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My God, It's Been 15 Damn Years Today

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | June 24, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | June 24, 2019 |


Today marks the 15th Anniversary of Pajiba dot com, that funny little website whose name most of you still mispronounce. Actually, I don’t know the exact date we started, but June 24th is when we installed a stat service, so that’s the day I call our anniversary. It began in a small apartment in Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts as a hobby site that started while I was working for a start-up. The start-up eventually imploded, and all I had left to show for it was this site, so I turned it into my career. The impetus for the site was a frustration with the Bush Administration, actually — I’d written a piece about my loathing for George W. Bush, shopped it around, got no bites, and decided screw it: I’ll make my own site and we’ll write some movie reviews, too. I bought a copy of Microsoft Frontpage and taught myself how to build a site. Here’s what the site looked like in its first week, back when I went by the pseudonym of Will Declan.

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The first day we broke 100 page views, I bragged to my future wife for hours. The first few months, I spent as much time playing with the design of the site as I did actually writing. I was apparently going for a Slate-like layout with the color palette of a cheap, regional bank website. We pulled out of politics, however, on November 3rd, 2004, after we incorrectly called the election for John Kerry about 8 hours too early.

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We soon added a couple of critics, collected our first pop-culture enemies (Tyler Perry, Katherine Heigl (sorry!) and Paul Haggis), and changed the tagline every other week before settling on “Scathing Reviews for Bitchy People” for several years, although we only published three times a week in the beginning. (And look, Mike Redmond! We considered you a “friend of the site,” long before you had any idea who we were!)

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About 15 months into the endeavor, I moved to Ithaca, NY, we picked up Daniel, one of the best critics on the planet; I had a falling out with the guy with whom I started the site (whose boyfriend also left), my start-up began faltering, and my best friend from law school, Seth Freilich, came aboard because we were also writing a law blog called Quizlaw.

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We’d found a way to kill it for a while with Quizlaw, which was generating most of the company’s revenue, until Google closed a loophole that we were exploiting, and then Seth had to pack it up and go back into the practice of law while I tried to make a full-time job out of Pajiba, which basically amounted to me completely frittering away all my savings from the start-up days while trying to make Pajiba profitable. The Department of Homeland Security seized our server in 2006, which was a dark, dark week for the site, but we trudged on. By 2008, my savings had completely run out, and I nearly abandoned the site because I was married and had a kid by then and nothing was working, including the high-concept gossip site that Stacey Ritzen and I had begun called (Stacey was the original writer of Pajiba Love, and Kimberly Ricci was one of our first critics. They were here for several of our first years, but now they’re both doing very well over on, where Kimberly is my boss (and a damn good one)).

I honestly couldn’t tell you how the site survived back then. We muddled, and every month looked like it might be the last month. We had a nice base of regular readers (many of which are still here today! Thank you!), but that was it. We didn’t have Facebook or Twitter, and we didn’t do well on Google. We just got lucky to survive several lean years, until 2010 when Courtney came aboard and, six months later, when Joanna Robinson began writing for us. Before then, we were just sort of a reactionary site that wrote vicious reviews and that was fun, but we didn’t have much of a personality beyond being angry and cynical and smart (in addition to Daniel, Steven and Ranylt and TK were brilliantly eviscerating movies — holy shit, they could leave bruises). Joanna — who is at Vanity Fair now — and Courtney (who is at SYFY FANGRRLS) — not only gave us a bigger personality but ambition. Their presence gave us a higher profile, which eventually allowed us to bring in folks like Vivian (who is killing it at The Mary Sue), Kristy and Tori and Rebecca and Kayleigh and Roxana and Mike Redmond — amazing goddamn writers — and all of a sudden, we were a professional site. We had successfully faked it until we made it!

The site changed a lot in 2011-12, and a lot of people didn’t like the way it changed, but I did. And we gained more readers (smart, politically minded feminist readers) than we lost (a lot of edgelords), and Seth and TK and Steven and I learned a lot from the women who began to write for the site, and we evolved a lot personally, as well. I got a second job over on Uproxx so we could afford to bring in more writers, and we grew. It was a tipping point for us, and while we’ve had a lot of ups and downs since, and some lean years where we’ve had to shed payroll (sorry William and Rob and Christopher! We still adore you!), we’ve hung in there, and we’ve done so while remaining steadfastly independent.

Most of the sites we started out with back in 2004 are no longer around (exception: The Fug Girls, who started the same summer we did, and Celebitchy who started about 18 months later). Of the ones that are still around, most have been bought out by bigger entities and many aren’t the same as they once were. Our personality has changed a lot, too, and we might not be the perpetually pissed off people we once were, but we never sold out, because I know what selling out would mean: They’d fire me within a year, and the site would become a “brand” instead of a home. I love it here. Pajiba is my fourth child. The people I share a Slack with are my family, even though with the exception of Seth, Castleton, and Dan, I didn’t know any of these people until they started writing here. I don’t want to give any of this up until I’m forced to do so, probably by an authoritarian regime with firearms.

There are so many people over the years who have come and gone (and many of whom are still here) and who have made this site possible, who built this site up beyond the people mentioned above who have driven the site’s agenda, many of whom began in our comments section: Cindy (who has her own site now) and Jasmine and Rob Payne and Willis and Jodi and Genevieve and Orlando (you were ahead of your time) and Sarah and Petr and Emily and Hannah and Kate and Ursula and Prisco and Phillip and Brian, who I get a thrill from every time he pops up, and Castleton who writes pieces that take an hour to read and our long-suffering proofreader, Lainey, who gets no credit despite all the work she does behind the scenes (have fun with that run-on, Lainey!). And we’ve had a lot of pros come through, too, like Nadia (who is at Austin Eater now) and Riley (at SYFY FANGRRLS) and Caspar (at The Guardian among other places) Joe (Honest Trailers) and Michael Murray and Jeremy (at the Boston Globe) and John Williams (who is at the NYTimes now) I fucking love these people, even the ones who don’t like me anymore, because they made the site what it is and me who I am. We’ve made some tough decisions over the years, some of which I regret and some of which I don’t, but I appreciate every damn person who has come through here.

We’ve had 79 writers in 15 years. TK has been here for 11 years; Genevieve and Steven for 10; Jodi for seven; Kristy and Emily for 5 years. We have written close to 50,000 posts (the three biggest ones of which were this, this, and this). We’ve written a lot of posts for which we are very proud, and some of which we regret intensely (but not the bread-fucking post, thank you Rebecca).

And then there were the commenters. Our “base,” in political terms. Y’all are like our second family, complete with insane uncles and scolding aunts and fun cousins and that in-law that you hate. We wouldn’t be sh*t without you guys, because y’all have guided us all along, for better or worse! We love you. You make us crazy. In a lot of ways, you’ve been the best teachers we ever could have had. Nothing gets by you (even stuff that should get by you, goddamnit). There have been literally millions of comments (according to Disqus, we do about 250,000 “engagements” a month). I have no idea how to thank you all, and there’s no way to name you individually, although, I will say that there are three commenters with more than 30,000 lifetime comments, Andy (the most encouraging man on the planet), NateMan (who I butt-dialed on a hike last year and with whom TK has attended concerts), and Classic, who has stuck with us for a long time, even on days when we pissed her off, which — to be honest — is most of them.

I don’t know what else to say. Thank you to the writers, past and present, the readers throughout all 15 years, and to the thousands and thousands of commenters. To reward you, the best can offer is this: For Your Consideration posts begin this week, and the 13th(?) Pajiba 10 voting will begin next week.

Here’s to another 15 more years or more, hopefully (please? I got kids to put through college one day).

Header Image Source: Pajiba