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Articles on this Page
- 08/21/16--20:55: _Fuck It
- 08/21/16--07:28: _Closing the Book on...
- 08/22/16--09:30: _Mission Demolished
- 08/22/16--11:59: _There's Someone Els...
- 08/22/16--12:15: _What Was Gawker?
- 08/22/16--12:56: _Gawker Was Murdered...
- 08/22/16--13:26: _How Guilty Should I...
- 08/22/16--13:45: _Letters From Our Exes
- 08/22/16--14:33: _How Things Work
- 08/21/16--20:55: Fuck It
- Oh Fuck This I’m Not Shoveling My Fucking Walk Again
Fuck These 10 People Wearing Giant Ironic Meme Bullshit Sweatshirts
Eva Mendes: I’ve Said It Before and I’ll Say It Again—Fuck Pants
Marco Rubio Please Fuck Up My Football Team
Farrah Abraham Fucked Up Her Face and She Loves
Did U Ever Get Fucked Up on Nutmeg?
Romney Family Still Wants Mitt to Get in There and Fuck Shit Up
True Detective Celebrates Father’s Day by Threatening to Fuck Your Dad
God to Wendy’s: “Fuck Wendy’s”
- Punk As Fuck Scientist Ejected From Concert For Crowdsurfing to Handel
Man In Tree Still Chill as Fuck While Reporters Lose Their Minds [Updated]
Smash Mouth Singer Threatens To “Beat the Fuck” out of Bread Thrower
The Non Sports Fan’s Guide to the FIFA Scandal or Whatever the Fuck
Shark Sends Powerful Message to Beach Goers: “Get the Fuck Out of My Water”
Do You Use “Butt Wipes” And If So What the Fuck Is Wrong With You?
All the Reasons the Rio Olympics Are Fucked
If Somebody Really Wants to Hack You You’re Probably Fucked
- Venezuela Is So Fucked
- Venezuela Still Fucked
Venezuela Is More Fucked Than Ever
- Venezuela: Fucked
Horse Genitals Taste of Hay and More Curious Delights from a Horsefucker
“Wow,” Shouts Man Trying to Fuck a Mailbox at the Mall
Jason Biggs Fucked a Pie and Then Got This Sweet-Ass House
- Serial Pool Raft Fucker Arrested for Fucking Another Pool Raft
- Ariana Grande’s New Song Is About Being Seduced by Santa and Fucking Him
- Why Won’t Technology Tell Us When to Fuck?
“Are We Making The Right Choice?” Asks Couple About to Fuck in Box on TV
Prison Worker Told Husband She Didn’t Fuck Big-Dicked Murderer (Sure)
Would You Have Fucked King Tut?
Ted Cruz Implies He’d Fuck a Rat As Long As It Wasn’t Donald Trump
Penelope Cruz Fucks a Steak
Public Television Virgins Wish You Wouldn’t Make Arthur Fuck
Alex Jones Is Very Worried About Donald Trump Fucking “Goblins”
Who Stole All These Fucking Bees?
Why Don’t You Go Live in a Human-Sized Bird Nest You Big Fucking Bird
That Buzzing Sound in Your Ear Might Be Hundreds of Fucking Maggots
- 08/21/16--07:28: Closing the Book on Gawker.com
- 08/22/16--09:30: Mission Demolished
- 08/22/16--11:59: There's Someone Else I've Got To Be
- 08/22/16--12:15: What Was Gawker?
- 08/22/16--12:56: Gawker Was Murdered by Gaslight
- 08/22/16--13:26: How Guilty Should I Feel?
- 08/22/16--13:45: Letters From Our Exes
- 08/22/16--14:33: How Things Work
As you may have heard, this week
Since it’s not totally clear to me what will happen to the site’s archives or how long I will have access to data about the site, today seems like a good time to jot down some of the numbers we have about our writers, our community, and posts.
By my count*, 202,370 posts have been published on gawker.com between its founding and yesterday. 3,311 of these posts were automated Public Pool postings.
Posting at gawker.com peaked in 2008, when our writers put up 33,047, over 70 per day**.
This ludicrous posting rate came at the tail end of the housing boom. By the end of that year, with the market starting to tank, Gawker laid off about 15% of its editorial staff. The decrease in headcount, plus a change in traffic patterns away from direct, homepage traffic, decreased the ability and incentive to post as frequently. The fact that Gawker stopped paying writers per post sometime around this time might have had an impact as well. By 2012 the site posted just under 10,000 times, or less than half the rate of 3 years earlier.
There have been exactly 420
Here are the 20 humans who have posted the most. Some are here now, some are long gone.
In case you are wondering, one ‘Nick Denton’ comes in at #22 on this list.
Gawker.com is so old, it pre-dates all modern web tracking software, including Google Analytics. So tracking historical, all-time traffic is a challenge. As best I can tell, from founding until now, the site has received about 7 billion pageviews across a bit more than 3 billion visits. Most of the data is available on Quantcast, so feel free to play with it there if you’re interested in more detail.
Taking these calculations a little further the average gawker post got about 30,000 pageviews over its lifetime.
Gawker.com (and its sub-blogs) has had the broadest coverage of any of our publications: media, politics, television, and Lindsay Lohan all fell within its beat. Here are the top-20 tags Gawker.com used and the number of posts tagged with each.
These are rough numbers: misspellings and other errors in the tagging of posts means these are all probably underestimates.
And before you ask, Donald Trump just misses this list, with 1,782 posts about him. Sad!
One of the big draws, for me, of coming to Gawker Media was the chance to work on our CMS and commenting system, Kinja. And while the platform can be infuriating sometimes, the comments were a big part of the reason many of us enjoyed the sites so much. The over 16 million comments we’ve had on gawker.com have run the gamut from indefensible to inspired, and have been the source of much concern and much pride.
Here are the most prolific and recommended commenters in the history of gawker.com. Thank you and the thousands of others for making the community what it has been over the years.
Most Recommended Comments
Finally, while there have been a number of roundups of our best posts, comments typically don’t get the same level of attention. To rectify that, these are the 10 most recommended posts in the history of gawker.com.
- stacyinbean on Man Who Would Rather Go Blind Than Get Obamacare Now Going Blind
- Greasy Dick on Family Values Activist Josh Duggar Had a Paid Ashley Madison Account
- Medieval Knievel on Gawker Is Removing Story About Condé Nast CFO
- MK12 on Ladies and Gentlemen, It’s Time to Panic
- America’s Wang on Viral Christian Pregnancy YouTuber Sam Rader Had a Paid Ashley Madison Account
- GregSamsa on School to Dreaded White Girl on “Spiritual Journey”: Hell No
That’s all I have for you. Goodbye gawker.com, I hope you enjoy running free on that big content farm in the sky.
*Counting historical posts on gawker.com involve some technical challenges and decisions. For these counts, I’m including all posts on gawker.com and its subblogs (at one point there were over 30 of them) but excluding shares (or splices, as we call them internally) from other blogs. I’m also including all the posts from cityfile.com, which Gawker acquired in 2010: its content was merged into gawker.com’s
**If you divide 33,000 posts by 365 days, you actually get 90 posts per day. However, some of these posts were retroactively added to the Gawker archives in the cityfile.com acquisition. I’m including those posts in the overall numbers, but not the rate-numbers or the author numbers (since the authors weren’t Gawker authors when they wrote them).
A cool sunset does more for a hot publication’s glory than all the sweaty days of its actual word-pushing. As night falls—and night always falls, honey—plenty of beloveds return and gather round to tamp down the grave. Some come to tap-dance because every media graveyard has sad ghouls.
Used to be those ghouls wrote for Gawker. Now they run J-schools. We won!
