By Ev Bogue - August 26th 2016
Gawker shut down this week after losing a legal proxy war with Peter Thiel. I've been reading eulogies for the past few weeks by former employees. As Nick Denton has said his last words over the dying corpse of the company, I figure I'll weigh in.
I was recruited to work at Gawker from the back of a journalism classroom at NYU in early 2005 by the newly hired managing editor, Lockhart Steele. Lockhart was invited to speak to one of NYU's first blogging classes about blogging. I'd already been blogging for six years at that point, so I was bored, sitting in the back of the class next to Tao Lin with my feet on the table. I'd never heard of Gawker before Lockhart spoke to the class. I was more interested in redesigning classmates MovableType blogs for them, and less interested in gossip tabloids. But when Lockhart said he needed interns for a top secret blogging project I took my feet down off the table and raised my hand to volunteer.
The summer of 2005 I was Choire's intern at one of Gawker's worst launches of all time: "SPLOID". Every night it was my job to watch the news and alert Choire if a story broke that he'd somehow missed. Hopefully I'd come up with an all-caps headline that wrapped well within a 250x250 box. Choire never missed much, so I didn't have to do much work.
My only real memory of the internship at Gawker was Choire telling me I had to stay up all night waiting for the Pope to die. He didn't die, so I didn't get to write the story.
But the next year it turned out to be a good idea that I worked at Gawker, because New York Magazine started scooping up all of the talent that had either been fired, quit, or never been hired at Gawker after Blogs to Riches illustrated the only way that Nymag was going to survive -- by building blogs. I was one of the people who was able to put Gawker on my resume, so I found myself editing photos at New York Magazine from 2006 - 2009 with a handful of Gawker exiles. The Gawker exiles of New York Magazine were tasked with one thing: reverse engineer Gawker! So we tried. When we weren't trying we were also at The Magician cultivating foggy memories of New York's lower east side during the late 2000s.
But New York Magazine wasn't willing to be Gawker. A short time after Gawker alum Jesse Oxfeld was fired from Nymag, I decided to leave on my own accord -- watching people run stories by five editors before they were published wasn't fun anymore. I had no idea what I was going to do when I left Nymag, but I ended up writing my own blog and making a somewhat decent living here and there covering topics such as minimalism and technology.
It's obvious now to see why New York Magazine wasn't willing to become Gawker. Free journalism in America is a dream, not the reality.
A decade ago it was hard to imagine that Gawker would ever be taken down the way that it was, but also who would have imagined another journalist would have to lock himself into an embassy in London or a whistleblower would need to flee to Moscow to avoid... who knows anymore? A decade ago running was something Chinese and Iranian journalists did, not Americans. Now we just assume American journalists will be censored, or worse, if they dare to cover anything that remotely resembles the truth.
In 2012 I was blacklisted on Google+ for writing about Bitcoin. On 2013 I was told I couldn't write about Bitcoin on Tinyletter and my account was deleted from Mailchimp for saying the word 'fuck' in a message.
So yeah, I never imagined when I was getting a journalism degree at NYU that I'd be mixed up in all of this, but here I am. I'm in it.
The first time I got censored I got was infuriated but then I realized that this was the new reality. This is how things are now. After that I got started working on figuring out how to use technologies that couldn't be censored. I began to realize that code is law, and if you can't break the code then to quote from Firefly: 'You can't stop the signal, Mal.'
The way I see it, Gawker would have died anyway. Blogging is dead. The web is dead. Most people use Facebook and dutifully report their exact location to the powers that be whenever the ground shakes. Unionizing didn't help Gawker either -- because the only thing keeping the ship sailing was the fear of Nick Denton ripping you a new asshole if you didn't publish your 12 stories a day.
However, I get the feeling that there is a secret longing in the world for something more than the rehashed press releases by makebelieve journalists we're forced to read on Reuters, RT, AP, Nytimes/Foxnews and Google.
It's clear that the death of Gawker has left a gaping hole in the journalism world. What's missing is the truth. Those of us who were trained as journalists continue to try to scan the Internet every day looking for nuggets of what really happened out there.
What's clear right now is you can't trust much on the Internet. The mighty have won, and we lost, for now. But I have the feeling that the reason I was censored for saying the word Bitcoin on Google+ and Mailchimp is somehow connected to all of this. That something is coming that maybe we can't quite see right now, something that will change journalism forever.
My theory right now is the next Gawker will be distributed. You won't be able to buy it, you won't be able to sell it. And most important, you won't be able to squash it.
The next Gawker will fulfill the promise of the original Internet: information wants to be free.
Whether it's built on Bitcoin or a series of append-only logs gossiped between computers over an offline-first sneakernet, I have no idea. But I do know that the next Gawker will be distributed, uncensorable and free.