By on December 23, 2015

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When I was but a tyke, my parents would give me extremely vague, outlandish and downright wrong clues as to what sat under the Christmas tree for me every year. My mom and dad, being ever clever (or at least thinking they were), would disguise my gifts with a Matryoshka doll arrangement of boxes, fill those boxes with pieces of wood or other noisy-when-shaken household accoutrements, wrap the presents up and shove them under the tree. This Christmas Present Camouflage™ would typically produce quizzical looks on my face, and those of friends and family members, as we shook the boxes and communally attempted to ascertain what was inside.

Which, now that I think about it, is similar to how I viewed TTAC when I started back at the end of April.

But first, let’s roll back the calendar a few years.

July 13th, 2012:

From: Mark Stevenson

Hi Derek,

Thanks for answering me on Twitter. Nick Dasko (in your Toronto office) pointed me to your article “If A Suzuki Grand Vitara Gets A Facelift, Does Anyone Care?” today. It aroused my interest enough for me to want to drop something in the comments, but had so much to write about Suzuki’s past and future that just writing a comment wouldn’t do the situation justice.

For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve been in a Suzuki family. We’ve had multiple Sidekicks, Vitaras, and even a Firefly (I know it is a Pontiac but it is a Suzuki underneath) through the years, sometimes more than one at a time. Even today, there’s an old body-on-frame Vitara in my driveway, a familial hand me down from my father which will probably be the last Suzuki any of us will ever own.

I haven’t written anything about Suzuki yet as my current outlet isn’t the forum for that type of content. Also, I would like to create some content specifically for TTAC if I can. You can find some of my recent work at ConsumerSearch (where I write under the tutelage of Alex Nunez for automotive pieces), shift&drive (my own site which is very irregularly updated), and AutoNorth (which is now defunct but still has some of my older pieces).

Give me a word limit range and I will pound something out on the laptop. I just don’t want to write something that is too long or too short to be published. And if there are any other words of wisdom you’d like to share, please tell me!

Mark Stevenson


From: Derek Kreindler

Hey Mark,

Sounds good. Why don’t you go create an account at TTAC and we can run this as a test post. How do you know Nick?

I actually like Suzuki products but they look dead in the water right now ;(

Sent from my iPhone

Those emails feel like an eternity ago now. They opened the door for me to write for TTAC, thanks to Derek, and started the Suzuki Death Watch series. Derek took a chance. I attempted to deliver as best I could considering my lack of experience.

It wasn’t long after that I wanted to be a larger part of TTAC. The editorial independence afforded by this very publication draws in many — and I was one of the many. It was during that time that I dropped numerous hints of my hunger for more work to Derek (paid work under the reign of Bertel was virtually non-existent) and to others who are part of the VerticalScope machine.

The Suzuki Death Watch series resulted in my name being mentioned on Wikipedia before that of anyone else in my high school graduating class (not that such an accomplishment is much of a high-water mark). It was also the trigger for a passive-aggressive encounter with Ryan Beene from Automotive News at the New York Auto Show where he accused me of not properly citing his work. I said I didn’t know any better (because I didn’t) and apologized.

“Whatever,” Beene said as he walked away.

(Needless to say, Beene probably still thinks I’m a horrible person and, even though I did try to email him, we’ve never spoken since.)

Oddly enough, that wasn’t the only negative exchange I had that day. Derek and I also had a moment, and in front of Bark M. and another former TTAC writer no less (because when I do something stupid, an audience is necessary), that would taint the future of our professional relationship to this day.

Without getting into specifics, I (loudly) voiced my displeasure about something and Derek took it as me being out of line (and rightly so, especially in the company of others). Needless to say, I wasn’t holding my breath to write for TTAC again.

And yet …

On a Friday evening in April 2015, I received a phone call.

“How would you like to work for TTAC?” asked the voice on the other end of the line. That was Colum Wood, the man I now call my boss.

I was already a part of VerticalScope’s machine at this point. Colum had hired me to do some work with one of their larger forum properties and I was picking up scraps of work elsewhere after leaving the news editor role at Autos.ca. The chance to work at TTAC made me feel like my life was coming full circle.

However, Derek and I were still far from being friends.

“I’d love to work for TTAC, but I don’t think Derek would like it,” I replied.

Derek is leaving,” Colum explained. “We are looking to hire someone to fill that role.”

A little over a week later, I became the new managing editor of TTAC.

You’re probably wondering: Why does any of this matter? 