The landscape that the early Gawker was teleported into each day afresh, always with little memory of the blog-day prior, was dominated by the stark shadows of three sunward-facing editors who were largely famous for extremely failed magazines. The 102 weekly issues of Adam Moss’s 7 Days made his reputation as the best package-man east of Aaron Spelling’s house. He took over New York magazine when Gawker was a bubbly infant. Graydon Carter, one of the three most successful founders of Spy, had already been at Vanity Fair for a decade when Gawker was founded. Spy was not Graydon’s first failed magazine, plus Graydon larded up his bio when he came to town as a broke young flimflammer, so, in the end, his and Spy’s legend both were doubly burnished. And, most gloriously, Tina Brown’s Talk had just murder-suicided, making her by far the most vibrant survivor around to be celebrated by baby Gawker—and making Talk the most fabled fallen magazine. “There is nobody more boring than the undefeated,” Tina told the Times in that first Q1 after 9/11, at the end of Talk’s two-and-a-half years. Once again, time proved Tina righter than she could ever know! “The Unsinkable Tina Brown” is a logline that has been used many times over the centuries of Tina Brown’s career, but never here on Gawker. Everyone sinks.
These were the most famous and infamous magazines of each of their micro-eras and, statistically speaking, hardly anyone alive then or today has read any of them.
They loom in absence, mismanaged hilariously or murdered by moneymen or killed by time and taste. As with our heroes, we prefer our glorious publications dead. A bolder, pre-Twitter version of myself would make a joke here about how it would have been better to die while Sassy magazine still lived and never have to see xoJane. I won’t, because now we live cowed by the fear of mean tweets. Mean tweets! How will we survive the mean tweets? The only way out is out. Do you think Tina, Adam and Graydon care about mean tweets? They don’t see even your most savagely crafted tweets, nope, and neither does the magical Jane Pratt, they are all too busy getting properly paid and/or stoking the fires of the legends of publications that are still yet to blissfully crater and/or telling the staff which car should be left at which home on Labor Day. Or perhaps making sandwiches for homeless teens all day, you just never know!
No publication should overstay its welcome and yet so many have. But not Spy, living almost endlessly with ~63 issues over a dozen years, or Talk, or 7 Days—all told, those three had the savvy to throw in the towel speedily. They live on in a particular golden (actually, rather pasty-white) paradise, seated at a long table with Cookie and The Toast, Grantland and Gigaom and George, Portƒolio and Play, and certainly let us not forget Radar 1.0 and Radar 2.0. (Suck.com has its own table.) Something that burns the somethingest is something! Not since Klaus Mann’s journal Decision lasted barely a year have publications skipped so quickly into the sunset, and that’s because the “decision” of that magazine’s title was resolved entirely, in the days between the Sunday of Pearl Harbor and the following Thursday when Hitler declared war on the U.S. We should all be so lucky, shouldn’t we, Lucky? Seems entirely possible now that we’ll get our own world war too, and we can solve the simple math of n+1 so that it too can shuffle off for good, rubbed to an earnest frothing gloss by a thousand apple-polishing dissertations.
Hmm. Well. Come to think of it, this post-death beatification hasn’t really happened for Details, has it.
Dirt magazine though... what I wouldn’t give to have Dirt back.
Anyway! All these and, yes, thousands more ad-delivery content packages too, have slipped into the refreshing dark glory of the other side. As they moulder unread in the past, recollections of their house attitudes and sentence-construction tics are held up as icons of style. Sidebar gambits become elevated into feats of heroism. Idiot editors become celebrities. Darling, what becomes a legend most quickly? Dumb style guides are surfaced and weighed as items of historical import. Tales of horrid CMS choices circulate at dinner parties as examples of bravery. Tina Brown’s hysterically unintelligible late-night emails become literal shrines. Whatever it is you love now, from the daring to the harebrained, from The Dodo to Extra Crispy to Mic to The Ringer to The Daily Beast to The Awl to Upworthy to The Guardian to The New York Times, you’ll discover that they’ll each seem far more lovely to you when they’re gone.
Now this place passes into a prolonged nostalgia. Gawker existed for far longer than anyone deserved. It stayed long enough to win. The moment will come soon enough when you need a Gawker, and you’ll be furious that you no longer have one.
Breakups have a way of robbing you of your identity, especially when you’re the one who’s being broken up with. If the union was worth joining in the first place, severing it disrupts your habits, your decision-making, your system of loving. It erases the mutations your love has engendered. You don’t even get to keep them in a jar of formaldehyde. Your best chance at preservation is art.
As someone who’s written for Gawker for over four years, the site’s shuttering feels like being dumped. Before Thursday of last week, I was a person who wrote for Gawker. I carried around the baggage that came with that and listened to strangers’ and acquaintances’ opinions on my brand of luggage (it changed through the years, and soured particularly post-Hogan verdict). And by the time I am done writing this post, I will be a person who used to write for Gawker. Just like that, parts of me burn off. So I write them down.
During our Senior Week, I tried to write about my renewed obsession with George Michael’s “Freedom ‘90,” but I couldn’t quite articulate why I had adopted that song as that week’s anthem. In that meta-pop song, Michael describes his fatigue brought on by the demand of celebrity, and vows to run a more artistically respectable ship. (He famously refused to appear in its video, as well as the other videos from the album it appeared on, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1.) Michael consciously ended one era of his career—MTV-friendly bubblegum heartthrob—but used it as a pivot. By sticking a fork in things, he created a new road. Unlike most people, especially pop stars and particularly the ones who’ve emerged since Michael’s reign, he got sick of the bullshit and he actually did something about it.
Today, I realize that I’ve been jealous of George Michael’s agency, his ability to steer his career. Granted, he had no idea where it was headed (he never again saw commercial success like he did pre-Listen Without Prejudice), and his decision proved that freedom has its own trappings, but, wow, what a narrative: Pop star at the peak of his fame stops pandering and decides to make the music that he wants to make.
(I’m also jealous that George Michael had the resources to live comfortably after burning his multimillion-dollar career to the ground.)
When I think about the demise of Gawker, I cope by viewing it from a remove and as a narrative
How the legend will be recounted is another question. When the Hogan verdict was announced earlier this year, the schadenfreude-drenched response on social media found many people pretending that Gawker had only run two posts: the Hogan sex tape, and the CFO/gay escort story of last year. I’m not sure, exactly, why so many people saw fit to distill the millions of words that Gawker has produced down to a few thousand (and about a minute of grainy video). I wonder if it’s easier for some people to simplify either because they aren’t very smart or they don’t like thinking. That sort of revising, of steamrolling nuance, of performative ignorance, though, is something that Gawker, functioning as it was supposed to be functioning, would resist, refute, and ridicule. And now with Gawker not around, there’s one less site invested in calling bullshit, one less site to shake you from the comfort of black-and-white thinking and selective reasoning.
You’ll agree or disagree with this assessment, depending on the posts you read, and depending on how invested you are in nuance. Because of Gawker’s breadth, and because it didn’t have so much a single voice as a cacophony of several voices at any given time, the site meant many different things to many different people. What appealed to me, more than anything, was a sensibility that loathed preciousness, that refused to defer to the most sensitive person in the room out of social pressure and smarmy politeness. The site’s run-till-tackled mentality was exhilarating while we ran—I appreciated that no one ever asked me to reduce myself or change to appease readers, especially because I know that even the best-intentioned among a liberal audience can have a hard time swallowing really gay shit. The tackling that finally took place, wrestling Gawker to the ground and then erasing it from the planet, makes me wonder whether time will revise that run as an illusion. Maybe that run will be remembered as a 14-year slow fall. We who took part know better.
