I’m the senior editor for automotive and electronic technology on the automotive editorial team at the SAE Media Group. Based in Troy, Michigan, I report on standards, technology and general topics and help edit the work of my fabulous colleagues. I also act as the editorial producer for SAE.org.
Can you tell us what types of stories, trends or issues are on your radar now?
The elephant in the room with a capital “E” is electrification. That seems like it will get the large share of our attention for the foreseeable future. But the creative ways AI is being used to speed development, increase safety and advance toward possible autonomy is also something we’re looking out for. And a thread of exploring ways to execute any of the above in sustainable ways runs through everything we cover.
Describe the craziest or most fun story you have written.
Most of the truly crazy stuff had to do with human tragedy when I was a crime reporter in my hometown of Savannah, Georgia. None of it was uplifting. Probably the most fun I ever had was driving the 2015 Aston Martin Vanquish and Rapide S in Scotland. At night we stayed on the shores of Loch Ness in Aldourie Castle, where a butler would follow us around with a silver tray asking us whether we’d “like another taste of the lord’s golden liquid.” That’s pretty wild for a kid who worked in a chemical plant after high school.
What story or stories are you most proud of?
Much of my career has spent being a copy editor, designer or manager. As a result, I’m most proud of all the team efforts I’ve been part of, such as the Detroit Free Press staff response to the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 or our work at the City of Fenton to give voters the info they needed to decide on a twice-failed but badly needed street improvement millage. It was approved in 2021.
What elements or characteristics do you look for in a story, and why?
If I don’t understand why a topic is worth writing about, I’ll never be able to convince a reader to spend time with the story. So that’s always one of my first questions to sources: “What does this mean to (blank)? Where the (blank) is the end user, next engineering team up the line, or the industry in general. Engineering is the art of overcoming challenges. The bigger the challenge, the greater the triumph, and the more compelling a story is.
How long have you been in journalism and how did you get started?
Ahem. It has been a minute. When I wrote my first story for the University of Georgia’s student paper — about the effects of ozone from cars on loblolly pine trees — GM hadn’t yet introduced the Impact concept that became the EV1 and Desert Storm could still mean a weather event.
Finish this sentence: If I am not reporting, I am …
In proportions that vary widely, I’m either
– Learning about something. Anything. Joel Achenbach, famous for his “Why Things Are” column at the Washington Post, once wrote about the people he described as “Curious Man” — people who never lost the 3-year-old’s fascination with asking “Why?” That’s me. At the Star Tribune in Minneapolis my colleagues kept a list called “Stuff Clonts Knows” that included everything from “cremation chamber thermodynamics” to “NASCAR romance novels.” BTW: The novels exist, but I’ve never read one.
– Having fun living life with my wife Kathleen and our charmer of a chihuahua, Mochi (named after the Japanese rice cake).
– Acting on stage in plays and musicals ranging from “A Few Good Men” to “Sister Act” to “The Naked Yogi” (Rest assured I was neither naked nor the yogi).
What advice do you have for PR people that want to pitch you?
First, know that I have worked as a PR professional for a school district, university and a small city. So I try to honor the fact that in today’s world, smart PR folks can be a huge help to journalists. That said, just be prepared to talk about why the product or advancement your pitching is a benefit to human beings.
Any pet peeves with PR people?
I’ve always cringed when I see, well, cringey “news pegs” as the basis for a release. You know, the kind that say things like “As unemployment hits a 10-year-high, people will need more comfortable desk chairs like ours for their home office…” Let your client’s product stand on its own.
Tell us a little about yourself (family, interests, hobbies, background, etc.)
I grew up in the Deep South, but the Detroit area is where I feel at home. I worked for the Free Press for 10 years. As a kid from a small city, Detroit expanded my cultural, culinary and professional horizons. And I value that generally, you always know where you stand with Michiganders, whereas “Bless your heart” can have a dozen different meanings back home.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience?
If you don’t know anyone in the automotive engineering community, the most interesting thing is that any given part on a vehicle, from a turbocharger all the way to a single window switch, has a team of professionals and thousands of hours of development standing behind it.
You can follow Chris on Twitter at: @clontsey
You can check out some of Chris’ recent articles here:
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