It had been quite a while since I wrote for TTAC and many things had changed. For starters, Bertel had gone, Jack had come and gone in his capacity as editor-in-chief pro tempore and Derek had ascended to the top of the ranks before moving on to non-journalistic endeavours. Other writers had come and gone as well. The voice of TTAC had changed multiple times. Even the Best & Brightest had changed.

To be honest, I was clueless. I was still that kid shaking his Christmas present, blindly guessing at what was inside. Adding to that lack of direction: Unlike prior managerial changes at TTAC, there was nobody holding the door and welcoming me in.

Which resulted in this: my first post as managing editor.

God, I wish I could re-write that. If I could, I’d probably just say:

My name is Mark Stevenson. I used to write here. Starting today, I’m the managing editor at TTAC.

… and leave it at that.

Instead, I accidentally pissed off someone I’ve never met nor conversed with before. The B&B was alarmed. Jack didn’t know what to think of me. It was a rocky start to say the least.

Since then, TTAC has changed: We’ve said “hello” and “see you soon” to news editors. We’ve constantly battled malicious advertising served on the site. We’ve welcomed in new blood. We’ve improved the quality of the content through additional editing and production.

In Christmas spirit, TTAC received many gifts this year. Jack’s April Fools lesson was the biggest single from TTAC’s 2015 release (I can’t take any credit for that as it happened before I came on). The Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal easily provided the biggest industry story of the year.

After eight months of sitting in this chair, I look back at these numerous accomplishments, but also all the things we could do better. We need to dig deeper into stories — especially the Volkswagen diesel scandal, autonomous vehicles and safety issues. We need to be a better advocate for consumers and hold automakers accountable when those companies don’t stand by their products. We need to report more on new and used vehicles. And we absolutely need to provide a better view of the inner workings of the industry.

But those are all camouflaged explanations of the future. Specifically, I will be posting in the new year on how to submit content for Ur-Turn, we will resurrect a well-known feature from TTAC’s past (we’re still working through the details), and there will be more reviews of new and used cars.

There’s one thing that won’t change: our accountability to you, our readership and to bringing you the truth.

Thank you, Best & Brightest. You’re the best.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,
Mark Stevenson

Regular TTAC programming will continue on Dec. 26.

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74 Comments on “Merry Christmas, And Now a Retrospective Look Eight Months Later...”


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Mark, returning Steve Lang to the TTAC fold is a big feather in your cap. And keeping Jack, Sajeev, Murilee et al (“the usual gang of idiots”) on board.

    Keep up the good work.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you! And those guys will always have a home here at TTAC as long as I am sitting in this chair.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-X

      TTAC got my attention when Robert Farago’s influence was fully on it. He is the Steve Jobs of this site. In the last five years, I see an unfortunate (TTAC) decline from unique to generic, via all the corporate changes, among other things. Today TTAC is a news aggregator more than anything, like a lot of the rest.

      • 0 avatar
        NotFast

        I’d pay big money to have Farago drop a few more stories here, for old times’ sake.

      • 0 avatar

        Aaron and I constantly anguish over what to cover from a news perspective. You can’t be all things to all people, and we try to strike a balance.

        For instance, if something important is announced — let’s say it’s a new model introduction — and we cover it, someone will complain we are running the exact same story as everyone else. If we don’t cover it, someone will complain why we aren’t running that story and have forced them to read it on AutoBlog or Jalopnik. You can’t win.

        We are trying to get back to doing more original news, but it’s taking time. We’ll get there.

        • 0 avatar
          Alfisti

          No one comes here for news, they come here for the opinion pieces, used car insights, car business insights. news is everywhere, it’s the strengths of the industry insights and the writers that has one clicking here.

          • 0 avatar

            Our viewership numbers do not agree with your opinion. News and features are about a 50/50 split traffic wise.

          • 0 avatar
            jimbob457

            My daughter, who is an internet advertising account executive serving about half the car companies on the west coast, really likes TTAC. Both the honest opinion pieces and the newsy news are worth reading.

            All I can add is an informed opinion about future oil/gasoline prices. At the design level, somebody needs to get in touch with $40 oil and $2.00 gasoline continuing for a long time. Fracking has done the job.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Pretty much what Arthur said. Keep the honesty going (and keeping people like Jack and Tim Cain aboard will help you do that) and you’ll be fine. Just keep remembering that none of the B&B here want to read Autoblog.

    • 0 avatar

      Autoblog provides a particular service. That’s not a service we are looking to provide.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I skim autoblog for aggregated news. There’s nothing wrong with autoblog. I agree with Mark – autoblog is different thing.

