The Rest Is Up To You

Photo: Raphael Orlove
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I started my career at a big daily newspaper. I learned to be a journalist in the trenches with people who were thoroughly steeped in the community they covered. The idea was that you weren’t just some detached observer chronicling things from afar. You were a part of that community, just as affected as any reader by what happened in it.

But when it came to what we published online, we had one hard rule: never read the comments.

No matter how hard we worked to make it better, our comment section was a sewer, full of contempt—for other people, for us, for what we did. Good for boosting engagement, and that was it. Not worth wasting our time on.

Most websites are like that. Jalopnik isn’t.

Our comments are the lifeblood of a community that exists online and in the real world. A huge community, one we too are a part of.

We’re not just a news and opinion publication about cars; we’re a collective of enthusiasts, of writers and readers having an ongoing conversation and, hopefully, making each other better.

That conversation often isn’t as good as it should be, and not all of us bear that burden equally, but in general, we are incredibly fortunate to have a readership that is thoughtful, clever, passionate and engaged in what we do.

I can’t take credit for its genesis. No one currently here can. But through the years, everyone who’s had a hand in Jalopnik must have done something right. Together we’ve made something that clearly resonated with people.

For a generation inundated with more bullshit than any other, an automotive publication dedicated to cutting through bullshit—the guiding ethos from Gawker Media that continues here to this day—feels not just fun, but necessary.

Whenever we went through a crisis here, and we often did, my rallying cry usually included something to the effect of “We have readers to serve.” More often than not, that worked. Our readers are worth fighting for.

And as I leave my post as Editor-in-Chief, that community is the hardest thing to walk away from.

I sat down to write all of this primarily to thank you, our readers, for all the ways you’ve supported Jalopnik over the nearly eight years I’ve been here. But I didn’t know where to begin.

Maybe I should start with the time you found Jason Torchinsky’s Volkswagen Beetle after it was stolen in Los Angeles. Or all the crimes you helped solve by identifying cars from a grainy surveillance photo or just a piece of a taillight. Or the times you helped David Tracy’s madman Jeep projects get from Detroit to Moab, against all odds and in defiance of established scientific theory.

Or the time a team effort aided me and Raphael Orlove in driving Sam Smith’s old BMW 2500 from Seattle to New York. Or when you bought our stupid crap or watched the TV show we made, incredibly in retrospect, on Univision’s cable network for woke millennials. Or the times you sent us your spare parts, emailed us your mechanical advice or tried (often successfully) to get us to buy your terrible cars.

How about when you turned out for the Jalopnik Film Festival? Or the 24-Hour Lemanstravaganza, or the karting race ahead of the Detroit Auto Show, or the Formula One meetups in Austin, or the car show in New Jersey where we raised $20,000 for hurricane relief charities? Or any of the other times we threw some party at a bar somewhere and I was sure nobody would come because I ruined everything and they hate us now—only to have a great time with a bunch of wonderful people as fanatical about cars as we are? Or how probably half a day’s stories come from our tips line?

I have formed lasting and rewarding friendships in the course of doing this job. I have seen, many times over, how this stupid and money-draining hobby can bring people together and bring out the best in them.

At most jobs you’re miserable all day, putting in the time so you have the money to pay the bills and a bit left over to do what you really want. I’ve had those too. But here, I got to mix many things I loved: writing, reporting, muckraking, making fun of stupid assholes and, yes, talking about cars with my friends. I have much to be grateful for.

Part of me could’ve done it forever. But nothing lasts forever, even good things.

November marked Jalopnik’s 15th year on the internet.

Running a publication has always been a precarious business. This is especially true on the internet, where everything is so much more ephemeral, so much more out of our collective control. Online publications rise and fall at the whims of the big tech companies and their algorithms, taking careers and livelihoods with them. And that’s just normal website stuff; the Gawker children are not normal websites.

From existential lawsuits to sales to TV companies and private equity firms to knock-down, drag-out fights with our own bosses, we have our own uniquely extreme highs and lows here. That Jalopnik has survived and thrived for 15 years and counting is a testament to you readers, and to the hard work of many people.

So this anniversary was important. We were supposed to blow it out in a big way. The usual Jalopnik football-spiking bullshit spread across a package of stories and videos.

The new management wanted a bunch of lists (they love lists!) recapping the past 15 years in cars: best engines, most influential people, biggest moments in racing, you get the idea. We were going to reach out to a bunch of celebrities, both in the world of cars and not, to get their takes too.

I was never in love with the plan, but I went along with it for a time. I thought it was fine. I wanted to try with these people.

Then one bad thing happened after another. You’ve read about it here. Suggestions were made that hurt our credibility with readers when they became public, even though we never acted on those suggestions. Then we watched our colleagues at one sister publication get laid off. Then we said goodbye to more friends as they quit in protest after the unceremonious firing of one beloved editor and a vague, tersely written edict demanding they fundamentally alter the journalism they do. Had that happened at this site, you would have seen the same outcome.

Suddenly, none of that celebrating felt appropriate at Jalopnik anymore. It felt disrespectful. It felt wrong.

To me, it was a wake-up call. I’ve been here from Gawker to the private equity people and every shouting-match all-hands meeting in between. I pressed on through more fires than I can count because I loved serving this audience and having the freedom to put fun and important things on the internet every day. But I spent most of this year fighting management, and not much else. That fighting made me take my eye off the ball in ways I now regret.

I decided that as Jalopnik enters the third decade of this century with a bigger audience than ever—an outcome I’ll be forever proud of—it’s time for me to find some new challenges elsewhere.

Jalopnik is, after all, bigger than any one person. That’s what a community is all about, right?

I want to leave on as close to an optimistic note as I can. Team Jalopnik is an indomitable group of people with an unmatched level of talent. I know they’ll keep doing right by you every day.

Besides being proud of the work we’ve done, I feel good about many things. I’ve seen car culture become more inclusive, more diverse and, yes, even younger, despite all the bad thinkpieces to the contrary. Jalopnik hit an all-time high of 15 million readers in August; events like Radwood seem to be spreading like wildfire; there are more great things for us to do, see and drive than ever before. As long as I’ve been working here, people have said car culture is dead. Every day I witness things that prove otherwise.

But this community—your community—faces significant challenges. It has to evolve to meet a world that’s changing quickly. When I started this job, autonomous cars were the stuff of science fiction. A hybrid car was a Toyota Prius, not a McLaren Speedtail. The urgency of our looming climate disaster wasn’t as palpable as it is today and we have never felt the damaging effects of commuter culture as acutely as we do right now.

So I’m encouraging you, readers, to be a part of the solution, not the problem. If you’re reading this in late 2019, and you love cars and you love driving, you don’t get the luxury of burying your head in the sand and pretending everything will be fine. You need to fight for a seat at the table. You need to make compromises and sacrifices. You need to keep yourselves from becoming irrelevant. And you need to be wary of the liars and frauds and grifters who come to you with promises of easy fixes and, of course, big returns for their shareholders. If reading this site helped you learn to do that, then I did my job right.

I don’t have an answer yet, except to say: that’s up to you.

You need to figure out your place in what’s coming next. I think you can. You’re smart. I have faith in you. I’ll be there to do it with you too because I’m one of you. Always have been, and always will be.