Aaron Turpen is one of the co-founders here on CarNewsCafe (but we know Adam is the best.) For this week’s interview in my ongoing interview series with auto journalists and auto writers I decided Aaron would be a good person to interview.
I talk with Aaron about his background with computers (which dates back to the beginning of time), how he first discovered the “internet”, and more.
Adam Yamada-Hanff – So, Aaron tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Aaron Turpen: I was born in a lighthouse, my mother was the sea. I crawled to school each morning when it occurred to me that life’s just a mood ring we’re not allowed to see..
AYH – What got you started in writing and internet? You used to have one of those big computers that filled a whole room and used vacuum tubes, right? 🙂
AT – Not quite, but they still used “X86” terminology and measured connection speeds in “baud.” 🙂 When I was a teenager, maybe 14 or so, my dad bought an 8088 IBM clone with a 1200 baud modem. I discovered bulletin boards and pre-Internet connectivity and, interestingly enough, some of the trouble it can get you into. By the time I entered college at 17, the Internet was just beginning to go public but companies we now think of as old and dying, like America OnLine, weren’t even around yet. There certainly wasn’t any Google or Netscape or anything like that. I remember one of the big things in my first year of college was that the computer science lab had Windows operating systems. I’d only seen DOS and Unix up to that point.
As for writing, I got started with that when I was just a kid. I’ve always enjoyed putting thoughts on paper. I learned to type when I was 8 or 9 on my mom’s manual typewriter and started turning in all of my homework typewritten. I wrote fiction, science fiction, book reports for my sisters, and whatever else came to mind. I was always a voracious reader, still am, and was often reading beyond my grade level – hence writing reports for my older sisters and some of my friends too.
Both writing and the Internet have been there for most of my life as influences and things I’ve been interested in and working with.
AYH – You were an original PowerSeller on eBay? Want to share what you sold on there? Have any eBay tips?
AT – I started a business in 2000 called Aaronz WebWorkz (it was cool to put “z” at the end of stuff then). At that point, I had been building websites and fiddling around with development for more than a year. I wanted to make some money off the Internet and eBay was relatively new, so I figured I’d try that. I started by selling stuff I had laying around or that my friends didn’t want anymore and so forth. Then I upgraded my computer and got one that could make CD-ROMs. I had an epiphany and started putting things I’d collected in electronic form (public domain books and such) onto CDs and selling those. I sold everything from the Complete Works of Shakespeare to the Anarchist’s Cookbook. My best-sellers were military manuals I’d scanned to PDF format and put on disc. I had an 8-disc set chock full of them and I couldn’t burn them fast enough to keep up with demand. That was my first PowerSeller achievement.
I eventually tried drop-shipping on a new account and found some suppliers for various items that had an easy system to work with to track their inventory and place orders. I gained a second PowerSeller status there. In the meantime, I was building newsletter lists and doing a weekly newsletter for both my company and a client’s. I ended up doing seminars, writing some books, and building websites for other eBay users. It became a good career for a couple of years.
AYH – Sounds like good times. Can you explain what “drop shipping” is? Also what happened to selling stuff on eBay?
AT – Drop-shipping is when you act as a sort of merchant or seller for a company, selling their products at whatever price you’d like (over their wholesale) and then having the company ship the sold products for you. So I’d list products on eBay from these companies’ catalogs and when the item was purchased, I’d order it on behalf of the person who ordered it from me and the company would ship it. Many wholesalers and small manufacturers utilize this as a way to sell product without paying for marketing or hiring salespeople.
I stopped selling on eBay when the climate there got overly competitive. Eventually, people started selling “drop ship lists” and such to prospective eBay sellers and eBay itself began recruiting major companies to sell directly. On top of that, thrift stores and other places where I got a lot of product became wise to eBay and started selling there themselves, cutting me out of the picture. The business evolved and I wasn’t in a position to want to go with it.