      The discussions there are barely worth reading.

      I come here for the discussions and the original writing. When I read something interesting om autoblog, I often wonder what the folks here think of it.

  • avatar

    Your parents sound really cool! And keep up the good work!

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    What kind of a name is “Colum”? Sounds like colon or Gollum.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Rocky start to be sure, but things are better now.

    The background information is interesting, but cringe-worthy. Mostly, I’d rather be ignorant of it, just as kids don’t want to hear their parents arguments.

    FWIW, I think you’ve been very even-handed around here, and the B&B have been pretty well-behaved also. I find it a pleasant place to visit every day.

    Thank you.

  • avatar
    Acd

    This would have been a much better introductory post that what you originally put up. A strong point of view and great writing have been the TTAC foundation since its inception and is what has kept me as a daily reader for the past eight years. Merry Christmas TTAC!

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    Autos.ca eh? I started regularly visiting CanadianDriver.com way back in 2002 and still recall the URL change back in 2009.
    Even now if you type ‘candiandriver.com’ into a browser’s address bar it still resolves to autos.ca several years later.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I would say Autos.ca was my first _real_ home. I did some work for Consumer Search, Road&Track and a few others, but it was very sporadic. Autos.ca was the first place where I wrote on a daily basis. I need to thank Jonathan Yarkony for that.

      Actually, that’s another story. Current road test editor Mike Schlee started at Autos.ca as well. When he left Autos to go to AutoGuide, I back-filled him in a way. Now we are both at VerticalScope. It’s a small world.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Mark,
    Well done, I was not impressed by your first article , think I even said that in comments section but said I would give you a chance and you have won me over, good job this year, Merry Christmas.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    Das TTAC.

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    Now work on the mechanics of the site please. It’s slow, buggy and generally a pita to deal with. Mobile is even worse.

  • avatar
    ArialATOMV8

    Mark Thank you for this wonderful site and your continued dedication. Checking the latest automotive news/reviews/columns is always one of of my highlights of my day and, your site is my first bookmark I check!

    When it comes to technicality, On my iPad, this sight runs like a charm in Chrome and Mercury. Even on my outdated old iPod Touch 4th gen, the website is as smooth as butter. I’m curious to see how it behaves on my new Android Phone!

    Merry Christmas!

  • avatar
    Chets Jalopy

    Merry Christmas, Mark! The vibe seems positive around here lately. I’ve been lurking here since the Farago days and decided just lately to burden myself with a login and contribute. Haven’t had much to say, but hey, I only speak to improve the silence. Or so I like to think.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    Ed Niedermeyer has tried really hard to be an industry analyst. I don’t understand his criticism; he’s got polish but he lacks depth. Derek really started to shine at the end of his tenure and Ed’s work can only hope to mimic Derek’s grasp on the industry.

    I was worried that TTAC was going to go south, but I am still here enjoying the site, so well done in that respect. The only thing that I long for are the industry insider info that Derek seemed to dish out. The Ford GT engineer piece, his breaking of product plans and the engineering dissection of powertrains etc were enthralling. He really gave the site a insider feel. If you can bring TTAC more of that and push towards that unique feel, it would be world class. The Ford Edge piece was inching towards this – I believe if you had inquired around your Toronto sources, you could have shared a gold nugget of info with respect to Oakville Assembly. The rug really would have tied the room together.

    • 0 avatar

      Derek was eyeballs deep in the industry by the time he left. I think it’s just a matter of time before we can get back to that level again.

      As far as sources — what sources? That’s the problem. I’m not located in Toronto, so digging people up can be especially difficult. Also, Derek has been at this a lot longer than me. It’s a matter of experience. He simply had more time and experience in the industry. Oh, and he has the journalism background that I do not.

      I’m not going to speak of Ed because I simply don’t know the guy. All I know is he subtweeted me for months after I took over.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        I don’t know Ed either, but he seems to be a dick. You’re right about the source aspect. Derek had a knack for networking and that does take time. I hope I didn’t come off as being too critical, as I have appreciated your efforts and I believe you’re moving in the right direction. (and I have to lol at myself as my opinion shouldn’t matter – your web traffic is the metric that matters)

        bball seems to know more about a certain OEM than I do and it’s impressive insider knowledge. It all correlates to who you drink with on the weekends.

  • avatar

    Mark,

    Keep it up! Let me jog your memory, several years ago we were karting with Derek and yourself.

    The DNA of TTAC from the Farago days is to be on the left with a strong opinion about an issue in the “autosphere” and to stick to it. Farago was not in the eyeball business, he put out a thought/opinion and it grew.

