Jonathan Ellsworth, Editor-in-Chief

Jonathan Ellsworth, Editor-in-Chief, Blister Gear ReviewAnyone who knows me at all knows that my answer to the question, “What are you most passionate about right now?” is a single word: Blister.

That might seem a little too obvious. But exactly why Blister is the thing that regularly keeps me up till 4 in the morning is probably a bit less obvious. Furthermore, I think that we can all agree that it is a decidedly odd thing to be obsessed with a website, so I’ll do my best to explain.

If this Open Mic series is an experiment and a wager, so too is Blister itself.

It all started because I was extremely curious to know what would happen if we simply told the truth about all of this expensive equipment, and at the same time, if we tried to be as smart and as thorough as we possibly could be. Would anybody care? Would enough people agree that most review publications are so bad, so unhelpful, and so seemingly compromised that they would support the site? Would companies send hitmen in the middle of the night to take us out for writing something negative about their new flagship product? I had no idea, but I wanted to find out.

I’m not simply going to repeat the BLISTER Manifesto or the About Us page, but if you aren’t that familiar with Blister, you might want to read those.

But since we’ve been doing this now for a year and a half (yes, we’ve only just turned 18 months old), I realize that the recurring, fundamental issue for every single one of our reviews is the difficulty of writing an honest and fair sentence.

What we always talk about around here is that we have an obligation to our readers to be honest, all the time. That seems simple enough: just say what you think about every ski, bike, board, or shoe.

But actually, that alone isn’t sufficient; honesty isn’t enough.

Our criticisms have to be on point and well articulated, or we aren’t being fair to the manufacturers. Our praise needs to be on point, too, and can’t be rushed. If we haven’t bothered to explain in detail why something did or didn’t work, then we haven’t said much that is genuinely useful, and we certainly haven’t done our job.

So we evaluate every claim of every sentence of every review to make sure that we can stand by them, defend them. Since we believe in being thorough, that means that we have hundreds of individual claims to scrutinize for every review we publish. There is a rigor and an ethic that has to be in place to do this consistently, and we have to make sure that we don’t drop the ball, and that each of our reviewers understands and meets those standards. (If they don’t, they won’t be here long.)

Furthermore, techy lingo and sentences that sound impressive—that make it seem like you know what you’re talking about—present easy opportunities to hide vague thoughts and unhelpful statements behind a bunch of jargon.

If you’ve read our reviews, you know that we don’t shy away from technical language. But we try never to just hide behind that stuff, and we spend an inordinate amount of time writing and editing each review and making sure that even our techy sections—especially our techy sections—are clear if you’re willing to read carefully and not just skim. We aren’t interested in publishing impressive sounding, unhelpful nonsense.

We also try to avoid cheap shots, to be smarter than that—more penetrating and incisive than that. Have fun, be funny, but don’t get sloppy. And we try not to claim more than we actually know.

Ultimately, what we are trying to do here is grow Blister into an institution that protects the credibility and integrity that is at its core. Compromise that integrity, and this whole thing becomes just another pointless review site that functions more as a marketing arm of the companies it reviews rather than offering honest, useful information for the people participating in the sports that we love.

Of course, you could argue that none of this really matters—we’re just talking about skis and boots and bikes. But while it’s true that we aren’t curing cancer or opening orphanages, there is still an ethical component to what we do that I take very seriously: outdoor gear is expensive, and people look to review sites to figure out how they ought to spend their hard earned money. So if you’re a review site that doesn’t actually inform and tell the truth about this stuff, then you are doing it wrong, and, I think, doing it unethically.

If you happen to be some rich kid with a trust fund, then maybe none of this matters and you can’t imagine why this is a big deal. But we receive a lot of emails from college kids, grad students, and others who say that they have been saving up for a single pair of skis, and they can’t really afford to make the wrong decision. If we don’t do the best job we can to make clear what they can expect from a product, then long and short, we’re disregarding them and showing that actually, we really don’t care.

There are a lot of interesting things to do in the world before each of us dies, and I couldn’t imagine working 100+ hours a week on a review site that wasn’t doing things the right way. That would be nothing but a colossal waste of time.

One last thing about BLISTER: I get to hang out with, write to, or talk all day with some truly exceptional people. Marshal Olson, Jason Hutchins, Julia Van Raalte, Will Brown, Kevin Bazar, Marci Eanarino, Justin Bobb, Kate Hourihan, Dave Alie, Scott Nelson…the list goes on.

Go to our Contributor Bios page, pick out any name you please, and you will find a remarkable person. Or just read their reviews. Because I think the enthusiasm and talent and fastidiousness and humor of our reviewers comes across clearly. It’s an outstanding crew.

I’ve accomplished a few things in my life that I’m very proud of, but I’m not sure that there is anything I’m more proud of than building up this operation with these people. And that is another big reason why Blister is very much my obsession right now.

Again, that’s a pretty weird thing to say about a website, but I hope I’ve managed to convey why it sort of makes all the sense in the world.

4 comments on “Jonathan Ellsworth, Editor-in-Chief”

  1. Nice work! I could not agree with you more that outdoor equipment is expensive and most people don’t want to waste their cash. Blister provides a trusted opinion to help guide one’s choice and more importantly help one make a good buying decision. Thank you for creating Blister. Also thank you for starting Open Mic. I think this will be fun for your readers.

  2. Confucius say: ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’ ! But I know you do, work incredibly hard, and there’s nothing more inspiring than to know someone like that. Super props, my friend. Here’s to honesty, openness and integrity. Here’s to you and your crew.

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