It's Never Really Goodbye

Image: Mazda
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When former Jalopnik Editor-in-Chief Patrick George reached out in 2015 about potentially writing for some car website with a funny name on weekends during college, I was flattered. Motorsports were my specialty, but I could learn regular cars for this kind of opportunity. How hard could it be?

“Have you ever used Kinja?” was one of the first things he asked me during my informal interview for the gig, because learning the quirks of our oddly named publishing platform is half of the battle.

Had I ever used what-a? I tried to pretend like I knew what that word meant.

In the more than four years since that conversation, this place has been through hell, back, and to hell again as if it were trapped in a pinball machine covered by fire and brimstone in all but a tiny dot in the middle. It was Gawker Media. Then that ended. It was Gizmodo Media. Then that ended. Now it’s G/O Media, which has had its own plethora of challenges. Here’s a small selection of them, if you need a refresher. It might have only been four years, but it sure felt like 14.

But none of the bad matters. What matters is that four years and four months after that first meeting, I can’t imagine a life without Jalopnik, or a life where I didn’t know what this strange “Kinja” thing was, even if my time as a writer here will be over soon.

The thing about working for Gawker Media, which oversaw a lot of these blogs before, you know, that whole thing, was that it wasn’t just some badge of honor on the internet. As much as we make fun of brands and people who swear by material names, Gawker fostered a culture of immense pride in your website and the work you did there—to the point that you’d do just about anything to protect both, even in the midst of lawsuits, buyouts, layoffs, and owners who just seem to want to see the place burn. The Gawker ethos that’s stayed with us over the years makes leaving feel almost sacrilegious, like a betrayal to all of the things I’ve fought for over the years and all of the things that make me who I am, and that’s as unhealthy as it is admirable.

I don’t know that anyone lucky enough to get a job here ever saw themselves leaving, myself included. Gawker Media and Gizmodo Media Group, despite their respective challenges, felt like an end. They were the epitome of internet freedom with all of the credibility of a journalistic institution—a place where you can shit post about the pinkness of Carlos Ghosn’s pink mansion and joke about your hate mail on the same website that’s home to investigations on topics that badly needed investigation, columns on toxic partnerships no one else would call out, personal essays about that time you almost died, and discussions about the state of diversity in the automotive industry—because that’s what Gawker built. They still are that, as much as we can make them in light of the management currently running the place.

You don’t come across that kind of freedom very often as a journalist, because everything you’re taught in school is about “objectivity,” which doesn’t exist, and not including your own personal opinion in your reporting. Leaving these websites means you may not come across it again.

It’s not just editorial staffers who have these feelings, though. Gawker had this way of cultivating audiences so loyal and so unlike anywhere else that I know the screen names of dozens of commenters, and even if I might not know them personally, I feel like I do because we’re always here together. I see commenters stick up for me when someone says something hateful, and I often tear up when I read someone telling me they’ve enjoyed my work “over the years.”

To have anyone read my work at all—let alone for so long—is more than I could have ever hoped for, even if you don’t like all of it. The community here is why even former writers stick around in the comments, and why when you email us about your genuine disappointments, whether we have the power in editorial to change them or not, we feel them just much as you do.

Jalopnik is a haven. It’s retained its Gawker attitude even in the years since Gawker died, no matter the challenges or their respective difficulty. It’s a place where writers can do the hard reporting you’d expect from any journalistic site, while calling people on their shit when deserved and not taking ourselves too seriously at the same time. It’s been a place, in a world where car enthusiasm is still tailored toward a certain type of person, that allows voices you don’t often hear from to shout as loud as they possibly can. You might not like what those voices have to say, but you sure as hell will hear it.

I came here with virtually no experience writing in real time for the internet, only magazine features and stories with deadlines that had enough breathing room for me to read them dozens of times over before I ever sent them in. But at Jalopnik, I wasn’t just a weekend person—I was the only weekend person, expected to post every hour on the hour for an entire workday, two days in a row, with thousands of commenters who knew their stuff ready to destroy me if anything was slightly amiss. All the while, I was learning the production-car side of things.

It was terrifying. It made my heart beat so rapidly every time I hit “publish” that it easily could have just stopped. My hands would sweat as I posted things to social media, hoping I’d done everything correctly and hoping I was living up to what I was supposed to be at this website. Jalopnik transformed me from a college student terrified by the jaws of the internet into a writer who really doesn’t care whom she pisses off, so long as she’s doing what she believes to be right. It transformed me from a person who just wanted to prove themselves as a woman in automotive to someone who asks “Why the hell do I have to prove myself to you, when that guy over there doesn’t?” That was the best thing Gawker could’ve taught me.

I don’t know what it’ll be like when I close out my drafts page in Kinja for the last time, but I do know that just thinking about it makes me have to hold back tears. It’s weird, thinking of how stressful and difficult it’s been to work under all of the things this company has been through and is still going through, yet still be so heartbroken to leave it all behind. But that’s just the kind of attitude this place creates, because in the end, I’ll always be a Jalopnik writer. I’ll always be a Gawker alumnus, too. That’s just the Gawker ethos.

When Jalopnik first sought me to hold it over on the weekends, I imagined it as a job I would do for points on my resume and experience in front of a firestorm of commenters. I didn’t imagine it to become such a big part of my identity, or something that feels like so much more than a website to me. Hell, I didn’t even know what Kinja was.

That’s just the kind of website this is. It grows on you, to the point that it is you, and I’ll miss working for it every day. But at Jalopnik, it’s never really goodbye. You may cease to be a writer, but you never cease to be a reader, a commenter, or a fan. You never cease to be a Jalop.

Because ultimately, no matter where we go, our hearts always bring us right back here.