“Gawker Began As A Crusade To Save Journalism”

I miss Gawker, for the most part.

The evil billionaire Peter Thiel, a “genius” who was absolutely certain there were WMDS in Iraq and that Trump would be a great President, took the site away from us. Of course, he had help. When you spend your last year or so of existence as Gawker did by (allegedly) outing a magazine executive who isn’t harming anyone, risking your very existence to show a few seconds from a Hulk Hogan sex tape (I’d rather stare wide-eyed at an eclipse) and willfully making disturbing comments before a courtroom that will decide your future, you likely have entered into a fatal state of institutional delusion. This isn’t a defense of Thiel — you know how I feel about him — but to say that as much as I enjoyed Gawker sticking small pins into bloated bags of gas over the years, it often seemed as concerned with its survival as Rob Ford in a crack house.

The company’s main contribution to the culture was providing a platform for talented young writers who could go on and do better work at better publications. In that way, it will keep enriching us for a long time to come. In his Washington Post editorial “Gawker Has Been Gone For A Year. We’ve Never Needed It More Than Now,” Michael J. Socolow argues the snarky site would be a precious commodity during our Trumpocalypse. Eh. That seems more than a little grandiose.

I wish Gawker still existed, but righteous snark pours nonstop from truly brilliant and witty minds on Twitter, and the “critical autonomy” the WaPo writer lauds the outlet for was often misspent. I doubt the site would have delivered anything near as important as Elle Reeve’s brilliant Vice coverage of the Charlottesvile white supremacist rallies. What effect would Nick Denton’s pirate ship have had on improving our politics during this desperate time? A negligible one, most likely.

From Socolow:

Now that Gawker’s buried, we might consider what we lost when that mischievous and irresponsible purveyor of gossip was shuttered. Gawker was not simply an influential Web outlet; its proudly independent sensibility and critical autonomy remain rare in today’s corporate media sphere. But to consider Gawker simply a minnow in a sea of whales is to miss its true value. Gawker might have been foolhardy, reckless and ultimately self-destructive, but it was also, above all, courageous. With the hindsight of Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency, we should all recognize that courage in the media is needed now more than ever.

Gawker is mostly defined as a guilty pleasure, an exercise in prurience by bored Web surfers and their millennial progeny. Yet its impact on American media remains undeniable. It launched the careers of an excellent set of young journalists, and it demonstrated a rare independence from corporate pressure, celebrity handlers and political operatives. Its stylistic form — directly addressing its readers like friends engaged in conversation — offers an instructive lesson for all media outlets seeking loyalty from readers. Gawker didn’t disdain its commenters: It teased them, argued with them, and kept them interested and coming back. Denton and his cadre of young, underpaid editors understood effective Web journalism.

But to place Gawker only in the context of the Web era is to miss its historical significance. Like PM (New York’s experimental newspaper in the 1940s), or the Berkeley Barb and other alternative press outlets in the 1960s, Gawker began as a crusade to save journalism. Like its alternative predecessors, Gawker challenged the processed wire copy and objective norms of standardized news content with pieces that could be opinionated, sensationalistic, and occasionally bizarre. Readers would be lured in with narcissistic displays, participatory journalism, and styles of address that could range from the nihilistic to the euphoric. There’s a reason it was named “Gawker.”•