Three years and two months ago, I stopped my Boxster on a darkened side street street in Louisville and invited a young woman to get in the car.
My expectation was that we would sleep together and probably never see or talk to each other again.
I was wrong on both counts.
Looking back, I have to smile a bit at my unflinching rapacity. I was in transit from a date in Nashville to one in Columbus, but insofar as that transit passed through Louisville and I kinda-sorta knew someone in Louisville, why not stop off and pull the trifecta right quick? It was the sort of thing I did all the time, for years, until the quantum waveform of my life collapsed into its current monogamous state.
If you’re a committed TTAC reader, you can guess that my plan ran into a minor snag. While very feminine and possessed of both enviable bone structure and peerless fashion sense, Cameron was in the middle of her transition from male to female at the time and I am, for better or worse, a remarkably straight-laced dude. It’s also possible that she didn’t dig me. Maybe probable. I was a little rumpled-looking at the time thanks to a few stressful days on the road, and I’m not handsome on my best days. I mostly seduce women with a combination of knowing what they want to hear and the ownership of some really great shoes.
So, as we sat across a table at some Loo-vul hipster joint, I pondered a backup plan. I had promised Cameron that we would talk about her writing, but that was just some line I was using so we could meet up and do stuff. Truth be told, however she was a solid writer who had already demonstrated an ability to put the recherche minutiae of the fashion world into everyday terms. She also knew how to turn out copy; she’d been writing fast pieces for a Louisville publication.
With those qualities in mind, I suggested that she submit some pieces to TTAC and offered to help with the editing. She didn’t need much help. It was a pleasure to work with someone who didn’t require wholesale reconstruction of sentences to achieve the barest semblance of transmitted meaning. In short, she was a pro.
Nearly a year and a half after meeting Cameron, I ascended to the sacred Pot-Metal Throne of TTAC with a mandate to save the site or, failing that, to preside over its termination. One of the first things I did was to overhaul the way we reported news. My predecessor, Bertel Schmitt, had managed to convince our corporate overlords to pay him the vast majority of the site budget every month. In exchange for this, he would produce several posts a day that were just regurgitated Reuters and Automotive News features. Once a week, he would send a “post report” to management that showed him, Bertel, producing more posts than everyone else combined and thus justifying his staggering compensation.
When I took Bertel’s gig, I suggested that they pay me half of what they paid Bertel and in exchange I would both save the website and hire some additional talent. As part of that, I created the “TTAC Staff” byline and hired various people to write the same kind of regurgitated news that Bertel had written, at approximately one-tenth the cost. I knew that we needed a news feed. Not because we could bring anything unique to the reporting of stuff like “GM Executive Tells Press That Blah Blah Factory Moving To Mexico”, but because if we didn’t have that stuff we’d be forcing our readers to look at another website every day. Think of it like the Acura SLX, which was a rebadged Isuzu trooper. The purpose of the SLX wasn’t to sell a bunch of rebadged Isuzu Troopers, it was to keep Acura customers from forming relationships with other brands just because they needed a truck.
“TTAC Staff” was my Acura SLX. Or my Honda Passport. Or my Chevy LUV, come to think of it.
It was a short-lived experiment because I failed to set adequate guidelines for attribution and some news sources thought I was giving them inadequate credit for reporting the original stories. So I came up with the idea of replacing “TTAC Staff” with Cameron.
Over the next twenty-two months, Cameron wrote thousands of short news features, serving as sort of a news aggregator for me and then for Derek when I was terminated as EIC. She had a real knack for boiling down a long story into the salient points, and she made very few mistakes. Of course, the B&B never failed to run her up the flagpole when she wrote something they didn’t like, and she took their abuse with an equanimity that few writers in this or any other business possess.
Cameron never called in sick, never failed to produce, even though she moved across the country and then up the coast during her tenure. She was largely typo-free and grammatically correct. She knew very little about cars, but part of my *ahem* genius in selecting her was realizing that you don’t need to be an ASE Master Tech to interpret news about business decisions and new-model announcements. She did all the dirty work for me, leaving me free to write opinion columns and drive fast cars and do talent scouting and recruit new writers and perform all the other tasks that I needed to perform in order to save TTAC and restore our traffic to its former, pre-Schmitt heights. That, too, was part of my *ahem* brilliance: to realize that the Editor-In-Chief post at TTAC is a leadership post, not a chance to earn six figures rehashing Autoblog’s content from the previous day and retyping press releases.
Along with Ronnie Schreiber, whose ability to write fascinating and deeply-researched pieces on a variety of automotive topics served as a central pillar of our appeal beyond the stereotypical “car forum guy”, Cameron was an essential and under-appreciated part of my team during 2013 and 2014. While TTAC is not all about the numbers — thank G-d, otherwise we’d have to run Top Ten listicles all day — it’s worth noting that Cameron, Ronnie, Derek, and a cast of thousands managed to beat the self-styled “fan favorites” like Doug DeMuro and Steve Lang every day of the week. We did our best numbers when we had original editorial work and high-quality car reviews supported by thorough and complete news reporting.
Yesterday afternoon Cameron announced her termination in a thoughtful post that contained many of her core virtues as a writer: cheerfulness, directness, an unfussy facility with language, and a steadfast belief in better days to come. I wish her the best, of course, but I also want to take this time to single her out as the hardest-working writer I’ve ever met. Anyone who wants to take advantage of TTAC’s decision here won’t regret it. I don’t think her sun will set for very long.