Business of Art Fix #35: Oh Gawker Were We Ever So Young

Welcome to the 35th “This Business of Art / Media / Web Fix,” in which I share with you things I read that I loved relating to the work I do here — online media, business, entrepreneurship, women in tech, start-ups, journalism, publishing, management, queer visibility, and so forth.


Bye Gawker

Two weeks ago, Gawker.com ceased operations. Gawker Media was forced into bankruptcy following a lawsuit placed by Hulk Hogan and funded by PayPal CEO Peter Thiel, who has a vendetta against the company. Univision bought Gawker Media, but declined to continue publishing Gawker.com, its flagship site.

Personal blogging peaked around approximately 2005-2007 — publishers were snatching up popular bloggers for six-figure book deals (the books usually flopped), the term “mommy blogger” wobbled into our lexicons and fell asleep on our laps, faceless bloggers were exposing previously secret annals of various lifestyles (e.g., sleeping with politicians, working at Wells Fargo), and it was believed, at least in New York City, that if you wanted a career as a writer, you needed a personal blog.

No consensus had been reached, however, on what it was okay to say on your blog and what wasn’t. People were getting fired for blogging, and surely everybody’s mother was wringing their hands about the employability of their carelessly blogging offspring. Before Facebook and Instagram became ubiquitous and even celebrities were directly delivering their messy human lives to the public, most people believed in maintaining a respectable facade of professionalism and togetherness everywhere, including online — it was risky to discuss drinking alcohol or having sex, for example, if you ever wanted a job in this town.

Unless, of course, you wanted to write for Gawker or, eventually, Jezebel or Deadspin. Gawker.com, launched by Nick Denton and Elizabeth Spiers in December 2002 (Spiers and Denton were fans of each other’s blogs, and met at a Metafilter party), wasn’t too concerned with respectability. Gawker wanted authenticity, intelligence, and wit. They scouted talent from magazines and newspapers and The Black Table — but also from the blogsophere, recruiting talented twentysomethings who ran blogs with names like “One D at a Time.” Editors had a lot of latitude to pursue their own whims and take risks. Eventually, Gawker Media became the first-ever truly successful and enormous independently-owned blogging network.

While pondering Gawker.com’s death and reading its Uncensored Oral History ($2.99 on Amazon), which makes Gawker sound like a really wonderful place to work for some people and a living hell for some other people, I realized that I’ve followed the Gawker Story more closely than any other in media. Is it ’cause of their connection to a blogger universe I was once a part of? Because I think Emily Gould is legitimately great? Because even at its worst and meanest, and even during the years I rarely read the flagship site (although I continued reading Jezebel), it only hired truly brilliant, unique and hilarious writers? Maybe it’s just because it is one of online media’s most important stories and because its alums are incredibly accomplished. Gawker defined the game, ultimately.

From the get-go, Gawker seemingly broke all the “rules” of publishing, like with its commitment to radical transparency that allowed (usually unceremoniously fired or driven-to-insanity) departing editors to say whatever the fuck they wanted on the site before heading out. A few years ago, they simply announced that they’d hired one editor just to write clickbait and would use the money garnered by animal videos to fund worthwhile writing and journalism — something many sites did, but not quite so openly. For many years, Gawker’s sitemeter was accessible to the general public. Whereas we’re constantly fielding e-mails from advertisers who want their ads pulled from our site once they’ve discovered we write about sex sometimes, Gawker’s sexual content seemingly didn’t get in the way of supporting itself entirely through advertising.

But it wasn’t just being a blog and hiring twentysomething bloggers instead of journalists that made Gawker a central force in the blogging ecosystem — it was also Blogorrhea NYC (RIP). The regularly published column, which ceased in 2007, contained summaries of and links to 3-5 blog posts by New York City bloggers. Honestly I doubt very many people read Blogorrhea NYC? But it was important, I promise. After my then-blog Autowin had been linked by Gawker a few times, in Blogorrhea and elsewhere, I was invited to a Google Group of other NYC bloggers often linked by Gawker. It was a super-straight and very male crowd, and — although I made one male friend through that network — in many ways, feeling outside of the conversations and pub crawls initiated by that group led me to feel if I was gonna make it, I was gonna have to make it not only outside of publishing but outside of alt-publishing too. It’s ironic, as openly gay CEO Nick Denton argued in a post from a Gawker writer calling for more diversity on staff that “Gawker Media exists in part because at no established media company was it possible for an openly gay man to rise to the top.” Gawker.com, however, to the best of our knowledge, never hired an openly gay woman.