    The VW thing, everyone jumped on the bandwagon to attract eyeballs. Back in the day Farago would have dug deeper, express an opinion probably controversial and stick to it while attracting more eyeballs in the process. One of the better journalistic pieces on VW http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/news/industry-news/a-look-inside-the-unusual-corporate-culture-at-vw/article27742921/. Farago would have had a field day.

    Back in the day there was Farago and DeLorenzo with strong opinions, Farago is gone and DeLorenzo has somewhat mellowed. There is a vacuum.

    AV’s are lurking on the horizon, there is already a ton of cloud space used up with all sorts of thoughts. AV’s will change mobility as we know it in the near future.

    As you know in Canada manufacturers have realigned their perspective towards social media, while various guilds have reinforced their positions towards the manufacturers. You can just imagine what Farago would say about guilds (medieval) in 2016.

    Canadians will acquire 1.9M vehicles this year (2015), the historical 1/10th compared to the US is no longer valid. How come Canadians are acquiring so many vehicles?

    Merry Christmas, best wishes for the New Year.

    • 0 avatar

      Hah. I remember. I see you comment from time to time and have been meaning to say hello for a while now. So … hello!

      Thanks for the comment. I really need to dig more into TTAC history as time allows. And Merry Christmas to you!

    • 0 avatar

      Also, I don’t think it was Derek. It was Michael Banovsky. I don’t think Derek was there, but Laurance Yap was.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Re: AV’s

      I think there is a market for “Driver on Board” stickers. They’re ironic now, but they may become mandatory later…

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “The DNA of TTAC from the Farago days is to be on the left…”

      Robert Farago is and was a conservative.

      Farago’s approach was to position TTAC as an outsider because he was an outsider. He was blackballed by the automakers because of his views (or at least because of the manner in which he expressed them) and he decided to turn that apparent weakness into a strength by building a website that was dedicated to pointing out that most automotive “journalism” is just PR.

      That being said, his focal point was that GM was a failing enterprise that should purge itself of its failing ways by filing bankruptcy. As it turns out, that’s what happened, so there’s not much more that can be said about that subject. It’s a bit hard to continue to beat that drum when the story played itself out.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Congrats Mark and the rest of the masthead and production crew. The motor trade is a strange place, thanks for helping make sense of it.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Well done Mark, you could tell from your initial writings that you were a little tentative taking on the job as Managing Editor. You have done well so far, TTAC hasn’t lost it’s way.

    I would like to see more global news, especially what is coming out of China/Asia as this will be force within our lifetimes and will influence the auto industry greatly.

    I’m a relative newcomer to TTAC (3 years), or for that matter using the net as a recreational escape.

    I do like the variety of articles, this is what makes TTAC such a good site, along with the many polarising views, political, economic and some just humourous comments.

    It’s all quite entertaining. TTAC offers entertainment and education at once. You can’t get better than that.

  • avatar
    Notadude

    Merry Christmas, Mark, and thank you for supplying my favorite daily read. I used to spend a lot of time reading Autoblog and Jalopnik, but thanks to a popular German company supplying gobs of news this fall, I found TTAC. Surprise! It turns out that I don’t have to suffer through sexist non sequitur garbage in the comments just to enjoy my daily hit of auto news. Thanks for your coverage on the tdi mess (my household has two of these cars) and for your generally upbeat articles. I’ve become a devoted fan.

  • avatar
    Dingleberrypiez_Returns

    I appreciate the candor. Those early stories really are cringe worthy. I’ve been a vocal critic of some of Mark’s editorial quirks… specifically interjecting his opinions or (worse) quips into other people’s reviews/articles. On the plus side, thinking about it there have been fewer glaring editorial errors, which were prevalent in the past. I would advise Mark to take his own advice and maintain a low profile, and keep writing pretty good reviews/articles to build his reputation. As long as Jack, Sajeev, Lang, and Dykes are all writing here, people will keep coming back. I’ve also been enjoying Bark’s greater presence, and Chris Tonn’s ongoing series. But hey, I’m just an armchair critic, and this is still my second favorite auto site (first is run by the other Niedermeyer). Merry Christmas!

    • 0 avatar

      The only opinion I regularly inject in reviews is that of infotainment, and it’s done more as a running joke than anything else. Aaron likes all the infotainment systems that I don’t like and vice versa.

