One of the weird strengths of the Gawker media empire, and the flagship site in particular, is that its writers and editors spend all day showcasing strong opinions about people that they don't currently, and probably never will, know. Whether that is — as someone once told founder Nick Denton — a case of "losers talking about winners," or, whether it is actually a rare example of outsider perspective undiluted by brand loyalty, archaic journalistic notions, or future job aspirations, it represents a larger trend. This perspective, while no longer unique in the blogosphere, is something that Gawker does best. And it's why Ben McGrath's New Yorker profile of Denton this week turns particularly strange and interesting when those writers and editors turn their sights on Denton himself — someone that they do know all too well. In one lengthy section of his piece, McGrath just lets these critics-of-life criticize the very man who gave them their voices.
The whole profile is worth a read, though as usual it will take you a while. But this section is particularly telling, because it uses the mythological (and occasionally humorously made-up) viewpoint and tone these writers and editors have developed to speak about the titans of pop culture to describe a guy who sits at a computer just down the table from them. Witness:
“The villain public persona is not a hundred-per-cent true,” A. J. Daulerio, the editor-in-chief of Deadspin, Gawker Media’s sports blog, said. “It’s probably eighty-per-cent true.”
“He has fun when people say horrible things about him,” the blog guru Anil Dash said.
“I can’t lie to make him worse than he is, but he’s pretty bad,” Ian Spiegelman, a former Gawker writer, said.
“Other people’s emotions are alien to him,” Choire Sicha, another Gawker alumnus, said ...
“He almost sees people as Legos moving around,” Sheila McClear said.
“He’s not a fully human person,” Spiegelman said.
“I mean, maybe he thinks he’s the one truly advanced human,” Anna Holmes, the founding editor of Jezebel, a.k.a. Girlie Gawker, said.
“Does he have parents?” Daulerio asked.
“I always imagine that he came fully formed out of British finishing school,” Holmes said.
“What can you do with a person like that?” Spiegelman said. “He’s a character out of Dr. Seuss, frankly.”
“Nick is a bit of a sphinx on purpose,” Joel Johnson, the longest-serving Gizmodo writer, said. “He has some of the attributes of the dork who wraps his Asperger’s around him like a cloak.”
“There’s no point in writing about Nick if you can’t get to the fundamental problem of his nihilism,” Moe Tkacik, who has worked at both Gawker and Jezebel, said.
“He likes pretty things,” Daulerio said.
“He takes cancer very seriously,” Sicha said.
“He wants to be Warhol,” McClear said ...
“What he really wants is to be the editor of the New York Times,” Spiegelman said.
McGrath points out that "given the thin margins of online publishing, Denton’s cultural impact greatly exceeds his revenues, which are somewhere on the order of fifteen to twenty million dollars a year." And yet here his personality's given that exact outsize treatment. Is there any person out there who is actually like a character out of Dr. Seuss? Or have websites like Gawker just tricked us into believing so? If that's the case, perhaps Denton is getting the precise coverage he's hoping for. (Not that he'll read it: "It's like watching yourself on video," he told us today of reading profiles about him. "And I don't really mind playing tabloid monster. I always liked those characters in the old movies.")