But it was through Bloggerhea that my first girlfriend found me, and it was also how Marni, my ex-girlfriend and current A-Camp Co-Director found me, and it was how our current Vapid Fluff Editor Stef found me. So we would not be here right now all of us together without Gawker on ten billion different levels. Of course their descriptions of my blog posts were snarky and kinda sexist, but whatever. The best compliment they ever gave my writing, unfortunately, happened in a post devoted entirely to an essay I’d written on nerve.com under a pseudonym.

Initially, Gawker did minimal original reporting, choosing instead to just report on everybody else’s reporting and its own deep-dives into the various worlds of the New York media elite. They crashed parties and got a lot of anonymous tips and insider e-mails. Gawker was meaner then than it is now, even though it’s still pretty mean and made its biggest blunder ever just this past year. Still, it was less dangerous to be mean back when your only audience was your audience, not your audience and their extended social media network. If you felt somehow offended by, say, Gawker’s relentless skewering of Julia Allison, the only place to vent was your own blog, to your own readers. Plus, attacking media giants was “punching up” in 2003-2008, but when magazines started shuttering while online media like Buzzfeed, HuffPo and Gawker thrived, that type of coverage kinda became “punching down.” By then Gawker had already shifted to cover more topics than media and more locations than New York.

The internet has changed radically over the course of Gawker’s lifetime, and gone are trademark-snarky features like Altarcations, The Worst Person in the World, The Most Annoying Liberal Arts CollegeGawker Stalkermedia parties photographed by Nikola Tamindzic and Misshapes. Over the last few years, they’ve committed to being “nicer” and done a lot more original reporting, important-story-breaking, and longform writing. Some of the best work Gawker.com ever published came from a weekend essay series curated by Kiese Laymon, kicked off with his own How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance. Rich Juzwiack, a writer I’ve been faithfully following since 2005, has been on staff for the last four years, doing amazing things, often in Disneyworld. Along with Rich’s stuff, bylines from Cord Jefferson and Caity Weaver brought me back to the site on a regular basis, although I’ve never stopped reading Jezebel.

And if there is any question in the matter, My 14-Hour Search for the End of TGI Friday’s Endless Appetizers, by Caity Weaver, is the most important thing Gawker ever published.

Although its satellite sites have done reasonably well with diversity, Gawker.com itself has been criticized as more of a white male boy’s club, as exposed in depth in Gawker’s Problem With Women. So, as we say goodbye to Gawker.com, I have assembled for you what I believe is a relatively comprehensive list of the women who’ve managed to make it to the proverbial masthead at Gawker.com specifically:

Elizabeth Spiers: Founding Editor, 2002-2003
Currently: Founder, Everup

Jessica Coen: Editor, 2004-2006
Currently: Editor-in-Chief, Voactiv

Emily Gould: Editor, 2006-2008
Currently: Founder, Emily Books & Author

Doree Shafrir: Editor, 2006-2008
Currently: Senior Culture Writer, Buzzfeed

Sheila McClear: Writer, 2007-2008
Currently: Freelancer

Maggie Shnayerson: Associate Editor, 2007-2008
Currently: Freelance writer and web developer, EMT

Maureen O’Connor: Writer, 2009-2012
Currently: Columnist, New York Magazine

Lauri Apple: Contributing Editor, 2010-2011
Currently: Open Source Evangelist, Zalando SE

Gabrielle Bluestone: News Editor, Gawker, 2013 -> Present

Caity Weaver: Senior Editor, 2012 – 2015
Currently: GQ Magazine

Nitasha Tiku: Senior Writer, 2013-2014
Currently: Senior Writer, Buzzfeed

Michelle Dean: Senior Writer, 2014
Currently: Guardian columnist, author

Lacey Donahue: Night Editor, 2013 & Managing Editor, 2014-2015
Currently: Executive Managing Editor, Gawker Media

Kelly Conaboy: Staff Writer, 2014 – 2015
Currently: Writer, The Hairpin

Allie Jones: Staff Writer, 2014 – 2016
Currently: Writer, New York Magazine

Dayna Evans: Staff Writer, 2014-2015
Currently: Staff Writer, The Cut

Leah Finnegan: Features Editor, 2014-2015
Currently: Senior Editor, The Outline

Ashley Feinberg: Senior Writer, October 2015 -> Present
Currently: Recently wrote this post that made me laugh so hard I had to read it again just to laugh some more, and then there was also this follow-up post written about her that made me laugh even more. Perhaps in the running to fill a Gawker-Media-Caity-Weaver-sized hole in my heart? Time will tell.

Kelly Stout: Deputy Editor, March 2016 – July 2016
Currently: Senior Editor, Jezebel

Hannah Gold: Weekend Editor

Marina Galperina, Senior Editor/Reporter, 2016
Currently: Features, Gizmodo

More On Gawker:

Gawker has assembled a list of the work they are most proud of, including exposes on reviled figures like Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Josh Duggar and BuzzFeed.