      I think we have one of the strongest editorial teams in the biz. Considering how small we are in comparison to other sites and their massive budgets, I think that’s an amazing accomplishment.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    I became an avid reader during Bertel’s years and I didn’t mind him. Of course the Jack did a great job as well and now Mark you are getting better and better. My only regret is that I didn’t have a chance to say “Hello” when I used to reside in Halifax.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    I appreciate TTAC because it faithfully probes interesting corners of the car universe given short shrift on other sites or car-tv shows. Such as paying attention to ordinary cars, hybrids, ev’s, Suzukis, used/old cars etc. It’s a refreshing alternative from endless drooling over fancy sports cars practically no one buys which is typical of some sites and car-tv shows. Such as the ignorant anti-environmental rants that populate Motoring TV.

    Speaking of which, while I don’t expect TTAC to be the car branch of Greenpeace, the regular vile outpouring of climate-change denial in the comment sections detracts from the site. Some, such as a certain big truck fan, seem to have assumed the role of gatekeeper on the comments. No contribution about the enviro aspect of cars gets posted without a stupid comment from them. Who knows how many people don’t post because they don’t want to be attacked by the self-appointed gatekeepers. Seems to me there could at least be a ban on id’s that amount to personal advertising.

    That said, I appreciate the comment sections lacking the +- rating systems and post counts typical of many sites. That helps keep a lid on prolific posting by egomaniacs, and it discourages tribal warfare.

    Thanks for the site.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Overall a good post but I’d like to point out in your language you’ve already settled to matter to yourself with “climate-change denial”. First it was global warming and then when it stopped warming for a spell it became “climate change”. Then every time something is amiss it has to be climate change and yet I have never read a post on this sit or anywhere from a person who bought into it to factor in chemtrails or effects of Fukushima. Both are real phenomena which are occurring every day and yet they just don’t seem to come up in the conversation.

      • 0 avatar
        GiddyHitch

        Part of the phrase change from global warming to climate change was surely an attempt to stifle unscientific counterarguments based on highly localized events (e.g. winter on the East coast last year, El Niño on the West coast this year). But please, tell me more about chemtrails, the melting properties of steel, and the NWO so that I don’t have to take any responsibility for my lifestyle and can just blame those black helicopters flying over my house (in stealth mode so that you can’t hear them).

        • 0 avatar
          banker43

          My brother-in-law works for the EPA, so I had to ask him about chemtrails. The practiced, dead stare in his eyes as he told me he never heard of chemtrails was all the evidence I needed to know he is part of the NWO.
          The fog here in upstate NY today is making it difficult to track the UN helicopters.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Chemtrails and Fukushima are facts regardless of the exact cause or events which precede them but I’m sure ignorance is bliss so keep at it you’re doing a great job.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            Contrails are a fact.

            Chemtrails are a deliberate misinterpretation of that fact by people who crave some negative attention from their government.

            You’re good with Wiki and you have an attention span greater than a real flake’s; read the “Chemtrail conspiracy theory” page and follow the links.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            28 has a real affection for conspiracy theory claptrap.

            Contrails are real, but chemtrails are crazy talk.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      This post detracts from.the site.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      Brandloyalty,

      Are you old enough to have ever encountered a Baby Huey comic? That’s BTSR’s role here but updated to today’s social reality.

      Anyone scared off by his ilk needs their food prepped for them.

    • 0 avatar

      “Speaking of which, while I don’t expect TTAC to be the car branch of Greenpeace, the regular vile outpouring of climate-change denial in the comment sections detracts from the site.”

      Corporate answer: TTAC is not responsible for the content of user-submitted comments.

      Real answer: By allowing climate change deniers their say, it allows others to refute those deniers. It also allows you to see the holes in logic usually used by said deniers to make their claims seem credible.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    FWIW, since you’ve been here, Mark, the site is better to read. I may b!tch about the content occasionally, but I’m sure you’d refund my subscription fee if I asked.

    Happy Holidays!

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    If only you could elicit the occasional contribution from Bertel.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Mark,

    Overall I think you have done a good job managing the limited resources of this place. You keep an even keel and don’t get too heated and retaliatory – which is what happened here before on regular basis. You’re also able to take pointers and criticism in stride, rather than viewing them as an attack. I see changes made from those criticisms, which improves everyone’s experience.

    Most the time it usually feels pretty friendly and open around here, unless we get too far into the dangerous and preachy Small Truck Alley. At which point I tune out.

    I join in with the calls for comment system updating as that’s desperately needed. And the ads are invasive as well if not using AdBlock, and frankly my phone can barely load the mobile version so I don’t bother with that at all.


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