Almost exactly a year ago, I received a phone call informing me that the founder and editor of The Truth About Cars, Robert Farago, would be leaving the site. Robert and I had already discussed (in theoretical terms) the possibility of such a move, and he’d mentioned that I would be in line to replace him when the time came. Still, nothing could had prepared me for the actual realization that TTAC had become my baby. A year later, the shock is still wearing off.
And why not? Comments in our posts announcing the transition overwhelmingly expressed disappointment to be losing Robert, and a kind of tentatively supportive “don’t screw this up for us” attitude towards my succession. The term “big shoes to fill” figured heavily in much of the commentary. And as usual, the Best & Brightest had it right: stepping into Robert’s shoes has been the challenge of my (not particularly long) lifetime.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of taking stewardship of the brand Robert had built from nothing was the fact that I simply could not replace him. Having built TTAC from nothing, Robert literally poured himself into this site. Its tone, work ethic and editorial focus all reflected his personality, his passion. When I first started writing at TTAC (some 3,649 posts ago), things were easier: I worked for and with the man who embodied this site… and luckily I shared many of his values. When he stepped down, however, I suddenly felt very much alone.
Luckily, I was not alone. Though several writers left TTAC’s orbit around the same time Robert did, I had the immense fortune of retaining the core of TTAC’s contributors, and over the past year that core has grown and solidified. The writers who stuck with TTAC during the difficult transition of a year ago took a leap of faith that can not be underestimated. Like me, they knew that Robert had created a community and a brand that held immense promise… but they surely had a difficult time imagining TTAC without Robert. I know I did.
Today, much work remains to bring TTAC to where it needs to be, but after a hectic, exhausting year, I finally feel confident that TTAC has survived its transition to the post-Farago era. In fact, we’ve more than survived: we’ve seen some of our best traffic in the site’s history, we’ve had our opinions solicited by some of the most influential outlets the mainstream media (and some of the least)… hell, we even touched a nerve in the White House. What 12 months ago seemed like an impossible dream at the end of an endless struggle is now reality: today, TTAC is healthy, vibrant, relevant and sustainable.
Credit for this happy state of affairs goes first to you, our loyal readers. TTAC’s “Best and Brightest” have long made this site what it is, and their faith in TTAC’s brand and values is what made the site’s transition possible. In fact, were it not for the knowledge, experience, courtesy and relentless feistiness of the B&B, I might never have survived as even a writer here.
Possibly the most important realization I came to, after just weeks as a freelance news blogger here, was that I would never know as much about any given topic as at least one of TTAC’s commentators. This freed me from the burden of trying to be an expert (which, at the time, I couldn’t have been less of) and allowed me to focus on starting conversations that would bring out the knowledge and insight of TTAC’s commentariat. The truth can not simply be written and published… it evolves as a conversation. I can not thank the B&B enough for continuing to make this conversation possible.
The other element of TTAC’s success is our team of conversation-starters: the bloggers, writers, editors, reporters, historians, and analysts who inform, provoke, and entertain us each day. Their dedication, diversity and talent is as crucial to TTAC as anything else, and several individuals deserve special recognition.
Bertel Schmitt, TTAC’s Overseas Editor, has been a true rock for this website. His depth of experience in everything from computer science to automotive advertising has been a constant resource for TTAC, often in ways that aren’t obviously manifested in its content. From his Beijing headquarters, Bertel is also perfectly positioned to keep TTAC’s readers abreast of the latest developments in the (new) largest car market in the world. Though we do get the odd “too much China news” comment from time to time, the Chinese market is as crucial to the car industry as Bertel is to us. As the car industry changes, you’ll be glad you kept up on developments in the Middle Kingdom.
I’ve always focused on the big picture issues here at TTAC, which is why Michael Karesh is such an important member of the team. Our Chief Road Tester a “product guy” par excellence, with broad experience and unimpeachable credibility. His years of compiling reliability and pricing data at TrueDelta make him a goldmine of information, while his presence in the Detroit area and reputation for even-handed reviews keep him driving the latest cars. He’s also the only TTAC contributor I’ve actually met in person, which is more important than you’d think if you’ve never worked on the internet before.
