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Stories To Remember Gawker By

As the site shuts down after almost 14 years, here are the stories BuzzFeed can't forget.

Posted on August 22, 2016, at 7:18 p.m. ET

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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

A difficult, searing piece that traces author Josie Duffy's lineage through the tangles of US history. It is deeply personal and deftly written, maintaining a fraught intimacy with the reader while also speaking to dynamics that quite literally shaped the nation. —Hannah Giorgis
Image by Jim Cooke

A difficult, searing piece that traces author Josie Duffy's lineage through the tangles of US history. It is deeply personal and deftly written, maintaining a fraught intimacy with the reader while also speaking to dynamics that quite literally shaped the nation. —Hannah Giorgis

Gravy Boat: My Week on the High Seas With Paula Deen and Friends by Caity Weaver

Image by Jim Cooke

Many people have tried a version of this piece over the years, but no one has achieved the sheer heart that Caity did. I've read Gawker daily for at least the first decade and not much less regularly since. I hear so many of those editors' voices in my head, but this piece is the one that I would preserve if all else had to burn. —Janine Gibson

Unmasking Reddit’s ViolentAcrez, the Biggest Troll on the Web by Adrian Chen

This story was published the same day I finished a 10-day bus tour of the country with Reddit and its co-founder, which was designed to show how Reddit and the internet were transforming the country almost exclusively for the better. Over the course of the trip I'd begun to buy into this idea more than I'd like to admit, which meant either willfully or ignorantly ignoring the site — and the internet's — underbelly. As soon as I stepped off the bus I read this piece and was (rightfully) jolted out of that mindset. This piece — and the context I first read it in — pops back in my head a good deal and it's often a great reminder to me of the reality of the internet. It puts a real human face on the darker side of things and though we're more accustomed to seeing work like this now, it felt like a new genre back in 2012. —Charlie Warzel
Gawker

This story was published the same day I finished a 10-day bus tour of the country with Reddit and its co-founder, which was designed to show how Reddit and the internet were transforming the country almost exclusively for the better. Over the course of the trip I'd begun to buy into this idea more than I'd like to admit, which meant either willfully or ignorantly ignoring the site — and the internet's — underbelly. As soon as I stepped off the bus I read this piece and was (rightfully) jolted out of that mindset.

This piece — and the context I first read it in — pops back in my head a good deal and it's often a great reminder to me of the reality of the internet. It puts a real human face on the darker side of things and though we're more accustomed to seeing work like this now, it felt like a new genre back in 2012. —Charlie Warzel

The De-Watergating of American Journalism by John Cook

To its critics, how Gawker did its reporting and what it reported about were inextricably linked in moral deficiency: sleazy means deployed in pursuit of sleazy stories. What Cook's deconstruction of the real Woodward and Bernstein shows is that the Columbia Journalism School/Society of Professional Journalists/Poynter ideology that prevails today in the wake of Watergate was entirely useless when it came to uncovering Watergate. —Matthew Zeitlin
Image by Jim Cooke; photo by Getty

To its critics, how Gawker did its reporting and what it reported about were inextricably linked in moral deficiency: sleazy means deployed in pursuit of sleazy stories. What Cook's deconstruction of the real Woodward and Bernstein shows is that the Columbia Journalism School/Society of Professional Journalists/Poynter ideology that prevails today in the wake of Watergate was entirely useless when it came to uncovering Watergate. —Matthew Zeitlin

Dear Khary (An Autobiography of Gentrification) by Jasmine Elizabeth Johnson

The most difficult essays to pull off are the ones everyone is convinced they've already read or written. Jasmine Elizabeth Johnson's 2013 essay will quickly silence anyone tempted to say there's nothing left to be written about gentrification's impact on our cities, families, and memories. You just have to read it for yourself, much as — I imagine — Johnson would say, looking back at the once vibrant and singular Fillmore neighborhood in San Francisco: "You just had to be there." —Saeed Jones
Image by Jim Cooke, photo via Shutterstock

