Denton’s place is one of the great Manhattan apartments for a party, a cavernous loft that seems to be decorated only in titanium and suede in a Soho building whose other tenants include Kelly Ripa and Harvey Weinstein. Sometimes he throws open his doors to everyone in town, on Halloween and during the holiday season, but more often he plays host to a select group of entrepreneurs and writers.
Over the summer, at the tail end of a cocktail hour, he’s cleaning up the wrappers of White Castle hamburgers he provided as hors d’oeuvre. “I had a book party for Rebecca Mead at the New York Public Library last week, and they gouged me on the catering,” he says, pursing his lips slightly. “These were so cheap!” Denton’s boyfriend, a lovely African-American artist, begins to get ready for their next stop of the evening, a going-away party for Gawker Media managing editor Lockhart Steele, leaving to build his own blog network with Denton joining an angel investment round. “Are there going to be a lot of bloggers there?” his boyfriend asks, and Denton nods. He sighs.
At Steele’s party, at a dirty bar on Clinton Street, a white limousine with the license plate FILTHYNY rolls by as dozens of bloggers spill onto the sidewalk, surreptitiously drinking beers until a couple of cops begin handing out tickets. Everyone has a slightly hunted look, born of spending all day at a computer with a gun to their heads: Most bloggers in Denton’s network work under the most severe deadlines imaginable, with many contracted to write twelve posts per day. At the same time, they are unbelievably fulfilled: Bloggers get to experience the fantastic feeling of looking at everything in the world and then having everyone look at them through their blog, of being both subject and object, voyeur and voyeurant. To get more of that feeling, some bloggers—if we were a blog, we’d tell you who—are in the bathroom snorting cocaine, or Adderall, the ADHD drug popular among college kids on finals week, the constant use of which is one of the only ways a blogger can write that much (“We’re a drug ring, not a bunch of bloggers,” one Gawker Media employee tells me cheerily). Pinched nerves, carpal tunnel, swollen feet—it’s all part of the dastardly job, which at the top level can involve editing one post every fifteen minutes for nine hours a day, scanning 500 Websites via RSS for news every half-hour, and on “off-hours” keeping up with the news to prepare for tomorrow.
Gawker’s social-policing and snipe-trading sideshow is a kind of moral drama about who deserves success and who doesn’t — a Manhattan version of social justice.
The Gawker.com editors stand mostly to the side, in a cool-kid clique. Although they may in some sense be outsiders with their noses pressed to the glass, horrified by a world of New York that doesn’t quite want to have them as members, in the bubble of blogs, they’re the elite, especially because lots of smaller bloggers’ traffic relies on “link-whoring” (i.e., Gawker editors being solicited for links by smaller sites). Sicha leans against the back of a parked car, tanned and lean, his jeans slung low enough to reveal the waistband of his underwear, talking to Alex Balk, a former copywriter who tweaks Denton’s desire for lowbrow posts that generate page views by dialoguing with a character known as “My Cock” (his bitterness conceals an emo side: Balk’s previous blog was named after a line from a Leonard Cohen song). One Gawker Media videographer, widely known in the office as the guy who had sex after-hours on the office couch, lurches around in tight white jeans. “I was talking to this writer from Elle Girl, and then she said, ‘I heard you’re a crack whore but really good in bed,’” he tells a Gawker ad-sales guy, who snickers.
A Town Car pulls to the curb: It’s the most famous young journalist in the city, Julia Allison.
“Don’t write about her, don’t feed into it,” two female bloggers beg me, stepping out of Allison’s way as she approaches.
Allison is what Denton likes to call a “Gawker celebrity”: Like all editors of gossip publications, he enjoys thinking of himself as a star-maker and lays claim to creating the personalities that he promotes, much in the way that the New York Post’s “Page Six” has always said it made Paris Hilton. But, like Paris, Allison is quite complicit in her star-making process—although she would never admit it, because that would ruin her image. She is pretty, though she looks even better on your computer screen because she chooses her outfits explicitly for the cameras: Her look is southern deb or, more precisely, an actress playing a southern deb—a polka-dot Nanette Lepore suit with no blouse underneath, a string of her grandmother’s pearls, thickly applied lavender lipstick, and five-inch white platform shoes. “I’m just a small yappy dog Nick finds amusing,” says Allison later, in a deep voice that projects across the room. “He’s a godlike figure at the center of his universe,” she says on another occasion. “The godfather! First he started a company, and now it’s a culture.”
A recent Georgetown University grad who moved to New York to become Candace Bushnell, Allison had a little-read dating column in AM New York—and a list of paramours that included former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford Jr.—when she decided to change her focus. She grabbed Denton’s eye by showing up at one of his Halloween parties in a bustier made entirely of Trojan Magnum XL condom wrappers and developed a sophisticated Website (“I dated a computer-science guy!”). She link-whored herself to Gawker on a daily basis, even if it meant sharing videos of herself in a white bikini riding a horse. “Freelancers are like the migrant workers of publishing—when I heard that Tom Wolfe makes $6 a word, I was like, ‘Whoa,’” says Allison. “I figure if you make yourself a marquee name, you can’t be replaced.”
Soon, Allison landed a column in Time Out, where she was popular for her ability to get her stories linked on Gawker. Gawker was free advertising, after all: “Time Out New York dating columnist Julia Allison tackles the age-old dilemma faced by men around the world: How do you trick a chick into bed? Jules’ advice: Be cheesy, surround yourself with hot ass, and buy her greasy food. (Not recommended: Yelling, ‘Now suck my cock.’)” Next, she was hired by Star magazine as an editor-at-large. She doesn’t actually write anything, though. Her job is to go on TV and pretend that she works at Star.