Friday, August 12, 2016

In memoriam

Less about wheels and more about writing about wheels:

Of the smallish subset of humans who know (and inevitably have an opinion) about Gawker Media, I am in the distinct minority: I dearly love the place and have been watching the events of the past few months with nothing but dismay. Maybe I came along too late after their peak slash-and-firebomb, apocalyptically misanthropic years to really grasp why people think so ill of Denton and his legions as they still do. Maybe it's because I was just a weird kid from the Midwest and not the kind of gasbag that somehow attracts their kind of necessary puncture. I know I assign an outsize importance to the time I spent at Jalopnik and still feel a kinship with what goes on there even knowing how marginal my existence was (six months at one of the less-loved titles in the network) and how far removed it is from today. I am far from the only one so affected, though.

So over the next few days Gawker Media as an independent entity will cease to exist, being up for auction early next week, and with its demise comes an end to a truly important experiment in the evolution of media. The dangers that Peter Thiel's monomaniacal action represents will have to be unpacked and hopefully countered over time, and I would like to think that someone will see the need for safeguards against this kind of assault on a free (if occasionally obnoxious and antagonistic) press. That this case was even given consideration indicates something worrisome in the waters of American jurisprudence.

Beyond that I fear the loss of what Gawker is in itself as a sort of cultural autoclave, trying to burn layers of fatuousness from places which desperately need it. God knows that's what we tried to do at Jalopnik to and for an industry that still needs it just as much as New York media.

(And which I only rarely managed to do with any skill or style in the midst of just trying to keep up, hammering through a straitjacket three-paragraph template and verging on circulatory-system trauma at least three times a day. I probably shouldn't have been there anyway. I'm too nice, too unwilling to be intrusive and accusatory. Matt had to cajole the hell out of me sometimes to get me in the right mood, and the only real lasting legacy from those exercises was a fit of frustration that tagged Bernie Ecclestone as the billionaire Muppet, which is admittedly still one of my prouder moments. And yeah, there was also the grad school thing.)

All of which will most likely cease to matter in a few hours, depending on how the new corporate adoptive parents choose to treat their wild child. It will be interesting in a kind of postmortem sense to see how everything gets broken apart and redistributed and remade or shut down completely. I fear for the folks at Jalopnik and wonder how on Earth they'd fit in anywhere else, and that extends throughout the network.

At the same time, there have been any number of Gawker alums who have started to remake the broader media world according to Denton's rules, kicking aside niceties and coziness in favor of high-level writing that lays reality bare in any number of older publications that needed it. So maybe that will work out.

I'm just glad I was there for a while, fortunate to be part of something different. The world is less well off for its passing.