Jamie LaReau, Free Press Automotive Journalist: “There’s Always News”
Jamie LaReau covers a company so large and influential that a former president of the company told Congress he believed “what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”
And decades later, LaReau said, it’s still true.
In fact, GM’s influence is spreading around the world. And its current CEO, Mary Barra, has vowed to transform auto manufacturing with a “zero-emission, all-electric future” that “gets everyone on board.”
LaReau, who has been nominated for a Loeb Prize and a Pulitzer Prize, holds GM to that commitment. She recently wrote about the safety concerns for one of the automaker’s electric cars and the controversy over GM’s political contributions.
In this interview, LaReau also talks about writing personal stories for herself, and how, before she started covering GM, the company’s announcement that Barra would become CEO was so important that she had it. moved to tears.
Here’s an edited transcript of the interview, or you can listen to it on Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, Apple Podcasts, or freep.com.
FREE PRESS: Well, thank you, Jamie, for taking the time to interview me today.
FREE PRESS: I know you have been an economics reporter for the Free Press since 2018, covering one of the biggest companies in the world, General Motors. And you also wrote personal stories. And I just heard that you have been invited to teach a course in Central Michigan. Throw tokens. So first, I wanted to ask you if we could talk a little bit about the GM coverage?
FREE PRESS: How is it ?
LAREAU: Oh, this is exciting. It is never a dull moment. It’s a huge business and there is always news. I will say that they are quite easy to work with. Overall they are accessible to me as a journalist and it has been interesting. There were a lot of levels, a lot of layers. Mary Barra is a unique leader to cover and I love that.
FREE PRESS: And for those listening who don’t know, she’s the CEO of the company.
LAREAU: It’s correct. She is. She’s been CEO, I believe, since 2014, and has worked for GM her entire career. His father also worked for General Motors. She therefore has a long history with the company. I remember the day she was appointed CEO. I was driving to work that morning and working for Automotive News.
I covered a different pace. I didn’t cover GM. And I walked into the office, I heard the news on the radio. And I remember, I mean, it looks a little cheesy, but I remember crying. Because being a woman in the auto industry for so long, covering it myself, having a wife breaking the glass ceiling and running an auto maker was really historic. And it just moved me. I was amazed that General Motors took this step and that no one else did.
FREE PRESS: Well, you’ve kind of got a head start on my questions here. So, I’m just going to ask now. She’s not just the face of GM now, but also the face of women in corporate America. And I think a reminder that there really is a lack of gender equality, at this high level and at many levels. And I was kind of wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about what you think?
LAREAU: I think it’s a long way that women still have to go. I think we saw it in 2016 with the (presidential race between) then Secretary of State Clinton and former President Trump. In some cases, have I heard, people say they didn’t vote for her because they didn’t think a woman could be president. So there is always that attitude in terms of female leadership and it’s something that is evolving.
I think we’ve come a long way. I think a lot of my colleagues, my male colleagues are very respectful and offer their support, help and respect. So that’s good. But you know when I started out I remember having incidents where, I was seen as a girl and I was given cars to take a test drive and I was told, âHey. well, that’s a little too fast for a girl. And I was like, “Well, you know, I guess it depends on how hard I want to press the gas pedal, right?” “
FREE PRESS: Well, getting back to GM, can you tell us a little bit about the hardest part of covering a large company like this and how you decide what to cover?
LAREAU: There is a lot of collaboration with my editors when there is news and we make decisions about what we think our readers will react to. We write for more than one consumer audience. We don’t write for Wall Street. We don’t necessarily write for the same reader of a trade publication like Automotive News. They are people from the industry. So, we look at it from what would interest a car buyer and a consumer? What would an amateur investor be interested in if you owned shares of General Motors? And we make decisions that way.
We also examine unique stories of commercial and human interest. We love to explore people-driven stories, some of the stories I’ve done that got the biggest responses from readers have been innovative people working at General Motors doing some really interesting things that have an intriguing story. And it’s pretty much around the clock, in some ways, because it’s a huge company and has offices all over the world. So news might come if it happened at 11 o’clock on a Friday night and I’m writing a story. It’s just the nature of rhythm.
FREE PRESS: You have a lot of experience in writing. You worked in newsrooms for about three decades before The Free Press, you worked on automotive news, as you said, for about 13 years. You worked for Reuters in New York, Bridge Wire in Chicago, and I think you worked for a TV station?
FREE PRESS: Can you talk a bit about how all of that experience is incorporated into what you are covering now?
LAREAU: Well, we have become a multimedia medium. We do audio. There were times when we were asked to shoot videos and take pictures of people on election day. I was shooting a video while I was interviewing voters. So I have this experience doing this in previous jobs. I was a radio reporter for a while. I spent six years in television, and now in print. It has given me a wide range of experiences that I can apply to my current job. And it was good. And you know, to relate is to relate. The more you do it, the better you get at it, whether it’s broadcast or print. And there are a lot of things you can borrow from everyone. With print, you learn to be a really in-depth investigative reporter, which, even if you do a short, broadcast style of reporting, it’s still good to go in depth because you have the information. And that’s what you need to convey to your audience.
FREE PRESS: Can you tell about a few non-GM stories you wrote that were particularly touching and resonated with readers? One, I think, was recent, about your memories covering the 911 attacks in New York 20 years ago. And the other was about Romeo, a tough puppy you adopted because you love animals.
LAREAU: Uh huh. Yes, it was two. And then I also got a lot of comments about my mom. And she being in a nursing home and unable to visit him for a year in person. I had to talk to him through the window on the phone, because of COVID. A lot of people wrote about it, because they had similar situations with family members who were in long term care facilities, and they couldn’t see them either. So this was really appreciated by the readers.
And then adopting my puppy, I just wrote this because I love to write about dogs. As you know, I do a lot of reporting, a little bit off, which is great with the Free Press, by the way. My editor will let me write about things other than cars, if there’s time, because I’m interested. And I like it. And so, I like to write about dogs. I realized there was the puppy pandemic, as well as the COVID pandemic, where people were adopting puppies. And I was one of them. Some people in our newsroom have adopted puppies as well. So I thought, well, I’m going to write this story because Romeo had this really unique past, and how it came to me was kind of fateful. I thought this would be a good column to write that would also convey to people, âHey, if you’re thinking about adopting a dog, remember that it’s for life and there are a lot of responsibilities that go with it. go with it. And it can be difficult sometimes. “
And then with regard to September 11, yes, I was in New York. I was working for Reuters at the time, and it was a very vivid memory that day. I left a lot of stuff out of the column just because I wanted to keep it focused on my journalistic work and just focus on that. But there were a lot of memories from that day that will stay with me forever. And, you know, tragic and sad as that day was, as a journalist, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere other than there because you want to convey information and you want to do your job. And that job is to record history.
FREE PRESS: It’s great. Thanks so much Jamie. I really appreciate this. To read all of Jamie’s personal reports and thoughts, subscribe to Detroit Free Press or freep.com.
Jamie L. LaReau
Title: Business / Automotive Journalist
Year started at the Free Press: 2018
Education: Michigan State University, Bachelor of Journalism
Hobby: Fitness and cycling. She runs 2-3 miles a day and walks her two dogs for another 3 miles. Reading real crimes and other non-fiction. Cooking, traveling, studying cinema and taking historical tours.