I bring joyous news from the deathbed of the once-feared, now terminally-ill blogging network, Gawker Media! Nick Denton is trying to make his former gossip empire into a respectable publication. Again. And he’s going to fail. Again!
Oh, I’m sorry, I know I’m being childish and I know it’s not Christian to take quite this much pleasure from the suffering of others, but frankly: Gawker had it coming. What’s so amazing about this new lurch in editorial priorities is that it’s in precisely the opposite direction to the one the once-admired blogging network ought to be going.
Desperate Denton’s latest gambit is to transform Gawker into a purely political publication in anticipation of the 2016 presidential race. To accommodate for the pivot, the blogging network has eliminated seven full-time editorial positions and a swathe of contributors. Amusingly, Sam Biddle is not just staying but is to be sent out on the campaign trail.
But Gawker has no credibility, no connections and no core audience in the world of politics, and it has not made the hires necessary to develop expertise. From what we can tell, its plan is to bring the same tired, bitchy formula to bear on politics in an era of unprecedented competition for readers’ attention and widespread loathing of the media.
It’s tough to interpret this new direction as anything more than Denton’s own political aspirations morphing Gawker from what it ought to be — a funny, feisty lifestyle publication — into an instrument of partisan political hackery. Trust me: the progressive Left has enough of those already.
Another problem for Gawker is that it is entering the political arena at precisely the time the electorate is becoming hostile to its brand of intersectional campus politics. The comically silly Mizzou protests and the attention-seeking antics of Black Lives Matter are not resonating with the public, to put it mildly. They’re based on the same straight white male-hating ideology Gawker is.
And Gawker is doubling down on the hateful feminist and race-baiting claptrap so loathed by anyone outside of Manhattan and American colleges, giving indications that its poisonous, lunatic feminist organ Jezebel will be the primary lens through which Gawker interprets popular culture.
Bar one beta male mangina, the entire staff of Jezebel consists of bitter, angry third-wave female bloggers. You can just imagine what Gawker‘s coverage of Hollywood is going to be like. If you can’t imagine, and need to simulate the feeling, wash down a mixture of Ipecac and Xanax with some cheap gin and jump up and down for a while.
Tragically — or perhaps comically, depending on how sadistic you are — the ousted employees were reportedly fired in the most passive aggressive-manner conceivable. They received a direct message on workplace communications software Slack. When they returned to their desks, their accounts were already disabled.
In the unlikely event that a Breitbart writer is ever laid off, we’d tell them in person. And then we’d send round a man with a lorry to collect all the portraits of me from their house. It’s Gawker’s oafish, inelegant and mean-spirited behaviour that seeps off the pages of Gawker.com and has led the site to be regarded with suspicion even by left-wingers.
That’s before we even get to the verticals, at which there has never been sufficient quality control because the site’s reputation has made hiring the best talent almost impossible. That and Gawker’s rumoured gender pay gap problem–soak up the irony!
Gawker’s Night of the Long Knives didn’t stop at editors, by the way. Almost every vertical unrelated to politics has been swept away. The once-mighty Valleywag got the axe (well, they can hardly compete now that Breitbart Tech is around, can they?). So too did weather-blog (really) The Vane, TV blog Morning After, and the formerly notorious Defamer, once the beating heart of the celebrity gossip machine upon which the Gawker empire was founded.
Is there anything to Denton’s plan other than an elaborate excuse to downsize and to cut failing publications before their failure became too apparent whilst clawing to relevance by focusing on the election? Not really. The Gawker empire has been trying, and failing, to pivot to politics for years. I’ve covered the company’s history in depth before, and one of the clearest themes is its continued failure to shake off its murky origins as a recklessly invasive celebrity gossip blog.
On the other hand, it’s clear that Denton fancies himself as a political heavyweight. Early in 2015, he took the hilarious step of suggesting Gawker try to appeal to more conservative readers, leading to a backlash from many of his moonbat writers. How Denton thought he could appeal to conservatives with wacky social justice outlets like Kotaku and Jezebel in his empire remains a mystery.
Incidentally, Kotaku appears to have survived the cull. I don’t know for sure, because Denton didn’t reply to my email asking. But it wasn’t mentioned in any of the statements Gawker put out today. Perhaps this confirms what gamers have long suspected: its editorial agenda has far more to do with politics than it does with, in this case, video games, Kotaku’s ostensible specialism.
But Gawker has never quite pulled off its overtures toward political tribes, even easy wins with credulous social justice warriors, who will buy any message as long as it’s feel-good enough. The site couldn’t shake off its habit for nasty, intrusive reporting and its sociopathic reputation. The site’s sleazy and disastrous attempt to out a CFO as gay for no particular reason was the final nail in the coffin for liberals and progressives.
These days the big traffic wins are awarded to media companies who ruthlessly and brilliantly identify specific market segments and generate content specifically for them. BuzzFeed, for all its odious politics, does this exceptionally well. But no one likes Gawker or anyone who works there and the site has never been nice to anyone else for long enough to build affection or loyalty.
So, with no credibility among liberals, no love from progressives and nothing but contempt from libertarians and conservatives, where does Gawker hope to find the army of supporters it needs for what is sure to be unrelentingly cruel political coverage? I suspect it will retreat into its comfort zone: the business of personal exposure, and thus find itself in the same mess, on the edge of the cliff, friendless, howling into the wind.
The one eternal truth in Gawker historiography is that everyone hates it, and not in the good way like people hate but can’t help to read and sort of like and admire yours truly. No: readers, even fellow journalists, just think Gawker writers are bad people. This is a problem, and Denton has not fixed it. It’s especially a problem for political reporting, in which readers expect to establish trust with a specific byline over time.
I guess the site could continue down the social justice route, and pursue a deeper marriage of millennial culture and progressive politics. I hear Boing Boing’s own Offworld, a vertical that attempts the same combination, is a massive hit with the kids. But in my view Gawker should have stayed an irreverent entertainment and gossip-driven commentary and news site. The hubristic ambitions of its founder are leading it down yet another calamitous path instead — one from which there may be no return.
This pivot is the last gasp of a mortally wounded, dying empire. Gawker is flapping around like the proverbial fish on the carpet, desperate to find water again. Burned by high-profile resignations, humiliated by gamers and still facing down a potentially crippling lawsuit with Hulk Hogan that it will probably lose, the blogging empire has nowhere to turn.
Instead of this undignified and protracted death rattle, Nick Denton should set his ego and his desperation to be taken seriously to one side, and bow to the inevitable. He’d never admit it, but the GamerGate revolt and his own staff’s terrible decisions have in the past year made the brand too odious even for fellow New York progressives to defend in public. (They no longer do.)
An indication of the mountain ahead of Gawker is what the reaction would be should they fail: no one would shed a tear. Until that changes, the company is on a slipway to oblivion.