5.18.2005

Week of the Long Knives

Radar Online's Monday item in their "Fresh Intelligence" column represented a wonderful new escalation in the flavor of self-absorption of which we are demonstrably fond. It represents a recognition that the only way to maintain the mutually beneficial synergy between Gawker's Radar obsession and Radar's need to stay front and center in New York's media consciousness is to provoke a feud. And it's particularly well timed because Gawker had just posted a sort of olive branch admiring the people and spirit behind Radar, followed by a wistful harshing on the product itself.

The Radar Online item didn't really go for the jugular, other than some predictably fey treading on Nick Denton's reluctance to discuss the business side of GM. It does represent one of the few but gradually more common cases of a media outlet choosing to spin that reticence as a cover for imminent doom rather than mogulish hoarding of information (and imaginary profit). However, the item did claim two factoids as revelations. One is the final departure of Choire Sicha, who's leaving his half-time slot at Sploid to go full-time ("fleeing") at the New York Observer. That's a shame certainly, but his departure hardly seems acrimonious. More to the point, the Radar Online bit goes on to read this as an apocalyptic portent for GM at large, as Sicha was "viewed by many as the real creative force behind the company."

As big fans of his work at GM and elsewhere, we will be the last to debate Sicha's creative forcefulness. However, it seems unlikely that even his radiant talent was enough to sustain all of GM merely by headline- and shift-memo-writing at Sploid. He has, after all, been off permanent GM blogging for some time, and out of the ed director's chair for months. We won't get into a line-item defense of the GM blogs that Radar Online peevishly calls "ill-conceived (and ridiculously named) flops," other than to point out that if Sicha's magical powers failed to make them as successful as Fleshbot or Gawker, then perhaps he's not quite the Superman imagined--and his absence, though making the heart grow fonder, shouldn't alone cause the GM ship to sink.

The second scooply bit in the Radar Online item is the outing of Newsweek staffer Michael Hastings as an anonymous guest blogger on Gawker. We love this part because it is prefaced by a slight modification of Denton's diss of "unemployed or partially employed" marketing hacks in the recent Times piece, describing Gawker as "currently helmed by a revolving roster of underemployed freelancers." Zing! Incidentally, we hope Radar Online appreciates how deftly they handed Hastings a gossipy closing hook for the article he's supposedly writing about his guest-blogging gig. "And then, much to my surprise, I became embroiled in a turf war with Radar ..." There's no evidence his outing will have any bad consequences for Hastings, so the only reason for it was to give GM, if not an outright kick in the gonads, at least a rude pinching.

It's not quite professional wrestling, but it's getting there. And right on schedule, various sharks smell precious bodily fluids and begin cruising the shallow end of the pool. GM usually takes what might generously be called the high road when directly challenged, opting not to respond overtly (though watch for the occasional scathing aside). After all, engagement signals, to some extent, that criticism and taunting hit close enough to home to warrant a response. Radar's schoolyard retaliation makes for a delicious invitation to dance, but it also acknowledges that they are maybe a little more ticked off than flattered by Gawker's attentions. Unless that attitude is all part of their diabolical master plan. Even if GM doesn't take the bait and embark on a highly entertaining pissing match (dare we hope?), they would have to be veritable Christs of editorial restraint if their coverage of Radar didn't become at least a little colored by this episode.

And why not? As far as we're concerned, this maneuver injects new life into both franchises. As Denton himself has noted, blogs are often best when acting destructively. Conflict begets attention begets buzz begets traffic. If Denton and Maer Roshan aren't privately toasting each other from deep inside their respective lairs, they should be.