Monday, August 22, 2016

The last gawk

432 Park. 7:15 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, August 22, 2016. Late Sunday afternoon. It’s been a fairly nice summer weekend here in New York. We had some strong showers that washed away some of the humidity on Friday and Saturday, and there is more expected as I write this Diary.

The last gawk. The local news that’s not that local.

Last Thursday, it was announced that Gawker Media was selling six of its sites to Univision for $135 million,  and closing down its flagship site Gawker.  The sale and closing comes as a result of the court case last March where a jury awarded Hulk Hogan $115 million in damages from after Hogan sued them for running a video of him having sex with another man’s wife. Then the court added another $25 million to the “award.”
Hulk Hogan takes the oath in court during his trial against Gawker.
The whole thing came as a  shock to a lot of people. It’s not like the American audience doesn’t know about sex videos. Great careers were made thusly; think Hilton, think Kardashian;  where the only real bottom is the Bottom Line.

When Hogan brought the suit against Gawker four years ago, in 2012, few took it seriously. It looked almost like a typical publicity stunt. But then the “settlement” was announced. The immediate speculation was that if met it would/could put Gawker out of business. That speculation is now reality.

Gawker came into existence two or three years after Mr. Hirsch and I launched the NYSD. Gossip, old-style, be it celebrity, society, political, etc., had become a snooze as the internet flourished. Nick Denton came along with Gawker and practically invented something called Snark. Snark was Gawker’s commodity, which was don’t hesitate from saying something nasty or ridiculing, or bullying, no matter what.
Nick Denton.
In a way it wasn’t all that new. Denton was a British journalist and the Brits can out-gossip any American journalist any time. They go right to the heart of the matter and don’t mind the mucking through mud. At first it was amusing. Or shocking, which is often another word for amusement for a lot of people.

It seemed uncensored. It tapped into a cynicism of our times. That cynicism is not entirely illegitimate. Mr. Denton was only shining a light on it. Puncturing pomposity or highlighting hypocrisy when it was at its best, could make you laugh. If the spotlight was shed on you, which it was a few times in my case in the good old days of STFU, that light wasn’t so funny to read personally. Although it was just words and entirely forgettable to me.

The internet is a fickle venue, and most especially for gossip. For all I know, Gawker was already on the wane. The internet business is tough unless you’re selling something (that enough people want – and can pay for) and getting a cut of the gross. Otherwise, the audience is like anything in nature, it keeps moving, always looking.
Then we learned that Mr. Hogan had a Guardian Angel in the person of Peter Thiel the Silicon Valley billionaire investor. It was reported that Mr. Thiel assisted others in launch lawsuits against Gawker and Nick Denton.

I don’t know if Mr. Thiel and Mr. Denton knew each other, although they were both young enterprising men in San Francisco at approximately the same time. However, evidently Gawker published something a few years ago about Mr. Thiel being gay; an “outing” (as opposed to a picnic). Mr. Denton, who is gay, is said to be one of those people who believes all gay people of prominence should come out publicly. I don’t know if Mr. Thiel ever “came out” publicly, and I don’t know Mr. Thiel personally, but his personal interests were generally known to a lot of people, if not the world.
Gawker takedown artist Peter Thiel.
So maybe it wasn’t so ironic that Mr. Denton’s Gawker was brought down by an incident that was so ticky-tacky and curbside tawdry. Over time, and occasionally reading stupid remarks about myself, I had lost interest in the site. Nevertheless, I am well aware of the effort that goes into producing fresh edit copy daily and also keeping it in a style that, aside from the cynicism, is solid and effective. I could only admire Mr. Denton’s professional ability to not only create it, but to move it and grow it into the media business it became. His distress sale to Univision nevertheless underscores his success.

Snark was a prosperous journalistic marketing tool and Gawker is/was only one of its many purveyors on the web. A lot of it is and was witless and abusive, harkening Schadenfreude, and often coming off like chronic adolescence. It was effective, however, in drawing attention to itself in a society where people are so inundated with information and experiences (of others) a quick slap (at someone else) can perk things up.
Too little too late.
But that is New York, highly competitive in a million different ways, and often highly intimidating and exasperating, especially to the younger members of the ambitious who come here to make their way in life. So thinking about Mr. Hogan’s lawsuit and the court’s $115 million order to pay, it occurred to me that besides damaging Mr. Denton personally, the ruling may also mark a subtle change in our public consciousness.

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