Covering MATS: Then and now

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The lid’s slammed shut on another Mid-America Trucking Show, one of the industry’s busiest annual events for transportation journalists. There’s a plethora of companies that choose the next-to-the-last week in March to announce their latest products, business trends, technological advances – pretty much anything that’s worth announcing. It’s a busy time for us reporter-types, and it’s not for the faint of heart; the tools of the trade involve very comfortable shoes, aspirin, quick typing fingers and the ability to write articles that make every press conference seem like unique events totally unlike the one you just walked away from moments ago.

A few years back, I spent a few years working on the trade show’s “show daily,” a newspaper-like publication that rounded up all of the big events from the previous day, plus a calendar of the major announcements and events that were scheduled for the next day. The first year, I served as assistant editor to learn the tools of the trade, so to speak; it was part of my training to be the editor of the following year’s show daily. I was both horrified and excited: There were a lot of press conferences, 99 percent of Randall-Reilly’s press team was there to cover all of them, and it seemed like all of their stories were turned in at the same time. It was a lot of work, yelling, snapping and panicking to finish everything by deadline, but that pressure has a way of getting the adrenaline flowing. At the end of the day, there was a lot of satisfaction in a job well done.

The next year, being the ultimate answer man was even busier and burdened with a heavier conflict of frustration and achievement. Plus, I was put in charge of posting all of the announcements on two websites: CCJ and Overdrive. The days were even longer, but the pride of the achievement was even more fulfilling. Now, I can’t even remember the name of my assistant who allegedly was supposed to be THE editor of the show daily the next year, but for some reason, they weren’t there the next year; can’t say I blame him or her after seeing what was gonna go down when they were in charge. So I did the No. 1 editor thing AGAIN. Hey, by now, I’d gotten pretty good at it, so why not?

Today, thanks to the blessings of modern social media and the smartphone and tablet technologies that allow them to thrive, covering MATS is a much quicker affair. You want to hear from the CEO of one of the top trucking companies? Check out CCJ’s and Overdrive’s Twitter feeds, which posted the news as it happened. Want to find out the latest proposals from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration? We had them to you as soon as they told us. And if you were Facebook friends for both magazines, you got to see lots of exclusives, not too long after Randall-Reilly’s team took the pictures or filmed the video and wrote a snappy blurb to go with them. And our crack team of journalists also quickly had full coverage posted on both magazines’ respective websites, which in an odd sort of way seems almost ancient already compared to today’s social immediacy.

Social media is a wonderful thing for putting the news out there to interested readers as quickly as possible, and it’s a whole new world for rapid-fire journalism. If a company had a major announcement to make, CCJ and Overdrive had it to you moments after it happened. Kudos to James Jaillet, the news editor for both magazines, and Kathleen Buccleugh, online managing editor for the same two books, for their work in coordinating the whole MATS shebang this year. The future of covering big-time trade shows – such as the upcoming Great West Truck Show and the Great American Trucking Show – is in very capable hands indeed.