I have never felt entirely comfortable in any group, but I came closest at Gawker, because I generally felt like I was working with people who were the best at what they did, making something that would with another staff and (inevitably) more stifling management be impossible. I think a lot of us—and the site overall—share a sensibility that simultaneously takes the world very seriously while understanding that everything is a big joke. And we’d joke about the overly serious and take serious the overt jokes. I dusted as much as possible with a thin layer of satire, because this world and its inhabitants are fundamentally ridiculous but, overall, endearingly so. Nothing I worked on directly summed this up better than The Best Restaurant in New York, in which Caity Weaver and I lovingly mocked New York City, historic landmarks, consumerism, consumption, human interaction, food writing, writing in general, doll-carrying, and ourselves. I can’t believe we got so many free meals for such nonsense. No one ever told us no. We ran not until we were tackled, but until we were stuffed with food and lunchtime prosecco.
There have been several times that I’ve been at a Gawker party at Nick Denton’s apartment, and I’ve looked around and thought, “Anyone that I could possibly talk to right now is utterly crazy,” and they were so for any number of reasons—because they were eccentric, because they were fucked up, because they were geniuses, because they were actually disordered, because they were John Mayer. Working at Gawker was somewhere in between doing time in an asylum and worshipping in a cult. So many times, it struck me that this place simply shouldn’t exist. And yet it did. Until didn’t. I can’t say appreciated every second of it, but I did appreciate the vast majority of those seconds. If nothing else, it was an honor to see the narrative being written up close for as long as I did.
Wherever you go in this life, there is some jerk telling you what to do. Almost always. But not always.
If you are very lucky, you might find a place where you can do what you want. If you are very fortunate, you may one day find a place where you can be as inane, brilliant, cockeyed, or stupid as you wish, in front of the entire world. I found it at Gawker. I hope you find it somewhere at least once before you die.
Most journalism jobs exist on a continuum between audience and freedom. If you want a lot of people to pay attention to you, you work at a place where the individual writer’s voice is completely subsumed into the institutional voice. If you want complete freedom to write whatever the hell you want, you write on your personal Tumblr, where the whole world will ignore you. Gawker was one of the few places ever to exist that offered both a large, steady audience and almost complete freedom.
Gawker was just a giant, empty page waiting to be filled, every day. It was a page large enough and deep enough to accept whatever you wanted to put on it. Serious things and non-serious things could sit side-by-side. News and inside jokes and essays and whatever idea had popped into your mind last night unbidden. Everything. Instead of just muttering your thoughts to yourself like all the other hobos, you could put them here, where potentially millions of bored people would read them and yell at you. Who will we state our unsolicited thoughts to now? The sky, I guess.
Most attempts to explain this publication’s editorial direction tell you more about the person doing the explaining than they do about this publication. With a little cherry-picking you can make it seem like our focus was just about anything. In truth, we had no focus. We had writers. Gawker was what its writers wrote. When the writers were great, the site was great, and when the writers were less than great, you get the idea. Gawker was anarchist journalism at its finest. Every day, a page to be filled; every day, a chance for greatness, or idiocy. This site contains the very best and worst things that many writers have written. This fact drives many people mad. But to the sort of person who was cut out to be a Gawker writer, it was just right. It was better than having a byline in the New York Times; it was having the chance to say fuck the New York Times. In a place where the New York Times would see it!
While Gawker did not have a real editorial direction, it did have a sensibility. Imagine a group of reporters gazing upon a lavishly decorated Barneys display window. One reporter remarks upon the fine craftsmanship of the interior decoration and artfully arrayed Louboutin heels within. One reporter discusses the marketing strategy for these luxury heels, and how this might contribute to the company’s bottom line. And the Gawker reporter throws a rock through the window and screams, “It’s just a fuckin shoe!”
Some people like this sensibility and some people don’t. There is no wrong answer.
A Gawker editor of the past coined the slogan, “Honesty is our only virtue.” That will do as well as anything. Many Gawker readers did not think we were the best writers, nor did they even particularly like us; they read Gawker because they knew that we would tell the truth about whatever was happening. No bullshit. Well, some bullshit. You can’t have great ideas every day.
Blogging is not a real job. Construction is a real job. Working in a restaurant is a real job. Being a teacher is a real job. Blogging is something you get to do. It is a quirky form of daily journalism, falling somewhere between live TV news and magazine writing, calling for sharp news judgment, an irrational taste for argument, and a complete absence of high standards. Anyone who made a living doing this for one single day is luckier than most. We are certainly grateful for the chance we had to type things for you all.
This is not the end. It’s just a fuckin shoe.
A lie with a billion dollars behind it is stronger than the truth. Peter Thiel has shut down Gawker.com.
This is the final act in what Thiel wished to present, and succeeded in presenting, as a simple and ancient morality play, a story of hubris meeting its punishment. The premise behind that morality play was, as Thiel wrote in space given him by the New York Times last week, that “cruelty and recklessness were intrinsic parts of Gawker’s business model.” The $140 million judgment that his lawyers secured for Hulk Hogan against Gawker Media, sending the company into a bankruptcy from which its flagship site would not emerge, was a matter of “proving that there are consequences for violating privacy.”
The Times didn’t really need to give Thiel the space in the opinion section to tell his story of the wages of recklessness. You could get it directly from the Times’ own reporters in the news pages. “Gawker’s take-no-prisoners approach has...been to its detriment,” the business section reported. Gawker was, the Styles section wrote, “a place where too many of the articles published were not only mean but inconsequential.”
The message is that Gawker had this coming, that the site was—to some degree, depending on how sympathetic the writer is trying to pose as being—responsible for its own downfall. By now it is conventional wisdom. That conventional wisdom is false.
Gawker.com is out of business because one wealthy person maliciously set out to destroy it, spending millions of dollars in secret, and succeeded. That is the only reason.
The strange and embarrassing thing about being the target of a conspiracy, an actual conspiracy, is that it undermines one’s own understanding of the world. It is true that Gawker was always a publication that took risks. It had bad manners and sometimes bad judgment. Occasionally, it published things that it would regret—just as, for instance, the New York Times has published things that it regrets.
But every publication gives itself room to make mistakes, and is prepared to absorb the damage when it does make a mistake. The New York Post was so eager for a scoop on the Boston Marathon bombing that it put a photo of two innocent men on its front page, after law enforcement had already declared that they were not suspects. The Post was denounced, as it deserved to be, for callously crossing the line
Lawsuits and settlements happen to everyone, and everyone carries insurance to handle them. In Gawker’s wildest, most buccaneering years, it never came close to paying a million dollars for crossing a line.
What Thiel’s covert campaign against Gawker did was to invisibly change the terms of the risk calculation. The change begins with the post about Thiel’s sexual identity in a homophobic investor culture
So rather than fighting the material that he really objected to, Thiel went looking for pretexts. Over time, he came up with them. Gawker found itself attracting legal threats and lawsuits at an unprecedented rate. Among those was Hulk Hogan’s complaint against Gawker for having written about a sex video he appeared in, and for publishing brief excerpts of that video. This was the kind of case that, in the normal course of things, would have gone away. Hogan’s first two attempts to pursue it, in federal court, went nowhere, with judges ruling that the publication was newsworthy and protected.
Yet the case kept moving. Suddenly the company had exhausted the limits of its insurance and was bleeding money on legal fees. The business model on which it had thrived—writing things that people were interested in reading, and selling ads to reach those readers—was foundering due to a whole new class of expenses.
The natural conclusion, even for people on the inside, was that the company must have taken too many risks. The willingness to publish things too ugly for other outlets to touch—an account of seeing video of the mayor of Toronto smoking crack, domestic-violence accusations against Bill O’Reilly—had gone over to destructive irresponsibility, and we were being punished for it. The business side began to believe the editorial side was heedlessly dragging the company down; the editorial side began to believe the business side was fearfully prepared to undermine its integrity.