The most difficult essays to pull off are the ones everyone is convinced they've already read or written. Jasmine Elizabeth Johnson's 2013 essay will quickly silence anyone tempted to say there's nothing left to be written about gentrification's impact on our cities, families, and memories. You just have to read it for yourself, much as — I imagine — Johnson would say, looking back at the once vibrant and singular Fillmore neighborhood in San Francisco: "You just had to be there." —Saeed Jones

The Juggalo Chronicles by Camille Dodero

Camille Dodero was way ahead of everyone on writing about Juggalos, first at the Village Voice and then with a series of posts for Gawker (another one here). Her work's smart and empathetic, and doesn't fetishize Juggalo culture or shy away from its extremities. Threading that needle is a much trickier than it might seem. —Scott Lamb
Art by Jim Cooke

Camille Dodero was way ahead of everyone on writing about Juggalos, first at the Village Voice and then with a series of posts for Gawker (another one here). Her work's smart and empathetic, and doesn't fetishize Juggalo culture or shy away from its extremities. Threading that needle is a much trickier than it might seem. —Scott Lamb

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

At its best, Gawker protected journalists by exposing unethical corporate dealings. I was working at Time Inc when this post came out. Frankly, Gawker posted several anti–Time Inc. posts when I working there, and the transparency that Gawker pushed companies to give their employees was incredible. —Rachel Christensen
Facebook / Via Facebook: SportsIllustrated

At its best, Gawker protected journalists by exposing unethical corporate dealings. I was working at Time Inc when this post came out. Frankly, Gawker posted several anti–Time Inc. posts when I working there, and the transparency that Gawker pushed companies to give their employees was incredible. —Rachel Christensen

Erick Erickson’s Mom Denies Son’s Story About Boycotting Asian Food Because of Pearl Harbor by J.K. Trotter

My favorite thing about Gawker is that it took nothing at face value. Erik Erickson's tweet probably made so many people go "ugh, sure," but Gawker actually sought to verify whether an absurd fact was actually true. Gawker gave us a constant reminder that there's so much to be found if you just choose to look deeper. I'm deeply sad to lose that spirit. —Priya Anand
Twitter

My favorite thing about Gawker is that it took nothing at face value. Erik Erickson's tweet probably made so many people go "ugh, sure," but Gawker actually sought to verify whether an absurd fact was actually true. Gawker gave us a constant reminder that there's so much to be found if you just choose to look deeper. I'm deeply sad to lose that spirit. —Priya Anand

No-Talent Hack Cat Fired From Broadway for Sucking by Caity Weaver

I have no shame in nominating this gem. Short and pitch perfect considering the story: Cat gets hired to play cat in Broadway production of Breakfast at Tiffany's, flames out before you can say hairball. —Tina Susman
Getty

I have no shame in nominating this gem. Short and pitch perfect considering the story: Cat gets hired to play cat in Broadway production of Breakfast at Tiffany's, flames out before you can say hairball. —Tina Susman

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon

This was the piece that introduced the great writer Kiese Laymon to a wider audience and spearheaded (mostly for the better, sometimes for the worse) a spate of personal essays looking at the visceral effects of state-sanctioned racism in this country. It's also just so gorgeously written. —Tomi Obaro
Illustration by Jim Cooke

This was the piece that introduced the great writer Kiese Laymon to a wider audience and spearheaded (mostly for the better, sometimes for the worse) a spate of personal essays looking at the visceral effects of state-sanctioned racism in this country. It's also just so gorgeously written. —Tomi Obaro

10 Absolutely Unbelievable Images From Dennis Rodman's Vice-Sponsored Trip to North Korea by Cord Jefferson

This, to me, is Gawker doing what it does best: sly, rousing, utterly devastating media criticism that also manages to make the reader question his or her own complicity in clicking. I can't imagine another publication handling a story like this in such a powerful way. —Ellen Cushing
AP

