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.
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 College, Gawker Stalker, media 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
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 freelancers: Interviews 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
+ Facebook is changing trending topics to avoid bias
+ Y’all… I’m already obsessed with Gaby Dunn’s podcast, Bad With Money. Check it out.