The History of Automotive News
Another scenario holds that the paper was the idea of the Macfadden-Bartell publishing firm in New York.
In any case, the paper was called Automotive Daily News, and the first issue appeared Aug. 27, 1925. It was published in New York. Slocum, 36, was Detroit advertising manager. He had been publisher of The Michigan Farmer, an agricultural paper.
The chief angel of Automotive Daily News was Bernarr Macfadden, who was sort of the Jane Fonda of the 1920s - a wealthy fitness and exercise fanatic. In addition to publishing, he was involved in prize-fight promotion.
In 1933, Slocum bought out the other investors and moved the paper to Detroit, and the publication was changed from five times a week to twice a week - Wednesday and Saturday. The midweek edition was dropped in June 1938, and with the June 4 issue the paper's named changed from Automotive Daily News to Automotive News. The subscription price was reduced from $6 a year to $4 a year. In 1939, the publication day was changed to Monday.
Circulation was 5,000 when Slocum moved the paper to Detroit. It grew to 12,000 at the beginning of World War II but fell to 8,748 during the war.
And that figure was a huge accomplishment. After all, this was - and is - an industry publication, and there was no auto industry from 1942-45. Even so, we retained 73 percent of our circulation.
One reason was a publishing coup in June 1944. Pete Wemhoff, then managing editor, was in Washington for a meeting of the Associated Business Paper editors, and he and Bill Ullman, our Washington correspondent, obtained the Office of Price Administration's ceiling prices for used cars. The government agency had not released the prices, and every manufacturer and dealer wanted them.
Wemhoff called Slocum, and they decided to print an extra. Imagine - a little trade newspaper printing an extra! Slocum and Associate Editor Bob Finlay made arrangements for press time. Wemhoff returned to Detroit with the precious price list, and the extra was written, printed and mailed. It was dated June 13, 1944. The June 12 issue was already in the mail when this exercise began.
Slocum formed Slocum Publishing Co. when he brought the paper to Detroit in 1933. He died in 1949, and his wife, Mabel, owned the company for the next 22 years. Mrs. Slocum was not active in the business; Wemhoff ran the operation.
Soon before Mrs. Slocum's death in 1971, the paper was sold to Crain Communications Inc. Keith Crain became publisher and editorial director.
Our fortunes were at a low ebb when the Crain organization took over. To put it simply: Keith Crain saved Automotive News.
The staff has grown through the years. At the time of the 1944 extra, it consisted of three full-timers.
When I came on board in 1955 there were 12 of us in Detroit and one in Washington. In 1980 there were 14 in Detroit and four in the bureaus.
Today we have eight people in our domestic and overseas bureaus and 42 editors, reporters, statisticians, researchers and editorial assistants in our Detroit office, a total editorial staff of 50.
It is the people of Automotive News who have made this newspaper the prestigious, influential and successful publication that it is. Hundreds have contributed; a few will be mentioned here.
Slocum guided the paper through the Depression and World War II. Chris Sinsabaugh was editor in the early days in Detroit. Wemhoff came from the Detroit Free Press in 1936 and was managing editor, editor, publisher and general manager during the next 35 years.
Finlay, another Free Press alum, was editor from 1965 to 1974. He died of a heart attack on the commuter train on his way to work in December 1977. In 22 years of close association, I never heard Bob raise his voice. But when he gave you an order, you damn well did it. And fast.
`I WROTE IT RIGHT'
Helen Kahn was another major player. She was our Washington bureau chief in the 1960s and 1970s, when government regulation of the auto industry was new. She lived in the world of doublespeak and con artists, but nobody ever conned Helen. Why? Because she was smarter than any of them.
She was a super-tough, 4-foot-10 dynamo. Her copy often was dreadful. The lead might be in the 12th paragraph. Or maybe her 10-page story wouldn't have any lead at all. Helen never complained about what editors did to her stories because she never read them when they appeared in the paper. Her rationale was, 'I wrote it right. If those idiots in Detroit screwed it up, that's their problem.'
Bob Lienert came from the Free Press and was with Automotive News from 1953 to 1987. He was editor from 1974 until illness forced him to relinquish the job in 1985. Nobody has been more important to this newspaper in its 75-year history.
Bob and Automotive News were made for each other. He was a car nut who could tear down an engine. He had a sixth sense about the industry, spotting trends and putting Automotive News in position to cover them. Most of all, he was an outstanding newspaperman.
In the mid-1950s, for example, he realized foreign cars were going to be important to this business, so he became an expert. He studied distribution patterns and met the people who made things happen in the import world. And Automotive News became the leading authority on the imported-car business.
Andrew McGill succeeded Lienert as editor, and Peter Brown (from the Free Press by way of Crain's Detroit Business) took over as editor in February 1989. Since then, Keith Crain, Peter Brown and current editor Edward Lapham have led Automotive News during its greatest period of growth, creating the Automotive News Data Center, Automotive News Europe, Automotive News International, Automotive Marketer and www.automotivenews.com. They also have expanded coverage of the supplier industry.
We now are part of Crain Communications' Automotive Group. The group is headed by Brown and includes AutoWeek in addition to the Automotive News publications.
Aug. 27, 2000, is the 75th birthday of Automotive News. The best is yet to come.
You can reach John K. Teahen Jr. at email@example.com.