Meet the Media: Jason Cannon, Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal

I’m the Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal (CCJ). CCJ has been the preeminent publication for trucking fleet managers and executives for more than 112 years. We currently have a wide mix of digital verticals, including a daily newsletter, various supplemental weekly newsletters and several video-based series. My beat includes equipment and maintenance, but I also provide supplemental coverage on general news and on any front when and where it is needed. For the past nearly three years, as part of our shift to a digital focus, I have co-hosted a weekly webisode on CCJ called The 10-44 (10-44 is trucker 10-code for “I have a message for you.” Our topics include anything trucking related: regulations, maintenance, battery electric, recruiting and retention, literally anything and everything. You name it and we’ve covered it or will cover it eventually.

Can you tell us what types of stories, trends or issues are on your radar now?

Emissions and emission regulations are the big thing currently, and under that umbrella I would tuck alternative power like battery electric and hydrogen. I don’t want to under-emphasize what’s going on in the BEV space because that is significant and it’s important, but the internal combustion engine/diesel is going to be around for a very long time. Too, 100% battery electric will likely never be applicable to much of my trucking audience without the kind of range improvement that I’m not sure is possible without either significant sacrifice to payload or state/federal gross weight waivers.

Describe the craziest or most fun story you have written.

I covered college football for a while so I’ve had a lot of fun, but most fun might go to Isuzu’s I-1 Grand Prix World Technician Competition in 2018, a skills-based event for the company’s service and repair technicians. In the case of this competition, which was held in Fujisawa, Japan, it’s a best-of-the-best invitational that pitted the top teams from 32 countries against each other. It’s the medium-duty mechanic Olympics. I was embedded with Team USA who finished second that year, an incredible feat considering that in the event’s 13-year history to that point, Team USA had medaled only twice (that year and the year before). Team USA notched the best written test score in their division and Team Japan – a six-time winner of the Grand Prix – needed a win in the practical exercise to squeak out first place overall. USA! USA! USA!

What story or stories are you most proud of?

Long one here, so bear with me: October 2005. I was the news editor of a small daily newspaper in Alabama. I got a call from the New York Daily News letting me know that the 2,000th soldier killed in combat in Iraq since the beginning of the 2003 invasion had just been confirmed, and that he was from my town and his mother wouldn’t talk to them. They asked if I would help. (We were not in any way affiliated with the NYDN.) So, I called the same number they did but I got a remarkably different response. I spoke with his mother briefly and his sister more at length. My wife worked for the same newspaper at the time, and she stopped by their house to pick up some photos that we ran with the story, and she was warmly greeted. She even went to his funeral locally (we asked their permission) – it was a full military funeral with honors – and photographed it and gave all the pics to the family. The mother told me she refused to speak with the NYDN because they only wanted to stand her son up as a martyr for a war the newspaper disagreed with politically, adding that her son was very proud to be and serve in the Army. With the family’s consent, I shared my story with NYDN, and they indeed spun it in a direction that didn’t completely align with the copy I provided or the version we published locally. This a lesson I’ve carried with me for years: your approach matters. Whether it’s a tragic death or a bankruptcy of a multi-million-dollar company, none of it is faceless. It all impacts and involves real people. I have an obligation as a journalist to report the news, but I get to decide to do it with some grace and empathy.

What elements or characteristics do you look for in a story, and why?

Uniqueness. I’ve never wanted to be the kind of journalist that tells the same story that everyone else does; all the same words, just in a different order. For example, that I have a CDL I get to do all of our commercial truck test drives. There aren’t many truck writers with a CDL, but those with which I share this privilege are talented journalists (and drivers), and I appreciate the story-telling challenge from this group. My approach is that you’re not really trying to tell the story of the truck, you’re trying to relay that entire experience to someone who wasn’t there. And talk about a tough crowd. Try telling the story of what it’s like driving a truck to professional truck drivers. It’s like telling Gordon Ramsey when to flip the burgers.

How long have you been in journalism and how did you get started?

I started professionally in 2003 as an intern at a small Birmingham, Ala. Metro weekly newspaper that no longer exists. The sports editor stormed out my first week on the job and the editor asked if I wanted to make my then-unpaid internship a paid one. I stayed on with the newspaper for several months after the internship ended as its sports editor before joining a small daily in the news/everything room. My route to journalism was unconventional. I was an engineering major (electrical) for about 3 years. I switched majors my senior year because I enjoyed working with the student newspaper, a role I landed because they ran an ad that said, “Do you want $25?” They paid $25 per article and, yes, I did want $25. Sometimes the best marketing messages are the simplest, I suppose. I got tired of the newspaper business (or it got tired of me) in 2012 and I was lucky enough to land with CCJ’s parent company Randall Reilly working in trucking – the single greatest and most noble profession in the entire world (no bias at all).

Finish this sentence: If I am not reporting, I am …

on the boat or walking a hound dog. We have one Basset and one Basset/foxhound mix (a rescue), and if they’re not barking or howling at something, they’re wanting to go outside and find something to bark and howl at.

What advice do you have for PR people that want to pitch you?

If you’re offering me a source, have a few different angles in mind and offer them as part of the pitch; “My client, Jane Smith, is an expert in X, and she can comment on A, B, C, D….” I find pitches like this helpful because your SME might not be a great fit for what I’m working on currently for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with them or you, but you’ve just provided me with a list of their expertise and I’m always looking for sources (especially new ones) on a variety of topics. Maybe we don’t connect on this email, but the odds that we connect eventually just went up by a lot.

Any pet peeves with PR people?

Not understanding who/what my audience is, or at least not attempting to understand. There are terabytes of prior coverage that you can lean on to get an idea, and if you still don’t know, ask. “Hey, I’ve got this (whatever it is) but I’m not sure how it might fit into your coverage.” I’ll reply to that email probably 100 times out of 100, regardless of how off-base the pitch might be. I have at different times been on PR lists for Knotfest (a music festival featuring heavy metal band Slipknot) when it was in Finland; I’m currently on a list for Gibson Guitars (which is kind of cool, it’s just not relevant to my readers. Don’t remove me Gibson. I read it!); and a host of other things that I can’t do anything with. Most of it is just clogging up my inbox.

Tell us a little about yourself (family, interests, hobbies, background, etc.)

My wife, Tiffany, and I will soon celebrate our 20th anniversary and we have two daughters. Lizzie, 19, is going into her senior semester of Respiratory Therapy School and Bradlee, 13, is an eighth grader and volleyball player, and a very accomplished kickboxer and MMA competitor. We have two hound dogs, Waylon and Willie. I’m a 2018 graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an Honorary Peabody Memphis Duckmaster and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu.

Is there anything we’ve missed that you’d like to share with our audience?

I think you hit all the high spots, although I can appreciate this question. I close all my interviews with “is there a question you feel I didn’t ask or anything else we need to talk about?”

Check out some of Jason’s recent articles:

You can follow the Commercial Carrier Journal on Twitter at: @CCJnow

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