Perry: Die, blog, die!

Alex Perry, Columnist

If The Daily were to shut down tomorrow, I truly hope readers’ first thoughts wouldn’t be “Good riddance, I hope Alex steps on a landmine on the way home.” This was a tweet from a reader aimed at millionaire Nick Denton, who received it after stepping on nearly everyone’s toes with an unbridled blog called Gawker. (I will note though, that there is something legendary about being part of a publication that provokes this level of ire.)

Gawker, famously quashed in 2016 by billionaire Peter Thiel, is due to be resurrected this fall. Though it outed multiple bigwigs, leaked Hulk Hogan’s nudes and otherwise wreaked havoc with destructive commentary, Gawker retained a loyal and hungry audience, indicating that there’s something dangerously beautiful about blogs worth bringing the model back for.

A blog like Gawker’s appeal comes from the transparency, rawness and general disregard for respectability that allows normally withheld opinions to spill out into the world. Gawker writers rolled their eyes with readers, judgmentally raised eyebrows to the questionable and didn’t hesitate to poke fun at other outlets, stating explicitly what journalists really think of each other. 

See “Landing An Interview With Barack Obama Isn’t Cool Anymore,” where reporter Jordan Sargent called digital outlet Mic “the news source for people too smart to read Upworthy, but not smart enough to read anything else.” He then mocked Mic for a lackluster interview with the former president. Also refer to “The De-Watergating of American Journalism,” where writer John Cook highlighted how one of the most consequential journalistic achievements of the 20th century was also one of the most unethical. 

Forget the debate over whether journalists should use the words “racist” or “lie.” Gawker frequently ran colloquial headlines like “The ‘Food Babe’ Blogger is Full Of Shit” and “The Most Deranged Sorority Girl Email You Will Ever Read.” Gawker had personality! It had flavor! Its editors allowed exclamation points (and the occasional sideways comment in parentheses). Above all, it stayed true to its mission. Even as it eventually developed a layer of editorial management, the goal of reducing the friction between thought and page remained.

That being said, the blog’s blessing was also a curse. Something that unfiltered and enemy-making was bound to meet its maker. Gawker got squished for publishing Hulk Hogan’s sex tape; it was an absolute fly swatter of a trial in which the plaintiff was backed by a billionaire hedge fund manager Gawker had outed years before. 

Evanston had its own Gawker for a spell; it was GossipDesk. Headed by a student who later joined The Daily, GossipDesk lived and died in the golden age of college blogging — back when Gossip Girl wasn’t a rerun (or a remake) and the Harvard Harlot was penning “Sex and the Ivy.” GossipDesk, run by dynamic duo Dickson and Kassner, offered commentary and criticism on local media and happenings. According to them, Evanston’s ‘titans of media’ were The Daily, North by Northwestern, Medill itself, Overheard at Northwestern, Evanston Now and the Evanston Review — a subsidiary of the Chicago Tribune. 

By employing lower standards, GossipDesk fueled debate with debacle, cataloging unfiltered critiques for future students — like myself — to look back on. Their content sometimes transcended criticism and was over-the-top offensive, often to the point of homophobia, racism, sexism and antisemitism. I can’t speak to the news value GossipDesk had at the time, but I interpret it as poorly filling the same niche that Gawker held. 

GossipDesk’s candor was comparable to Gawker’s, where “it was a matter of pride that (they) ran stories that could not be published elsewhere.” The Daily’s own public editor at the time submitted a tip to GossipDesk, which in turn published a loose investigation — an email transcript, really — about Medill’s relationship to the White House Correspondents’ Association. Also, no other publication would call Dance Marathon “Evanston’s most annoying philanthropy,” nor would they refer to Evanston Now’s publisher Bill Smith as a “spinster.” 

The archival value of its commentary on Greek Life issues and “media titan” masthead tea is not a saving grace for the lawless blog. Unlike Gawker, GossipDesk’s judgement outweighed any news value it managed to scrape together. It was tasteless, frequently missed the mark and essentially positioned itself as Evanston’s biggest bottom-feeder blog. 

Say what you will about Gawker, but at least their judgement was substantiated by diligent reporting and being the ignition to conversations surrounding topics like the media’s relationship with politicians and how advertising may affect editorial. What GossipDesk teaches us is that without substantive reporting to balance out a judgmental tone, blogs have the potential to become prime examples of blatant journalistic malpractice. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @WhoIsAlexPerry

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