Nick Denton himself, having taunted and titillated other journalists for years with the message that Gawker would do what they wouldn’t, found that message turned back on him. He internalized what his critics and his legal bills were telling him—that the site was out of control, that it had grown too reckless and irresponsible for the power it had grown to wield. In a recurring and nigh comical routine, he took to asking his editors and writers over and over again, in slightly different ways for slightly different occasions, to name the best stories they’d done, to remind him over and over of what the mission was that he had come up with years before.
Former Gawker editor Max Read wrote an account of this era for New York magazine, where he now works. It was Read and executive editor Tommy Craggs who resigned from Gawker in the summer of last year, after the strain between the editorial and business departments—and between the two sides of Denton’s mind—broke into an open rupture over the publication of a post about a business executive’s entanglement with an escort, and over the company’s decision to remove that post.
Read’s assessment of that episode is clear-eyed and self-critical, and is probably as good a rendition of the story of that disastrous post as can be written. It does not, however, explain Gawker’s demise. Having worked closely with Craggs and Read, and having lived through the whole thing firsthand, I found Read’s history of the era unsettling: It is a thoughtful, deeply considered, and on certain levels deadly accurate portrait, but it is still inescapably a portrait drawn by gaslight.
We hadn’t exposed any great hypocrisy; instead, we’d taken a bit of gossip and brought the full bludgeoning of moral urgency and ideological commitments to bear on it.
Whatever we’d hoped to accomplish with that story, we instead reaffirmed the world’s understanding of what we were: needlessly cruel. Within a week of publication, Nick was promising in interviews a “20 percent nicer” version of Gawker.
That’s not false, on its own terms. When it gets to “the world’s understanding of what we were,” though, it slides into the shadows. The world’s understanding was inescapably shaped by the fact that we had a $100 million lawsuit closing in on us. The Daily Dot, in a roundup of Gawker’s various misdeeds, wrote:
Unlike the most recent case of Gawker’s editorial staff ignoring their better judgement, many of these incidents surrounding the site rest on the belief that celebrities can hold no reasonable expectation of privacy—an argument the site’s lawyers are fighting for in court against a lawsuit levied by Hulk Hogan over a sex tape. The $100 million lawsuit is the most serious challenge faced by Gawker yet and, as Denton explained, might have helped cement his decision to remove the story
Elsewhere, the same piece argued:
[L]arge chunks of Internet culture need to be cleansed of their filthier, less morally sound components if they can hope to survive at all. Gawker is no different.
Somehow, it had become the case that the world was discussing whether a perennially profitable and growing publication could “hope to survive at all.” In one span of a little more than a year, not very long ago, the New York Times mistakenly accepted (and cheered for) a failed Venezuelan coup, printed falsehoods that helped carry the case for invading Iraq, and saw its top editors resign after a humiliating plagiarism scandal. No one suggested the paper had signed its own death warrant.
That the New York Times has the right to exist, to rise above its failings, is taken for granted. No one would mistake the Times for Gawker. At the party this month marking the end of Nick Denton’s ownership of Gawker—and, though we did not quite know it then, the end of Gawker.com—a reporter for the Times, the one who would file the story calling our work “mean” and “inconsequential,” dug into me. Why, he wanted to know, did it seem that no one at Gawker was willing to admit any fault?
This was a stupid question, and I tried to tell him so as nicely as I could. The fact of Thiel’s campaign against Gawker made the question stupid on two different levels. One of those levels was simply practical: What the Hogan trial had demonstrated, and what the other Thiel-backed lawsuits were affirming, was that Gawker’s culture of open dispute and self-criticism had become too dangerous. Hostile lawyers were being paid to look for any negative remark any of us might make, to read it into the record against us.
But it was also stupid in its broad themes. The reason why nobody at Gawker was counting up our sins as our doom descended was that we had realized, belatedly, that the sins and the doom were unconnected. We had reckoned deeply with our regrets and our contradictions, and nothing about them began to add up to $140 million.
Still, the Times reporter asked, what were my own regrets? I told him, finally, that I had worked at Gawker Media for five years, and that all I could say was that nothing in that time was as shameful to me as a story the Times had put on its front page the month before, slanting the results of a study to argue that police weren’t really disproportionately killing black people. I would have been ashamed, I said, if we had run that.
For any number of reasons, that quote didn’t make it into the story. The story was, by its own lights, a melancholy and nuanced one, a portrait of the end of an era. It surveyed the history of the company and the achievements of the people who’ve left it; it concluded with a glimpse of tears in Nick Denton’s eyes.
Again, none of that is why Gawker.com is shutting down tomorrow. Here is the transcript that explains exactly why it is shutting down. It is from a June 10 hearing in the Pinellas County Circuit Court, in which Judge Pamela Campbell, speaking to Gawker’s lawyer Michael Berry, ordered Hogan be granted immediate access to the company’s assets:
THE COURT: I’m signing the order today.
MR. BERRY: Okay. Well, then what I’d like to do, Your Honor, is request a temporary stay to allow us to seek review of that order from the [District Court of Appeal]. We would ask for a temporary stay for a week so that we can file a motion with the DCA by Monday morning — by Monday, and provide plaintiff time to respond. We will ask for this order to be stayed from — for seven days from the entry of it.
THE COURT: That will be denied.
MR. BERRY: Can we ask for until 5:00 p.m. on Monday?
THE COURT: No. Denied.
MR. BERRY: To the end of the day today?
THE COURT: No.
MR. BERRY: Two hours?
THE COURT: I mean, really, we’re way beyond all that.
MR. BERRY: I just ask on behalf of the DCA to provide them the courtesy that we are going to be moving for a stay for them and would like time for the judges there to be able to rule on a request for a stay.
THE COURT: Okay. Denied. I have denied the request.
At this point we had moved past anything having to do with what Gawker did or what it was. We were past the spectacle of the Hogan trial, a trial supposedly about an act of publication, in which the judge had refused to allow the published material to be considered in open court.
Gawker was simply a civil defendant, facing a judgment too large to pay, after a plaintiff had structured the case so that insurance would not help cover the damages. The company was asking only to survive long enough to put the judgment before a higher court, on appeal. This is, supposedly, how the system works.
Instead, there would be no chance to appeal before the company was destroyed. Here was money talking, and nothing but money. The only law was the judge.
It’s a hard story for journalists to tell. Journalists are, despite their political reputation, fundamentally conservative. The only way to keep explaining what’s happening in the world, day after day, is to rely on some basic frames. Cause and effect have to unfold within stable institutions, according to accepted rules.
A story that falls outside the everyday frames—The mayor is a crackhead who leaves a trail of violence where he goes, say, or This beloved entertainer is accused of being a serial rapist—requires a radical shift of perspective. Possibly the best and truest part of the movie Spotlight was how much of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s secret sexual abuse came out of the Globe’s own morgue. The paper had already written the story, piece by piece. It just hadn’t read it.
Gawker always said it was in the business of publishing true stories. Here is one last true story: You live in a country where a billionaire can put a publication out of business. A billionaire can pick off an individual writer and leave that person penniless and without legal protection.
If you want to write stories that might anger a billionaire, you need to work for another billionaire yourself, or for a billion-dollar corporation. The law will not protect you. There is no freedom in this world but power and money.
