Editor’s Note: My Life at Speed’s Greg Tracy had this conversation with Matt Hardigree several months ago, but as busy schedules would have it, we didn’t want this post to get lost. With the Jalopnik film festival coming up, the timing to post is perfect. Thanks Matt for your patience! – CNaz
GT: I want to thank you for taking the time to get on board with us. We have been big fans of Jalopnik, always have been and always will be. I think it is cool you would talk to us and I appreciate that very much.
MH: Great thanks. We have had so much fun with you guys over hanging out with ‘us’ and I thought it would be fun to come over and hang with y’all.
GT: Yeah! We are excited to promote you on our end! I am going to ask you a few questions and with our “5 Minutes With….” we really try to keep the questions at about 5 minutes. First, tell me your name and a little bit about yourself and about what you do with Jalopnik.
MH: Sure, I am Matt Hardigree, Editor-in-Chief of Jalopnik, and I have been in that position for about a year and a half taking over from Ray Wert who had took over from Mike Spinelli and basically run what is typically considered the largest, most-read automotive website in the world…which is pretty awesome…writing about trucks, cars, new cars and old cars, yellow cars, donks and really whatever we find interesting at that particular moment.
GT: Right…and I think that is one of the things I have always loved, that there is a big variation of stories on Jalopnik. There is something for everybody, which is pretty cool.
Speaking to the diversity (of the content), when you look at how far you guys have come and what your daily viewership is, just tell me what your take is on the future of online magazines, blogs whatever you want to call it?
MH: The great thing about it, is that it now all dynamic. So it is always changing which makes it hard to categorize. Is it a blog, is it a website is it a network because now we (Gawker Media) have Truck Yeah! which is the truck site, we have Detroit, we have DOTS Jalopnik, Opposite Lock which is our off-topic forum. We have all these interesting spaces. We may even launch a plane site and possibly a motorsports one coming up, so it is an exciting time for us.
At first, websites were very ‘niche’. For example, you could have a website about a specific type of fishing that you liked to do and certainly those websites still exist; and you could have a blog about it and get a small amount of traffic, but as advertising has driven the prices down for every eyeball that you get, we sort of conglomerated, and there are still a lot of websites out there, but there [are] only a few really big ones left. But I think we are moving into a point now where these larger websites can have sort of a greater range of things they cover with sub-websites, and that is where I see things going. Now, just looking at, just for fun, looking at my Google Analytics now, in the last 30 days we had about 7 million unique visitors and 7 million is a huge number compared to what it was a couple of years ago. We have been growing a lot. The overall web and looking at our competitors, or not really competitors but people in the same space like Road and Track, MotorTrend who has done a great job with video, everyone has been growing. So I think that means there is a huge appetite for this kind of content and we are happy to feed that appetite.
GT: Wow, that’s awesome! So do you think in terms of the future of automotive entertainment that you will see more of what you guys are doing? Start having these “off-niche” brands? So somebody would come to Jalopnik and as they get deeper into it they may find that they are moved over to the 1960s Classics site for example?
MH: I didn’t even think of a 1960s Classics site yet, but that could be a really great idea! We should do that! (laughs)
Yeah I do actually, it is not that dissimilar from what magazines did because, there are so many magazines because you think about a company like Now but Primedia before that, when it made sense to have a specific magazine on Sport Compact Cars, which I loved…I loved Sport Compact Cars which was one of my all-time favorite magazine, and they could have Hot Pontiac Magazine or whatever the sub-brands [there] were and almost all of those have gone away now, and have sort of been “sub-sumed” by the mothership, so there is MotorTrend and a couple of others. But now on the web, you sort of have the flexibility, where you can try things sort of like publishing became very profitable and expanded in the 80s and 90s you can do that on the web now. I think that what we are doing with sub-blogs, you see a lot with DRIVE and MotorTrend online is that they have sub-brands, for example DRIVE has “Tuned” for people who are in this range of tuner cars and they’ve got, you know, Mike Musto doing all of the Classic Hot Rods. You’ve got Chris Harris doing the European Luxury Cars and it is all still within the automotive space but the amount of advertising there, you sort of group into a network and there is money for it and there are certainly eyeballs for it. It takes pressure of one publication having to sort of, carry the load for everything. It is also takes the pressure off of one small site to get the volume of eyeballs that you need to get that minimum threshold to be successful, which is hard and it is probably, you know depending on when you are talking about Quantcast or Google Analytics or any of the people who look at websites, you really need a user base of 1 million or 2 million people to, just hit that minimum threshold for making a living off of it.
GT: Segueing from the tuner culture that you mentioned, and a little bit off the subject line here (jokingly) where do you think you would find the best looking girls in the pits? At the drift event, a NASCAR race, a Supercross event or an Indy Car race?
MH: The best looking what?
GT: Women. Women in the pits.
MH: Oh, got it! (laughs!) The best looking women at an event… (pauses) You know I have been married for five years, so I, should pretend that I haven’t noticed.
GT: You can actually pretend that you heard this from a friend of yours at Jalopnik. Somebody who was discussing (the topic) and you just happened to be walking by.
MH: Right. Got it! And it would be Travis. You know I, I, I have met a lot of lovely women at a lot of different events. It is hard to pick a favorite. My wife was actually driving a red Dodge RAM pickup truck when I met her, so maybe at a truck pull. But she wasn’t at a truck pull when I met her, God forbid, but, although that would be frickin’ awesome! (Matt was thinking hard for an answer) Formula One events I would say that when Formula One was in Austin last year and I am biased ’cause I am a Texan, so there was a lot of lovely Texas women at F1 but there were some knockouts at the race. Actually there were actually good-looking men and good-looking women. There was just good looking people in general. If you want to see people who spend a lot of money just to look good, you know, plastic surgery, personal trainers and people who were just naturally beautiful. Friggin’ Antonio Banderas was walking around the pits and every driver has a supermodel girlfriend…yeah, definitely F1 (is) what was I thinking.
