When Gawker went down in 2016 following the massive lawsuit Hulk Hogan and his rich benefactor Peter Thiel mounted against the site following his sex tape leak, the internet didn’t entirely know how to react. Sure, Gawker were notorious a-holes who often descended into the worst kind of internet smarm and rhetoric, but who could truly be happy at such an obvious quashing of free speech at the hands of a billionaire with a grudge? For better or worse, Gawker was the internet, the strongest representation we had for a no-holds-barred b*tch-sesh that didn’t care who it pissed off or why. Sometimes that was good. And then there were the other times.
So when it was announced in July 2018 that Bryan Goldberg, owner of Bustle and founder of Bleacher Report, had bought Gawker.com in a bankruptcy auction for less than $1.5 million, once again the internet didn’t know how to react. On the one hand, yay that an important piece of internet history would not be lost to time. But oh my god it’s Bryan Goldberg. This is the guy who bought Mic.com for under $10 million after they sacked basically all their writers so they wouldn’t have to worry about things like unions or fair pay.
It seemed unlikely that New Gawker would be right for the current internet age, and that speculation only increased when four major names joined the staff at the beginning of the year. However, only a week after that big announcement, two of those writers (the only full-time ones planned for the relaunch) quit following offensive workplace comments made by an executive. Carson Griffith, the new editorial director and as of 2008 a registered Republican, was revealed by Splinter to have a long history of sh*tty comments featuring transphobic and homophobic slurs, insults against the poor, a whole host of racist comments, particularly about Asian people, and hostility towards plus sized people. Oh, and she admits to loving Donald Trump. So it’s like that. Given how much the original Gawker trash-talked Trump and despised everything his ilk stood for, relaunching the site with a wannabe Ivanka at the helm did not go down well with the new staff writers, who quickly packed their bags and left.
And now, joining them is Ben Barna, who had been set to act as the number two editor alongside Dan Peres. He left Interview to join Gawker but is now heading back to the magazine. Barna will be replaced by Nate Hopper of Time, according to the New York Post.
It may simply be that 2019 is not a great time for a new Gawker. I certainly see why someone would want to bring back that aggressively snarky take-no-prisoners style back to the internet as we enter the frenzy of an election season, but frankly, isn’t that depressingly our default mode these days? It feels like the hostile rhetoric of right-wing bullies has become the norm in a way that forces us to pretend that everything sucks on the same level and caring is stupid. It’s all a little too South Park, and I’m not sure Gawker, even when it’s firing on all cylinders, can get the balance right now. It certainly can’t do so with Bryan Goldberg and Carson Griffith in charge.
When Maya Kosoff and Anna Breslaw, the two writers who quit, released a statement explaining their decision, they noted how ‘it grew increasingly difficult for Maya to pitch writers and editors on the job, and she no longer felt she could recruit people to work under Carson in good faith.’ This followed an incident where Kosoff discussed going to meet a potential staffer who was nonbinary and Griffith laughed, asking, ‘lol is [name redacted] a girl?’ So imagine trying to find people to write for your no-holds-barred politics and pop culture website with someone like Griffith as your boss, plus a site owner who notoriously prizes clicks above all else. Who do you think will want to work in that kind of environment? It won’t be the sort of writers who made Gawker so beloved in the first place, I can promise you that.