“You should know,” Ryan Felton said sheepishly into the phone, “that I can’t really... drive stick.” Felton, being the slippery bastard that he is, waited until I sent the hiring paperwork to him in November 2016 to deliver this news to me.
“Well,” I told him, “your job will mostly be covering the tech industry, so... it’s not super necessary? But we are, at heart, a car enthusiast site. You should probably learn at some point. Hell, I’d be happy to teach you.”
“Okay,” he agreed.
I’m not really sure if he ever learned, exactly. He is, as I mentioned, a slippery bastard.
Today, we gather to mourn Ryan as he abandons us for presumably less swear-filled pastures as a senior investigative reporter at Consumer Reports. They are lucky to have him. While we’ll all laugh at his 90-minute (lol) train-and-bus commute from Brooklyn to Yonkers, each way, we will miss him dearly.
I especially will miss him. In addition to being a supremely kind and gentle human being, he is one of the best reporters I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, a guy with a set of digging skills far beyond his years. He gave Jalopnik—a site with a proud tradition of investigative reporting to go along with the burnout videos and shitposts about Volvo wagons—some of its best stories to date. He won awards for his journalism. He dug into what really happened with the water in Flint. He expanded the scope of what we do into electric vehicles and autonomous driving tech. He took on everything from predatory lenders to Elon Musk to prison snitches. He turned our site into an even fiercer advocate for consumer protection.
He went after the liars, frauds and assholes in the mobility space—of which there are plenty, believe me—without fear or hesitation. His dogged work is the reason we all know about the disaster that has been the Goodyear G159 tire. We’ve gotten email after email since that story began, from owners telling us how they took those tires off their RVs after reading our work, possibly saving their lives. This may sound hyperbolic, but I sincerely believe the world’s a slightly better place for some of the work he did here.
And Ryan did it all with a deep scowl on his face and an aggrieved sigh, unless he was talking about vegetables or his scream-filled trash music that shouldn’t be discussed in polite company. I think Ryan has a bit of a chip on his shoulder because he’s the kind of person who sees the world as it should be, never as it is, and that’s what makes him a good journalist.
Maybe someday he’ll even be one who can really work a clutch.
Here are some other stories from those who worked with him every day.
Everyone always talks about “Ryan got this great story” this and “have you seen Ryan’s latest investigation” that, but Ryan is entirely guilty and complicit in NOT telling a larger story. This so-called “Ryan Felton” “claims” he’s a staunch vegetarian, but when no one’s looking, I’ve seen him eat meat. Twice.
The first time was at a dinner where Ryan was to receive an award for his journalism. I don’t know why he felt the need to double-fist whiskey and cokes, as the very nice waitstaff at the event would’ve happily provided another one should he have demanded it, but he did. Ryan, inebriated with whiskey cokes and the glory of truly incredible work, was rightfully on top of the world.
And then the food came around. It was some sort of steak, as one gets at big fancy events like weddings and bar mitzvahs and journalism awards dinners. Ryan looked at the food, and then he looked at me, dead in the eyes. “Fuck. I forgot to order the vegetarian option.”
I had a moment of panic. Ryan was our One True Star Boy, and here I was, supposed to be his proud editor accompanying him on the night of his big fancy award. Would he throw the plate? Would asparagus fly into the face of the Daily Beast’s Noah Shachtman, who was being very nice to us that evening and was cool to hang out with? How much blood would be spilt by the end of the night? And who would cover the check?
“Ah, screw it,” Ryan finally said. “But don’t tell anyone, okay?”
I promised I would not tell anyone, so long as Ryan was still employed at Jalopnik, at which point ALL AGREEMENTS BECOME VOID. I’m sorry, but those are just the rules.
Ryan ate heartily from his steak, tasting the juices of victory and/or industrially-raised cattle.
The other time, Ryan and I were playing hooky from work (PG note: Wait, what the fuck?) while we pretended to be doing some stuff with Tesla instead. He ordered some tofu curry thing as he usually does, and then he realized there was pork in it. He then proceeded to tell me all about how he wasn’t a vegetarian on moral grounds, that he has no ethical problems with eating meat, it’s just that he feels vegetarianism is a more healthy option. He’d rather live a long and miserable life, naturally, rather than one filled with joy and hamburgers.
“Ah, screw it,” Ryan finally said. “But don’t tell anyone, okay?”
He didn’t want anyone to know his secrets. A man who spent a career espousing the misdeeds of others didn’t want anyone hearing about his own. He didn’t want people to know about his secret meat-eating, or his screamo band (which he claims was punk, but whatever, check out the video above, I’ll leave that for you to decide, and yeah, Ryan had hair), or that time he chugged Four Loko for food, or his insatiable lust for putting some money on the ponies, or about his absolutely wonderful dog, Etta.
