The greatest part of my journalism career will always be the people I met in the newsrooms along the way, the old timers and crusty senior members of the masthead who would consistently display some courage or curmudgeonly craziness to inspire a young reporter. One of the greats will always be Forbes’ automotive editor, the great Jerry Flint, who passed away on Saturday, August 7 at the age of 79.
Jerry was the king of Detroit car reporters, covering the beat for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times before setting off on a 31-year career at Forbes. I best remember him for three things:
1. Convincing me in my first year at Forbes, when I was working out of an apartment in Boston as the “New England Bureau Chief” (a bureau of one, me), that I could expense my utilities and even a cleaning service through my monthly expense report. “Really? Gee!” and I took the bait, filing the receipts only to get called on the mat by my boss for being the Mark Hurd of Forbes in 1988. “But Jerry Flint said …”
2. After starting Forbes.com in 1995 the ad sales force was told to take me around to the big accounts to sell them sponsorships on this new thing called the World Wide Web. One of the first stops was Detroit, center of a lot of print ad pages back then, as GM was the magazine’s biggest account. I was hauled around the city (my first time there) by the ad guys and eventually taken to the offices of J. Walter Thompson to pitch the Lincoln account. Jerry was in town and used as a lever to get the meeting with the Lincoln execs. I had no idea the kind of clout he carried, but there I was, a “portable” projector in tow (the thing had wheels and a handle and weighed 50 pounds) and my Toshiba Satellite, and Jerry flies in, dapper as always, and the kow-towing began. I had no chance to make my pitch. We were taken into a windowless conference room, the table covered with ominous lumps shrouded in cloth. Next year’s models were going to be unveiled to Jerry and the Lincoln designers were very nervous. As they unveiled one car after another, Jerry looked on, finally saying with a sarcastic smile, “Hell, they’ll always be cheap Cadillacs with big lumps on their asses, won’t they?”
3. On Nova, the PBS show, there was a documentary about America’s love affair with SUVs and minivans. Jerry made a cameo inside of some Soccer Mom Wagon, sitting in the back seat and popping open, one at a time, all the cup holders. When he got to 17 his point was made. “May drive like a shoe box but it holds a hell of a lot of Slurpees.”
Jerry was old school, but Jerry owned the car beat. As the New York Times obituary said this morning, he loved big noisy cars. Here’s Forbes memorial.