Merry Christmas, And Now a Retrospective Look Eight Months Later

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson

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 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.

Mark Stevenson
Mark Stevenson

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3 of 74 comments
  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Dec 27, 2015

    If only you could elicit the occasional contribution from Bertel.

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Dec 29, 2015

    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.

  • Carson D Honda and Toyota still make the best American cars.
  • Slavuta I just though, with this rate we could make Cinco De Mayo a national holiday as well. Since we have tens of millions of American Mexicans, and probably more than African Americans
  • Wjtinfwb Well, it LOOKS pretty great for 36 years old and 356k miles! I've seen plenty of 2 decade newer trucks that looked like a shrapnel bomb went off inside and and exterior that looked worse. This owner got everything out of that truck it had. Time to let it retire to the farm.
  • Wjtinfwb Stellantis. They've gone from Hero to Zero in 24 months with some really stupid decisions and allowing politicians to influence their business. They also hung onto old products way too long and relied on RAM and Jeep to pull them through. RAM plays in the most competitive market of all, full-size trucks and competition is brutal with Ford and GM keeping their foot to the floor on development and improvement. Chrysler now has one model, a 5 year old van. Dodge made a living off old cars with stupendous power, that's gone with the mothballing of the Hemi. The Hornet is an overpriced joke. Now they have new Durango Pursuit's self-destruction because of a plastic oil cooler that self destructs and dumps oil into the coolant lunching the engine. Grand Cherokee, a staple of Jeep has not been well received and has limited power options due to canning the Hemi. Now they've got to build interest around the Hurricane turbo in-line 6 in trucks, Charger's and Jeeps. If that engine turns out to be problematic its likely lights out in Sterling Heights.
  • Ajla Tim, any chance when you "pop on" you can have someone look into why comments under your authored posts don't allow any formatting, links, or editing?