Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Gawker jumps shark; columnist drowns

My latest column is essentially a 600-word love poem to Nick Denton. I didn't post it here because if you're reading this blog, you don't need to see the column.

The Gawker column was aimed at print people, attempting to explain the phenomenon of Internet publishing (and Internet writing styles) to people who don't get it.

I'll confess to being a Gawker fanboy, if only to lend credibility to my disappointment now. I'm a fiction writer in my spare time, so I tend to think of people as archetypes.

I paint Denton as a kind of folk hero — a pioneer, not because of his medium, but because of his message — the outsider ethic that defined Gawker for most of its life.

I admired him for putting writers front and center, for hiring writers instead of journalists, for taking hard shots at easy tagets and never letting the insiders get too full of themselves.

Ten years later, Gawker is so inside it's imploding, so flush with success that it's about to crawl down its own throat.

Two of Gawker's editors quit this week. Their resignation post sounds like genuine expressions of artistic disgust. The call for their replacement reads like corporate boilerplate.

The publication that used to skewer print journalists is now trying to recruit them.

Gawker has lost a lot of good talent recently. The elephant in the room is pageviews, a payment system that rewards writers based on raw popularity.

Democracy in action, a formula that is guarenteed to hit the lowest common denominator, at the expense of everything that made the publication great.

And it's not just happening at Gawker. Our entire media structure is caught between elitism and pandering — between dull, condescending news coverage and shrill, tabloid sensationalism.

Gawker was an oasis of unfiltered words for me, a perfect balance of blogger guts and New York charm.

Now they're trying to be journalists, and I find myself mourning the loss of something I can't even describe.

I could be wrong, of course. Maybe I'm exaggerating the influence of elitism vs. populism and the holy quest for ad dollars will make Gawker a better place.

Or maybe Gawker is like every other good thing I've found on the net — enjoying a fleeting period of excellence, caught between obscurity and arrogance, right before they kill the golden goose.

If I'm right, readers will punish Gawker for crossing the line. Pageviews will follow the talent and Denton will be left with a big empty house.

UPDATE 12-4: Make that three editors gone in three days. Josh Stein quit today. Rats deserting a sinking ship or misguided idealists who can't handle the brave new world? I guess that depends on how the ship does.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 30, 2007 at 19:51

Posted in Gawker

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