Before "New Media" dropped the keys to the Information Age in the hands of the people, only priests, politicians and men of the press wielded sufficent strength to shape the popular landscape in a meaningful way. Historically speaking, "the power of the pen" has been especially forceful in the custom motorcycle scene, with the majority of that influence flowing from the editor's desks at magazines like Easyriders, Street Chopper and Hot Bike.
Eric Ellis and Jeff Holt wield that power today at Source Interlink, the publishing juggernaut behind Hot Bike, Street Chopper and Baggers magazines. This is a look into that media machine through the eyes of two men who toil in its trenches.
Jeff G Holt
Grass Valley, CA
MAGAZINE AND TITLE:
Editor, Hot Bike; Editorial Director, American Motorcycle Group (AMG)
Editor, Street Chopper; Associate Editor, Hot Bike
Short stint at Cal State Long Beach, graduated from THE Chico State University, BA in Liberal Studies, Minor in Journalism. Basically I’ve been going to school long enough to be a doctor but don’t pull in the doctor salary. Originally I was going to be a teacher, but when I started doing my student teaching I realized I wasn’t into dealing with kids, so I just kind of wandered and fell into journalism.
Hard knocks and a useless marketing degree.
PRIOR PUBLISHING EXPERIENCE:
A little PR work with a college radio station.
High school yearbook class to score hot Asian chicks, Did hundreds of Tioga, Intense, Shimano and other BMX and MTB catalogs; contributed to Cars-R-Coffins and The Outcast fan ‘zines; freelanced for Bike magazine a bunch.
BEFORE MY CURRENT GIG:
Affinity Management Group, marketing and promotions for Phillip Morris.
I was in-house at "Baggers" and "Hot Bike" magazines, so I’ve worked on all our titles. In the real world I owned a marketing company in the cycling and action sports industries.
THE HARDEST PART OF FINISHING EVERY NEW ISSUE IS:
Unlike Street Chopper and Baggers which are pretty specific titles, Hot Bike is somewhat vague and ambiguous. What’s “hot” to one person may not do shit for another, so it’s a pretty broad, catch-all mag. At the end of every issue one of the hardest parts is feeling like I have a well-rounded collection of bikes, features stories, and tech. The other really difficult part is trying to make cuts to content when total page counts get reduced. Deciding what should stay and what can wait ‘til next issue all plays into creating a well-rounded book.
Making sure freelancers, friends and contributors get their features in on time.
HOW HAVE THE MODERN TOOLS OF PUBLISHING MADE YOUR JOB EASIER:
Technology allows me to work 24/7 from just about anywhere. Email is one of the biggest tools. I find myself emailing or responding to emails from the time I wake up to the time I pass out. Digital photography has also been a huge benefit. I remember when I first started working for the company I was shooting a tech article with a film camera on mass produced exhaust systems. The shop was super dark, and after an entire day of shooting I remember thinking, “I’m not sure if any of these photos will be worth a damn.” Now as soon as I shoot a photo I can check to see how shitty it is. Electronic design, email, and the Blackberry have made tweaking/making cover corrections with my art director while on the road a much quicker and simpler process.
Digital photography has made it much easier to shoot and control the quality of photographs, but many of Street Chopper’s contributors still only shoot with film. I love the look and feeling real film conveys, but they all get digitized and “cleaned up” before they hit the pages of our books. As far as the other stuff, basically not having to use a typewriter and Whiteout 10 hours a day is a good thing.
EDITORS AT OTHER MAGAZINES I'VE SPOKEN TO SAY ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION HAS DONE NOTHING TO STREAMLINE THE EDITORIAL PROCESS. DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE, AND WHY?
Yes and no. It is easier to get things done from the road. But now with electronic communication so readily available and easy to use I feel the volume of press releases, news, general information, inquiries, and what used to be phone calls and messages has quadrupled. Email has become so available and easy to use compared to the old method of PR distribution (photos, stationery, USPS) that everyone has taken advantage of it. Previously senders were hesitant to shoot photos, type letters, burn images and buy stamps. Now they simply jump on their computer or cell phone and fire away. Staying on top of email eats up a big chunk of my day. When it’s all said and done, it still takes us 30 days to produce a magazine.
I disagree. I find more bikes and speak with more people via email and Facebook than I ever did in person or on the phone. I have had many people say, “I saw you and felt weird about coming up and talking to you, so I just dropped you an email and a pic of my bike.”
THE TOOLS IN YOUR PHOTOJOURNALISTIC QUIVER:
One very used and abused Canon 10D. I think the HD video 7D is in my near future. MacBook Pro, Olympus Stylus point-and-shoot. For writing stories I just use MS Word, and for photo management/selection I use Expression Media, but my art director is trying to convert me to Bridge CS3. I just got an iPod so I’m looking for ways to bring that into the mix
Canon 40D, Canon G9, Leica IIIf Red Dial Self Timer, MacBook, Mac G5, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Bridge, iPhoto
EVERY GOOD MAGAZINE EDITOR I’VE MET SAYS MANY ASPECTS OF THE JOB ARE CRAZY. TELL US WHAT KEEPS YOU SANE:
Crown, my dogs, my wife, riding and messing with bikes when a camera or deadline isn’t involved.
