For those of us who came of age in the early to mid-2000s with vague aspirations to work in media, Gawker pulled the curtain back on a world that seemed at once alluring and opaque. When I was offered a job there as a writer in the fall of 2006, it seemed like I had unlocked some kind of door into a secret club. I was two weeks into the job when I got an email from my boss, Chris Mohney, about a post I had written: "The one commenter has a point ... the Barbara Bush post/photos, while amusing, are off-topic. Unless there's NYC/media-gossip hook I'm missing." The post was titled "Barbara Bush, Committed Drinker," and it published some photos with commentary of the former first daughter throwing a few back at Yale. What's funny about this email, nearly 10 years later, is that there was no question at the time that the post had news merit — it was that it did not have the right news merit. Because at the time, Gawker was explicitly a New York and media-centric blog; anything outside of that world was considered off-limits. We were never explicitly told to be "snarky" or negative, but it was understood that that was the default posture, and it turns out that doing it day in and day out is exhausting. I only lasted 10 months before taking a job at the Observer, where the snark was a little more subtle.
Certainly Gawker was not the first publication ever to do this; there was Spy, and there was Suck.com, and there was Might Magazine, and there was the New York Observer, which (believe it or not) used to actually tweak the rich and powerful. But Gawker was (arguably?) the most widely read. Even so, traffic eventually plateaued — it turns out that there is a limit to the number of people who care about media gossip and mocking socialites — and sometime not long after I left, the site's mandate grew much broader.
So it wasn't that surprising that when we asked BuzzFeed staffers for their favorite Gawker posts, many of them — Caity Weaver on TGI Friday's, Adrian Chen on the most notorious Reddit troll, Kiese Laymon on racism in America — were from the last few years, a time when Gawker had moved far beyond its original ambitions. Still, the DNA of the original site (and its early editors) was never really lost; Gawker always saw its mission as being not afraid to speak truth to the most powerful. It's ironic, but also somehow fitting, that it was brought down by one of the very people who most needed to be kept in check.
Here is how BuzzFeed's staff will remember Gawker.
The Men Who Left Were White by Josie Duffy
Gravy Boat: My Week on the High Seas With Paula Deen and Friends by Caity Weaver
The De-Watergating of American Journalism by John Cook
Dear Khary (An Autobiography of Gentrification) by Jasmine Elizabeth Johnson
The Juggalo Chronicles by Camille Dodero
Real Housewives of New York Recaps by Richard Lawson
Richard Lawson created detailed and hilarious backstories for all of the "characters" on the show, including a heady backstory for "Countess" Luann de Lesseps that involved her being a folksy lady from the wrong side of the tracks. Richard's recaps set the bar high for how to cover TV. —Julie Gerstein
Time Inc. Rates Writers on How “Beneficial” They Are to Advertisers by Hamilton Nolan
No-Talent Hack Cat Fired From Broadway for Sucking by Caity Weaver
How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon
When It’s Difficult to Endure by L. Yvette Baker
What I’ve Learned From Two Years Collecting Data on Police Killings by D. Brian Burghart
I always loved Gawker Stalker — it so perfectly presaged the massive shift to omni-celebrity-surveillance and, like so many things about early Gawker, made a country bumpkin like me think that New York was the place to be/spot Zach Braff holding Mandy Moore's hand. —Anne Helen Petersen
The Best Restaurant in NYC Is the American Girl Doll Café by Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak
A Long Dark Evening of the Soul With Keith Gessen by Emily Gould
There was this thing Emily Gould wrote in 2007 when she and Choire Sicha quit Gawker. It's still remarkable to me for several reasons. First, she quit in public, with a kiss-off post written in the very publication she was leaving. In our simpler time, that seemed novel. And moreover, Gawker let her do that. Gawker was even the kind of place that encouraged that.
But it also is remarkable for its style. It's breezy, but well-written, and takes the reader on a little jaunt through the New York media scene. It successfully makes the reader feel like a part of what's happening, like he or she also knows these people (what cads, all of them!) and is caught up in the gossip of the moment; talking about what is happening as one would with an in-the-know friend, and not merely reading about it, from 3,500 miles away. And that was always what Gawker did best. —Mat Honan