AYH – Why did you start CarNewsCafe.com?
AT – The three of us were all writing for the same outlet at one time, explaining how we met. You and then Nicolas left, but I stayed on. I didn’t like the influence that some sites I was writing about automotive for had. The whole editorial thing and compromise to match it was lame, to say the least. As we’ve discussed before, most automotive publications (online or off) have an editorial bent that will generally favor certain types of stories and certain manufacturers or types of vehicles over others. Woe unto those who question this or attempt to editorialize outside of those predetermined points of view.
Finally, I wanted not just an outlet where I could stretch and say what I’d like, but one where marketing took a back seat to good coverage and smart editorial. Too often, the places I have written for professionally were over-focused on search engine optimization (SEO) and buzz media (aka social sharing) to actually care about the quality of the content being produced.
AYH – You have some smaller more niche focused websites as well. Want to tell our readers about those?
AT – Not really. 🙂 Just kidding.
My first automotive website was GreenBigTruck.com. Since my first automotive writing gig was writing about electric vehicles (specifically scooters, neighborhood electrics, and the like), I thought that there must be some call for commercial vehicles that are “green.” I had written about trucking in various trucking rags sold and given away in truck stops and I was a truck driver before going full-time with freelance writing, so it seemed like a good match – truckers refer to their rigs as “big trucks,” hence GreenBigTruck. It blossomed pretty quickly and ended up with me being interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered.
I thought I’d branch out from there, so I tried AboutAlternativeCars.com, which is still running but often neglected. I’d landed a spot writing on FutureCars.com and saw the potential for an “alternative vehicle” website. It kind of meshed with GreenBigTruck and with my AaronsEnvironMENTAL.com site where I was making fun of Al Gore and writing about do-it-yourself homesteading and natural health. I added EVMeme.com somewhere in there as a sort of “make fun of EVangelists” kind of thing but it’s since morphed into a site aggregating electric vehicle content from several sites I peruse or write for.
My other sites are mostly about me, like my portfolio at AaronOnAutos.com and such.
AYH – Can you tell us what driving a truck for living was like? Seems like that must be hard on the body and tiring.
AT – That depends a lot on the driver. Sometimes it’s tiring and a lot of work, but most of the time it’s more about how well you planned things out than it is about having to kill yourself to get the job done. I generally drove between 600 and 700 miles per day and often stopped randomly to see the sights. I genuinely enjoy driving, so I saw it as a way to get paid to go on road trips.
AYH – In my interview with Geraldine Herbert who founded the website WheelsforWomen, she told me, “the key to a successful website is define your niche and stick with it.” What are your thoughts about statement seeing as you have several sites that have a niche focus in the auto realm?
AT – That’s generally true, but it is a double-edged sword. You can paint yourself into a corner that way. The trick is to cater to a niche audience, but not become known only for that one thing. For example, I began by writing about alternative powertrains, electric vehicles, and the like, but quickly grabbed the chance to write about “regular” cars as well. From there, I kept expanding so that I’m writing for many of the same niche sites, but not exclusively.
AYH – If you could describe “Aaron Turpen” in one word, what would that word be?
AT – Genius.
AYH – 🙂 Ok. What advice to you have for any budding auto journalists/auto writers out there that want new cars to review each week?
AT – Currently, I’m the only one of the three of us here at Car News Cafe who’s getting press loans every week. That’s a combination of outlets I write for and the market I live in. You, for example, Adam, have about the same amount of readership I do in terms of access to outlets for getting cars, but live in a much more contentious part of the country than I do. Because I live in the Rocky Mountain area, automakers are more lenient with who they’ll give cars to for review.
My chief advice for budding journalists is simple: learn who your manufacturer’s reps are and talk to them often. Make sure they know that you’re covering them, make sure you show up to events so you get face time with them, and make sure you know who the media companies are that handle their fleets.
