Much like the auto industry, Jalopnik has lost its way. It's time to get back on track with a simple mission: regain our snarky, just-shy-of-libertarian voice, and then use it to create a new generation of car enthusiasts. Let's roll.
Last Fall was a time for rejoicing. Four years after Gawker founded this site for the "sleek freak" in love with cars "for the curve of a hood," Jalopnik had done the impossible: despite a silly name It had grown from a tiny niche site with a handful of readers into an online institution measuring its reach in the millions. At the same time, we had retained our core audience. All looked right with the world.
Then came the Carpocalypse. Our Gawker overlords — hoping for the best but preparing for the worst — forced me to cut our editorial budget in half while simultaneously demanding increased traffic. At first, I pushed back. I overspent my budget. I paid writers' fees out of my own pocket. I did whatever I could to forestall the inevitable, but I wasn't strong enough to do it forever.
A year ago this month, I caved. I did what I was told, dampening our smart and snarky voice. I moved Murilee from daily to weekend duty and let go of many new names. Instead of looking forward while remembering the past, I forced my overworked and undersupported team to stumble blindly across the post-Carpocalypse automotive desert. We chased the same carrot as Autoblog, Motor Trend, and the rest, pursuing what we were told was the "growth segment" of the automotive universe — general consumers and non-enthusiasts.
In the end, it was little more than a mirage, one made of nanny-state-bloated hybrids, crossovers, and shitboxes. These vanilla appliances were built for the Big Gulp-fattened, cow-like masses, not enthusiasts like us. But we were hungry for cheap traffic, and we gorged, competing over meaningless press releases and page-view-whoring galleries because there was nothing else on the table. And dammit, we were good at it.
I recently realized that those choices did nothing but push you, our brothers in arms, closer to irrelevance. The numbers tell the story: According to a study performed by Pew Research in 2008, 23% of people believe their car is "something special — more than just a way to get around." That figure is half of what it was in 1991. If that trend continues, by 2021, less than 5% of American drivers will give an emotional rat's ass about the car they drive.
Car companies are creating the instruments of their own demise. They're killing their shot at the next generation of auto enthusiasts by providing little more than a choice between bloated technobarges and hybrid jelly beans aimed more at mass marketing than mileage for the masses. Both are designed to be cattle cars, ferrying commuters from A to B with no real connection to the road. Sure, there are exceptions. But for every Cadillac CTS-V, there are five fat and lazy Toyota Avalons or, worse, bloated-disguised-as-fun machines like the Ford Taurus SHO.
Some old-school car writers think this is the end for the car-loving individual. I think they're wrong. I believe the post-Carpocalyptic automotive world is actually fertile ground for a new breed of enthusiast. This new generation is waiting to be freed from the shackles of a crossover culture. Who are they? They're the gadget guys and gamers who have grown up driving cars on a computer but never tried them in real life. These are the kids that are living their lives on Facebook and wouldn't know that a V, an SS, a GT or an F can make all the difference in the world. I truly believe that once they feel what it's like to drive an awesome and exciting real car, they'll never turn back.
This new audience needs an old-school champion, a voice that looks forward while still looking back. Jalopnik can be that champion, but only if we're willing to stand up for what got us here. We need to regain the snarky, contrarian and often-times libertarian-minded voice that Spinelli created, Johnson honed, Lieberman championed with the commenters, and I foolishly mass-marketed. But that voice needs more than just a you-are-there-quality. As a first step, I've hired Sam Smith to be our new Features Editor, to help the site ooze automotive enthusiasm from every pore and pixel. We want to continue to provide an independent and intelligent viewpoint on the stuff that matters, but we also want to do it in a way that's accessible to (and engaging for) newcomers.
When it comes to news reporting, we need to be breaking stories by shining a light on the dark underbelly of the automotive world. When we're not, the only stories you'll see here will be those where we're adding real value. Obsessed with the auto industry? Fine. We'll teach you how to be self-reliant. Rather than regurgitate what others have written under a patina of oversimplified and often false summaries, we'll show you how to find the news that's important to you with tools like Twitter or an RSS reader.
We're also giving up on breathlessly and enthusiastically reporting about boring cars. So what if there's a new Dodge Journey or Toyota Sienna? Those are the vehicles that the car companies want us to report on, and that we've mistakenly covered out of a desire to please some SEO god rather than the enthusiasts. Dull, slow hybrids? Fuck 'em. If you want to do something green, ride a bus or the subway when you commute and drive a Se7en on the weekends. We'll also no longer allow ourselves to be trapped in the middle, championing just-greater-than-meh by saying "it's better than the rest of the segment" when the entire segment's worthless. That's like saying one piece of shit smells better than than the rest of the pile, and you deserve better.
We're going to need help. A revolution takes more than one voice, and if we're going to cast off the shackles of mediocrity, we'll need co-conspirators. That means it's your job to spread the gospel of automotive obsession to your friends. See something truly awesome? Send us a tip. Inspired? Tell us about it. Furious? Let us know. Our best stories come from you and our best stories are promoted by you.
There's more change on the way, but for now, rest assured that your voice has been heard. We know we've fallen down. Now it's time to pick ourselves up, dust off, and let Jalopnik be Jalopnik by taking the path we were meant to take — the path of awesomeness — starting with this upcoming week's Detroit Auto Show.