I moved to New York two days before starting work at Gawker in the fall of 2014. When I walked up the stairs to the office in Soho I was acutely unsure of how to hold my body so I wouldn’t seem terrified: the only person I knew in the building was Emma, who had taken me to Jezebel from the Hairpin, where it had just been the two of us, working from computers across the country, and where she had hired me off email in summer 2013, before we’d ever met.
Emma was a person with whom I already had an unusually close relationship, but not yet the kind of friend you become only after your lives collapse onto each other completely—after you spend three years (including a past one that would make for a gripping if overscripted HBO miniseries) playing through work and working through your personal life, refracting every thought you have from 8:30 a.m. till midnight through the increasingly identical spaces of each other’s brains. Emma—and the places in which I’ve worked with and for her—is a reason as fixed as my disposition why I can’t separate what I like and what I do, even in an introductory two years of office employment that began with Gamergate; split open when she, my best friend or editor or boss, was catastrophically injured after non-metaphorically being hit by a truck; cracked again and kept cracking with the Conde post, the Hogan trial, the Thiel bankruptcy, and, almost worse, the wave each new development produced: a public and roughly bimonthly performance of perceived superiority to this company, which is occasionally distasteful and aggressively unconcerned with public approval, but never panders and never lies.
It’s easy to dismiss those values, or the way they look in practice, and why? Efficiency and directness do sometimes intersect with cheap. But there’s something else going on, a displacement. The problems people identify in any successful online media outlet (cheapness, vapidity, prurience, etc) are hot potatoes tossed between writer and audience, and the distance between writer and audience has shrunk. A compromise between them, a mirage of water in a desert of smarm, has formed in the valorization of likability and consensus—two things that often seem like moral goods in themselves, which they’re not, rather than unpredictable and secondary rewards.
And so solidifies the foundation for a new kind of media so shaped by social distribution that likability and consensus do become goods qua goods. It’s been interesting to have my first two years in New York, my first two full-time in media, take place at a company where, no matter good the story, people will be quick to disown the source (“I never link to Jezebel, but…”)—all the while a post-libertarian billionaire/Facebook board member/Trump delegate systematically sued us into bankruptcy for reasons that put him in near-exact alignment with many of the people, anonymous to influential, whose performatively negative opinions about my workplace I have been hearing for two years.
Anyway. What’s always been clear to me: Gawker Media’s horizontal organization and editorial independence, defended at all costs, is what facilitates mistakes and transgressions and also makes possible every single good thing we are able to do. The I-never-link-to-Jezebel-but construction is an outside reader’s endless and self-contradictory attempt to classify it all as typically reprehensible or surprisingly against type; from the inside, all the work seems individual and situational, related only in that we all did not have to get much approval to do it.
That freedom is treacherous but thrilling; it’s an accelerant and a light. It broadens the scope of our subjects, the range of our tone, the spectrum of our targets, both of active deflation and praise. There’s no other place where, in an editor position within a team of about a dozen, I’d have been allowed to report for the first time; try to write a good piece that had no argument and no conclusion; be dumb and crass when the occasion warranted; go nonsensically lyrical about my least favorite season; detail a goddamn IUD insertion; participate in the Great Jezspin War of 2016; get perfectly meticulous in-house legal vetting while half-reporting an odd sexual assault scandal; write extremely long essays about online discourse; run a long interview about dolphin fucking as well as a 7,000-word one about abortion at 32 weeks. Maybe I could’ve written two of these pieces at the same place; there’s nowhere else that would’ve let me do them all and be visible.
There’s also, I think, no other place where I could have learned so much so fast from editing—about race and survival and murder and Morgellons and Maxim and old Hollywood catchphrases and mid-century asylums for the colored insane and conspiracy cruises and ghost pregnancies and the man funding the extremely questionable child rape lawsuit against Trump (go Anna!) and Chyna the wrestler and Celine Dion and dead-on satire of all the things people like to read on the internet and drama among vegan YouTubers and the classical history of false rape accusations and the business structure of the romance publishing industry and the free speech wars at Yale, off the top of my head.
This is my last post. I’m lucky, as an open idiot, to be going to the New Yorker’s website as a writer. But I am so sad. It’s been the kind of last week where it feels pointless to write, to find any value in churning this news into digestible packets, to build something worth looking at against this tide—and where you still feel hopelessly grateful for people who show up and do it anyway. I’m going to miss my coworkers, who haven’t once stopped showing up through the last year of turmoil, and make me gag laughing 10 times every day. They are models of generosity, good humor, and hard work, and their styles have been educational to me: Stassa is a critical and precise living library; Ellie is a perfect stylist who can do anything she tries; Bobby, our lone man, is our lone genius, completely insane, and the most actively pleasant teammate in the history of the world. Kelly’s eye for human detail makes history seem perpetually urgent; Kara shifts between skeptically capricious and totally on fire. Madeleine is hilarious and careful, in close touch with the id of every story; Clover writes with an incredible, patient, diligent heart. Anna, a fearless and meticulous reporter with a gorgeous sense of scene and narrative, is the real fucking deal. Joanna, who was immediately invaluable, sets her own bar; her dead sense of mimicry makes her an ideal editor and parodist. Julianne knows everything and from firsthand experience, and is still thrilled for every new story and every new thing to learn. Kate, who could be in the middle of a hurricane without getting her blood up, I would trust her with any site, any story, and also my life. Jim’s art direction is a lesson in conceptual development and a gift; John Cook is my dad, and Tom Scocca is my other dad, who has broken my brain with every single edit and thereby imparted an inimitable philosophy of doing good, hard work. And Emma, what can I fucking say? In three years I’ve never had even a flicker of a moment when I didn’t feel paralyzingly lucky to be conjoined to a friend like you.
Illustration by Bobby Finger, source image via Shutterstock