I guess I spilled the beans on all those things, just now, though. Oops. Sorry Ryan.
You guys all got to know Ryan through his powerful investigations, but it’s a shame you’ll have to wait a little while longer to get to know Ryan somewhere else as the endlessly fascinating guy with the mind-bending Takes, such as “CDs are the ultimate audio format” or “actually, EVs with only 80 miles of range are good.” Though that’s partially our fault, because those takes, frankly, are UNHINGED.
If there was a song that best puts my feelings into sound right now, I guess it would sound a little like this:
I’m sure Ryan would understand.
Who’s Ryan, again? The intern who didn’t know what a van was?
I will miss Ryan, who’s chosen to take a job at Consumer Reports, where he will spend his days testing CD players from the early ’90s. In his time at Jalopnik he’s been a brilliant reporter, an office crank, and the only agreeable advocate of vegetarianism I’ve ever met. He’s also the only person who’s ever been legitimately excited to drive a Kia Rio.
One time last year in Las Vegas for CES, Ryan and I spent a couple hours playing blackjack, and bullshitting, a moment outside the chaos of that particular trip (my eternal apologies, Ry).
Ryan spent some of that time explaining to me his system for winning at blackjack, and we talked about family, and laughed, and might’ve for a second been mistaken for the oldest friends in the world. I’ll deeply miss Ryan as a colleague but I’m happiest that one of my colleagues also became one of my friends.
I should probably say something here about Ryan Felton’s rigorousness, or his obsessiveness, or the clarity with which he sees how structural mechanisms allow the powerful to oppress the public and puts his rigorousness and obsessiveness to work exposing that, but I would really prefer to complain about a story that we have been talking about since before he came to work here and that I strongly suspect we will continue to talk about after he’s gone.
I can’t complain about that story in any detail because that would tip off the competition, but it involves a celebrity doing something so petty and stupid and funny that I can’t even believe it’s real, and yet it is, and if it doesn’t get published one way or the other I’m going to burst, so farewell, Felton, but you know what goddamn story I’m talking about and don’t be responsible for me exploding.
Ryan has been a fan of yelling at me about my bad takes in life, like the opinions I have about pizza, since he arrived at Jalopnik. (We are not going there, because all of you readers will also yell at me.)
But, in all seriousness, Ryan’s an incredible reporter who’s strengthened my own knowledge about so many facets of investigative reporting. He’ll be missed here.
Ryan’s first assignment here full time as an investigative journalist was to fly out to Las Vegas and join me to cover CES. It was January 2017, and this was to be the CES when Faraday Future was finally going to show off its “production car” to the world. It was big news if the mysterious startup was going to prove itself legit or a scam. The company was being funded and maybe run by a big-talking billionaire CEO, but nobody could tell if he was full of shit or if his new electric car company was actually going to match his oversized promises. It all sounded a little familiar.
Again, this was a big story, too much of a lift for one journalist alone, and we all had high expectations of Felton.
We met in the airport and after an extremely suss introduction to our AirBnB that was definitely legal, Ryan advised me that he was feeling under the weather.
He ended up debilitatingly sick with a not exactly well-defined illness. He believed he got food poisoning from eating “bad oatmeal” at an airport Starbucks back in Detroit. I didn’t know which was worse for my newest colleague: that he was lying about being sick, or that he actually bought airport oatmeal.
In any case, he spent his entire time in Las Vegas bedridden, leaving me to cover Faraday Future alone, finding out where its off-site event was being held, sneaking in on foot, and ultimately wearing myself out completely without a clear answer other than “this shit looks suss as hell and not ready for prime time.”
Ryan later told me he loves gambling. Loves it. But I’m sure he was sick.
“Is this for publication?”
Ryan Felton is a household name in our shared hometown as a ruthless reporter and relentless consumer of Better-Maid potato chips. And while he can produce a Class 5 scowl, he is also a sweet guy with a love of old weird punk music and old weird vans.
I’ll most miss his frankness and his willingness to honestly agree with an unpopular opinion and stick with it until the bitter end. I will always recount his antics, like getting a major corporation so mad they wanted a judge to yell at him, as some of the best and most entertaining reporting I have ever witnessed.
Ryan, thank you for the incredible hard work. You are already a legend no matter where you go.
“Ryan will be dearly missed. Mostly because we liked working with him more than Mike. Love, a Tesla representative.”
Admittedly, Ryan Felton is oftentimes too Midwestern to function. (Recently, he tried to justify a nonstop drive to Florida over flying “so long as it meant saving, like, $200.”) But he also quickly developed a taste for New York City pizza, which absolves all of his bad takes. Ryan’s from Michigan, but even he knows greatness when he sees it. He is also even cheaper as I am, which is the highest praise I can give him.
