For the second day in a row, Gawker has suspended posting new material at mid-day. Evidently, this is not some sort of tease (I refer not to the tease demonstrated by Miss Natalie Wood - but that got your attention, no?). The staff is, according to reports, in yet another all-hands-on-deck meeting.
Well, whatever the case, it’s motivated me to offer my colleagues in the commentariat something to chat about.
Where do things actually stand? Like many of you, I have been gluttonously consuming the news about the present state of affairs at Gawker Media, and have read the offerings of former employees, The New York Times, Capital New York, New York Magazine, and the latest, today’s op-ed defense of Gawker by Maria Bustillos in the Los Angeles Times.
Bustillos makes an excellent argument for the thing many of us love about Gawker; its willingness to walk the finest line between speaking journalistic truth to power and libelous tabloid trash. She argues that:
“The cost of this essential public service — exposing the lies of the powerful, no matter how unpleasant — is the occasional overstep. Gawker’s editors may err occasionally on the side of excessive zeal, but at least, unlike most in the media, they can be counted on never to fawn or flatter.”
This is true, but the realities of business, as I have argued in these pages over the last several days, also put me squarely in the camp that says Nick Denton was right to step in and be the adult who had to do something he clearly dreaded having to do, which was to delete the offensive hit-piece (another big litigation could have cost everyone their jobs, rather than just the two who left).
Beyond Bustillos’ argument in defense of the deliciously trashier aspects of Gawker, it’s at its best when offering its carefully calibrated balance of “serious journalism” and real-time breaking news; judgmental coverage of the rich and famous, whether in vulgar Real Estate transactions, bad behavior, or public hypocrisy (that would be the trashier stuff); and just enough opinion pieces to get the commentariat chatting.
And that - the commentariat - is precisely where Gawker is most unique. Very often, a single-paragraph post can generate hundreds of comments, branching off in many directions. Some funny, some informative, and - most significantly - fairly well monitored by the trusted commenters who keep it from devolving into the swamp that most websites’ comments sections have become. Unlike, say. the Huffington Post or (Heavens, no!) Yahoo News comments, Gawker’s comments are frequently more entertaining and informative than the original content - but it’s that original content that sets it in motion.
I’ll keep dong my thing; adding what I can to further discussions, quoting an old movie or inserting absurd gifs to keep things witty and lively, and, like all of us should, dismissing trolls and single-entry burner entrants who seek only to offend. Only we can prevent Gawker from ever devolving into that ugliness. And only we can guarantee it’s ability to grow up without losing its distinct personality.