I often feel guilt when I assign a story. This is partly a function of being a woman who would, if she had her way, please and comfort her entire universe of acquaintances, and partly a function of having been convinced at a relatively young age by the argument that Janet Malcolm famously made in The Journalist and the Murderer: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”
She’s right, of course. The people who sing odes to my profession’s nobility are usually not journalists themselves. Peter Thiel is certainly not. He wrote in the New York Times op-ed section last week: “The press is too important to let its role be undermined by those who would search for clicks at the cost of the profession’s reputation.”
Thiel wrote that about Gawker, a place that is gone now, or will be tomorrow. Since we learned of Thiel’s covert campaign to bring financial ruin upon Gawker, the people who work here have done whatever we could to answer for our sins—feeling, as we often did, that those sins weren’t ours alone. Says Malcolm, “Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and ‘the public’s right to know’; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.”
I was the deputy editor of Gawker for four months, and in that time, I enjoyed maybe three days without admonition from my own conscience over how I earned a paycheck. My guilt wasn’t exactly Gawker-specific: I would have felt self-recrimination anywhere I worked, because I blush when I tattle, and journalism, no matter where, can sometimes feel a whole lot like tattling. Before Gawker, I spent about five years at the New Yorker, where I felt some measure of guilt, too, but it wasn’t so acute. I was more junior there, and the magazine has earned a sterling reputation, which generally keeps it above the ethical fray that Gawker is not only subjected to, but often courts. To me, though, that was part of the appeal of my new job. I looked forward to the challenge of publishing stories without the protection that more meritorious reputation might have allowed. And we occasionally did that, sure. But it is easy enough to isolate our best stories from criticism with high-mindedness about bravery and Malcolmian ethics. In fact, quotidian posts that neither ruin a writer’s career nor make it fill most of blogging life. They do have consequences, though, and this is a story about that.
Here’s an example of guilt I have felt over earning a living: Back in May, I asked one of Gawker’s writers, Jordan Sargent, to write up a blog post as word spread that the music critic Sasha Frere-Jones had resigned from his job as a pop critic at the Los Angeles Times. I felt some self-reproach doing so, even though it was Frere-Jones who did the Bad Thing, and not me.
The Bad Thing was that he offered to cover some band at Coachella if the artist gave him a ride there, in a breach of basic journalistic ethics. He also tried to expense a $5,000 tab at a strip club, which isn’t so much an ethical lapse as an optical one. Neither of these things had any life-or-death stakes, but the whole episode was what we call in the old internet business, “a bad look.” That Frere-Jones took a pleasant gig for granted at a time when many writers can’t make a living brought about the customary hand-wringing as editors g-chatted and slacked each other in a frenzy: Can you imagine a woman of color ever doing this and expecting to get away with it? What could be more male than this? And did you hear he said he was writing a profile of a rapper when he went to the strip club? What is he implying about rappers? About black people? Does anyone know what strip club it was? Could he really not get a ride to Coachella? What a fucking mess.
My kindest, most generous and gentle friend, an editor whose empathic abilities dwarf mine and probably yours, expressed regret to me that all this was all happening so publicly. In Frere-Jones’ actions, my friend saw a man not waving but drowning. She couldn’t answer for what was going through his mind when he ran up that tab or tried to get that ride, and so couldn’t bring herself to wag her finger at him for it. But the problem with her generosity of spirit is that it is the sweeter, prettier cousin of a blind eye. Empathy overreaches when we can’t know and we can’t judge wrap themselves around each other so tightly that they become indistinguishable. My friend’s impulse was the opposite of schadenfreude, so potent that it gagged her. I get it, and have trouble disagreeing with her fully, because I sometimes have that impulse, too.
I don’t mean to pick on Frere-Jones, anyway; he and I overlapped at New Yorker for a couple years, and found him to be a polite, generally thoughtful man. I have no such connection to, to take one example, the Eater restaurant editor Nick Solares
My more professional angels shouted, But the man was in a white power skinhead band! That’s an affiliation so overtly racist and hurtful that his colleagues should know that he once held these beliefs, even if he no longer holds them! No one would go on the record with Trotter, and he didn’t write about it until Solares himself came clean in a post on Eater. I admit that I felt guilty the entire time anyway. What a fucking mess.
I doubt I am the only editor working in America who has paused over her keyboard to ask, Was what he did really so bad? What if he has kids who will read this? Though I suppose no professional would ever admit to hesitation this pathological and weird. Perhaps all this makes me dispositionally unsuited to journalism, which doesn’t so much valorize exposition of wrongdoing as consider it the job’s central mission. Or maybe I am a woman journalist who grew up in a world that has coached me to feel bad for the men whose misdeeds I point out.
Journalists—of all genders—pause before writing because we are told to, in ways big and small. Ways big: In Bangladesh, bloggers are murdered for blogging. Ways small: Journalists are called rude or unseemly when they point out that—or even ask if—someone else has done something rude or unseemly. When Cari Wade Gervin, a staff writer for the Nashville Scene, attempted to ask questions of Tennessee state Representative Jeremy Durham about a campaign finance report, the representative called the cops on her. Gervin had rung the doorbell of Rep. Durham’s home. He yelled at her and accused her of harassment. Rep. Durham was, at the time, under investigation for sexual harassment. A representative of Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell wrote to the paper that “A candidate’s campaign finances are under the purview of the candidate, so I would refer you to Rep. Durham for further explanation on those activities.” When Gerwin did exactly that, she was threatened with criminal prosecution.
This past spring, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department declined a request for an interview from Dan Bice, a journalist with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Later, Bice filed records request with the department, which Sheriff David Clarke interpreted as a sign of bad faith reporting, not professional diligence, and he took to Facebook to give Bice a piece of his mind in a post he called “When Journalism Becomes an Obsession.” Sheriff Clarke accused Bice of “journalistic stalking,” and called him lazy in the same breath. Door-knocking is called rude when it’s in service of reporting on a tragedy, and stalking when it’s about alleged misbehavior.
Last year, student members of the 1950 group, a group of activists dedicated to fighting for justice for black students at the University of Missouri, criticized journalists for attempting to cover a protest they hosted. Who, if not journalists, do they think brings them the news?
Those students, Sheriff Clarke, and Rep. Durham no doubt admire “the free press,” just as Peter Thiel does. “The press” or “the free press” are abstractions that are easy to revere, but you cannot have journalism without the journalists, no matter how much we might all want that. We rejoice when the corrupt king has been dethroned, as the credits roll at the end of Spotlight, when the door-knocking has brought about a grand reckoning that feels foregone in retrospect. The problem is that the only way to arrive at what feels, in the end, to be a moral certainty, is to ask invasive questions. Contrary to what we have been taught, journalists—good ones, anyway—don’t begin with the knowledge then bang on doors to get the proof. Perhaps that’s why the whole enterprise feels so rude. We don’t want any of that great journalism that we love so much to be about us, and if we’re being frank, we don’t really want to read it, either. But the press would be good to keep around, we tell each other, to burnish our credentials as a thinking people.
I get defensive. Don’t ask journalists to feel guilty for reporting, or reprimanded them about how the media is harmfully negative
It’s no matter to Gawker now, since Gawker is no more. We have been admonished out of existence by, among others, the Times opinion pages, which published Thiel’s utterly disingenuous call to action against invasions of privacy broadly, and Gawker narrowly. Never mind that he sits on the board of directors of Facebook, the greatest invader of privacy and purveyor of smarm of our time or anyone else’s.
But what is journalism without the disclosure of that which other people would prefer to keep private? It’s “storytelling,” that blank, folksy word used by media companies, ad agencies, and, yes, Facebook, to describe what they do when they want it to sound like what they do is somehow for you, and not for them. At its best, storytelling is heartwarming and entertaining, and at its worst it obscures the fact that on occasion, people and entities do bad things.
