I visit the Detroit Auto Show every year, on MLK weekend, with my friends and family, excited to see the shiny new vehicles gracing the floor of Cobo Center. The show is always jam-packed with people, and trying to sit in a Mustang or catch a glimpse of a new concept vehicle is difficult. So when I heard of an opportunity for communications students to cover the Detroit show during preview week, I immediately jumped on the opportunity.
The program is called Discover Your Drive, hosted by General Motors Diversity Communications. Thirteen students from across the country (including yours truly) attended this five-day program to expand their journalistic experience. We had a blast in the Motor City, from running around Detroit’s hotspots in a scavenger hunt to eating at many local restaurants. Seeing the reactions to snow and chilling winds from my Texan friends was both charming and hilarious. (On a side note, I also learned that Coney Islands are exclusively a Detroit phenomenon, as my friends looked at me clueless when I mentioned a “coney dog”)
Amidst the fun, we were hard at work covering the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). We were on the floor for nearly ten hours on Monday, interviewing top executives (including Mary Barra, CEO of GM). The thirteen of us were divided into four groups, each tasked with creating a presentation about NAIAS 2017. My group, consisting of Gabi Wy, Nguyen Le, and William Cornelius, decided to focus our presentation on the new technologies at the show. We were running around Cobo taking photos, recording interviews, and jotting down notes in a sea of busy media professionals. The next day, we sat down in a cozy office space downtown and compiled all of our media into one cohesive video, with occasional pizza breaks and searching for the right music for nearly an hour on Spotify and YouTube (we were somehow seriously considering Irish step music for our video, but eventually found the right song). My group was mentored by Sal Rodriguez, reporter for Inc, who made suggestions about editing our video, gave advice to us about entering the media industry, and kept us entertained with his creativity:
The program concluded with breakfast at GM’s Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, where each team presented their projects. By the end of this program, I can say that I have learned so much more about the journalism, PR, and auto industries. I also learned more about myself and the fellow students who shared this amazing opportunity with me. Below are three things I’ve learned this past week in Detroit:
- Maintain relationships: Getting a job in the media industry is becoming increasingly competitive. Too often, we hear of more newspapers and publications laying off reporters. The advent of social media and digital communications have complicated the economic model. Standing out and competing with others for coveted jobs is extremely difficult in today’s market. That is why self-branding and networking are extremely important. As Patricia Guadalupe stated in a panel discussion, it’s about your network—who you know and who knows you. Maintaining relationships is key to standing out of the crowd. After this trip, I feel that I have made a network of students and professionals from across the country with whom I will be in contact in the years to come.
- Be confident: Working in the media, you will be in contact with countless individuals. I learned that during my time in Detroit. I have not had much interviewing or journalism experience prior stepping foot into Cobo Center for press day. I was timid to ask experts any questions, out of fear of looking incompetent. I remember thinking to myself: This is a stupid question. They will not want to talk with a student. What am I doing here? I don’t know what to do. But, I slowly built up my confidence and interviewed many individuals on my own. I was surprised to find myself walking up to PR specialists, asking them if there were engineers on the floor to elaborate on the hybrid technology used in the cars. I saw a transformation within myself during the short amount of time that I was there. I learned that confidence gets you far, and being afraid of what people may think of you will only set you back in the media industry.
- Appreciate diversity: It may sound cliche, but I found this to be important over the week. Diversity is not just about race, gender, sexuality, or economic class. While those factors help create a multidimensional atmosphere with overlooked groups giving their perspectives, diversity is more than that. I found that each person’s life experiences gives them a unique voice. I was moved when one of the student groups gave a presentation on the automotive industry’s slow innovations for disabled individuals. One of the group members, Dominique Sims, shared the story of her uncle who suffered an injury and became physically disabled. Her group noted that the auto industry does not significantly accommodate people like her uncle. Dominique’s anecdote gave meaning to her group’s presentation. Additionally, my roommate during the trip, Jose Arredondo, shared his story of losing his mother, and how that event motivated him to pursue his passion of sports journalism.
With those three points in mind, I can genuinely say that I have learned so much during this program. I want to thank everyone who made this experience possible (GM Diversity Communications and mentors). I am also thankful for all the contacts and friendships I have made. I wish everyone nothing but the best and a bright future ahead.