The Critics Respond, Part Twelve

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How do we pick what gets published on TTAC? It’s a fair question and one which almost never gets asked by anyone. We’re continually asking for new contributions from readers, but our readers tend to be a pretty shy group. Much of what we get from freelancers is a nightmare to edit — there are a few names which equate to “full rewrite” when I see them in my Inbox. Some of the contributions don’t meet my public standards for work-safe content, political slant, and so on.

In the end, however, there’s a little bit of dart-throwing involved. You throw some articles in the trash and you publish others and you hope you’ve made the right choice. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, like today, you thought you didn’t, but you did. They don’t think it be like it is, but it do!


David C. Holzman first pitched me on an in-depth article concerning Irv Gordon’s three-million-mile Volvo a few months ago. Most of online “journalism” consists of repeating existing online sources, usually with the aid of cut-and-paste, but David proposed to do something different; he’ll call and interview the critical people involved, despite the fact that all of them have already been quoted extensively online. Then he planned to assemble a completely new article with new and relevant information on the famous P1800.

To do this, he wanted more money than what we normally pay for articles. I was hesitant to do this, because the content didn’t promise to draw a lot of clicks. Don’t get me wrong; I am obsessed with putting high-quality, hype-and-PR-free, ethically outstanding articles on TTAC’s front page as often as possible. That doesn’t mean there’s a lot of money in the hopper to do so, however. More annoyingly, those articles almost never do the kind of numbers that you could show off to an advertising sales department or senior management. The readers want click-friendly content more than they want to be lectured or taught or even informed. Even if they say they dont. Even if individual readers truthfully don’t. As a group, they want an idealized article which could be summarized as

A Naked Playboy Playmate Drunk-Drove A Diesel Wagon Off A Giant Ramp While The LAPD Gave Chase. What Happened Next Will Touch Your Heart. (NSFW Photos Of Gorgeous Women And Diesel Wagons Inside.)

and if you don’t give it to them, the stats will sag and before you know it, you’re too insignificant for Alexa to rank you. And then, as Bill Paxton says in Aliens, IT’S GAME OVER, MAN!

Measured against that standard, Holzman’s article is yet another Sunday-in-the-NYT kind of piece, a snoozer full of facts and details about metallurgy and vehicle transport and that sort of thing. And sure enough, over the weekend it did the kind of traffic that you’d expect, which is to say, minimal.

“Oh well,” I told myself, “it’s a quality piece and we’re lucky to have it, even if the readers didn’t pounce.” Sometimes that happens. Luckily for us, however, Digg picked it up this morning and the story went through the ceiling, bringing us new readers on a day when we have a strong news and content lineup. As a consequence, our longest and most involved article of the past three or four days is also our biggest hit. How can you complain about a situation like that?

11 Replies to “The Critics Respond, Part Twelve”

  1. Tre Deuce

    Well, with the gladiators kicking the shit out of each other on TV _Go Sea Hawks_ and all the accompanying flag waving, not to many people were probably online.

    In between hosting duties at the shop, and looking at the SB commercials, I only had a little time to follow one fun posting on TTAC(Thanks Ronnie).

    Maybe tonight when I have some time for myself, I will get around to the Holzman article, and maybe not, as my only interest in Volvo’s, is putting V-8’s into 544’s and 122’s.

    Articles/postings are always going to be a crap shoot without the base sensationalism or some auto related controversy, but then you have CARSCOOP for crap like that.

    Bottom line is, you have to survive and to do so, your going to have to post on a range of subjects and let the readers cull out what their not interested in. But then you already know that. Just keep from wholly appealing to the fourteen year old mentality.

    Reply
  2. Piloter

    I’m sure you know there are plenty of tech-savvy lurkers who patronize all the usual suspects but use things like Ghostery and AdBlock and RequestPolicy and BeefTaco and so forth to turn Web2.m0ney into Web 1.0, where people paid the hosting bills out of pocket and published for love and community rather than to make back anything at all.

    Curious as to how numbers on the untracked masses are calculated in…or are they irrelevant if they don’t see ads?

    Reply
    • JackJack Post author

      On a daily basis I just use the WordPress Jetpack stats. Those don’t fly with the various advertising and marketing people, who use specialized services to talk about our “reach” and whatnot. But that sort of thing is above and beyond my pay grade at TTAC. I just watch for what people seem to be reading. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Tre Deuce

    Could it be, that the reason there were not many hits on the post ‘The Man For Whom They Made The Three Million Mile Badge’ By David C. Holzman, is because it didn’t get sent out to all subscribers?

    I couldn’t find it in my mailbox or in Spam. Accessed it from this article.

    Reply
    • JackJack Post author

      I begged him for it! He’s a big deal now, rarely has time for us. But it’s hard to for us to take a stand / when we will take him any way we can

      Reply
  4. Brian Driggs

    Late to the party. Randomly came upon a link to this place and thought, “A perfect way to burn out the last half hour of my day at the office.”

    Despite my lack of commentary to the effect elsewhere (or to date), I’d like to say you’ve crossed my mind more than a couple times in recent weeks, as those pieces of your work I’ve come across since The Panther Incident seem more measured, almost resigned. The axe-wielding, Neon-racing, automotive Van Wilder is mortal after all; and though empathy might prove reassuring, I can’t help but feel as though we’re low on Technicolor.

    On topic, can’t say I’ve read the aforementioned Volvo piece yet. I’ll look for it, though the need to appease advertisers through robust pageviews likely drives the fire hose of content inundating my feed reader on a daily basis. Sadly, though I trust TTAC, respect the contributors, and want to stay more abreast of industry news, I just can’t work a full time job, be a present husband and father, coordinate my own international team on our own site, and read a dozen observational pieces a day.

    That said, I desperately want to find more deeper, long form automotive content that speaks to what it means to be a gearhead. I can read about the latest consumer grade appliance or industry “scandal,” or view pictures/video of gorgeous classics foreign and domestic on a dozen sites any day of the week. I want to see more coverage of WHY people do remarkable things like keep an old Swedish tin cans on the road for millions of miles. That’s where we find the common ground empowering us to get more out of those superficial things like make, model, pursuit.

    Maybe that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to the lowest common denominator seeking hucksters paying pennies per 1,000 impressions, but maybe the advertisers aren’t supposed to be the customer in the first place.

    Once upon a time, I recall mention of an email newsletter to TTAC. Tag the serious, will-still-matter-in-90-days content something special, have MailChimp drop an email with links to same once a week. If you build it, we will come.

    Stay golden, Pony Boy.
    Much respect.

    Reply
  5. jz78817

    TTAC currently reminds me of Car & Driver, back when Car & Driver was still good. Basically when Jeanes was EIC. Autoblog and LLN are pretty much worthless for any kind of critical analysis, and Jalopnik has suffered too much Gawker-itis.

    Reply

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