Two Fridays ago, when I read a story posted on Gawker that seemed to senselessly out a nobody for soliciting a gay porn prostitute, I immediately thought someone should be fired.
I never thought it would be me.
To me, the story wasn’t out of character for Gawker, nor did I think it “vile” or any of the hyperbolic adjectives heaped upon it: It seemed perfectly in line with the aesthetic of this world of digital anarchy. And I thought that amidst a high stakes legal battle of Hulk Hogan versus Gawker in which the company was arguing that it was justified to post a sex tape because Hogan was a public figure, someone had made a grave error in demonstrating that that really didn’t matter, that if Gawker had the goods – and the article was meticulous in documenting its nothingness with texts and screenshots of Fedex receipts – it would publish them.
The owner of Gawker took down the post, I guess the first time that was done in 13 years, and though at first I thought it a defensive move to symbolize the company’s journalistic creds, in reality behind the scenes it seemed the end of a long internal fight. The top editor in chief and the editor at Gawker resigned in protest, claiming that Nick Denton had done exactly what he had promised previously not to do in setting up an editorial staff to insulate him and “the business side.” The two editors who resigned were as impetuous as the owner in citing this and that reasons for why they had to go. The external shitstorm, the resignations, and then the internal drama left the staff in the lurch and without leadership and without even a clear mission. And just let me say: Though almost every article I have read since has captured Gawker’s rapid meltdown, I haven’t really seen one that captures fully what happened and why.
But here’s the truth: The goods on Geithner were so good, the story almost wrote itself. That’s exactly the same that I’ve experienced working for network television or the mainstream media and is commentary on our frenzied society. But it is not unique; not even to new media. And it all happened on a Friday afternoon, including the throat clearing and cowardly call I got telling me to take the buyout. So the next time the CIA or Pentagon puts out an unpleasant press release on a Friday, take pity: That’s how all institutions, old and “new” act. Now the Gawker management is trying to portray the corrective as some new Gawker – “20 percent nicer” or is it kinder or is it smarter, I forget – and hopefully the readers won’t notice or care and the advertisers and sponsors will return.
One last thought about Gawker: I’m grateful that they offered me an opportunity, there are some fantastic writers there and I truly admire the uniqueness (and fun) that Jalopnik, Deadspin, Jezebel, Gizmodo, and Kotaku represent. But like social media as a whole, it is also a miserable place, so driven by its own feverish pursuit that it has no clue what kind of world it inhabits and thus helps build. I hate to be hyperbolic, but want to understand ISIS or the Tea Party or Occupy or Charleston or Dylan? Look no further than Gawker and its ilk, which means look no further than twitter or your own so-called smartphone: We are making the world a miserable place. I’m glad I can withdraw and think about it.
Here is the point where I’m supposed to say something like we are all seeking the same goal, that there is a common thread of journalism, enshrined in the First Amendment and pursuing some civic virtue to make the world a better place, blah, blah, blah. Hey, I understand it isn’t everyone’s calling and I understand that “journalism” is a pretty broad and even increasingly meaningless label. But in Nick Denton’s articulation of the new Gawker that he put out today, he speaks of reporting on “celebrities and other public figures who use the courts and other pressure to suppress the truth” and doesn’t even mention the government per se.
Four months ago, I started a channel at Gawker called Phase Zero that specifically sought to treat the government with the same ferocity, and not just the government but secret government. It was a long-time dream and a long-term endeavor. Our two-person band made some useful headways and we had much planned, but alas: If I had reported that General so and so was secretly a vegetarian I would have been more easily recognized as one with the mission. I just don’t think that’s news.
You can reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.