Storytelling also helped to kill Gawker.com. Peter Thiel told a story about why he wanted us dead, and plenty of people bought it. There was nothing Janet Malcom would identify as Art to any of the posts that, it has been said, are responsible for Thiel’s ire, not that I worked on any of them anyway. But there also wasn’t any Art to, and hardly any pompous claims to freedom of speech, in posts I did work on about a former skinhead at Vox, a music critic who ran up an idiotic tab, or even a bullshit startup
That is how I earned a living for the past four months. I felt lakes of guilt fill inside me when an established, typically male figure fucked something up for himself and I, or the website I worked for pointed it out. I swam in that guilt and nearly drowned in it, because I have been told that I ought to. If you think I should feel more guilt than I do, please let me know in the comments.
Gawker.com will cease operations today. I asked former editors of the site to help us send it off. Thanks for reading, commenting, and tipping. Long live Gawker. —AP
Former editor Gabriel Snyder
While fearlessness at tackling any topic is its hallmark, Gawker was always terrible at talking about itself, especially at telling the world what it was for. Nick Denton didn’t give me much direction before he hired me to edit the site in 2008. The morning he met me at 210 Elizabeth Street, carrying his 27-inch iMac underarm from his apartment as my company computer, he showed me my desk, told me I was in charge, then disappeared for a week. I was terrified. Fans (and enemies) of Gawker typically haze new editors by demanding an explanation of how they plan to carry on the traditions of the editors that came before and aside from what I’d mumbled through during my job interview at a SoHo bar a few weeks prior to that morning, I had bupkis.
Trying to get my bearings in those early days, I began darting at random through the Archive.org history of Gawker.com until that notion of a Gawker monolith I had shared with other outsiders faded away: The site was barely recognizable from year to year, through redesigns and editorial personnel changes. Much of this traces directly back to Nick, because whatever vision he had for Gawker, at least as communicated as instructions to his editors, was varied, changing, and often contradictory. (A.J. Daulerio wrote the best artifact
It did not help, too, when your boss and owner liked to issue sweeping anti-manifestoes like “We don’t seek to do good.” When tasked with writing a new tagline for the site, my favorite contender, “Honesty is our only virtue,” lost out to my clunkiest and most didactic suggestion: “Gossip from Manhattan and the Beltway to Hollywood and the Valley.” The vacuum most organizations would have filled with a rousing (and mostly untrue) mission statement created a situation of asymmetrical branding that contributed to Gawker’s demise: Those with the strongest idea of what Gawker is tended to be those who hate it the most.
But for what it’s worth, this anarchic rudderlessness, this lack of myth-making bullshit, was also Gawker’s greatest strength. Gawker was only whatever the people running it at the time wanted it to be, and Nick’s best idea was to continually stock the site with people who wanted to do good, despite what he liked to say. That openness and flexibility is why Gawker was able to make itself home to a generation of writers and editors who will continue to populate your smartphones and magazines long after the site ends. If you need a reason, those people are why Gawker is great.
Former editor Alex Balk
At a funeral one does not speak ill of the corpse. This is the equivocation we make when we contend with the horror of mortality. To stand before the body of the dead and tell the truth about the transgressions it committed in life is impermissible, an insult to the survivors who gather together to weep by the side of the grave. Even though the deceased would not have extended the same courtesy to others while it was still alive, the greatest tribute we could pay is to honor it with hypocrisy and stay silent about its monstrous misdeeds. As Gawker is lowered into the ground, a descent we will all follow down at some point, better that we bow our heads and mark its passing with the solemnity due to the occasion. Now is not the time to reflect on the terrible crimes it committed in life; now we stifle our tongues so that they might not erupt into utterance of our unkind thoughts. Death has taken its due and our quiet is the only appropriate response during the ceremony. Although I gotta say, does anyone think it’s a good idea to let Nick Denton enter new arenas in which he can work his evil? Did anyone think this through at all? At least with Gawker we had him quarantined to a quiet corner of the web. Who even knows what he could do on a larger stage? His dark genius will consume us all. I’m sorry, I spoke out of turn. I will do a better job of controlling my emotions going forward. Farewell, Gawker. Your death was an absurdity that was only surpassed by the absurdity of your life, and to shed tears at your passing would be to make mockery of the fate we all must face eventually. You are commended into the dirt whence you sprang, with the sorrows of those to whom you brought joy, however briefly.
—Translated from the German by Alex Balk
Former editor Jessica Coen
Once again, Gawker is dead. But for real this time.
I’m not in the mood for a dramatic, fuck you-style sendoff (been there, done that
So I’ll leave the deeper reflections in more capable
Granted, your unsurprised reaction to such revelations about the wealthy might be due in part to the fact that Gawker so relentlessly covered ugly truths to the point that they are intrinsic to our understanding of how powerful people operate. And the way this ship is going down speaks to the genuine importance of at least six percent of what we did around here. (As for the other 94 percent, you’ll have to talk to Balk’s cock
I mention this point in time not just because those were the two years I spent running Gawker, but because it was also a time when you could link to a Fred Durst sex tape
Peter Thiel, you make Fred Durst look pretty chill. Hats off to you, I guess.
Founding editor Elizabeth Spiers:
I spent the weekend pondering the age old question of whether a smart megalomaniac with resources is better than a dumb megalomaniac with resources, and sadly I have no answer. But I do know that it’s important to make megalomaniacs of all stripes deeply uncomfortable and sometimes that entails pointing out that a particular megalomaniac’s ability to manage a hedge fund rivals that of a monkey throwing darts at a list of securities. In fact, if I were still writing Gawker, I might have gone to the trouble to find an actual monkey and have it throw actual darts at an actual list of securities to illustrate the point. (With proper supervision, of course. And decent insurance.)
But particular megalomaniacs notwithstanding, I’m very proud of Gawker’s history of going after risky, difficult stories that would have otherwise been ignored. (And really, if you’re not vacillating between ecstasy and terror in the course of reporting those kinds of stories, you’re probably doing something wrong.)
I will also miss the wit and intelligence here. I read Gawker every day and will likely be typing it into my browser for months from sheer muscle memory.
Lastly: I imagine that “founding editor of Gawker” will be the first item on my obituary, no matter what I do going forward or have done since. And that’s less because of what I did there during my short tenure, than what Nick and my various successors built it into. For that, I can only say thank you.
Gawker.com is shutting down today, Monday 22nd August, 2016, some 13 years after it began and two days before the end of my forties. It is the end of an era.
The staff will move to new jobs on other properties in Gawker Media Group, which are lively and intact, and the whole operation will continue under new ownership, after being acquired for $135 million by Univision. But I will not be going with my colleagues. The Gawker domain is also being left behind in bankruptcy. This is the last post.
Peter Thiel has achieved his objectives. His proxy, Terry Bollea, also known as Hulk Hogan, has a claim on the company and my personal assets after winning a $140 million trial court judgment in his Florida privacy case. Even if that decision is reversed or reduced on appeal, it is too late for Gawker itself. Its former editor, who wrote the story about Hogan, has a $230 million hold on his checking account. The flagship site, a magnet for most of the lawsuits marshaled by Peter Thiel’s lawyer, has for most media companies become simply too dangerous to own.
Peter Thiel has gotten away with what would otherwise be viewed as an act of petty revenge by reframing the debate on his terms. Having spent years on a secret scheme to punish Gawker’s parent company and writers for all manner of stories, Thiel has now cast himself as a billionaire privacy advocate, helping others whose intimate lives have been exposed by the press. It is canny positioning against a site that touted the salutary effects of gossip and an organization that practiced radical transparency.
As former Gawker developer Dustin Curtis says, “Though I find the result abhorrent, this is one of the most beautiful checkmates of all time by Peter Thiel.”