Life in New York City robs you of many things, chief among them your money and your decency. But not Ryan. Ryan knew where all the cheap beer in the city was. Ryan knew where you could go for the best beer and shot combos. Ryan would not let the city break him. Ryan came to work every day with his A-game.
Jokes aside, though, it was an honor and a privilege to be able to work alongside such a sheer force of a reporter. Ryan’s awe-inspiring and unparalleled work about subprime auto loans, Goodyear, Tesla and Uber immeasurably increased Jalopnik’s standing, not just as a automotive outlet, but as a legitimate transportation and technology investigative shop. That kind of thing doesn’t come easily.
I will miss Ryan and his many spats with Erik and Ballaban in the Jalopnik pod, mostly because seeing Ryan irked is second to none. If you ever find yourself in the position to troll Ryan, please do so and with gusto, because the results are worth it.
While I am sad that Ryan is leaving us, I am at least comforted in the knowledge that he is returning to his Midwestern motherland of Yonkers, New York.
And remember, Ryan: Never tweet.
I recall three in-person interactions with Ryan. The first was right around when he first got hired while still living in Detroit, and Patrick asked me to scout him out to see if he was cool. We met at a bar and I remember leaving with three main takeaways: First, I wish I could grow a beard like that. Second, I’m probably not the right person to ask if someone is cool, but Ryan definitely seemed cool to me.
And third, Ryan definitely could not drive a stick shift. The first and third left me a bit uncertain—about the health of my face follicles, and about how well Ryan will be able to fend off the brown diesel manual wagon crowd.
The second interaction was at a company holiday party in New York City. Most of us were having a few drinks, and at one point, it was just Ryan and me left in one area of the room, so I attempted to make conversation. Again, I’m not sure if that was my engineer-y social skills or his, or possibly just the alcohol, but I just remember a deeply awkward silence. Not sure what the heck happened, there.
And the third interaction is one I don’t want to mention, because it’s just dumb. Ryan made up some stupid facts about Jeeps, and frankly, I’m still pissed about it.
What do these three meetings have in common? I have no clue. I’m frankly not sure where I’m going with this. But I can tell you that Ryan rocked it here at Jalopnik. Sure, he doesn’t own a clapped-out Toyota Previa, he’d probably stall my manual 1985 Jeep J10 a few times if he tried driving it, and—as far as I know—he doesn’t scour Craigslist 24/7 for cheap shitboxes (I think he’s a fan of the Renault Twingo, though, which means his taste is rock-solid), but that never mattered when it came to his work with Jalopnik. He embraced this community and all we do wholeheartedly.
Ryan is just a skilled journalist—a great writer and researcher who dove in head-first into the car enthusiast cult that is Jalopnik, bringing us incredible investigative pieces, and also just solid, thorough small news posts, too. And what’s great is that, as talented as Ryan is, he wasn’t afraid to ask for help. If he wanted to understand the context of some automotive phenomenon, he’d just holler. The result was someone who was fairly new to the automotive beat looking like a freaking pro. And by “looking like,” I mean “being.” Because that’s what Ryan is: a pro. And his willingness to teach me some of his journalistic skills is something I’m immensely grateful for.
So I guess my initial assessment of Ryan at that bar a few years ago was spot on. Ryan is indeed a cool dude. Who happens to have a most excellent beard.
I’ve never met anyone like Ryan before. He has incredibly strong opinions and takes that he will either A. Adamantly defend till he’s red in the face or B. Make you feel like a complete idiot for doubting. At the same time if you do have a similar take and want his backing he’ll just dryly tell you “What do you want from me?”
Despite fearing to talk to him at times (which is a bold statement from me as a native New Yorker) I have the utmost respect for him and his strong stance on pretty much anything. Even though he is extremely wrong most of the time, he is so confident that I can barely argue with him. He also came up with one of my most favorite videos we’ve done yet, Fake Jeep History.
Ryan, I’m gonna miss you bud, and despite not having normal human emotions, I know you’ll miss us too. Jalopnik won’t be quite the same without you, but what it will be, is a meat-friendly environment.
Despite meeting Ryan Felton in person over a year ago, all I know about him is that he drinks expensive coffee, is a bad vegetarian, loves impractical, low-range electric cars, has no idea what to do with his hands on camera, and has a New York Times cartoon calendar on his desk that he hasn’t torn off since August 27th. I think we’ve only made eye contact maybe a dozen times over the last year, and spoken to each other even less.
I’m going to miss that level of mutual understanding, and now worry I’m the natural successor to being the target of Erik Shilling’s daily berating.