It’s been almost three months since I took over running the best and biggest car website in the world, a responsibility far scarier than driving any Camaro around Belle Isle. In that time I’ve been pushing our immensely talented team of nutjobs in a new direction, one that emphasizes big, original, amazing storytelling above all else. Let’s talk about the future, shall we?
I’ve wanted to share this philosophy with you — call it the Awesomeness Manifesto, 2015 Edition — for some time, but I figured I’d wait until I could show rather than tell.
This has been a year with many changes for us, but also one with many unqualified successes. We’ve launched our first real foray into video and we’ve had a number of big hits. We’ve launched our Buyer’s Guides to give detailed, brutally honest buying advice that doesn’t suck. We’re finally giving motorcycles the love and attention they deserve.
Our team has done big stories I have been tremendously proud of. And we’ve continued to cultivate not only the biggest audience in the car world — nearly 7 million U.S. readers a month! — but also the smartest, the most dedicated and the most enthusiastic.
I should be happy. Instead, I find myself constantly preoccupied with thoughts of the future. Not just where this website is going, but what it means for everyone who loves to drive.
I don’t need to waste time telling you what we stand for. I also don’t really need to tell you what’s going on in the world of cars in 2015. We live in an amazing time of performance with the fewest compromises. We also live under the shadow of the car that takes driving out of human hands. Make no mistake that the driverless car is coming, and while it may not be here in five years like some expect, the future of cars may not be the future of driving.
You know these things from the headlines. What you often don’t know is the stories behind the stories, because the car industry is burdened with a press generally too servile, lazy, short-sighted or just concerned with staying afloat to say anything truly original about the times we live in. Too much from shrimp-eating sycophants who “Just wanna write about cars!” and not enough from badass reporters willing to burn bridges all day long if it means getting to the truth. There are so many incredible stories out there and not enough people going after them.
The fact is, I’m bored out of my mind by the current state of things. And I bet you are too.
Doing What Nobody Else Is Doing
Auto journalism as it is now suffers from a disease of sameness. Every car website and magazine has the same rumors, the same videos, the same lame-ass buyer’s guides, the same test drives, the same rewritten press releases, the same race recaps, the same reviews.
More than ever, we at Jalopnik are aiming to be different and better. I don’t want us to be the best at the same game everyone is playing — I want to play a different game. This site’s history isn’t rooted in following the status quo. What we’re going to do more of is seek out the stories no one has told before, the stories no one can else has the guts to tell.
I think there’s a good chance we’re living in the last great era of human-driven cars. But I also think that we’re going out with a bang instead of a whimper, and how that happens today will form the basis of the legends that get told tomorrow. If journalism is the first rough draft of history, we have a responsibility to describe our time truthfully and in a compelling way, beyond what gets recycled from press releases.
Our world is full of truly incredible tales waiting to be told, not just in the realm of cars but in every subject we cover. So that will be the primary goal of Jalopnik moving forward: to tell great stories about speed.
What you’re going to see more of is a Jalopnik that’s much more driven by feature-length storytelling and investigative reporting than ever before. Over the past few months we’ve worked to move away from disposable viral crap and blog fodder no one will remember to stories that aim much higher. Because we don’t just write about transportation here, we tell the best stories the world has to offer.
You’ve seen a lot of where we’re headed already. It means flying across the world to drive $80 million roads to nowhere. It means pulling back the curtain on the secret dark side of our space program. It means stories about death cults and the bitter legal fights over the race car of the future. It means calling out powerful institutions when they fail us, chasing down scammers and even going after the cops when no one else will.
It means sending our writers on wild adventures across the globe and driving things that are certifiably insane. It means not just covering auto racing but going there, doing it ourselves and tapping the best talents in motorsports to drive the most extreme street machines available today. It means pretty much anything from Jason’s gasoline-addled genius brain.
It means exploring the plights of people fighting for everything they have and breaking the news you all care about faster and better than the competition can. It means more amazing videos, exploring aspects of speed culture that have been neglected or crushed by cynicism, and getting big scoops nobody else has.
I say this a lot to our staff and to you readers but a good day on Jalopnik is a day that’s full of stories you won’t find anywhere else.
