I don’t want to rehash the entire saga to get to the point of this post, so I’ll be brief: Gawker wrote a dumb thing. They were shamed for it. Gawker’s CEO Nick Denton pulled the post (after the site had gained close to 700,000 page views from it, at last count), two of their top editors resigned in protest, the site (as well as Jezebel) went dark for 20 hours, it’s back, Gawker experienced a surge in traffic because of the scandal, and things will probably return to normal at Gawker soon enough, which is to say: The Internet will go on hating Gawker while continuing to read it.
The life cycle of an Internet news story can run for only so long, and while Gawker (and Reddit, recently) have suffered blows to their “brands,” I doubt there will be much in the way of long-term consequences. They’re like movie sequels that no one wanted but that we all go see anyway.
That said, I would wager that many of the writers on all of Gawker’s sites are good people (and they’re certainly talented), even if the site ethos is not. But when your job depends on generating page views, it’s as easy to bend your ethics in pursuit of a story as it is to decry those who do so. I mean, most of the people who work at WalMart are not bad people, even if their company does very bad things, right?
One of the undeniably good guys over on Gawker is Rich Juzwiak, who became something of an Internet phenom seven or eight years ago by writing extensively about his cat (who he lost in a break-up) and editing together one of the earliest and most popular Internet supercuts. He also writes about gay politics, and he is probably the best trash TV writer on the Internet. Back in our “scathing reviews, bitchy people” days, he was definitely an influence.
I’m a big admirer, and since the Gawker scandal broke last week, I’ve been anticipating his response to it. It does not disappoint, as he manages to distance himself from the nastiness of that piece without throwing his Gawker colleagues under the bus.
This paragraph alone shows Gawker should adopt his mentality toward writing about gossip:
I wouldn’t have approached Gawker’s David Geithner/Derek Truitt story in the way that it ran on the site. I would have taken more time with it. I say this with the advantage of hindsight, but I like to think that by the time I got around to checking Truitt’s unhinged Facebook page, which contained at least one blatantly homophobic post, I would have realized that I did not want to represent this person by telling his story the way he wanted it told. There is a Gawker story in there, and my version would have been: Look at This Crazy, Conspiracy-Obsessed Porn Star Who’s Trying To Blackmail a High-Powered Media Executive (That I’m Not Going to Name). I think that we protected the wrong guy. It’s true that facts have no morality, but at its best, Gawker does. We take sides, we finger the bad guys, we retell stories as they aren’t being told so as to expose truths. In this case, I think, our compass momentarily malfunctioned.
After a lengthy discussion about why the post was misguided by not homophobic, Juzwiak noted:
The story, in my view, wasn’t anti-gay, but it was inhumane. Assuming Geithner isn’t out as a man who sleeps with men to most who know him (as his response in the original piece did suggest), his coming-out process has been taken out of his hands. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I so much as kissed another guy—becoming comfortable enough with yourself to live openly can take decades. If it were up to me, I would have preserved Geithner’s right to slow-paced self-acceptance.
Still, though Juzwiak didn’t like the story, he is standing by the Gawker union in defending it.
How could I do anything but, when the same freedom allows me to exist as loudly gay as I am at my job, and to call out bigoted bullshit as frequently as I do? I know that in the process, I’ve said some ignorant, ill-considered shit during my time here, and voiced opinions that my coworkers do not share. I hope they know better than to hold against me the momentary lapses that are inevitable when you write passionately and daily.
You can all continue praying that the bottom falls out of the Gawker Empire, but in my opinion, Juzwiak is why you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. If Gawker has to continue existing, here’s hoping that Juzwiak is there to help guide the recalibration efforts.