Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Shameless Self-promotion - DIY Garage (Toronto Star)

The Toronto Star introduced a new Tablet-based publication called Star Touch late last year, itself a nearly verbatim version of the layout and design of Montreal's La Presse newspaper's own very successful French-language tablet edition. Initially available only on iPads, the app was later expanded to include Android tablets as well. (It was not and still is not available for phones of any flavour. The Star has a revamped online edition for those devices and computers.)

While I won't delve into the relative merits and drawbacks of Star Touch, one of the characteristics of its layout is that it allows, arguably encourages, the use of photos and interactive content. This creates new opportunities for the type of material that can be presented. I was asked to provide a regular Do It Yourself type feature for Wheels based on my experience as a full-time working mechanic and lifelong gearhead.

The result was "DIY Garage". In my head, DIY Garage was intended to fill two primary roles; a general "how-to" on some basic car maintenance tasks, and providing the sort of information that might result from someone chatting up their car-savvy friend or neighbour.

This is how DIY Garage looked on an iPad: this is the page as it appeared when landed on. (Screencap image of TorStar content is used for editorial purposes only.)

There were, of course, limitations to just how in-depth I could get with the constraints of both the format of the features (which eventually settled on a brief introduction and generally 4-6 captioned photos) and the bounds of just what sort of stuff your average DIY'er would likely tackle in an average residential garage or driveway.

Video had been discussed, and I did in fact create two (oil changes and spare tire basics), however it was quickly determined that adding video content to Star Touch rapidly ballooned edition downloads to unrealistic sizes, so DIY Garage stayed strictly text and photos, which was fine by me. With my skillset and equipment, filming and editing videos is a ton of work and takes forever.

I did send in actual photos of my considerably less photogenic two-car residential garage after seeing this background in my first piece; strangely, those pictures were never used. This is clearly some European (guessing German...) commercial workshop space that came from the internet. Doesn't really say "DIY" to me. More like "OCD". Still, it does look nice.

Initially, the left-hand text box could be scrolled. Most later articles had a short intro instead. Scrolling the centre of the screen or selecting the right-hand buttons would open up captioned photos, which could also be individually expanded. (Screencap image of TorStar content is used for editorial purposes only.)

With the Star deciding to no longer use freelance-supplied content for Wheels as of mid-May of 2016, DIY Garage's days were numbered. A total of 15 appeared in the Star Touch editions of Wheels, while 7 seem to have made the leap to the Star's broader online edition. I'll be supplying links and commentary to each of those in some future Loose Nut updates.

I won't lie - it was becoming increasingly difficult to find topics that were realistic, interesting, and importantly, didn't require me to just buy parts for the sake of changing them. I actually did that for the spark plug story seen here, as none of my family's vehicles were due for them. Four plugs are one thing; I wasn't about to hang new brakes to accomplish the same goal. Thankfully, my employer is very supportive of my writing, so I was able to photo-document a few jobs at work that would fall into the realm of DIY-plausible. Window Regulator Replacement was one of those. Doubtless I could have found a number of additional stories there. 

It's a pity that things went the way that they did. I have provided technical content for a trade publication called CarCare Business, however those are aimed at technicians, so they're typically jargon dense and not well suited for a layman audience. There's something enjoyable about sharing knowledge and passion with people that are simply interested in it. Hopefully I'll have another chance to do something like this for a major outlet in the future.

More on DIY Garage to follow. Thanks for reading. See you soon!

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