And we sure as hell don’t exist to serve as free PR for car companies or the #brands. If some of them don’t like what we do, we’re happy to cover their competitors instead and take our gigantic audience away from them. We don’t just aim to be the best, we aim to be the most dangerous.
Why are we doing this? Because we think you deserve better than you’re getting right now.
Will we still chase the ridiculous, the bizarre, the crashtacular, the forum drama? Hell yes, we will! It’s a big part of why you guys read us! And those can be great stories, too. My philosophy is that a great story is anything where you want to sit someone down at the end of your day and say to them, “I gotta tell you about this thing I saw today.” That can take many different forms.
So that’s our big push toward better stories. Now, here’s what else we have going on:
New Perspectives, Better Quality
On the heels of some incredible work over the last few months, we’ve promoted Mike Ballaban to Features Editor to help ensure everything we write is Grade A good-ass Kinja. We’ve also brought on Justin Westbrook, who started one of the best reader Kinja blogs in existence, as Night Editor to make sure good Jalopnik stretches well into the evening.
You’ll also be seeing more from the inimitable Alex Roy, as well as pro drivers like Andy Lally, Robb Holland and Parker Kligerman. (That’s right, other websites and car mags; my hot shoes are faster than yours.)
We’ll be looking to add an experienced news reporter with a strong journalism background and a new weekend editor to the staff soon, and we’re aiming to make our team more diverse and with a broader array of experiences. If you’re interested, send us an email with your clips and an explanation of why we need you.
The Garage, A Blog For People Who Like To Wrench
You may have noticed that lately we’ve had more how-tos, more in-depth explainers, more technical articles, and more stories on builds and repairs. That’s no accident. The members of our audience who like to get their hands and brains dirty have been criminally underserved in recent years. No more!
Starting tomorrow, Sept. 1 CarBuying will re-launch as The Garage, a new subsite where all of our geeky technical stories, crazy project cars and DIY guides will live. Expect to see a lot from our ace gearheads Tavarish, David Tracy and anyone else on our staff willing to look at a busted gearbox and say “How hard can it be?”
Tune in tomorrow for more details. I think you’re going to like what’s coming, and you’ll still get superb car buying advice from our new Buyer’s Guides — and from Tom McParland on the Jalopnik mainpage.
FlightClub is going to space! (Figuratively.) One of my goals is to ramp up our coverage of spaceflight, which I believe is the most important thing the human race has ever done or will do. You’ll be seeing a lot more coverage of space travel, past and present, privately and publicly funded, from all of us.
This isn’t at the expense of our car coverage. It’s in addition to it, because we love space for the same reason we love cars — constantly pushing the edge of what’s possible, exploring the unknown, often at the cutting edge of technology, and with incredible speed. And it’s the future for all of us.
When I announced we were going to fix broken motorcycle journalism, I initially thought we could do it just with our existing team of writers who ride. I quickly found out I needed to bring a bazooka to that knife fight instead, and the bazooka is Sean MacDonald, the best motorcycle writer on the web. Here’s his plan to fix things.
More Adventures, More Big Events
Hey, what’s a car website without some awesome road trips? You’ll be seeing more of us getting outside our dank, poorly lit writing-caves to drive some amazing machines all over the world.
Plus, we’ll be having more events like our upcoming third annual Jalopnik Film Festival in Los Angeles at the end of September. Hope to see you there!
All that plus the stories you’ve hopefully come to love — all the bonkers stories from Jason, trucks and offroading (and bikes!) from Andrew, the fantastic racing/Puffalump/donut coverage from Stef, the video craziness from Nicole and her team, the features from Raph that magazines would kill for, the best defense and aircraft reporting in the business from Tyler and Collin, the finest stories on cars Americans can’t drive from Máté and Kat, plenty from the great Doug DeMuro, and so much more.
As always, we’re doing this for you, because awesomeness is what you deserve. And we welcome your feedback, your ideas, your criticism, and your thoughts on what we can do to be better.
I hope you’ll join us. The future is going to be fun.
Photo credit: DW Burnett/PUPPYKNUCKLES
A big thanks to Mike and Raphael for their help in shaping this piece from a 8,500 word rant about emergency auto braking, the lack of knobs on modern cars and why good barbecue shouldn’t need sauce into something that might actually be readable.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.