In cultural and business terms, this is an act of destruction, because Gawker.com was a popular and profitable digital media property—before the legal bills mounted. Gawker will be missed. But in dramatic terms, it is a fitting conclusion to this experiment in what happens when you let journalists say what they really think.
The rest of the staff and the rest of the brands—Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Jezebel, Kotaku, Jalopnik and Deadspin—are in the shelter of a Hispanic media company pursuing the broader multicultural and millennial audience. They are planning their next offsite meeting for Miami; I am relieved they are all safe.
The sacrifice: Gawker has been left behind. The battered flagship—the tattered black pirate flag of H.L. Mencken still flapping—lingers on the web like a ghost ship, the crew evacuated.
How did we get here?
Many liberals and journalists are alarmed by the ease with which a rich and powerful man—a Trump supporter—can use the legal system to destroy an outlet that criticized him and his friends. To my mind, Gawker’s ultimate fate was predestined.
Gawker was not the first blog launched by the company. That was Gizmodo, the technology news site that is the company’s largest property. Gawker was an outlier in what became a collection of bloggy lifestyle magazines covering reader interests like video games, sports, and cars.
But Gawker was the one with the most powerful personality, the most extreme expression of the rebellious writer’s id. It absorbed the century-old tabloid cynicism about human nature, reinforced by instant data about what people actually wanted to read. As a group of journalists who had grown up on the web, it also subscribed to the internet’s most radical ideology, that information wants to be free, and that the truth shall set us free. This was a potent but dangerous combination.
Gawker’s remit was eventually so broad, news and gossip, that subject matter proved no barrier. And Gawker’s web-literate journalists picked up more story ideas from anonymous email tips, obscure web forums or hacker data dumps than they did from interviews or parties. They scorned access. To get an article massaged or fixed, there was nobody behind the scenes to call. Gawker was an island, one publicist said, uncompromised and uncompromising.
Over time, Gawker did develop a layer of editorial management, and adopted the structure of a more recognizable news organization. But the goal remained to reduce the friction between the thought and the page. At the peak of our confidence, we saw ourselves as the freest writers on the internet, beholden to no one but our readers. Gawker was an experiment in journalism free of commercial pressures and the need for respectability, constrained only by law.
Because Gawker covered the media from the perspective of a smart outsider, calling out the absurdities of the industry, journalists were soon obsessed. Never underestimate the power of narcissism. In 2003, it did not take long for Elizabeth Spiers to be profiled or for Kurt Andersen, the former editor of Spy magazine, a publication that had inspired her, to turn up at Gawker parties. We called the company Gawker Media Group, to spread the fame to other properties.
To staff the site, we looked for raw writing talent rather than credentials. As Adrian Chen wrote in the New Yorker, Gawker was the best place to become a journalist. Its alumni are everywhere in digital media. Richard Lawson, now at Vanity Fair, had been a secret commenter. Alex Pareene, who brought a sense of the absurd to a presidential campaign that demanded it for sanity’s sake, had started at the company as a 19-year-old dropout from NYU. The embrace of unusual writers led one veteran to describe Gawker as the “island of the misfit toys”. We took that as a compliment.
The young writers shared their generation’s skepticism. According to a Harvard Institute of Politics survey, only one in ten 18-34 year-olds trust the media. The alt right movement, suspicious of the illusion presented by media, refers to the “red pill” that you can take to reveal the reality beneath. Gawker’s politics were progressive, but it shared the belief that the real world was staged. Gawker writers, plugged into the journalists’ gossip networks, looked for the story behind the story, the version that was shared over a drink but less frequently published.
The voice was new, too. Elizabeth Spiers’ items would not have been out of place in the newspaper or magazine diary, except she introduced italicized side-remarks that made the stories seem more intimate, an article annotated by a friend. By the time of Choire Sicha, Gawker had established a whole new news style, which took as much from blogs and messaging as it did from print media. Writers like Richard Lawson, Caity Weaver
The defining tone of a Gawker story was as often rude as wry. When it became powerful enough to merit the New York magazine cover treatment, the package was called “Gawker and The Age of Insolence,” and illustrated with a keyboard of epithets popularized by the blog. Gawker made douche cross over as a word. And that made it easy to accuse Gawker of being unique in another way—uniquely snarky.
One profile of Gawker before the Hogan verdict was titled: Snark on Trial. We argued that snark was simply the word smarmy people used to dismiss criticism
Tabloid and gossip journalism long predate Gawker, but the site was unique in its scope. TMZ, for instance, focuses its investigative energy on B-list celebrities; and is careful to maintain good relations with Hollywood lawyers and power players. But Gawker writers were not so discriminating. It was a matter of pride that Gawker ran stories that could not be published elsewhere.
They took on all subjects with equal vigor, often taking particular pride in undermining the behind-the-scenes players who had become accustomed to operating the celebrity machinery in anonymity. My friendship with Brian Williams went cold after Gawker published a private email I had forwarded as a tip, in a demonstration by Gawker’s editor that even the publisher’s chatty correspondence
The original focus was the executives and editors at the media companies in New York. Valleywag, later merged into Gawker, expanded the scope to include Silicon Valley moguls and venture capitalists, the coming power. And, especially after Gawker went national in 2008 and sought a broader audience, the site also sought to break, rather than just blog, stories about entertainment celebrities and politicians. The site was defined by the sheer range of enemies it had made.
For her farewell post when Gawker still obsessed over Manhattan media, Jessica Coen scorched the publicist Joe Dolce
Then there were celebrities. Tom Scocca’s essay on Bill Cosby
As if media players and celebrities were not enough, Gawker was, by the late 2000s, poking at some truly powerful people. New York’s Vanessa Grigoriadis said Gawker expressed the rage of the creative underclass. It was unsurprising that Gawker focused on the privileges of the princelings, the younger members of America’s increasingly hereditary elite. These were the manifestations, in stories readers could understand, of the dry income inequality that had become the focus of politics and economics. After the Sony hack, Sam Biddle was less interested in the Hollywood industry games revealed by the company’s email traffic than in the deeper story about heredity power revealed by how CEO Michael Lynton got his daughter into Brown.
Gawker shed an enormous amount of light. It punctured hypocrisy and mocked the ridiculous. The site put out 200,000 posts over its life, about thousands of public figures. Some say we made the right enemies, but everybody can agree: even for journalists, we certainly made a lot of them. One was Peter Thiel.
In 2006, Gawker launched a site called Valleywag. Billionaires like Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Google were regularly featured, rarely very flatteringly. While New York and Hollywood were used to gossipy journalism, Silicon Valley’s power was new.
Most of the new industrialists and investors were accustomed to deferential trade reporting that stuck close to official talking points, and to reverential magazine profiles. Many were brilliant but fragile geeks, who had grown to enjoy the adulation, and did not appreciate criticism. Information was carefully controlled through non-disclosure agreements, embargoes, and preferential access given to favored journalists. It was not just Steve Jobs that had constructed a reality distortion field around him; many Silicon Valley ventures and reputations depended on careful management of buzz. Valleywag pricked the bubble.
“On one hand the reporting was terribly caustic and brutal and on the other it was really thorough and investigative and accurate in a lot of cases,” said Brandee Barker, former head of global communications at Facebook.
In my time at the company, I started Gizmodo first, and loved Lifehacker most, but Gawker was the only site I edited. Valleywag, the Valley gossip column later merged into Gawker, was the only property on which I have ever been a reporter. It was a world I knew from living in the Bay Area from 1997 to 2002. It was there that I first collided with Peter Thiel, whom I knew through Max Levchin and other mutual friends.
