G/Oodbye

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Have you ever shown up at a party full of people you think are really cool, eager to impress and befriend them, but you get there a little too late, and you discover when you arrived that none of them are having a good time because they just found out their best friend died? I haven’t, but that’s kind of what it was like joining Gizmodo Media Group five months after Gawker shut down.

Lots of the people I had read and admired were still there, but shellshocked and broken. Over time, many of those people left. Ashley Feinberg also left. Each departure of a Big Gawker Media Name—Tom Scocca, John Cook, Emma Carmichael—reminded me that Gawker was dead, the company I worked at was not Gawker, and I would never work at Gawker. I also realized that though I had dreamed of working at Gawker, prevented by my immigration status from ever applying and probably being rejected, I would absolutely have not done well there. Certainly, working conditions there (at least before the union) seemed horrible; Nick Denton sounds like a real wanker; and reading and enjoying Caity Weaver and Kelly Conaboy doesn’t mean you can write like them. People were meaner to each other, and I cry easily. Also, no job is a dream, and all work is bad. It was a good thing, in other words, that I never got to work there. But here I was, at the shell of the company that shaped how I viewed the media, with lots of the people who had worked there, and none of them openly loathed me.

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Over time, Univision worked its shitty magic, casting that “Fuck everything up for no reason-aramus!” spell that massive media companies seem to have a real good grip on. They offered buyouts in preparation for selling the company—what could make a media company more attractive than paying many of its best people to leave?—and many of the people I loved working with most, like Emma Roller and Alex Pareene, took them. I didn’t blame them. Another reminder that nothing gold can stay, and that the internet was bad now. (Also, Donald Trump was president; my first week at GMG was the week of his inauguration. That didn’t help the feeling that nothing we did mattered.)

Then, Great Hill Partners bought the company. The new management came in, qualifying the idea of editorial independence with phrases like “a healthy and productive partnership with the business side.” They sent us a list of company values that were absurd, written in such dreadfully embarrassing Business Speak, and which I thought Gawker would probably have posted immediately and made fun of. (We are “action oriented,” are we?) They tried to stop one of our reporters publishing a story about their leadership, and insisted on hiring a “public editor” to censor our work, which isn’t what a public editor does. If you imagined a person who was the antithesis of Gawkerism—a corporate suit, uninterested in journalism, says things like “I believe in the power of content,” would not understand why Dog is good—it would be Jim Spanfeller.

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Gizmodo Media Group was already not-Gawker when I applied in late 2016. I knew this going in, and I believed that the new version of the company would still be the only place on the internet that could do what it does: Just Good Blogs, primarily, but also bad blogs, dumb blogs, pointless blogs, Hamilton Nolan blogs, blogs that would just be painfully embarrassing if anyone else tried them. The investigative pieces about our own company. The blogs that took on the worst shitheads in media so aggressively and with such pure rage that no other site would dare. The pieces that just straight-up blew me away. I was right.

This is still a place where you can do things no one else is allowed to do. Here, I was allowed to call an imaginary politician Rep. Gunt Fuckmusket, which is more important to me than it should be. I was allowed to be openly, aggressively supportive of Medicare for All, without having to ask a Republican or a hospital lobbyist what they thought about it, as if that adds to the reader’s education instead of detracting from it. I could walk the line between reporting and opining, and go over from one side to the other like a drunk, all in one piece, without couching it in pretensions of journalistic objectivity that doesn’t exist.

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I was a Gawker fangirl, and laughed at things like “20 percent nicer,” and was enraged at things like Gamergate, and cried when it shut down, despite never having met anyone who worked there. I don’t say that with any pretension that it might make me sound cool, or that the people who worked there won’t find it excruciatingly embarrassing. I say that simply to convey what I think motivated many people who signed up to work here even after the sale to Univision: I wanted to be part of, and to help preserve, the reason this media company deserves to exist.

The owners of media companies run them to make money. The people who work there often don’t even make good money, and they certainly don’t go to work every day to Increase Productivity, Generate Revenue, or Grow Audiences. They go to do journalism, to uncover the truth, or to do some good-ass blogs. The funny thing is, it tends to be the decisions that most interfere with those missions that fuck media companies up: Pivoting to video because some other CEO dickwad said it’s the hot new thing, or requiring journalists to churn out SEO chum that confuses and alienates the established audience, or loading the site with ads that make it impossible for readers to even stay on the page. Journalism shouldn’t have to be profitable to be good, but it can be both a little profitable and good. It can’t be 50 percent returns on investment and good.

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I don’t believe GMG’s wonderful staff—I’ll die before I call it G/O—could manage to overthrow capitalism in media or establish a nonprofit journalistic collective, though that would rule. But I do believe that these new owners could show one shred of common sense and not fuck with what’s made it good all along. I believe in the power of our union to resist the madness and protect each other. I believe that there’s a future for this company, which produces incredible journalism and uncompromising commentary to this day despite years of uncertainty and turmoil. I believe in Splinter, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Kotaku, The Root, and even Deadspin, though I don’t fully understand what they’re doing over there or why they let Barry have access to Kinja at all.

This is the first time in my career I have left an organization and not wished it would burn to the ground after I left, but instead been terribly sad and desperately hoping that things get better. I am going to miss my coworkers, even though I’m 300 miles away from most of them and really all I’m missing out on is a few of the world’s most deranged chatrooms. I am going to miss Splinter blogs. I am going to have to learn how not to swear in my posts, too, which is troubling.

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I didn’t work at Gawker. But I worked at Gizmodo Media Group, an insane place with a stupid name and a brilliant staff of weirdos that I will never forget and always kind of wish I never left. Long may it live.

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About the author

Libby Watson

Splinter politics writer. libby.watson@splinternews.com