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Alexa St. John is the tech/mobility and suppliers reporter at Automotive News. On the tech side, she reports for the mobility magazine Shift, which is centered around the future of mobility. Each issue tackles a different theme related to the latest trends in the mobility space with regard to autonomous, electric, shared or connected vehicles. She also contributes to the Automotive News weekly Mobility Report newsletter, monthly Mobility Report page in the print newspaper, and mobility news online. On the supplier side, she covers how suppliers are navigating the changing automotive landscape, and acquisitions, partnerships, economic development and new business directions, both for the Supply Lines and Site Trends pages in print, as well as online.
Can you tell us what types of stories, trends or issues are on your radar now?
Right now I am exploring trends in electrification for our Nov. issue of Shift magazine. I’m always looking for stories on AV or EV technology. Believe it or not, I also want to hear about the traditional side of auto suppliers — even if the news doesn’t include the words “new mobility,” I’m certainly interested! In the future, I want to look more at accessibility in new transportation technology, infrastructure changes, big data, and standards and regulations.
Describe the craziest or most fun story you have written.
I’m not nearly as experienced as my colleagues in the automotive reporting space, so I’m not sure my stories have been as exciting! But on the first day of my internship at the Wall Street Journal in New York in June, a helicopter crash-landed onto a building in Manhattan just a few blocks away from our office. As the Greater New York bureau intern, covering this was partially my job. I was sent out to catch my first cab in the pouring rain to go to the heliport that the helicopter could have taken off from. Of course, there are 3 heliports in the city, and I first went to the wrong one! After hailing another cab and spending a long time in traffic, I made it to where I was supposed to be. That was only the second or third day I had been in the city in about 8 or 9 years, so let’s say that I learned how to navigate NYC very quickly that day and was able to help cover one of the biggest metro stories that week. I will say I love a breaking news rush and that was a very educational opportunity.
What story or stories are you most proud of?
As an intern at Automotive News last summer, I worked on a series called Ingenuity Unleashed, a 10-year lookback on the Great Recession. For this four-part series, which ran as a special section in each weekly issue of our paper last September, I interviewed dozens of dealers about their experiences during the recession and the best practices they employed to keep their dealership afloat. I was able to work alongside some of Auto News’ best editors and reporters, and this project took up much of my summer and I learned so much about the resilience and innovation within the auto industry. I reached out to every single state auto dealers’ association to track down the best stories, and spent weeks doing archival research, researching the recession timeline and gathering photos. The project also won a Neal award for best series. I encourage anyone interested in the industry to take a look — many of these best practices could even be implemented in today’s changing landscape.
What elements or characteristics do you look for in a story?
I like breaking news! I like exclusives. I like learning about brand new technologies, successful startups and ways companies are differentiating themselves from the competition. I also look for a lot of different perspectives on a particular issue, and I think it’s important to always consider the consumer perspective, the cost and the downside to anything coming into the market in order to paint a holistic image of the news at hand.
How long have you been in journalism and how did you get started?
I have been in journalism for the last 8 years. I started on my high school newspaper, The Tower, writing news stories, page editing, and eventually, leading the paper as editor in chief. I then joined The Michigan Daily at the University of Michigan the second I stepped on campus. I wrote on the news section, joined the research beat, became managing news editor and then was 2018 editor in chief. The Michigan Daily is where I discovered my passion for industry and business reporting over general assignment reporting, though I enjoy GA too! I have interned at WDIV/Local 4, Automotive News and the Wall Street Journal. I owe almost all of my success and interest in the industry to my experiences as a student journalist, my mentors and encouragement from my mom, and feel very lucky to be in this industry.
Finish this sentence: If I am not reporting, I am …
Probably making a list to organize my upcoming interviews and assignments! But actually, likely reading a good book, enjoying new food downtown, or watching Law & Order.
What advice do you have for PR people that want to pitch you?
Reaching out via email is best — I am often at events or doing interviews in person with suppliers in the metro Detroit area, so I’m not always available at my desk phone, and I ALWAYS make sure to clear out my inbox before I end each day and make a note of who to follow up with (it’s a habit!). I also believe having face-to-face time with my sources is key to good source-building and eventually, getting good tips, but if I can’t always make face-to-face happen, being flexible in arranging phone calls works great, too. If I don’t use the tip right away, odds are I’ll be circling back in the future. I do keep everyone’s contact information organized.
Any pet peeves with PR people?
I think the most authentic conversations with my sources on the phone or in person come without a PR representative on the line or in the room, so I prefer my interviews are with the source and with the source only. Getting interjections on the phone from the PR representative can be more interruptive than helpful at times. But I always appreciate the help I get from PR folks with arranging time with experts and providing statements or information, and understand they have a job to do just as much as I do.
Tell us a little about yourself (family, interests, hobbies, background, etc.)
I recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Communications and a minor in the Program in the Environment. I enjoy new experiences, trying different restaurants in downtown Detroit, and being outdoors!