This, to me, is Gawker doing what it does best: sly, rousing, utterly devastating media criticism that also manages to make the reader question his or her own complicity in clicking. I can't imagine another publication handling a story like this in such a powerful way. —Ellen Cushing

Columns by A Dog

The real tragedy of all this is that Gawker’s greatest columnist, A Dog, is being robbed of a loving home. We too are being robbed — of spirited prose about eating bugs and literally getting one’s teeth into Thomas Piketty’s Capital, of philosophical meanderings that cut down to the very kernel of dogness. I just hope some rich benefactor will step forward with a soft bed, a bowl of good wet meat, and a book deal with a decent advance. —Lyle Brennan
Illustration by Jim Cooke

The real tragedy of all this is that Gawker’s greatest columnist, A Dog, is being robbed of a loving home. We too are being robbed — of spirited prose about eating bugs and literally getting one’s teeth into Thomas Piketty’s Capital, of philosophical meanderings that cut down to the very kernel of dogness. I just hope some rich benefactor will step forward with a soft bed, a bowl of good wet meat, and a book deal with a decent advance. —Lyle Brennan

When It’s Difficult to Endure by L. Yvette Baker

Illustration by Tara Jacoby

This is a great piece about identity, and how events — like the incarceration of your brother — can come to define you, to shape who you are. For this woman, it was about this experience making it easy to bathe in guilt, and difficult to accept love, and parsing through the new people and new events that feel like love and hope and meaning. —Darren Sands

Finding Goatse: The Mystery Man Behind the Most Disturbing Internet Meme in History by Adrian Chen

One of my favorite posts is Adrian Chen's search for the Goatse guy, from 2012. It was so refreshing to see someone take a detailed, empathetic look at a bit of strange internet culture that everyone knew but nobody really understood. I went in expecting some puerile entertainment at the expense of the guy who likes to stretch his butthole to extremity, but walked away feeling like those of us who exploited his hobby for cheap laughs were the real freaks. —Ishmael Daro
Image by Jim Cooke

One of my favorite posts is Adrian Chen's search for the Goatse guy, from 2012. It was so refreshing to see someone take a detailed, empathetic look at a bit of strange internet culture that everyone knew but nobody really understood. I went in expecting some puerile entertainment at the expense of the guy who likes to stretch his butthole to extremity, but walked away feeling like those of us who exploited his hobby for cheap laughs were the real freaks. —Ishmael Daro

For Sale: A Video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Smoking Crack by John Cook

The Rob Ford smoking crack story was probably biggest for those of us north of the border. It basically launched an international scandal and made Toronto a punchline in every late-night talk show host's monologue. —Emma Loop
Image via National Post and CBC

The Rob Ford smoking crack story was probably biggest for those of us north of the border. It basically launched an international scandal and made Toronto a punchline in every late-night talk show host's monologue. —Emma Loop

What I’ve Learned From Two Years Collecting Data on Police Killings by D. Brian Burghart

In an era when so much data is gathered, it was remarkable to learn just how little data was collected on something so important. I'm thankful for the work by Burghart here and thankful that Gawker pushed this forward. —Nathan Pyle
Illustration by Jim Cooke

In an era when so much data is gathered, it was remarkable to learn just how little data was collected on something so important. I'm thankful for the work by Burghart here and thankful that Gawker pushed this forward. —Nathan Pyle

Gawker Stalker

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

The "Best Restaurant in NYC" series always cracked me up, but this one was the best. Specifically: "The girl sitting directly across from me who was having her special day with just her mom was feeding her doll out of the miniature teacup, and she looked so despondent. Like she was just going through the motions of feeding an inanimate object a drink that wasn't actually there." —Andy Neuenschwander
Caity Weaver

The "Best Restaurant in NYC" series always cracked me up, but this one was the best. Specifically: "The girl sitting directly across from me who was having her special day with just her mom was feeding her doll out of the miniature teacup, and she looked so despondent. Like she was just going through the motions of feeding an inanimate object a drink that wasn't actually there." —Andy Neuenschwander

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

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