A long, long time ago—the early nineties—I was into blogs before there were blogs.
In a previous life as a new-media “expert,” I was employed to create an America Online site for Seventeen magazine. We needed “content,” quick and dirty. So we created a series of first-person-y proto-blog columns that were written by a posse of editorial and fashion assistants five minutes out of college who would blend personal media observations (careful deconstructions of the previous night’s episode of My So-Called Life or 90210) with office gossip (an embarrassing or endearing thing that happened on a recent photo shoot) and journal entries (unfortunate boyfriend behavior, a life-changing new band) and sassy commentary on Young Hollywood news from the gossip columns. Sometimes we linked, but most often not—simply because there were so few Websites at the time.
The basic idea was to have voicey, compulsively readable content for teenage girls—created by adults channeling their inner teenage girl.
Somewhere between then and now, though, the Web blew up and the whole blog thing took off—and I lost interest in the core concept. With a very few exceptions (like Romenesko’s media blog), I just couldn’t engage. Mickey Kaus of Kausfiles?
Too . . . serious. AndrewSullivan.com?
Too . . . frightening.
Then Gawker happened.
It’s hard to believe that it’s only been around since last December. The site—with its withering, sharp-witted Manhattan-centric take on media and celebrity culture—almost immediately captured the attention of the New York (and beyond) chattering classes and has since turned into something approaching a media utility. We depend, on it. Everyone from William Safire and Howard Stern to Time and, well, New York Magazine took notice. In fact, here at New York HQ, we liked Gawker so much that we hired its editor-writer Elizabeth Spiers to start a blog for us (see below).
There’s been a lot of debate in blogland about this, with plenty of bloggers concluding that Elizabeth sold out. (Of course she did, and we love her for it.) But never mind the bitter harpies; the Gawker effect still persists. The blog prompted a Renaissance, of sorts, in blogland—not only turbo-charging the form but legitimizing what I think of, nostalgically, as the teenage-girl approach to media. Gawker decreed, by example, that blogs should be not only loquacious but erratic, funny, bitchy, passionate, and obsessive to the point of being a little demented.
Blogs, in other words, were no longer to be the exclusive province of strident, annoying people.
The Gawker explosion, too, has had a multiplier effect: More readers and notoriety for one blog tend to create more readers and notoriety for other blogs, since they’re generally interlinked by something fewer than six degrees of separation—not to mention emotionally joined by their common cause (anti-big-media, do-it-yourself-ism).
The sudden, Gawker-fed hotness of blogging, too, has screwed with the ecosystem of Manhattan media culture, creating a whole parallel class of emerging chattering-class VIPs.
Who are these people? Well, there are way too many of them to count (or hire). But what follows is a look at a handful of some of the most compelling players.
Of course, since as of last week there were 2,767 blogs being published in New York City (according to the charming site nycbloggers.com), I expect to be blogged to death for my choices.
Choire Sicha, gawker.com
Unlike most blogs, which are one-person operations, Gawker has a man behind the curtain: owner Nick Denton (see below), who quickly found a replacement for Spiers when she departed in September. Miraculously, Gawker’s lost none of its edge under the often hysterically funny Choire Sicha, a gallery co-owner (Chelsea’s Debs & Co.) who’s been doing a personal blog (at choiresicha.com) since 2000.
Gawker’s unpatented mix is witty commentary on celebrity gossip, Manhattanalia, and media-world ridiculousness (Sicha’s had particular fun following the impending sale of New York Magazine, and has posted reader-submitted digital photos of Condé Nast cafeteria items). Sicha—who shares an East Village apartment with (platonic) roommate Dale “Literary Hatchet Man” Peck—knows his core audience. “My goal,” he says, “is to singlehandedly destroy office productivity at Hearst, Condé Nast, and Fairchild.” (Too late, buddy.) As for his raison de blog? “Today, young writers can either work completely unread in bitter isolation or they can have their work torn apart in real time by the vultures of the Internet. One of these situations is better for your writing than the other.” Also, “I haven’t paid for a cocktail since I took over Gawker.”
Maud Newton, maudnewton.com
For those exhausted by most media-centric blogs’ obsession with either glossy stock or newsprint, there’s Maud Newton, a Brooklyn-based fiction writer whose eponymous blog obsesses over books. Last week, for instance, she blogged about (and weighed in on other bloggers blogging about) wunderkind novelist Zoe Trope, David Foster Wallace’s new math book, Pamela Anderson’s $2 million book deal, James Atlas’s Times Magazine profile of Dale Peck, and, for good measure, she threw in a passage from Booker Prize winner DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little.