Jack Baruth has become an indispensable element of the TTAC formula, injecting our often-nerdy discussions with what he once described as his “blood-and-thunder, guns-and-butter” style. I was deeply dismayed when our tame racing driver (understandably) ditched TTAC a year ago, and his decision to return was the answer to quite a few editorial prayers. Jack’s unique perspective and no-holds-barred approach is crucial to the diversity of TTAC’s content mix… so much so, in fact, that I never know what he’s going to write next. I may not always agree with him, but his talent, knowledge and ability to provoke discussion are unquestionable.
Sajeev Mehta has been crucial in keeping the TTAC community together. The social media expert and Fox-Body fanatic pioneered our write-in advice columns with his beloved Piston Slap series, which has since been expanded to include the car-buying advice column “New Or Used?” (alongside Hammer Time scribe Steve Lang). Sajeev has also single-handedly revamped TTAC’s Facebook presence, providing fans an opportunity to create their own discussions about cars, the car industry, car culture, and even TTAC itself.
When Ronnie Schreiber first started commenting at TTAC, he labeled himself “TTAC’s official Detroit defender.” Since then, he’s gone from keeping us honest to keeping us reading, with his in-depth histories and penetrating book reviews. From his “Magazine Memories” series to becoming TTAC’s point man on the print media, Ronnie has carved out a place for himself in the TTAC brand.
Though her nom de plume has changed, Cammy Corrigan has been commenting at and contributing to TTAC for longer than I have. Keeping an eye on the British and European markets, Cammy makes up for the fact that I’ll never be quite the anglophile Farago was. And if we somehow miss a significant story anywhere in the world, Cammy brings it to our attention.
Marcello Vasconcellos provides indispensable insight into the wacky and wonderful world of the Brazilian market. Another growing market that will become increasingly important to the future of the car industry, Brazil’s automotive scene is as unique, intriguing and diverse as Marcello’s dispatches.
Finally, and most importantly, I must thank Paul Niedermeyer. TTAC’s resident historian and my father was absolutely crucial in the transition of a year ago. Faced with the overwhelming challenge of taking on the TTAC burden, I asked Paul to be my managing editor last year. His help, support and passion for cars was the key to getting through my first few harrowing months as TTAC’s Editor-in-Chief. When he left the site this spring, it was like being forced out of the nest all over again. Having him back is a privilege. Working with your father isn’t always easy, but the rewards are immense. And since I wouldn’t have been born or considered working at TTAC without him, it’s no exaggeration to say that he’s made all of this possible. Plus, Curbside Classics may just be the best running car column anywhere, print or online.
Other contributors have helped make TTAC what it is as well. Steve Lang’s Hammer Time is one of the longest-running staples at TTAC, providing a peek into the world of used cars, auto auctions, and dealer finance. Ken Elias hooks up the occasional analyst insights. Alex Dykes helps bring some of the hottest reviews to TTAC from his home base in San Francisco. David Holzman occasionally chimes in from New England, Walter Foreman sends news and reviews from South Korea, Tal Bronfer reviews cars from Israel, Martin Schwoerer and Mike Solowiew have contributed from Germany, and Thor Jonsen reports from Sweden.
In fact, TTAC’s community is so strong, it would be impossible to thank everyone who has sent in a crucial tip, provided valuable information, corrected errors, caught typos, or generally kept TTAC on its toes. Your dedication to TTAC’s vision helps make us the site we are.
Of course, we must thank VerticalScope, who pays our bills and lets us write whatever we want. You can’t knock that.
Finally, it would be churlish not to thank the folks on “the dark side,” the OEM PR and brand management folks who have taken a chance on TTAC over the last year. For a bunch of deceitful, manipulative flacks, you’re actually incredibly nice people. It’s heartening to see that so many of you do appreciate TTAC’s contributions to the automotive media, and are willing to take a chance on the truth.
After a whirlwind year of transition, TTAC’s future is wide-open and I aim to keep pushing this site to become the most relevant, respected and well-rounded car blog on the internet. In fact, I’m so confident that we have the foundation for success laid, I’m actually going to take a week of vacation (beach, Mexico, one week from today) before tackling the next year of TTAC excellence. Thanks to our fantastic staff and vibrant community, I know TTAC won’t skip a beat. That alone proves how far we’ve come in a year.