From just about any way you look at it, the three years I’ve spent at Jezebel and the six years I’ve spent at Gawker Media have been a continuous series of calamities ranging from the minor to the severe. If I’d been scripting it for a prestige miniseries you would tell me my plot was excessive and unrealistic. I don’t know what to tell you. Since I took over Jezebel in September 2014, I have watched a group of teenage shit-stirrers bring adults to their knees in the name of rectifying gaming journalism, been hit by a truck and hospitalized for several months, watched two beloved coworkers leave the company in despair, learned to walk again, testified about my sex life in a nationally covered trial about a former wrestler’s sex tape, watched a real-life billionaire vampire villain proudly take credit for dismantling Gawker, seen my company declare bankruptcy and then get bought by a corporation that chose to shutter a website I once edited, and seen a blustering, sexist moron become president of the United States while attempting to direct coverage of it on a feminist website.
I have also had the time of my life.
I first stepped into the Gawker offices in August 2010. I was visiting the city from my hometown in Vermont, where I’d been waiting tables since graduating college that May, because I had a job interview to be Sloane Crosley’s assistant at Vintage Books. I didn’t get the job, but that night a friend texted to say that she was stopping by a party at Gawker and that I should come, too. After a string of aggressive emails and a shaky interview (to which I wore flats, a pencil skirt and a striped pink Oxford, an outfit that most people would not recognize me in today), I was offered unpaid, largely unsupervised night shifts at Deadspin. I accepted, of course, and also accepted a (paid) job at the New York City Parks Department to subsidize my volunteer writing job.
A few days before my first day in Central Park, a story broke about a woman sportswriter who’d been harassed by members of the New York Jets and subsequently brushed it off. I stayed up most of the night writing a Very Serious Column about the situation and sent it off the next morning, before heading to my first day at Parks on about three hours of sleep. Deadspin published it and more than 80,000 people read the story that day, while I sat sweating in a blazer at my new desk, writing copy for a department newsletter called The Daily Plant. A few days later, Deadspin also published a mocking riff of the take I’d so lovingly crafted. My inbox flooded. I had just turned 22 years old, and I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into.
The only reason I have a career today is because I stumbled into a place that took chances on young writers and gave them platforms on which to experiment and learn on the job. (This standard is apparently so unusual that, in court last year, I had the pleasure of listening to a stranger ask me if I had ever fucked my bosses to get to where I was professionally.) In my first year writing at Deadspin I learned, as the site’s first woman staffer, how to confidently write for a large (mostly male) audience, deal with criticism and dismissiveness, and develop a voice. A year in, A.J. Daulerio sent me to southern Illinois to report undercover on the Gathering of the Juggalos, an assignment I had no business getting. Where else would I have been trusted to do it anyway? As managing editor of Gawker I learned how to run a website and wrestle the best work out of some of the most talented writers on the internet. In any given week, we’d publish in-depth investigative pieces, genre-shifting personal essays, field trips into professionalized idiocy, and Caity Weaver—all this alongside the basic detritus that makes up so much of the internet to this day. (It must be said that that last headline was an edit; I’m sorry, Neetzan.)
I had a fun and edifying stint at The Hairpin, where, with Jia Tolentino, I worked with and published a new writer just about every day—something that few editors these days have the privilege or overexcitement to do—and enjoyed the kind of absolute editorial freedom that is increasingly difficult to find online these days. Then, three years ago, I wrote a long memo to some men who no longer work here to pitch myself as the next and third editor of Jezebel. I wrote, among other things, that women’s magazines were no longer the site’s enemy; that they’d too thoroughly co-opted and hijacked the qualities that once made Jezebel so unique, and that the goal for the site would be to cease appealing to the “outrage cycle” that I felt was dominating most of women’s media at the time. I wanted to a foster a women’s website that was opinionated but not angry, political but not preachy, critical but accessible. The Hairpin’s stated ideal at the time was to function as a women’s site insofar as it is run by women; Jezebel’s ethos should similarly be, I wrote, “feminist because its writers and audience are feminists.”
What I meant by that—and what I hope should be quietly yet obviously true to any committed reader of this site—is that I wanted to continue to build a site that cares about and engages with and reports on women’s issues every day, while also entertaining the radical possibilities that, in a more equitable society, “women’s issues” would be a blurred, dissolving category, and that men—who now comprise a full 40 percent of Jezebel’s readership—would care about those issues, too. Modest as it may sound, I think we’ve come pretty far in achieving that goal. I’m enormously proud of the expansions Jezebel has made the past three years, including its subsites The Muse, The Slot, Pictorial, and Millihelen (RIP), along with all of our original video production, two excellent podcasts, and live events. I’m proud of all the original reporting we regularly publish here, on topics ranging from delusional pregnancies to state abortion laws, campaign wage disparities to women war reporters, conspiracy theorists to Ted Cruz college rumors, campus rape to gay marriage, and everything else in between. I’m proud of our cultural criticism, on album reviews and movies and TV shows and books and romance novels. And I’m equally proud of the small and silly things we did here. We took over Deadspin for a day, ran a week’s worth of content about the movie Titanic (and then, a week later, an oral history on that week), and generally indulged our dumbest ideas and headlines and shared them with the world, all in the name of fun.
Thank you to the Jez writers and editors for creating and sustaining what, in its best moments, can feel a bit like a freestanding, girls-only clubhouse in a business full of uptight, besuited senior vice presidents of nothing. For three years now I have had the pleasure of hiring and working with the very best team in the business, and watching them figure out what they’re good at and then share it with the world has been the single most rewarding part of my career. The staff here worked hard even when they had excuses not to (“If the big board was a fight,” Tom Scocca texted me a week into my hospital stay, referring to Gawker’s infamous traffic leadership board and making me cry while on a morphine drip, “the ref would have stopped it by now”), and they made me laugh every single day.
That last part might sound like a small thing, but it’s been meaningful to me, especially during a stretch of time in the news and the world that has felt so relentlessly bad. For a long time, I think I just assumed that the internet naturally fostered the fun, freewheeling spirit that I always associated with going to work. I see now that I have merely been extraordinarily lucky to have gotten my start at one of the few remaining shops that allowed all of the best things the internet has to offer to exist under the same roof—independence, combined with equal parts audaciousness, irreverence, and technically unlimited copy space—and to have been surrounded by people who shared that spirit and helped encourage it. Gawker Media was a place that took life-changing chances on young writers and editors and gave them the paychecks and freedom to do work that they could not have done anywhere else. It’s a brave, important, dwindling pursuit, and I feel incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon and benefited from it. I hope it continues to exist.
That’s why, all those calamities aside, I will probably spend the rest of my time on earth chasing the feeling from seven years ago, when I posted my first blog here and got my start. I’m OK with that. Thanks for reading.