Fellow journalist Tim Esterdahl often makes fun of me for knowing who has what and having the dope on the latest happenings in our press club and with our auto reps and media companies. Putting it bluntly, though, keeping those relationships alive and talking with those whom I work with in terms of getting press loans is what gets me those loans and event invites.
My next piece of advice would be that once you do get a press loan vehicle, take care of it and send those clips to prove you wrote about it ASAP. I’m generally 3-4 cars behind on my reviews, but I always keep the media company that loans the cars appraised of what’s happening with those writeups.
AYH – So your secret is living in the middle of nowhere and keeping tabs on everyone all the time?
AT – Sort of. My secret is staying in the loop and keeping friendships and business acquaintances alive. Even if I have nothing in particular to say to an automotive rep or colleague, I often reach out just to make the connection. Sometimes totally off-topic from our relationship, such as mentioning a team win by their favorite or sending a photo of something cool. Just keeping the comm lines open, as it were.
AYH – I’m sure you’ve read my other auto journalist interviews with Jimmy Dinsmore, Tim Esterdahl, Nicolas Zart, and Geraldine Herbert on this fine car news magazine. Can you admit I’m the best interviewer of all time?
AT – Nope. Mostly you stumble through it and it’s only the brilliance of those you’ve interviewed that saves the day. 😛
AYH – We’ve talked about this before on the My First Car podcast episode but what was you first car? Can you share a found memory of it?
AT – My first car was a 1984 Toyota Corolla LE sedan in gold with a tan interior. That car was a part of a lot of fond memories for me, but what I remember most about it was that even though I treated it rough and demanded a lot from it, but like a good woman, if I kept up the maintenance and care, it always came through.
AYH – What are you currently driving? By that I mean what cars do you personally own. No press fleet cars.
AT – We have a 2006 Mazda5 minivan and a 2000 Honda Civic that we are probably going to sell pretty soon. Boring, yes, but both are great vehicles. Sorry, no hidden Maseratis or old muscle cars at my place. 🙂
AYH – What’s a dream car, truck, or vehicle you’d like to own one day?
AT – I have a lot of them. I’m a big fan of the 2CV from Citroen, especially those made in the 1960s. I’m also a huge fan of the Mercedes Unimog, especially the 1960/70s surplus military versions. Either would be a dream vehicle for me to own. Outside of that, most of the cars I dream about are cars I probably wouldn’t want to own, but would prefer to just drive a while and then give back to someone. That’s why I became a professional test driver, after all.
AYH – LOL, yeah that’s the best way to do it. Have anything on your automotive bucket list?
AT – Oh, my bucket list is long. Here’s a few. I want to race in a proper rally, for one thing. Maybe a Baja or one of those. I’ve never driven a Formula car either. Also, I’ve never made love in a limousine. (No, Adam, you’re not invited.)
Adam Yamada-Hanff – Anything else you want to share about yourself or your life with our readers that we did not discuss?
Aaron Turpen – Just one more thing. Whatever you do, do it because you enjoy it. Don’t go into automotive journalism because you think it makes money or because you want to drive hot cars. Do it because you ENJOY cars. Of all types and description. Nothing makes a career into a job faster than doing it because you don’t know what else to do. I wasted a lot of time in my early life trying to do things because I thought they were going to become careers only to find out that I had no talent and no lasting interest in them. Do it because you enjoy doing it. Period.
Photo courtesy of Rob Endter
END OF INTERVIEW
We hope you enjoyed reading this interview with Aaron. If you have a question about something he said feel free to leave a comment below. We will have Aaron come back and answer any questions from fans and readers when he can.
You can read Aaron Turpen’s articles here on CarNewsCafe.com too, as he always likes that.
Also be sure to let Aaron know you liked this interview by emailing him or sending him a Tweet @MacAaron along with hitting @CarNewsCafe up too. If you have suggestions for other auto journalists you’d like to see on this series please contact us with their name, writing outlets, and contact information.
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