PBR and Jim Beam Rye.
IF YOU LOST YOUR MAGAZINE JOB TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO FOR MONEY?
I’d run for governor of California. Between the performance of our outgoing governor and the selection of candidates we have this November, I think I could give it a run. I’ve got plenty of red pens.
Move to Montana, freelance for other magazines, grow corn and alfalfa, and buy and sell old cars and motorcycles.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO FOR CREATIVE RELEASE:
I’d definitely still have to write and shoot photos. I am not the greatest writer or photographer but I do enjoy combining the two to create a story. I’d probably spend time messing with video and learning video editing, maybe attempt to write a screenplay. I think it’s time for a resurgence of the “bikesploitation” genre.
I’d work on my '68 and '54 Ford F-100 pickups. I am doing ground-up builds on both of them.
GIVE US AN HOURLY ACCOUNT OF ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MAGAZINE EDITOR DURING DEADLINE:
7:00 am—Hit the shower, answer emails
8:00 am—Hit the road via bike or truck. On days I drive I try to kill the 1-1/2-hour commute by handling phone calls I forgot to make the previous day. If I ride in I spend the 60-minute commute I split lanes all the way and try to ride my editorial in my head.
9:00 am-9:30 pm—Arrive at the office, grab coffee. Even though we are a small staff we have our shit together and are usually sitting pretty good by final deadline, which is always the last day of our three-day shipping process. There may only be a page or two left that still needs to be written or edited. I wish my day was more organized (probably would help if I had any sort of time management skills), but from 9 to 6 I answer emails, read/edit first copies of stories, read/edit flats (story layouts before they are shipped to the printer), get on the phone, review/make changes to the cover, write/finish up my remaining pages (typically my editorial—I always seem to push these to the last minute), handle whatever curves or changes that occur, maybe have an impromptu meeting or get diverted by some kind of corporate task/project that has to be addressed ASAP. Answer more emails, then go home. Nothing like you see in the movies or TV where people are running around screaming, “Stop the presses!” or freaking out.
While it doesn't happen often, sometimes we do overlap deadlines with other titles in our group. When this happens, three or four magazines can come together at the same (Hot Bike, Street Chopper, Baggers, and a special issue like the Buyer’s Guide). Our staff comprises five guys putting out 30 or 31 magazines a year. It’s a lot of work but we all love our jobs and are grateful for how fortunate we are to have this opportunity.
6:00 am—Three-year-old daughter wakes me up
6:15 am—Play with my kid while I get ready for my morning bike ride
6:30 am—14-mile bicycle ride Monday, Wednesday and Friday
7:30 am—Jump in the shower with a can of Monster in my hand
8:30 am—Hop on the Dyna and ride to the office
9:00 am—Sit down at the desk to answer emails, check our sites and forums, proofread
flats, make corrections
12:30 pm—Follow up calls, emails, and texts to deadbeat contributors
1:00 pm—Track down parts for features shipped to our office by advertisers and manufacturers
1:30 pm—Drink another can of Monster, wishing it were PBR
2:00 pm—Write a bike feature, check facts, work on layout with Art Director, and add content to product blog
4:00 PM Submit bike feature, check emails, edit more flats, check more features, answer more texts, make/take more phone calls
5:00 pm—Ride to a shop or manufacturer and shoot a tech feature
8:00 pm—Home for dinner
LET'S SAY YOU'RE GRANTED 100% CONTROL FOR ONE ISSUE, FINANCIAL REALITY AND ADVERTISERS' NEEDS ARE NO CONCERN. GIVE ME A SHORT DESCRIPTION OF YOUR DREAM BOOK:
Advertisers, publishers and ad sales people rarely strong-arm me for editorial content or direction. When it happens I push back and make sure the ideas serve a valuable purpose for our readers. My dream issue would be to double our page count to what it was in the early 2000s. I’d like more room for more bikes, bigger pictures and more free-flowing layouts—essentially more of everything. My other dream would be to have the resources and technical ability to put some of our tech features to the test. Give the readers hard data, charts and figures beyond standard dyno stuff to prove that every product featured did what it was supposed to. Most times we just explain the results with our personal thoughts and impressions. I have several articles in mind that I hope to use some of the more readily available devices and technology to accomplish this dream.
Have you seen early issues of “Rodder’s Journal?” I would do my dream book the same size and paper quality as RJ, with nothing but the best bikes shot by the best photographers. I’m already halfway there with the current issues of Street Chopper; I just need that lusciously thick glossy-assed paper.
See more of Jeff's work at Street Chopper online
Eric's musings on the big twin scene can be seen at Hot Bike online