“I started blogging on a lark,” she says, “while procrastinating on a novel I was and am supposedly writing.” Publishing types return the favor by using it to procrastinate from whatever they’re actually supposed to be doing. The blog gets her out of her Greenpoint apartment, too, to meet with other bloggers, who she then shocks “by failing to be the firebrand they expected after reading my site.”
Anil Dash, dashes.com/anil
Dash, who started his blog in mid-1999 and has been updating it daily for nearly four years, is known for his unlikely links: obscurities, rants and raves from other, less prominent bloggers, and assorted new-media tech-geek news. But his real power comes from the fact that he’s VP of business development at one of blogland’s nerve centers: Six Apart, the company that makes Weblog tools—most notably Moveable Type, the easy-to-use blog software that’s become an industry standard.
“My Weblog,” Dash tells me, “has completely changed my life. It’s responsible, either directly or indirectly, for me getting my job, my girlfriend, a roommate, and tips on how to deal with everything from a shrunken wool sweater to my ethnic identity.” Even more to the point: “I recently posted a message asking for leads on a new apartment and found a perfect place that’s $500 cheaper than my current one less than twelve hours later, based on a lead from a reader.” Reason enough to start your own blog, that.
Nick Denton, president, Gawker Media
A tall, smiley Brit (though his smile betrays a certain world-weariness), Denton has a modest personal blog (nickdenton.org), but his power comes more from his status as a blog-world kingpin. In addition to Gawker, he dreamed up Gizmodo.com (a terrific consumer-technology blog for gadget freaks that recently partnered with Wired magazine) and Fleshbot.com (a forthcoming porn blog). An Oxford grad and former Financial Times reporter, he started a couple of Internet companies when he still lived in the UK, one of which was sold for millions (First Tuesday, which is too dull to get into), and one—Moreover Technologies, a news-search technology company that Condé Nast has invested in—that he’s still involved with.
Denton tells me he started blogging because “I was bored and frustrated at work”—at Moreover, when he was still running it. He jokes that his “basic business model is Internet media, circa 1999. Put text and pictures up on the Web, read projections of Internet advertising, and, um, dream. I sometimes feel like one of those Japanese soldiers, discovered in the jungle five years after Nagasaki, still fighting the war they never realized had ended.” (Gawker and Gizmodo each get about 1 million page views a month.)
Jeff Jarvis, buzzmachine.com
If Denton is the Soho House–haunting mack daddy of blogland, Jeff Jarvis is its unlikely suburban-Establishment Pied Piper. Astonishingly prolific even by blogger standards, Jarvis is also one of the few blog-world bigs who’s fully employed—as president and creative director of Advance.net, the online arm of Advance Publications (Condé Nast). He’s had a rather decent career as a print guy, too—he was the creator and founding editor of Entertainment Weekly, a TV critic for TV Guide and People, Sunday editor of the New York Daily News, etc. “After surviving and reporting on the attacks at the World Trade Center,” he says, “I still had more to say, so I blogged. It quickly expanded and took over my available life.”
On Buzzmachine, he obsesses about the news, pop culture, politics, Howard Stern, and, of course, media. (Last week, for instance, he went off about how his old Time Inc. colleague Dan Okrent had “just been appointed to the worst job in journalism”: public editor at the New York Times.) Though Jarvis can be as much of a crank as, say, Choire Sicha, he’s entirely irony-free when he explains to me what he’s gotten out of his zero-pay, after-hours sideline: “Blogging showed me the very promising future of media, when the audience takes over.”
Elizabeth Spiers, The Kicker
There would be something obnoxiously self-promotional about including our own Elizabeth in this roundup of blog-world bigs if it weren’t for the fact that virtually every blogger and blog reader I spoke to cited her as an ongoing inspiration.
(Okay, it’s still obnoxiously self-promotional. So blog me.) You already know you can find her blog The Kicker at thekicker.nymetro.com, but maybe you don’t know where she came from—other than “out of nowhere,” as has been written of her mysterious roots and meteoric rise to prominence.
Quickly: She grew up in Alabama, went to school at Duke, where she studied Arabic and wrote papers on—no kiddingÂ—terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, “all of which I found interesting, but was unable to parlay into actual employment,” she says, adding, “This was pre-9/11.” Worked at a Silicon Alley dot-com after graduation. Ended up analyzing small-cap tech equities and screening venture-capital deals, until Denton hired her to write for Gawker. Continues to skewer media-world grandees, torture idiotic celebrities, and decipher assorted urban absurdities for this magazine’s Website.
As for those weapons of mass destruction, she insists she’s very, very close to finding them.