A retrospective on six years in the car blogosphere

Last week, while discussing the merits of my new status symbol, I alluded to my days in the car blogosphere:

One of my favourite writers from my car blogosphere days was Jack Baruth, who similarly called out the plastic crud lining today’s car lots and presciently foresaw my recent purchase:

Since this isn’t an area of my personal history we’ve previously explored, let’s right this wrong, shall we?

The gist of it is this: a friend and I started a car news site called CarEnvy.ca in 2008. Taking the lead, I hired a few writers and managed their submissions, in addition to making my own contributions to the site.

Over the subsequent year or so, we picked up steam, growing the writing staff to five contributors and gaining a small following, but still not enough to break into the black. Our revenue stream was completely dependent on advertising, and therefore eyeballs, but the Jeremy Clarkson School of Writingi that I imagined our team a part of didn’t parlay into the millions of pageviews needed to turn a profit. We were too niche.

We didn’t have to be, of course, but it turned out that I just wasn’t prepared to be SEO-oriented enough to make money at car blogging.ii It didn’t take me long to see what one had to become to make it in that space.iii To the extent that I didn’t need the money then anymore than I need it now, I would’ve needed other motivating factors to push CarEnvy.ca into a wider limelight.

It turned out that this wider limelight was itself the issue. Never in my life have I desired broad fame or popularity. Almost the opposite in fact. I can scarcely imagine anything more annoying that being interrupted for an autograph while in public. This having sunk in, I saw that paying hosting fees to give myself a voice on the Internet was not the same thing as paying other people to rehash news articles about cars that none of us was ever going to drive. So I cut the other contributors loose.

The friend who’d started the site with me also wanted to part ways at that time and asked to be paid out for half of the costs incurred up to that point. In the nicest possible way, I told him where to go (we’re still friends), and CarEnvy.ca became my personal blog up until this past summer.

During the intervening years, I had quite a lot of fun. I wrote some 700 articles and gained enough visibility to be promoted from Kid With Blog to a sort of Member Of The Automotive Press. The net effect was that every 2-3 weeks, though occasionally 2-3 times per week,iv I would be handed the keys to a brand-new vehicle,v fully insured and with a full tank of gas, and asked only to hand it off to the next guy, usually a writer for a local newspaper, a week later, and to write a few words recounting my experience. That was it, that was all. It was no more formal than that.

Eventually, however, the car manufacturers and I tired of one another and it became almost impossible to express my various interests on a blog with “car” in the header, but without giving away too much of the story to come, and without further ado, here are the six most memorable moments from my six yearsvi in the trenches:

1. Crayola story re-published on Jalopnik:

Porsche GT3 on mars

Yes, Jalopnik is an insufferable Gawker turd, but pre-2011 it wasn’t half, maybe not even a quarter, as blindingly bad. At that time, a young Hungarian man named Peter Orosz truly inspired me with his crayola drawings of Formula 1 races and Wyclef Jean driving a Pagani Zonda.vii If memory serves, Orosz was their European editor at the time.

I had a brief e-mail conversation with Peter about his delightful doodles and, after sending him my twist on cartooned car blogging, on July 22, 2009, without giving me a heads up, he re-published a portion of “The Only Car You’ll Need On Mars: The Porsche 911 GT3.”

At the time, less than a year after setting sail in the car blogosphere, it was the highest compliment I could’ve imagined receiving.

2. First flaming:

After borrowing a friend’s new Mitsubishi Evo X, the first Evo available to Canadians from the factory, I wrote an article about my experience. No big deal, right?

Except I’d made a critical journalistic mistake: without further verification, I took my friend’s word about the expected power output from some of the performance tuning he’d had done. I also let him speak on camera, giving him a full son et lumière platform (minus the historical backdrop) on which to embarrass us both. Needless to say, some passionate local forumites picked up on the story and, perhaps forgivably, went into full blown derp mode.

I diffused the situation by extending far more courtesy and expressing far more humility than you’ll ever see me grant today.viii I was green, I knew it, and rather than go all redditard, I took my lumps. After all, that’s what adults, and those who one day strive to be adults, do. Adults own up to broken thinking and correct it, y’know?

3. First press trip:

ford explorer press pass

My first trip as a “Member Of The Automotive Press” was to Quebec City to drive the new Ford Explorer. I was flown half-way across the country, given my own suite at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, and largely spoiled rotten.

I could see why professional car writers, even if they were in fact just impoverished extensions of marketing departments and were therefore completely undeserving of the title “journalist,” were so completely content to re-publish press releases for an entire 30-year career. I could also see, as my own presence well demonstrated, that the Internet was going to completely fuck over the spoon-fed establishment of that industry. Just as it’s fucking over the entire premise of the automotive industry.ix

Incidentally, the new Ford Explorer further affirmed just how pooched the car industry as a whole is, it having been reduced to a series of software updates on Windows platforms.

4. First auto show:

nissan murano cc

Ahh, LA 2011. Another Ford goodie. While the show itself wasn’t as sparkly as I’d expected, save some seat time in the ecclectic Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, a contender for Renault Avantime torch-bearer if ever there was one, the level of pampering enjoyed by the other car writers and my fellow bloggers was simply astounding. If the press trip to Quebec City was an 8/10, this was 9.5/10. Fine dining, $1000 per night hotels,x open bars, evening entertainment by bands I’d actually heard of… the works!

5. First press car I was excited to show off:

My first presser, finagled within the first year of CarEnvy.ca as a solo project, was the cutest little green Ford Fiesta you ever did see. Considering myself very much an urbanite, I was quite smitten with the little runabout. This having been said, it wasn’t exactly going to wet any panties. Compare that with the Camaro SS convertible:

Camaro SS and the girls

With perks like this, it’s easy to see why I enjoyed blogging about cars, even if it later became frustrating to talk about all the things I wanted to talk about and still have to tie those into a singular manufacturing industry.

6. Being banishèd:

Turns out that my taste for boundaries had exceeded the appetite of a few car manufacturers. I was thence summarily informed that:

BMW had found my Mini Countryman review “offensive”, that Toyota didn’t see how my Venza review catered to their intended demographic, and that I was an entitled young punk who didn’t realize how quickly I could be replaced.

The aforementioned Mini Countryman review, sounded a bit like this:

Startin’ wit’ da Countryman, we see dat it only seats 4 of yo peeps, which be meanin’ dat one of yo crew be walkin’. Dat some bullshit fo real! To add in salts to yo injuries, the seats be so flat dat da walls be jealous. Snap! Doze seats wrap around yo skinny ass like yo arms wrap around a Californ-I-A Redwood. It ain’t even close.

My intuition is that Mini didn’t like losing a comparison test to a Ford, but hey, maybe they really are just that intellectually poor, morally bankrupt, and structurally fragile. Toyota idem.xi

So those were the six highlights of my days in the car blogosphere.

Sifting through the only extant remnants of CarEnvy.ca, on the Tumblr associated with the blog no less, it’s funny to see how some of my opinions have changed over time – namely, with regards to the Occupy movement, local politics,xii the supremacy of Apple,xiii and the value of social mediaxiv – and how so many others haven’t – namely, with regards to how marketers are retards, how it’s only individuals that matter, why “car reviews” are a joke, and how Putin has his shit figured out.

And after all that, here we are.

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