GT: I was at the F1 race too and yes, it was pretty impressive in the looks department. Is there one article that stands out in your mind that stands out in your mind, since you have taken over the helm there at Jalopnik that has been one of your favorites?
MH: Oh man, yes! It is hard to pick just one because we have done so much stuff. It’s not like we drove across Europe looking for the best road kind of thing or even the cross country story which is really cool, the sort of exclusive story, about the guy who set the new Cannonball Run type record. It is actually one of Jason Torchinsky articles where his Volkswagen Beetle was stolen and it is the car he has had his entire life. He has owned other cars like a Scimitar and some other weird stuff; but this car was a 1972 Beetle that he got when he was 16 or something like that, so years and years and years ago and he ended up with it stolen. And he was really depressed about it, so he put up a quick note on Facebook and on Jalopnik saying “Hey if you see this car, let me know. It is really important to me.”
And then somebody found a picture of it and posted it in the comments, but they didn’t post where the photo was taken. So, people knew that it was in the Los Angeles area, so somebody went to Google maps and found the exact house where the car was located. The engine had been stolen and a lot of the parts had been taken off, but the car was basically abandoned on this corner and our readers found it. So he calls the police and they rush over there and sure enough, he had lost the motor, the trim pieces, the headlights and the radio, which I am not sure the radio worked anyway, I don’t think, but it was his car and he got it back.
I think that is the ultimate Jalopnik positive story, of being able to help someone. We have helped other people find their lost cars too. But the whole community coming together is what we do that separates us, from everyone else. It’s not just because we, we sometimes use cuss words and we, you know we will write about things that other people won’t write about and we don’t play the same embargo system games. I think that a lot of people will tell me, and I don’t take offense to this, that they read Jalopnik because of the comments and I think that is a great example of what a robust commenting community like Jalopnik that has 10s of 1000s of people commenting and what that can do.
GT: That is one of the things that I have really enjoyed about Jalopnik and one of the things that the internet has changed is that you do have the opportunity as an online magazine or a blog, whatever we call it to reach out and to get people to really feel like they are a part of the story and to bring them into it, which is maybe is why on that feature story you just talked about, people know what that feels like. They have had cars stolen or their friend’s car was stolen, it is like losing one of your best friends or a girlfriend, you always kind of wonder what happened to them down the road when you think about it.
MH: Oh, absolutely I love that about the site, and we also have Opposite Lock, which is sort of like an off-topic forum kind of like the The Car Lounge on VWVortex and MC has Four Arms and on that sort of blog-type forum where you have to know someone to get signed up and I think we have something like 1800 authors, who are more than just commenters. They are people who create their own content and their own posts and if you go to oppositelock.jalopnik.com at any time of day you will find people who are writing everything from Craigslist finds to really in-depth stories about buying used cars to really fun, great posts. That site alone does, according to Quantcast and sort of a different measure from Google Analytics, something like half a million people read that every month and that is something that the users just do for themselves. It is amazing!
GT: Right – wow, that is impressive! So do you think we will ever be going to watch self-driving cars being raced around a track by themselves?
MH: Yeah, actually, I don’t know if you saw this but at Willow Springs the Stanford car that AUDI worked with, that TT car, which I think is the same car that went up Pikes Peak, raced around Willow Springs or maybe Thunder Hill and actually set a really good time. You know, self-driving cars, people who love cars have a resistance to them because if you enjoy driving you want to drive yourself and I certainly feel that way and I certainly can relate to that, but if it becomes an engineering challenge, then we sort of think about it differently.
Jason Torchinsky, did a really great piece about a year and a half ago about if you think of it like a robot butler sort of thing – when you think of the robot cars, so it is like something you have so you can play like Candy Crush while you are stuck in traffic, well, it is not really that compelling but if you think about it like KITT from Knight Rider, a self-driving car, and like having KITT would be freaking awesome! No one who loves cars would have a problem with having KITT. And to get there, you would sort of need the engineering challenges just like the original DARPA Race, where they had to race across the desert and I think that is the challenge. You know, like the same way we are doing with the Formula Electric asking engineers to sort of “one up” each other in a race would be just super fun to watch…or a destruction derby (laughs) I would watch either one.
GT: Excellent!! I think I am up for that too! Well, I know we have gone a bit over and I want to keep it good but one last thing, I was so honored to be part of the Jalopnik Film Festival. Do you see that happening again this year??
MH: Yes it is happening again and it will be bigger and better! The first one was premised on that we could have the first ticketed showing of “RUSH” in the United States and there is not going to be a “RUSH” this year. So we were trying to think of a way to make it more interactive, so this is a little teaser of what’s to come. This time it is not going to be just a bunch of old movies, hopefully this time we will actually produce some films and open it up to other people to do not just full length films, but to do also short films. I am really excited about that!
GT: Awesome! Well make sure you invite me back for that again…or I’ll just show up!
MH: Yeah, sure thing. (laughs) I’ll tell them at the door if Greg Tracy is at the door. Just let him in.
A Final Word
You can connect with Matt via social media on Twitter @MattHardigree and Instagram @hardibro. Of course, don’t forget to click over to http://matthardigree.kinja.com/ for his latest thoughts on the automotive industry.