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Meet the Media: Jim Irwin, Content Production Specialist at WardsAuto.com

I work for WardsAuto.com as a Content Production Specialist, primarily editing stories by staff and correspondents, contributing articles and occasionally managing the Wards website. I also am one of the judges for Wards 10 Best Engines & Propulsion Systems, Interiors and UX.

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

Lately I have been editing stories for our Wards Intelligence website regarding electrification and mobility. It’s interesting to see OEMs and the Tier 1s devoting so many resources to electrification in the face of consumer indifference. Mobility, meanwhile, is evolving under the influence of COVID-19, which is redefining our relationship to the various ways we get around. For example, ride-hailing and ride-sharing seem to be falling out of favor because of health concerns, while interest in private vehicle ownership is holding its own if not growing.

Describe the craziest or most fun story you have written.

I wrote a column in 2014 about a European Commission proposal to reduce noise levels from motor vehicles. Having edited and written previous stories about the EC’s myriad regulations, this seemed to be an egregious instance of bureaucratic overreach, right down to a specification that cars undergoing testing not be exposed to wind gusts that could skew the results. One goal of the proposal, according to the EC, was to reduce the “level of annoyance” among people. I noted that while in Paris I seemed to have annoyed several waiters myself, even on quiet streets. I also speculated the proposal could have affected composer George Gershwin’s creation of the tone poem “An American in Paris,” which as part of its instrumentation used real horns from Parisian taxis. I wrote if the EC succeeded in making motor vehicles quieter, Europeans still would be exposed to noise from jetliners overhead, subways below and motorcycles and motor scooters – which weren’t mentioned in the proposal – at street level.

What story or stories are you most proud of?

The spread of COVID-19 made for a compelling cascade of stories, starting with the cancellation of the Geneva Auto Show in February. That was followed by plant closings in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, and plant closings in North America in March. Tracking which plants were closing and which were staying open was hectic, and besides doing my own reporting I edited numerous COVID-19 stories from our correspondents. WardsAuto.com provided timely, accurate information when the manufacturing outlook was changing almost daily.

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

I like “talkers” – offbeat stories that entertain if not necessarily offer deep insight into the workings of the auto industry. I wrote about a bus-body fabricator that converted a passenger shuttle into a funeral home on wheels, complete with room for the casket to be anchored and for two dozen or so passengers. The idea was for the bus to drive past significant locations in the deceased’s life on its way to the cemetery. Ford is a good source of interesting stories, including one about a group of engineers who created downloadable activity pages for kids stuck at home due to COVID-19 and research into different sounds used by hybrid vehicles to warn pedestrians (the headline I wrote for that story read, ‘New Ford Explorer, Escape Hybrids Don’t Go Quietly’).

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

I worked 27 years at the Detroit bureau of The Associated Press before joining Wards in 2011. I started in journalism as police reporter for the Huntington, WV, Herald-Dispatch and later as a reporter and editor for The Times Herald in Port Huron.

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

Reading, listening to music and sheltering in place with my wife, Tanya Gazdik, a former AP colleague who later worked at Wards and Adweek before becoming a reporter for MediaPost.

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

We often deal with PR people pitching guest columns (labeled Industry Voices) and we have specific criteria such as story length and having the article not be an outright plug for a particular product or service. Senior Editor Tom Murphy can provide details of our requirements.

Any pet peeves with PR people?

Generally no, as long as they have their clients observe the guidelines for guest articles.

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

I’m an Ohio native and Ohio State graduate (lest anyone in Michigan question my loyalties, my wife and two of my sons went to Michigan State) who has lived in Detroit for 20 years. My wife and I attend to eight cats, two dogs and the occasional foster cat, kittens or combination thereof. We are architecture buffs who have visited more than 150 Frank Lloyd Wright homes and other buildings. And we’re anxiously waiting for COVID-19 to subside so we can resume taking cruises and seeing more of Wright’s work.

You can follow WardsAuto on Twitter at @WardsAuto

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