At the risk of sounding like a wounded old-media journalist, let me share a story about my experience with the media-gossip blog Gawker.com, which I, like most journalists who cover stylish topics in New York, have read almost every day for five years. In addition to recently finding attacks on some of my female journalist friends—one of whom was described as slutty and “increasingly sundamaged”; another variously called a “tardblogger,” “specialblogger,” and “developmentallydisabledblogger”—as well as a friend’s peppy little sister, who was put down for wanting to write a “self-actualizing screenplay or book proposal or whatever,” I woke up the day after my wedding to find that Gawker had written about me. “The prize,” said the Website, “for the most annoying romance in this week’s [New York Times] ‘Vows’ [column] goes to the following couple,” and I’ll bet you can guess which newly merged partnership that was. It seems that our last names, composed of too many syllables, as well as my alma mater, Wesleyan; the place we fell in love, Burning Man; our mothers’ occupations as artists; and my husband’s employer, David LaChapelle—in short, the quirky graphed points of my life—added up to an unredeemably idiotic persona (the lesson here, at the least, is that talking to the Times’ “Vows” column is a dangerous act of amour propre). Gawker’s commenters, the unpaid vigilantes who are taking an increasingly prominent role in the site, heaved insults my way:
“Grigoriadis writes for New York Magazine. Her last article was entitled, ‘You Too Can Be a Celebrity Journalist!’ With that kind of work and the newfound fame that comes with a Times wedding announcement, she’s on the fast track to teaching a class at The Learning Annex.”
“Sorry, but I’m obsessed with these two. The last names alone? They have nine vowels between them. And can’t you see it when they have their painful hyphenated named children? Does anyone out there know them? Please offer up some stories. Perhaps their trip to Nepal, or her internship with Cindy Sherman. I need more...”
“Those two are such easy targets they have to be made up. C’mon, Wesleyan? LaChapelle? The immigrant artist parents? No two people could be that painful.”
“Immigrant artist parents=house painters.”
Are we ridiculous? Perhaps a little, and I was contemplating this, nervously, when I got a call from my new mother-in-law, who had received the news by way of a Google alert on her son’s name. She was mortified, and I=pissed: High-minded citizen journalism, it seems, can also involve insulting people’s ethnic backgrounds. I felt terrible about dragging my family into the foul, bloggy sewer of Gawker, one I have increasingly accepted as a normal part of participating in city media. A blog that is read by the vast majority of your colleagues, particularly younger ones, is as powerful a weapon as exists in the working world; that most of the blog is unintelligible except to a certain media class and other types of New York bitches does not diminish its impact on that group.
Like most journalists, I tend to have a defeatist attitude about Gawker, dismissing it as the Mystery Science Theater 3000 of journalism, or accepting its vague put-downs under the principle that any press is good press. After all, there aren’t lots of other news outlets that cover the minutiae of our lives, and we’re all happy for any smidge of attention and desperate for its pickups of our stories, which are increasingly essential to getting our work read. The prospect and high probability of revenge makes one think twice about retaliation. Plus, only pansies get upset about Gawker, and no real journalist considers himself a pansy. But there is a cost to this way of thinking, a cost that can be as high as getting mocked on your wedding day.
Nearly five years ago, in December 2002, Gawker made its debut under the leadership of Nick Denton, the complicated owner of the blog network Gawker Media, and Elizabeth Spiers, a 25-year-old banker turned blogger who was fragile in person but displayed a streak of dark cunning on the page. They didn’t exactly invent the blog, but the tone they used for Gawker became the most important stylistic influence on the emerging field of blogging and has turned into the de facto voice of blogs today. Under Spiers’s aegis, Gawker was a fun inside look at the media fishbowl by a woman who was, indeed, “snarky” but also seemed to genuinely enjoy both journalism and journalists—Spiers was a gawker at them—and took delight in putting out a sort of industry fanzine or yearbook, for which she was rewarded with fawning newspaper articles casting her as the new Dorothy Parker. Ironically enough, Spiers craved a job at a magazine. She soon left for a position here, at New York Magazine; two subsequent Gawker editors, Jesse Oxfeld and Jessica Coen, have followed in the past year.
To be enticed, as these writers were, by the credentials extended by an old-media publication is a source of hilarity at the Gawker offices, where, beneath a veneer of self-deprecation, the core belief is that bloggers are cutting-edge journalists—the new “anti-media.” No other form has lent itself so perfectly to capturing the current ethos of young New York, which is overwhelmingly tipped toward anger, envy, and resentment at those who control the culture and apartments. “New York is a city for the rich by the rich, and all of us work at the mercy of rich people and their projects,” says Choire Sicha, Gawker’s top editor (he currently employs a staff of five full-time writers). “If you work at any publication in this town, you work for a millionaire or billionaire. In some ways, that’s functional, and it works as a feudal society. But what’s happened now, related to that, is that culture has dried up and blown away: The Weimar-resurgence baloney is hideous; the rock-band scene is completely unexciting; the young artists have a little more juice, but they’re just bleak intellectual kids; and I am really dissatisfied with young fiction writers.” Sicha, a handsome ex-gallerist who spends his downtime gardening on Fire Island, is generally warm and even-tempered, but on this last point, he looks truly disgusted. “Not a week goes by I don’t want to quit this job,” he says, “because staring at New York this way makes me sick.”