How Gawker Lost Its Edge

Player 5150 download.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/408060859_5a1276a59f_o.jpg”>Blogger Emily Gould once mused, over a bold-faced headline, “When isn’t Jimmy Kimmel visibly drunk?” This simple, slanderous inquiry was enough to make Mr. Kimmel inform Gould, on national television, that he would “hate to see [her] arriving in hell and somebody sending a text messaging saying ‘guess who’s here?!'”

These days, it’s tough to imagine a world where Gawker, current media gossip mega-site and “flagship” of the Gawker Empire, had enough chutzpah to really piss people off. Sure, at the apex of its nastiness, the site was often difficult to read without guilt—inspiring cover stories about “The Culture of Bile” and even the wrath of George Clooney, who vowed to send fake sightings to the Gawker Stalker.

When Gould resigned from the site to tend to her karmic existential crisis—the boomerang affect of throwing so many anonymous barbs—even loyal readers let out a sigh of relief. But now that Gawker has been sanitized, the angry underclass has found itself with no outlet. Oh, where have all the bloggers gone?

To stardom, of course.

See, Gawker began for and by witty, searing little people to make astute, pointed, and unflinchingly negative commentary about the totally undeserving big people. But in the years since Gawker’s formation, those little people have become big people. In the Age of Internet Journalism, founding fathers like Gawker have become lucrative and influential.

Once just a collection of unknown misanthropes on the internet, the Gawker family has gone on to become powerful figures in the media world, and micro-celebrities in and of themselves—with New York Times Magazine cover stories, self-promoted stardom, Vanity Fair profiles, n+1 analysis, and a legitimate role in writing the zeitgeist of their generation.

Gawker’s exposure has had creative benefits, but with audience expansion has come self-consciousness. Gawker writers are no longer anonymous bloggers, and being out of the shadows means having to take responsibility for what you type, making it more difficult for them to muse about Jimmy Kimmel’s sobriety, or resist using their status to promote political platform.

All of which could be a positive change, since it forces internet journalists, the alleged future of the industry, to take on a modicum of integrity and responsibility (a conventional plus). But wasn’t the internet the final frontier for the uncensored spewing of squalor? If I wanted a sanitary discussion, I would turn on a TV—where cameras and a live audience keep pundits in line. But sometimes, you just want to hear someone smartly compare Kevin Costner to Jabba the Hut.

So today, when I see Gawker promoting a presidential candidate, or linking to a video clip that they find un-ironically funny or smart, or picking fights with a jock in support of artists—and please, commenters, in the spirit of the once-angry internet, add your own examples—I can’t help but feel sort of disheartened. The internet was the happy place where smart people could finally scream “FUCK EVERY1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”—a sentiment I never thought I’d miss. But with Gawker now adding “Well, I guess some people are actually okay,” the sardonic are alone again in their silence.

Photo by Flickr user m d portela used under the Creative Commons

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    17 Comments

  1. says

    It’s true that some of Gawker’s writers – who had previously perhaps identified with the “creative underclass” but then went on to sell book deals about their tattoos for a quarter mill — jumped ship in search of their own fame. But some just moved on to other things. The majority of people who used to write for Gawker aren’t Emily Gould or Jessica Coen. And the other people that you mention as “micro-celebrities” were never Gawker writers to begin with – Julia Allison, n+1 people, etc. Most Gawker writers move on to work for other publications without grazing the spotlight they forced under a microscope. It’s not like Sheila is attending SATC premiere parties.

    As Gawker became more well-known, there was a tonal shift towards actual national news: they were one of the only sources to publish Sarah Palin’s e-mails and that video of strange Scientology practices. I think what you’re personally missing is this insidery snark about people like your bosses at NY Mag which, in my opinion, isn’t much to miss. But perhaps you will see! Because fear not, Mike. Gawker is still very much into making microcelebrities. Your time will come… perhaps even with this article!

  2. says

    While Gawker may be losing its “edge,” the edge that you’re talking about is one that should be thrown away as quickly as possible – the slanderous, poorly-researched, and often blatantly false accusations about real people are not only obnoxious, but are also often pretty harmful. It’s true that Gawker has a few good qualities in terms of establishing internet “journalism” (particularly speed and openness for discussion), but there’s a difference between astute commentary and open malice. When they move away from the latter, we aren’t really losing anything except for another outlet for people to be assholes for no good reason.

  3. says

    @ Jessica: I would disagree with your point about “Sheila” — I think that even those bloggers are in very different positions than the original writers.

    Also, you might want to consider just writing a response piece. But let’s not digress into writing about ourselves and the author, since this has a subject that is neither.

    HOPE PARIS IS BEAUTIFUL THIS TIME OF YEAR.

  4. says

    @ Mike: So any criticism should go into a response piece and not in the comments of your article? Okay, I take out the thing about you wanting to be a microcelebrity and the rest stands akin to the rest of the opinions voiced about this article.

    Do you think the current bloggers (Sheila) are in a different position because of the previous bloggers (Emily Gould) or because of something else?

  5. says

    @ J.R.: Well, because they write for a high-profile website now, rather than a personal blog for insiders.

    I was just reommending the response piece if you felt you had something lengthy to say, but obvs I welcome comments.

  6. says

    @ Mike: Of course mockery has a time and place. I think mockery is great! Just look at my own posts here. But mockery has to be earned, or else it’s cheap and gratuitous. Who gives a shit whether or not Jimmy Kimmel was drunk in public once? These weird witch hunts Gawker occasionally goes on aren’t just, as Nicole said, bad journalism, but they’re also just generally shitty behavior.

  7. says

    Gee Mike, dude yr so famous/controversial! Maybe if Gawker exported its snarky distinctly New York brand of misanthropy to a historic Minnesotan locale like Northfield people would find its vitriol Midwestern, charming, and wholesome EVEN IF IT WAS COMPLETELY THE OPPOSITE!!!!

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