This will be my final post as part of the Jalopnik team. and I will be leaving my baby, Foxtrot Alpha, behind as I head to my new home next week. I want to take this time to tie down some scattered thoughts about my time here, writing about defense topics, and what this experience has meant to me.
On Leaving A Great Team
First off, I am not just leaving some website; I am leaving an absolutely outstanding group of people that have treated me incredibly well over the past couple of years. The Jalopnik company culture is the finest I have ever encountered. Make no mistake, there is some serious magic to this place. While here I have worked with people that truly love what they do. It is not “a living,” it is a lifestyle.
Cars and a love for technology are intertwined into who these people are at their core. They are also pretty fearless and astonishingly honest in what they do. I can only describe the ethics code at Jalopnik as extreme and very rigid in nature. The words the writers here put into print are truly their own thoughts, unmolested by external pressures or bias we here all too much about in the media these days.
This unique culture was part of what made Foxtrot Alpha a big success. Think of it as the perfect soil that was not only great for growing the local staple but also great for sprouting an certain type of exotic plant. Foxtrot Alpha was that plant.
Matt Hardigree recruited me off a tip from someone who had been following my writing for years. His decisive leadership was impressive. Within weeks this crazy experiment began and during that time Matt invested an astonishing amount of time showing me how to really make Gawker’s unique format and blogging at this level work for me. He literally was my Yoda, and was totally willing to take a risk on me and a unique property like Foxtrot Alpha. I will be forever grateful not just for the opportunity he gave me, but for the patient and at times stern tutoring on how to put my thoughts and my extreme passion for the subject matter into a format that people can enjoy en masse.
Once Patrick George took the reigns around here he could have just let the defense guy do his thing as the numbers were trending very well, but he didn’t. He told me where I needed to improve and challenged me to do so. Once again, this is rare in management, especially when someone’s performance is already satisfactory. Many of the pieces you have read over the last year have been helped by Patrick’s careful edits and formatting suggestions. We have since became a fine-oiled machine and the time and care he put into me and FA has shown. Once again, I learned a ton from someone here who invested in me when they really didn’t have to.
Mike Ballaban has been a sounding board and friend since I came on. He is seriously down to challenge any story idea in order to make it better and find its true potential. He has been a great writer for FA as well, covering topics I usually do not and editing some of my longest FA posts alongside Patrick. Once again, they invested in me when they didn’t have to, and did it with thoughtful finesse.
The rest of crew has been stellar, every single one of them. Jason’s graphics and creative angles on science related content were an asset to FA. Raphael put up with a military blog on his beloved Jalopnik and eventually even contributed to it brilliantly. Andrew, the lover of anything truck related, was always a welcome guest. My outstanding weekend and evening editors, Alanis and Justin, they have stayed late waiting for my work many a time and have always been enthusiastic about the topic. You don’t see them in action but they are seriously outstanding and with great futures ahead of them.
I thought the biggest challenge would not be bringing in the clicks but instead it would be being accepted by a passionate group of automotive journalists that found themselves suddenly diversifying into a totally new and sometimes controversial space. The exact opposite happened and that is a testament to the incredible culture that exists behind the scenes here atJalopnik.
On Foxtrot Alpha
Foxtrot Alpha was the defense site I always thought I would want to read. I figured I could use my knowledge to put something special together that many people could enjoy, from the expert to the layman.
Additionally, so much of defense reporting steers clear of ruffling any feathers within the military industrial complex. Maybe its the advertiser dollars, maybe it is kissing up for access and leads, maybe it is just not the nature of much of this type of reporting. This may be fine and well for hard news outlets, but there are very few places that attempt to connect the dots for people and do it in an unafraid manner. Foxtrot Alpha was always going to be that place.
There is also the breadth of what we cover that makes FA special, which included everything from cheesy fighter pilot videos to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions to the future of American spaceflight to the origins of shadowy stealth aircraft designs to the reality of life aboard a nuclear submarine to land use battles near Area 51. It is diversified coverage on not just the military but also the complex world that surrounds it.
It is this nexus between geopolitics and military capabilities that has long fascinated me and spurred me into blogging in the first place. As I always say, you can do all the profiling on foreign leaders and political trends you want, but if you really want to know a nation’s biggest fears and aspirations, look at the weapons they a procuring today and planning on acquiring tomorrow.
We also go more in-depth than pretty much any other outlet around. The freedom that my bosses gave me here to write as long of a piece as I needed to tell a story or get a position across goes against popular trends in online media. We live in a soundbite-listicle culture of shallow information consumption, yet I have always believed that many people want more. They want to walk away after reading a piece feeling not just lightly informed, but totally versed in the ins and outs of the subject matter. This belief is also why I started blogging in the first place and it has proven itself valid over and over as FA’s most popular pieces are often its longest.
On You, The Readers
All these elements resulted in Foxtrot Alpha’s success. Yet one thing that I never expected and really didn’t factor in starting out was the incredible participation from readers, both in the comments section and in direct communications.
I always say my readers are simply the most informed (and funny) of any defense site out there. They largely stay away from the never-ending and often vile minutia technological debates found in deepest depths of military and defense forums and keep the big picture in mind. I read every comment. That may sound disingenuous, but it is true. I learn from my comments area, I listen to your suggestions and I truly appreciate your spending time to add to the discourse on the site. It helps make all the work worth it.
When other blogs’ discussion areas are filled with profanity and incoherent thoughts, FA’s is mostly the exact opposite. In fact, it has even become self-regulating. Our awesome commenters will give the virtual boot to anyone who shows up to make trouble or hijack meaningful conversations. How awesome is that?
The truth is that FA has been about you the readers as much as it has been about anyone else and that too has been a major factor in its success.
As I settle in to my new home next week I hope to take all these elements that have made Foxtrot Alpha a great success and apply them even more aggressively than ever before. Hopefully, all of you will visit me there while also visiting Jalopnik just as you have been in the past.
Once again, thank you so much to everyone at Jalopnik and Gawker Meida for all that they have done for me, and to the readers for making my time here as fantastic as it has been.
I will see you on the other side.
Going forward my new contact email address is firstname.lastname@example.org