maybe its the last post on Wednesday.
I first learned of this news in a post a week ago on LinkedIn, as one person did. It’s not the most surprising thing in the world – The Times previously killed the Sunday Cars entry in 2014, and Wheels has been a shell of itself ever since – but the news is still sad, the end of an era and confirmation, if necessary, that the NYT, for whatever reason, can’t really preoccupied with cars or car culture.
Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokeswoman for the NYT, told me on Wednesday:
The Times has two reporters (Jack Ewing and Neal Boudette) covering the worldwide auto industry along with many of our business, technology and climate journalists who regularly cover the news. about developments in the automotive industry. One such journalist, for example, is Keith Bradsher, our Pulitzer Prize-winning Beijing bureau chief who regularly covers the future of the auto industry from China.
We canceled the Wheel column because the editor had changed roles in The Times. The change will not affect our coverage of the industry.
The earliest Wheels blogs I could find is from January 2007and they represent what was once good about the internet. For example, this meditation from Ezra Dyer (now Car and Driver) in terms of car names, or post by the late Phil Patton from 2009 about John Updike’s most famous protagonist’s occupation as selling cars, or This tribute to the late hot rodent worker Dean Moon. Wheels is urbane but doesn’t try too hard, unlike The New York Times proper, which is urbane and often tries too hard.
In fact, Wheels was part of an era at the NYT in which the newspaper embraced blogs when it tried to negotiate the nascent internet. and also make itself relevant. Before Wheels, the NYT had a newsletter called DriveTimes, the last edition of published in April 2007gave way to Wheels, which The Times decided was the way forward.
Longtime Wheels editor James Cobb recalls:
Remember that in those days, the NYT was still extremely print-focused and editors were taking their first cautious steps into the digital world even as that world was changing rapidly. (There was even an abbreviated version of the NYT that was faxed! It was sent to hotels, cruise ships and the like…) In the midst of the thinking years, blogs became the thing. the next big thing and Wheels was one of the first attempts at paper to tap into that market. In the end, the NYT had a veritable number of blogs aimed at all kinds of niche readers about sports, games, travel, fashion, etc., but I recall we were among the first. .
This is largely because the Automotive segment is considered highly entrepreneurial, with a small staff – just me at first – and a very small budget, so we are used to scrambling for resources. internally and switched to using freelancers for most of our content. . And while at the time, there were complaints all over the press about any attempt not to focus on print – “This Internet thing is just a fad!” “It’s diverting money and employees away from Print Important Content!” – our small team is eager to expand its reach in any way possible. As one top editor told me at the time, “You guys are our little digital lab, the Times’ own version of a tech startup.”
Wheels’ staff will grow to include Jalopnik friends like Ben Preston, and its longtime deputy editor Norman Mayersohn, who also served as deputy editor here for a time. Norman told me that employees never liked the name that was attached to them, although under that banner they created seven years of good blogs, which ended when The Times pulled the plug on it in late 2014. , though it kept the Wheels moniker around until this year.
Cobb, who has been retired for a few years, said his impression was that The Times had given up on it.
I can’t tell you much about the NYT auto warranty coverage as of 2015. I understand there’s been no actual blog in recent years, just a “Wheel” label on related stories. automobiles in print, as well as the occasional email newsletter of similar names. No disrespect to the people who produced the content – talented editors like Justin Swanson – but they had to juggle this work along with dozens of other things, with very limited resources and seemingly non-existent cars. top priority with newsroom management these days.
In the old days of newspapers, the job of car reviewer was usually reserved for reporters who weren’t very good at staffing who couldn’t really do anything else, because the press loved to have stories about cars – they need something that comes with all the purchased ads. by dealers and automakers – and they don’t need the stories to be great. Wheels represents the opposite, which is: What if we were writing about cars and good stories instead? The fact that it has become subpar in recent years only serves to underline its earlier achievements.
What I still haven’t been able to figure out, however, is the NYT’s continued indifference to the car business, a trillion dollar global business, as competitors like The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have more than two reporters covering the auto business, at a time when the NYT’s 1,700 team of journalists is larger than ever. I asked Rhoades Ha, a spokesperson for The Times, about this, and she didn’t answer, perhaps because she has better work to do, which is a nice summary of The Times’ views. Times on cars and car culture in general.
However, let’s make a section for Wheels, the once cool car blog that The New York Times made almost in spite of itself.