Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for the ‘Gawker’ Category

Another Alex Balk Quote of the Day

I seem to be stalking Alex Balk today. The best writing on the web these days is being done by gay men. Certainly the smartest. In terms of sheer wit, you really can’t beat the bloggers at Radar or the commenters at Gawker.

This quote isn’t particularly witty, but it gets to the heart of what’s wrong, and right, about politics right now:

Who’s more annoying: the idealistic kids who think Barack Obama will bring us into a brave new world of transparency and change, or the hardened adults who think they’re speaking truth to power when they remind you that Barack Obama is just as cozy with corporate interests as anyone else who’s ever been in the position to be elected president? — Alex Balk, 6-9-08

Sigh. I guess I need to add Alex to my stalking tag.

12:01 a.m.: I’ve been Balked.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 15, 2008 at 11:55

Posted in Gawker

Molly McAleer takes 'overshare' to a whole new level

Defamer didn’t know what to make of this, and neither do I.

The only one who came close was friendslikeJimRome who said, “What hath God wrought?”

I didn’t want to watch it, but I couldn’t really stop. Sure it’s degrading and demeaning and sad, but when she’s done, you can’t help but be a little bit in love.

I mean, what choice do you have?

P.S. For any 40-something newspaper people who might be reading, this is why you don’t get us. This is why we’ll never make sense. This is, ultimately, the face of the new world. And no, I’m not ready either.

UPDATE 9-30-08: Molly McAleer forgives me …and perhaps, by extension, all of us.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 5, 2008 at 22:21

Posted in Gawker, Video

Gawker commenters rebel against new direction

Back in November, I made a special effort to praise Nick Denton's Gawker site and the suite of publications that sprang up around it.

I praised Gawker for having an outsider ethic, for showcasing sharp writing and for spawning a vibrant community of commenters. I said Gawker was the antidote to traditional entertainment journalism, and before the ink on my column was dry, Denton started a chain of events that unraveled everything I had just praised.

On Nov. 30, two of Gawker's editors, Emily Gould and Choire Sicha, announced their resignation. A day later, Josh Stein followed.

Gawker lost half its staff in 48 hours. The list of possible reasons goes on and on: the tone of the site had gotten meaner, the pace of work was brutal, commenters had taken the spotlight off the main content and Denton was getting ready to change the entire direction of the site.

From 2002-2007, Gawker's popularity came from the quality of its writing – a witty, acid tone inspired by the old Spy magazine.

Gawker may have been a gossip site, but it was also a blog. It used an intimate first-person style that put readers and contributors on the same level – as if the editors were just another set of spurned media wannabes, making fun of elites on the inside.

It didn't sound like a news site, it sounded like a personal journal. In the beginning, that's exactly what it was. Gawker editor Elizabeth Spiers arrived in New York as a complete novice and took her audience on a real time tour of New York – taking the audience step by step through her New York education.

Gawker editors kept their outsider tone all the way through 2007, when fan-favorite Alex Balk gave Gawker a taste of its own medicine. It seemed like fair play at the time. Gawker cut its teeth chewing on arrogant media personalities, so on Sept. 5, Balk took a bite out of his boss.

Denton was considering a new pay system that would reward writers based on the raw popularity of their posts. Where they used to get paid by the post, now they would be paid by the page view. Gawker critics (myself included) fear that system will create a “race for the bottom” as hungry editors replace witty commentary with YouTube videos of babies getting kicked in the face.

Balk posted some internal chatter between himself and Denton and got roasted for it in public. Balk quit soon after, and the fans have been pining for him ever since.

Now it's a new year and Nick Denton has taken personal control of his site. With the flip of a switch, Gawker lost its sense of humor and became a rather ordinary blog.

The army of commenters, courted so carefully by Denton in 2007, have been marginalized and insulted by this change in tone. A group of frequent posters have launched a rebellion against the new site, boycotting new threads and staging protests in old ones. Last week they started moving high-traffic events off site, beyond the reach of Denton and his advertisers.

It's a classic underdog story, but Gawker is a real business, and it's hard to measure how much power these commenters have. Gawker is still a dominant presence on the Web, still a vital part of New York. Regular visitors may be repelled by YouTube videos and Julia Allison guest posts, but a dozen new readers are waiting to take their place, clicking in from email forwards and social networking sites. These visitors won't care about the tone of Gawker or the culture that it came from. They won't be as loyal or as clever as the old readership, but there's more of them, and advertisers won't care where the hits come from.

I'm afraid Gawker '08 will look more like a ghetto than a dinner party, as the masses take over and smart young writers leave for greener pastures. I hope readers will rebel against Denton's new model and force him to bring the old Gawker back, but the Web tends to reward quantity over quality, and nobody ever lost money appealing to the lowest common denominator.

You don't have to live in New York to care about this. Gawker is an industry leader. If Denton's experiment works, hundreds of publications will follow his example. Paying writers by the page view could change the whole structure of Internet journalism, crowding out quality writing as everybody races to post pictures of Britney in her underwear.

Written by Michael B. Duff

January 11, 2008 at 10:29

Posted in Gawker

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

New York City, a great place to die!

The funniest writing on the web is in the Nick Denton gossip rag “Gawker“. But it's not in the posts. It's in the comments, where the finest unemployed writers in New York go to insult people who have jobs.

I tried to join the Denton empire in 2004, but I wasn't quite funny enough (or cheap enough) to make the cut. Bad enough that I didn't make the varsity snark team, but these days I'm not even funny enough to be a commenter.

Which is probably how I ended up here. (Hi, Mom!)

Anyway, the comments rock. There's something wicked and satisfying about them. Like watching a clown cry.

Here's the best one today, from a story about “suicide tourists” — people who fly to New York so they can jump off tall buildings.


It's that they came to NY believing the Hollywood version of a bohemian paradise, but when they saw it filled with neo-victorians, their little brats and baby carriages, and snotty NYU students yapping on cell phones in the accents of their own hick towns, who can blame them for suddenly realizing that there is no god.

Others, of course, just stepped onto the window ledge – the only place they were allowed to smoke a cigarette – and simply fell.

If Gawker was a woman, I'd pay her 20 bucks to punch me in the neck. Don't have 20 bucks? Now you can get the same experience for $15.61

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 1, 2007 at 13:25

Posted in Gawker