Goodbye, Gawker

While the fate of Gawker is still unclear – last-minute Hail Mary media saves are the norm when it comes to online properties (even if it does gut the site) – what is clear is that Gawker as we once knew it is dead. The current staff probably won’t stick around only to fall under some less beneficent ruler and Univision doesn’t want what is perceived as a hive of snark and villainy. You don’t buy a business with a lawsuit hanging over it, especially if that lawsuit is bankrolled by a shark with legs and Hulk Hogan.

I’m here to bury Gawker, and to praise it. “The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones,” wrote the bard. And Gawker, for all its faults, all of its obscenity, and all of its mistakes, did good.

What few understand is that Gawker defined the modern media landscape. Everything from Huffington Post to the tendency for CNN to post stories titled “Are these the best airline meals?” and “Blake Shelton apologizes for tweets” can be traced back to Gawker’s decision not to play by any sane rules of rational discourse. I was there at the creation, as it were, and worked on Gizmodo while Gawker was coming up as a New York gossip site. Celebrity sightings were given extra frisson thanks to instant messaging and Gawker humor redefined the language of service journalism. Gawker changed political reportage to a degree unmatched by Strunk and White. Gawker broke language and put it back together again and our children are currently the beneficiaries of Gawker’s cynicism, humor, and suspicion.

Gawker tore down seriousness and stiffness and created a world in which the U.S. Presidential candidates duke it out over Twitter instead of the Washington Post. They built a world in which the embargo, that benighted informational spigot, has been destroyed replaced by the well-placed leak. Gawker writers skewered the sanctimonious, the smug, and the powerful.

Gawker begat Gizmodo begat Wonkette begat Valleywag and everywhere a Gawker writer went, the walls of tradition were assailed and sometimes fell. I still remember how Mike Arrington used to rail about Valleywag as if affable Owen Thomas were some kind of barbarian. This pearl-clutching and, later, Thiel’s mad quest were exactly what Gawker wanted – a reaction and some kind of change.

No one else will shake the crown of power in the same way and Gawker’s antiseptic cleared the old wounds to make way for better writing, better thought, and a better world.

Gawker did plenty of stupid things. The Hulk Hogan sex tape was just one of many feuds its writers had with the world and but it was their ultimate undoing. And I’m sad it had to happen this way.

Gawker did these things because it had to. Gawker was a child of the post-dot-com boom, born in an era when old norms were imploding weekly and disruption became something more than just a rumbling of the bowels. You can laugh all you want, you can dance in the streets, you can say “Good riddance” but remember this: Gawker gave you exactly what you wanted and now you can’t get enough. You won’t pay for content and you expect it to be titillating, funny, and full of gossip. You complain about PR embedding itself in the news cycle yet you use the tools Gawker perfected to launch your products and make millions. And, before you congratulate Thiel for bringing down a pesky media property staffed by bright young things, remember: while he’s not the first titan to crush an ant underfoot, his cruel precedent is dangerous to us all. You’re next.

Gawker begat modern media. Enjoy.