Jalopnik is an automotive blog created in 2008 and owned by Gawker Media. They focus primarily on opinion pieces and their articles tend to be attention grabbing. Because the website has a niche subject matter, controversy and debatable opinions are necessary in order to drive traffic. This is in contrast to a traditional news source, which can largely report on new developments and events to gain an audience. Because Jalopnik can’t simply report facts and events to gain attention, they choose to rely on clickbait and personal opinions in order to garner a crowd.
Much of this can be seen simply from the top of the front page. At the time of writing, there are no articles on the front page with facts in the titles. A print news source would typically have a brief fact in the headline with further details in the article. For example, an article from today’s Wall Street Journal reads “South Korean President Removed from Office”. Compare that to this article from Jalopnik which reads “Here’s Why America’s Roads Are Total Shit”. Immediately one can tell that these two sources are aiming for different audiences. The headline from Jalopnik raises an argument without any substance, leading readers to continue and find out why the author makes that claim. Secondly, there’s profanity in the title, which causes it to be more inflammatory. Both of these points show that Jalopnik is most likely aimed at younger audiences who might end up sharing their articles on social media.
Upon selecting an article to read, the experience is also clearly affected by being born digital. Looking at the article about America’s roads mentioned earlier, the article is positively littered with hyperlinks taking the reader to various sources, statistics, and other articles on Jalopnik. This method of citing material both generates more traffic for the sight and gives the reader some peace of mind that the article is well researched, even if they don’t actually click the links. There is also a persistent set of buttons on the bottom of the page which allow the reader to share the story on Facebook and/or Twitter. The website wants to make sharing the article as inviting and easy as possible. Always having the share buttons on screen means that at any point, without having to re-orientate themselves on the page, the reader can choose to click one of those buttons and generate even more traffic for the site.
In order to analyze what typically gets posted to this blog, I have selected one of the senior writing staff at Jalopnik, David Tracy (Twitter @davidntracy). The articles he posts tend to be ones covering cars subject to misfortune, personal opinion pieces, explanations of how things work, and coverage of off-road vehicles. All of these have some clickbait titles that simply beg the viewer to pay attention. The use of very strong words such as “torture” and “yahoos” grab attention and practically force the reader into a double take. As for the actual content of Tracy’s articles, one can see that he is an avid tinkerer who’s interested in engineering. He writes about restoring old cars, how various car parts function, and his Twitter account very much reflects these interests. Most of his posts for the past several months have been regarding a current restoration project of his, which appears to be his method of community engagement at the moment. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jalopnik has many gear heads on its staff.
Jalopnik, like so many other digital publishings, relies on some fairly cheap methods to gain readership. Clickbait titles and dependence on sharing are simply par for the course in the digital world. The inability to ride on its name combined with its niche appeal mean that Jalopnik has to be provocative and bit controversial to survive.