+ Stories to Remember Gawker By: Former Gawker Editor Doree Shafrir counts them down for Buzzfeed

Legacy of Snark: Why Gawker Matters: Gawker’s in-house writing style came to define the voice of of blogging nearly everywhere.

Closing the Book On Gawker.com: A giant collection of data on this topic

Gawker Would Have Hated This List Of Our 10 Favorite Gawker Articles: Excellent picks, these

This Gawker.com style guide from 2007 proves Nick Denton’s blog invented web writing“It’s too random/stupid/weird to post!” — probably, it isn’t. Be weird.

Gawker.com’s Subdued Finale (CNN)

A Eulogy for Gawker from its founding editor, Elizabeth Spiers

What Were Blogs?  A funeral for blogging itself feels not far off—or at least a mid-life crisis. Blogs still exist, but they lack the youthful vigor of 2003.


Online Media Links Totally Unrelated to Gawker

+ Were it not for the Gawker story, I would’ve led this installment with this expose from the Columbia Journalism Review on Vice Media’s appalling track record with paying freelancersInterviews with more than a dozen freelance journalists suggest the young, edgy news organization heralded as the future of journalism also has ushered in a new low for its treatment of freelance journalists.

I Tripped Up While Reporting on Gender and Sexuality. Here’s What I Learned: Christine Grimaldi on how a straight cisgender journalist is figuring out how to better report on the LGBTQ community.

Blog, You Idiot, by Kelly Conaboy for The Hairpin: “All the new big money websites want to publish “good work,” meaning essays, and I have a theory about those websites, though I have never visited them, and the theory is that those websites are where a lot of the good writers are hiding. Maybe you can force those writers to blog, if you own one of these websites?”

+ The New York Times is killing regional theater, non-profit, restaurant and arts coverage. This will impact stories from the New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut area, not New York City itself.

+ Google and Facebook are taking over all the advertising contracts, ruining everything

Vox Media is going international

+ Facebook is changing trending topics to avoid bias

+ Journalists read comments, respond to them but also comments are hard.


Businesswoman’s Special:

+ Y’all… I’m already obsessed with Gaby Dunn’s podcast, Bad With Money. Check it out.

+ techniques for talking with strangers

+ 6 improv tips to nail your next presentation at work

funding summer travel with working vacations

+ a forgiving mindset can make you more productive at work

Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. And support from readers like you keeps the majority of our site free for everyone. Still, 99.9% of our readers do not support. Autostraddle is fundraising right now to keep our site funded through January 2022. Will you join our community of readers in helping to keep us around?

Riese is the 39-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2883 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. its during the past two years that i started reading gawker and jezebel regularly and i just thought of it is a the opposite of fox news. very liberal and a safe space to comment with other liberals over shared topics, i mean, yahoo could publish word for word what gawker did but there’s no way in hell i’m scrolling down the page to toss in my two cents. also, fellow commenters would post links on stuff that i’d read and end up learning more.

    gawker feels like a favorite coffee shop that has closed down. jezebel had better not do the same

    • I used to LOVE Jezebel and its commenters but it’s gotten so bad recently. It just seems to be very explicitly aimed towards upper middle class white liberal feminists. I was getting sick of seeing people who consider themselves to be progressive but who are oblivious to intersectionality and who think things like body shaming are okay :/ I was so disappointed when I had to make the decision to leave but huzzah! That’s how I found autostraddle.

      • Alexia, I had the same experience! Jezebel was sort of my introduction to feminism, but I gradually realized that it’s so not intersectional. The last time I remember reading the comments on a Jezebel article, there were a number of women claiming that they were being discriminated against at work by other, uglier women because they, the commenters, dared to wear makeup and be thin and pretty. *sigh*

        I discovered Autostraddle shortly after I became disillusioned with Jezebel, and shortly after that is when I realized I’m super queer. Thanks, Autostraddle, for providing more nuanced feminist perspectives and for bringing out the gay in me! :P

  2. I love that y’all have written something about Gawker. I miss it so much, used to read it every morning as soon as I got to work everyday. Now I have no clue what’s going on with anything. If anyone finds a replacement site or anything close to it (and not any of its subsidiaries) please let me know

  3. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that TGI Friday’s article but I can tell you that the best time was when I tried to read it aloud to my sister in the car and didn’t realize until about 2 hours into the article’s journey that this was a much longer article than I had remembered but my sister wouldn’t let me stop reading it because she wanted to know what would happen–so that’s how I ended up reading 6800 words about infinite mozzarella sticks aloud in the car in rural Michigan on a late summer night.

  4. “I goddamn hate these fucking mozzarella sticks. The more of them I eat, the more I feel like I can taste every ingredient. Ingredients include: cardboard left in a hamster cage in the sun; acid.”

    Thank you so much for the reminder that this article exists.

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