The only article Peter Thiel has publicly mentioned as a personal motivation for his extraordinary campaign is one by Owen Thomas, a gay writer for Valleywag, which called for Thiel to be recognized as the world’s most successful gay venture capitalist
But Valleywag also complicated Thiel’s business ventures, which is the more powerful reason. Writers watched for every problem with Clarium Capital, Thiel’s hedge fund, which failed spectacularly
Thiel fancied himself a political thinker. He worried about the weakness of libertarians among female voters
In 2009, Thiel said about Valleywag writers:
I think they should be described as terrorists, not as writers or reporters. I don’t understand the psychology of people who would kill themselves and blow up buildings, and I don’t understand people who would spend their lives being angry; it just seems unhealthy… [Valleywag] scares everybody. It’s bad for the Valley, which is supposed to be about people who are willing to think out loud and be different.
Some Valley venture capitalists like Marc Andreessen played the gossip game, feeding tidbits to a hungry press—myself included. Valuable sources do often get protection from otherwise incorruptible journalists. Peter Thiel would not go that far to solve his image problem. But, on the advice of Eddie Hayes, the New York lawyer and fixer, he gave money to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Gawker’s own Choire Sicha, invited to advise him on media relations, recommended he be more friendly with journalists. He took Valleywag’s Ryan Tate out for a bottle of wine and told him, “See, I do negotiate with terrorists.”
At some point, however, Thiel’s stance hardened, after a friend advised him that he was the only one who could stop Gawker. He connected with Charles Harder, a Hollywood lawyer who had learned from Marty Singer but was ready to take a more hard-knuckled approach on behalf of clients. Litigation finance, once the crime of champerty but now deregulated, provided the template for their business relationship. This was the dark money of media conflict. Thiel could fund potential lawsuits without being exposed himself. It was the same method by which Max Mosley took down Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World.
In October 2012, a promising opening appeared. Gawker published a tabloid scoop about Hulk Hogan, the Real American hero, in a tryst with his best friend’s wife. The friend, a radio shock jock called Bubba Clem, had set up the encounter, and filmed it.
Hulk Hogan had already, in many graphic interviews, been public about his sex life, and he said he couldn’t remember the specific encounter that Gawker described. The story, a commentary on the public’s fascination with celebrity sex and the mundanity of the reality, was interesting and prompted no immediate backlash. Even Hogan’s lawyers later backed off their criticism of the words. But Gawker had also published an excerpt from the video recording that was long enough to be seized on as gratuitous by Hogan’s lawyers, who made much of the fact that his erect penis was visible for a few frames.
Hogan was the most popular celebrity in Tampa. While a federal judge and a Florida appeals court panel found the story was solidly newsworthy because it touched a matter of public concern, it was always going to be a challenge to go up against Hogan against a home-town jury. When Judge Pamela Campbell allowed Hogan to pursue a privacy case in her circuit court, Thiel’s combination was ready.
The trial has been rehearsed enough. Suffice to say the jury was not shown evidence of Hogan’s true motives in filing suit, to scare leakers and journalists off another more embarrassing recording
But there was some karmic irony. Gawker, which had been accused of unfairly caricaturing so many others, was itself undone by a few well-chosen quotes. A journalist’s detachment from the suffering of subjects, without which no critical story would ever be published, was presented as sociopathic. And a dark joke, suitable for a Williamsburg bar but inadvisable for a deposition to be viewed by a Florida jury, left the author of the Hogan story vulnerable to being smeared as a pedophile.
In the court of media and public opinion, the trial played only marginally better. The Tampa Bay Times noted that Judge Campbell was overturned more often than any other judge in her county. There was a consensus that the $140 million verdict was absurdly high compensation for Hogan’s embarrassment. Liberal journalists were outraged when Thiel’s vendetta became public.
But even Gawker’s natural allies had no enthusiasm for a free press defense of a story about a sex tape. Journalists were aware of the public’s growing sensitivity to anything that could be characterized as revenge porn or cyber bullying. As John Herrman noted, the public climate had changed, even in the four years since the Hogan story. Privacy, especially internet privacy, had become the biggest challenge to freedom of expression. When time came to scurry under the shelter of the First Amendment, we did not have that much institutional support. You can’t easily get the privileges of the profession if you pour scorn on its luminaries.
And Gawker’s media enemies made sure that the most compromising moments from the trial got wide distribution. The New York Post, whose editor Col Allan had been called a pig-fucker by Gawker
Some public figures came to the defense of the free press. Jeff Bezos, whose company’s working conditions had been criticized by Gawker
And Now It’s Dead
The greatest compliment one could ever pay to a Gawker writer is fearlessness—the willingness to say what needed to be said irrespective of the consequences. The flip side of that fearlessness, the epithet that even our defenders throw at us, is recklessness. Gawker deliberately pushed the envelope, went further than our establishment forebears, and should be held responsible for the result. Did we invite this fate?
The stories themselves may have been fearless, but they were not reckless. The company as a whole has published nearly a million posts in its existence. Peter Thiel’s lawyers have been scouring the sites on a daily basis for at least four years for stories to sue over. There are few lawsuits but for those filed by Charles Harder, Thiel’s lawyer. He has represented both Hogan and the other two plaintiffs in suits filed against the company, not to mention the legal threats issued on behalf of clients as varied as Lena Dunham
One can argue about the merits of the Hogan story, and the length of the video excerpt included. But the others are not even controversial among journalists. Of course, Shiva Ayyadurai should not be able to claim he invented email without a reminder that Ray Tomlinson did so a decade earlier. Ashley Terrill, the journalist who is suing Gawker for a behind-the-scenes look at her role in a battle over the legacy and future of the dating app Tinder, has chosen one of Gawker’s most thoroughly researched and nuanced stories to go to court over.
Indeed, Gawker’s record for accuracy is excellent. For a site as reckless as it is purported to be, there have been no Jayson Blairs, no conflict-of-interest or plagiarism scandals, no career-ending corrections. The chief rule of establishment journalism that it violated to its detriment, it seems, is the one that recommends against pissing off billionaires.
But Gawker did overextend itself, as an enterprise. We were internet exceptionalists, believing that that from blogs, forums and messaging would emerge a new world of unlimited freedom to associate and to express. We still believed we could, like the early bloggers, say everything. We believed that broader access to confidential information, to the real story, would constrain the powerful and liberate the oppressed.
And we believed that, as a business, this model could work. That being beholden only to our readers was not only an editorial value, but the key to building an audience that advertisers would want to reach in the new medium. We had no list of protected personalities or clients or brands, but we had at our peak a million people each day. The readers were there, and they were our defense against our detractors.
But the readers don’t have the power. It’s difficult to recall now, but at Gawker’s founding there was a sense that the internet was a free space, where anything can be said. An island off the mainland, where people could be themselves. Where writers could say things that would get you fired in an instant from a print publication. Where you could say what you thought without fear of being fired, or sued out of existence. But when you try to make a business out of that freedom, the system will fight you.
As our experience has shown, that freedom was illusory. The system is still there. It pushed back. The power structure remains. There are just some new people at the apex, prime among them the techlords flush with monopoly profits. They are as sensitive to criticism as any other ruling class, but with the confidence that they can transform and disrupt anything, from government to the press.
One of Gawker’s most cherished tags was “How Things Work,” a rubric that applied to posts revealing the sausage-making, the secret ways that power manifests itself. The phrase has a children’s book feel to it, bringing to mind colorful illustrations of animals in human work clothes building houses or delivering mail. Of course it also carries the morbid sense of innocence lost, and the distance between the stories we tell ourselves about the world and the way it actually works. Collapsing that distance is, in many ways, what Gawker has always been about.
And so Gawker’s demise turns out to be the ultimate Gawker story. It shows how things work.