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Pete Bigelow is a senior reporter at Automotive News in Detroit, where he writes about self-driving technology and mobility.
One of the things I love about covering the intersection of technology and transportation is that it touches so many different areas. One day I’m writing about cyber security and the next about transportation policy, Smart Cities, privacy or road safety. There’s so much that’s affected by these big transportation developments, so I try to write about everything that can fit under that umbrella.
Can you tell us what types of stories, trends or issues are on your radar now?
I appreciate that a lot of the autonomous-vehicle hype deflated in the past few months and that automakers and tech companies are more forthright in acknowledging, hey, this is a really hard thing to crack. Stories about how they’re either breaking the challenge into smaller chunks or trying to make their self-driving systems more assertive and competent in urban, complex areas seem to be popping up more often now.
Some of the first widespread autonomy applications will involve the trucking industry, because there’s a compelling business case that supports the introduction of the technology. So I’m hearing more from companies working on those systems.
It’d be hard to not mention e-bikes and scooters. I haven’t written about them much yet, but the way they’ve spread over the past six months and solved some first-mile/last-mile problems has been eye opening. It is at least plausible these are the true agents of change in the alleged mobility revolution, and that autonomous vehicles don’t make much of a ripple for another 20 years.
Describe the craziest or most fun story you have written.
In the automotive realm, it’s one that cuts against the grain of my current tech-focused beat. I helped drive a 1939 Packard Super 8 convertible coupe from the LeMay Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington down to Pebble Beach. Along the way, we drove through dark forests, up the side of Mount St. Helens and through all sorts of twisty roads in the Columbia River Gorge. Epic experience. Felt like I was steering a freight train.
What story or stories am I most proud of?
I wrote a lot about shrapnel-spewing Takata airbags long before the scope of the problem was understood, and I’d like to think my reporting helped shed light on the severity of those defects and caught the attention of other news outlets, who picked up the torch.
Separately, I wrote a story a few years ago about the burgeoning urban-planning movement to replace certain city highways with parks and housing development, essentially to cede the roadways back to the cityscape. I got to dive into the history of how thriving urban neighborhoods were bulldozed to make way for highways back in the 1950s and 1960s.
If there’s a common thread between the two, it’s that both held some value in informing and enhancing ongoing conversations about the issues at hand, and that’s generally what I strive for.
What elements or characteristics do you look for in a story?
Something new and newsworthy. Something that helps put a broader trend in sharper context. Something that cuts against those broader trends. Something that makes a genuine impact on the lives of motorists, consumers or people overall. Something – or someone – with eccentric qualities.
How long have you been in journalism and how did you get started?
When I was a student at Rutgers in New Jersey, I started covering sports for The Daily Targum, the student newspaper. Overall, that was 20 years ago and I’ve never really considered doing anything else. I spent a few years as a sports writer in Colorado and Michigan, and then switched to the autos beat in 2011. Nobody believes me when I say this, but the autos beat is far more fun and interesting.
Finish this sentence: If I am not reporting I am …
Spending time with the kids and or reading.
What advice do you have for PR people that want to pitch you?
Pitch away. I’m all ears. If we’ve never been in contact before, I’d much prefer an email instead of a phone call. And understand the odds are long – I probably get a dozen pitches or more every day and I’ve got my own stories and ideas I’m trying to find time to work on. But once in a while, the long shot comes in. You never know.
Any pet peeves with PR people?
Not really. The vast majority of comms and PR people I’ve met over the years have been professional and helpful. … If there’s one thing perhaps worth mentioning and underscoring is that if there’s a breaking news story, my deadline is in about 10 minutes. Some material or an interview three days from now is nice, but the horse has left the barn. Just the way today’s news cycles work.
Tell us a little about yourself (family, interest, hobbies, background, etc.)
Married with three kids and we live in Dexter, Michigan, just west of Ann Arbor. I have my commercial pilot’s license, and initially, covering the autos beat was supposed to be a stop on the way to writing about aviation.
I grew up in New Jersey, and am only slightly obsessed with Bruce Springsteen and Jersey Shore bar bands.
It’s taking a painfully long time, but I’m slowly writing a book about a long-forgotten nuclear incident that irradiated a boat full of Japanese fishermen. Stay tuned.
You can find Pete on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.
Check out some of Pete’s latest work: