Welcome to the ninth “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. You can expect this sucker to drop every-other Wednesday.
Hello buttercups! This fix is brought to you by myself and the letter J, because Riese is on an important lifetime adventure. Please forgive me if I am slightly less brilliant and perfect than Riese would have been.
This Business of Online Media
This week was f*cking bananas in terms of big online media drama! Phew! First, let us discuss Gawker.
Gawker published a story, since deleted, in which a male sex worker (later ID’d as porn actor Brodie Sinclair) reveals that David Geithner, CFO of Conde Nast, hired him for sex. It appears that after realizing who Geithner was, Sinclair tried to extort him to help him out with a legal problem, and when Geithner refused, he contacted Gawker. General internet outrage followed Gawker’s publication of this bizarre personal dispute turned blackmail/tabloid journalism, especially once it was revealed that Sinclair turns out to be a conspiracy theorist who seems like a less than reliable source.
Nick Denton, overlord of Gawker media, ended up deleting the post; Gawker media’s editorial staff objected. Tommy Craggs and Max Read, Gawker Media’s executive editor and Gawker.com’s editor-in-chief respectively, both resigned — not because the post was published, but because it was taken down.
Gawker has always been a reliable lightning rod for discussion about how online media does and/or should function, and so unsurprisingly this debacle has launched a thousand takes. Here are a few on the subject that you might find interesting. (Some of these are curated from Today in Tabs, which you might enjoy if subjects like editorial infighting at Gawker are interesting to you.)
- Rich Juzwiak on outing, not outing, and working for Gawker
- Elspeth Reeve on how the Internet outgrew Gawker
- Maria Bustillos on why Gawker and gossip are good
- Adam Weinstein on his history with Gawker, leaving it, and the Geithner story
If you’re interested, you can also now view Gawker’s “brand book,” which ends with the Frederick Siebert quote “Let all with something to say be free to express themselves. The true and sound will survive. The false and unsound will be vanquished.”
Next, let us consider Reddit.
As Ali discussed earlier this week, Reddit is just a real trainwreck currently. Here’s a timeline of what happened via Forbes. Basically, Victoria Taylor, the popular coordinator of the Ask Me Anything forum, was fired; CEO Ellen Pao was blamed, and in particularly gendered and racialized ways. Pao ended up resigning after she was asked to, even though Reddit’s higher-ups say that she didn’t even fire Taylor; Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian did. Because Pao had been working during her time as CEO to curb some of Reddit’s more dangerous tendencies — like vicious harassment and nonconsensually taken sexualized photos posted under the guise of “free speech” — this has also become a conversation about that particular brand of “free speech” on the internet. New CEO Steve Huffman declared that Pao’s anti-harassment policies would stand even after her departure. Sam Biddle at Gawker (coming full circle!) says that Reddit can’t be saved without a serious “fumigation.” Welp!
Okay! Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
+ Buzzfeed has a new project called Cocoa Butter, which “focuses on making fun stuff for and about brown folks.” Tracy Clayton, driver behind Cocoa Butter, explained on Twitter that “it is NOT “black buzzfeed”… my biggest thing has always been the integration of black content into the whole of the site rather than throwing us in a corner…”
Clayton explains that this isn’t a vertical, as we’ve seen Buzzfeed do before; Cocoa Butter isn’t a site with a web address, but a social media channel, essentially. “[Buzzfeed’s] audience is oooooooooverwhelmingly white which means the dope ass shit we do make is tough to circulate and get seen… which is mad frustrating! We wanted a way to distribute the dope shit, fun memes, and deep/funny/important convos we have behind the scenes… and we just get swallowed up on the website. We’re not cordoning ourselves off, we’re creating another avenue to get our stuff out there.”
I’m a fan of Tracy Clayton’s and many of the people working alongisde her on Cocoa Butter (Heben Nigatu, Kevin Smith and Sylvia Obell) (have you listened to the Another Round podcast with Tracy and Heben? It’s great!) and am really really interested in this distribution model — we struggle with figuring out how to highlight and bring readership in for “niche” interests or communities even on our own already-“niche” site, and also have conversations about what’s a vertical and what’s something that’s important to keep tied to the main site identity, so this method of bridging readers with specific content is exciting and fascinating!
+ Bustle published a post about “fuckgirls,” apparently the counterpart to fuckboys, and then deleted it. Deleting things is really in the air this week.
+ Over in the world of online sports media, Deadspin discusses what the heck is going on over at Grantland. ESPN fired Bill Simmons, veteran of the site, a few months ago, and now things seem shaky at best.
+ The Dissolve, Pitchfork’s movie site, is closing. Slate collected some of what they think is their best writing in that link!
+ You likely already knew this from personal experience, but more Americans are getting their news from social media. Relatedly, perhaps you’d be interested in reading a bit about Facebook’s ultra-mysterious algorithms and how they affect what you end up seeing in your News Feed. (We think about this algorithm endlessly, as it governs a great deal of our success and therefore lives, but if I start talking about it now I’ll never be able to stop, so.)
+ In a really fascinating piece that I would really love for you to read all the way through, Hossein Derakhshan talks about how the Web has changed in the six years he was jailed for blogging, and how it means some alarming stuff for the world-changing potential of the internet. What does the trend towards only creating content that’s palatable via social media mean for radical ideas that are inherently unpalatable?
…not only do the algorithms behind the Stream equate newness and popularity with importance, they also tend to show us more of what we’ve already liked. These services carefully scan our behaviour and delicately tailor our news feeds with posts, pictures and videos that they think we would most likely want to see… Popularity is not wrong in and of itself, but it has its own perils. In a free-market economy, low-quality goods with the wrong prices are doomed to failure. Nobody gets upset when a quiet Brooklyn cafe with bad lattes and rude servers goes out of business. But opinions are not the same as material goods or services. They won’t disappear if they are unpopular or even bad. In fact, history has proven that most big ideas (and many bad ones) have been quite unpopular for a long time, and their marginal status has only strengthened them. Minority views are radicalized when they can’t be expressed and recognized.”
+ You may recall a Grantland longform piece centered around Dr. V, inventor of a novel new golf putter; it was an irresponsible and transmisogynistic piece of journalism that ended with its subject dead. At a journalism conference in Texas, that piece’s author, Caleb Hannah, has “spoken out” for the first time since the story’s publication about his involvement in it; at the time, Grantland editor Bill Simmons took a lot of the responsibility. Hannan admits that two people — his wife and a fact-checker — raised concerns with him about the story before it was published, the fact-checker specifically bringing up the concern that Dr. V might hurt herself. Hannan says he “doesn’t know” why he didn’t bring those concerns up with an editor.
+ Speaking of harassment and unsavory stuff! Holly Brockwell talks about the harassment she’s received for starting Gadgette, a women’s tech site.
This Business of Business
+ Risk, and the courage to take it, is touted as the most important quality for aspiring entrepreneurs. What’s not often discussed is that most successful entrepreneurs aren’t just naturally bold, risk-taking people; they’re enabled to take risk because they’re more likely to come from families with money. It’s a lot easier to learn to walk a tightrope if you always have a net!
+ This piece on how social media managers are often women, a “pink ghetto,” and the connection to the lack of understanding for respect for social media as labor could go into Business of Online Media, but it reminded me of this piece from 2014, “Pink Collar,” about how PR workers are often women. Is it because those jobs are undervalued or perceived as unimportant/easy, and/or because they’re viewed as “emotional labor” because they involve social interaction and human connection? (While we’re here and talking about emotional labor, let’s read Jess Zimmerman at the Toast on unpaid emotional labor!)
I asked Carmen Rios, our social media manager and also a woman, what she thought:
I do think the lines about giving girls “easy jobs” hits home — there’s this prevailing idea when you do social media that you don’t actually do anything, that your job is essentially to package stuff other people do and make it set on fire. But even when you do it well, people who don’t do it or don’t even know how to do it still feel entitled to tell you HOW, or criticize your approach. When women code, or write hard news stories, it’s harder to step in and say “Whatever, I coulda done that,” even if people might mansplain how to do it differently or make fun of the final product. But when a woman does social media, everyone is like, “Well whatever, if you’re busy train an intern.” “Well whatever, if you’re gone someone else will pick up the slack.” So I guess what this makes me think is sort of: if it’s so easy anyone could do it, why aren’t men excelling at it?
This Business of Art and Words
+ Jessa Crisipin on women in travel writing and the pressure to “not be Elizabeth Gilbert.”
+ On the strategy behind newspapers, and how the move from thinking of newspapers as a community institution to a profit venture has changed news media.
+ The National Journal will “likely” close its print edition at the end of this year and focus on digital publishing.
Businesswoman’s Special: Advice on How To Work Better
+ Six ways to keep remote employees engaged! Unfortunately we cannot see people face-to-face as often as once per quarter.
+ A piece about the importance of taking breaks, and finding time to take small ones if you can’t have a traditional vacation.
If you really can’t take a proper vacation, Adam Rifkin, successful Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and founder of PandaWhale, suggests “taking a little downtime every day rather than pushing it off for some getaway week.wp_postsSonnentag’s research also suggests that if you make an effort to completely disengage from work when the workday is over – by, for example, engaging in a hobby you enjoy, exercising, or taking a walk in nature – you will reap the benefits: you will feel less fatigued, more engaged at work, and more energized when you leave work. Research on energy management at work shows that taking micro-breaks at work (by, for example, listening to music) leads to less fatigue and greater vitality.
+ Tech entrepreneur Elissa Shevinsky on being a lesbian entrepreneur in startup culture.
She was speaking at INSTED, an alternative tech conference, in May when she was asked about her solutions for sexual harassment in tech.Her response? Coming out as a lesbian.
“I realize it’s not a scalable solution for all women,” she said.