5.27.2005

Nick Denton Finally Pays Us to Stop Blogging

In the spirit of delaying announcements until the Friday afternoon before a holiday when everyone's already out of town or well into their third gimlet: Prepare to have all of your fantastic expectations thoroughly undercut by dull, banal reality. Allow us to introduce myself. (Goodbye accursed first-person plural, and good riddance.)

The name is Chris Mohney, aka Gawkerist no more. Or at least anonymous no more. Chances are you have never heard of me or the dreary and pedestrian blog I've written with fair regularity for the past year and change. I'm mostly a travel writer. But recently, what I've spent more time doing than anything else is gently and chastely pressing myself against the scrubbed windows of various New York publishing houses, mewling for entry, until a pitiless, armored human resources droid escorts me to the edge of the publisher's property and chews my resume to pieces right before my eyes.

This kind of existence wears a man down. So, about a month ago, I decided to try something stupid, which, obviously, became Gawkerist. I won't bore you (without an advance check) about all the details that went into constructing this blog, but rest assured it was more deliberate than it may seem. Well, maybe slightly more deliberate. But there were twists, and turns, and drama, even a car chase and a knife fight and a series of exploding warehouses. It's all there in the roman a clef I'm currently shopping around on the back of a Cafe Press t-shirt. Are you listening, David Kuhn?

Anyway, I was never in the pay or confidence of Nick Denton or Lockhart Steele or anyone else at GM, nor was I the secret alter ego of many more well known and glamorous figures. (Sorry, AK ... Gage should sue you for defamation.) Many correctly guessed that Gawkerist was a stunt to attract attention and finagle work through nontraditional channels. What I didn't necessarily expect was that the first people to guess this (on day 2 actually) would be everyone at Gawker Media.

Fortunately for me, their acute self-knowledge was no defense against assaultive flattery by way of meticulous attention, and as a result, I'll be lashing myself to the mast of Gridskipper next week. Drop by, won't you. I may still post here occasionally, but now that I've sold out, I've lost all credibility that I earned through three weeks of intermittent labor as an anonymous nobody blogger with an extremely narrow focus. I'll just have to console myself with better tequila.

Not GM-Related .. or IS IT?

Most excellent. Best conversation we've had all week. What joins us all together in this group project is not just an abiding interest in the subject matter (us), but a heartfelt joy in watching Krucoff suffer. He could bring out the gleeful sadist in an unmolested choirboy -- and no one loves it more than Krucoff himself, who's the first genuinely devoted automasochist we've ever encountered. He exhausted us with close to 200 emails in that first week alone, confirming and denying (often simultaneously) that were Sac, Chris Gage, Lockhart Steele, TMFTML, or a combination of these, and/or in their employ, individually and/or severally, and of course, factotums (factotae?) of Denton. All true of course. Every word. Fortunately, there is some evidence that Krucoff does physically exist, and for that we're grateful. If he didn't, we'd have to invent him inventing us. Like they say in Vermont, "Freedom and Unity." We'll spend our holiday minding the store and holding down the #7 slot in the quality rankings. Eat that, Margaret Cho.

5.26.2005

Lies, the Damned LIE, and the LIRR

We're looking forward to a wonderfully gray and cold Memorial Day weekend not spent in the Hamptons, nor will we be interested in seeing what goes on out there, Mr. Binn. However, other than trudging through the hateful new advertisements hatching like vicious tapeworms in GM's RSS feeds, all is quiet in Dentonspace today, which means we must regretfully spend a few moments attending to real-life concerns such as food, shelter, and fighting to expose the biggest music theft and mystery in history. But just a note about those Hamptons. We actually enjoy Nikola Tamindzic's photo work on Gawker's Team Party Crash, because Tamindzic makes everyone look like they're creeping around inside a David Fincher movie. But even we were taken aback by this picture from the Hamptons Magazine launch. It appears the young lady is being assaulted by a reanimated cadaver in fashionable denim. The Southampton zombies are no longer satisfied with lobster rolls. Shoot for the brain.

5.25.2005

Everything Dumb Is Smart Again

Steven Johnson's book Everything Bad Is Good for You explains what we all intuitively realized in junior high: the stupider you act, the smarter you really are. Johnson's idea of the "sleeper curve" focuses on watching television and playing video games principally, theorizing that what appears to a disinterested observer as pacific zombification is actually high-level mental engagement. Still waters run deep. Johnson and others have extrapolated what this means about the Web and its addicts, with clinical trials underway to prove once and for all that surfing porn all day really does make you sexier. And you only need read any dozen Livejournal entries to agree that extensive blogging makes one a much better writer.

It's a fine thing to build castles in the sky with airy theorems, but we prefer cold, hard, scientifically irrefutable data, for which we turn, as always, to the Internet. Maybe the passive activities Johnson describes really do increase intelligence, but what about real-world achievement? Forget about all those nerdy eggheads playing Grand Theft Auto and watching America's Next Top Model. If you want to get ahead in life, you should read Gawker, because Gawker's audience has enjoyed a dramatically increasing rate of successfully earning college degrees -- with no direct evidence of academic assistance other than reading Gawker.

The general American population's rate of college graduation hovered just under 30% as of 2000. By contrast, according to ad reps Gorilla Nation Media, 58% of Gawker readers hold bachelor's degrees. However, take that information with a grain of salt. After all, they're trying to sell ads, so the last thing they want is to make the demo look too smart. In fact, Nick Denton notes that 71% of Gawker's audience as "at least college education," which could cover a lot of ground we suppose. But for the same of Science, we'll assume he means a bachelor's degree rather than just attending one of Lizzie Grubman's ego festivals at the Learning Annex.

But perhaps even Denton is being too modest (as usual!). One need only to consult with Gawker's advertising FAQ to learn that the rate of college graduation among Gawker readers has risen to a staggering 85%! No wonder there's a shortage of designer cap-and-gown ensembles this season. Why, just the recent spate of Radar coverage earned most readers a double major or fast-track admission to their choice of post-baccalaureate program. We're pleased to mention that these past few weeks of intensive GM study have gotten us well into our second PhD.

We are obligated, however, to point out a hiccup in the research (though we're confident it will be smoothed over in the lab). Gawker's ad page is technically dated December 10, 2002, though we suspect it (and its demographic numbers) might have been updated since then. Denton's own numbers, attributed to reader surveys conducted via the Burst ad network, are dated October 4, 2004. And who knows about the Gorilla Nation figures, though the ad page has a Gawker screenshot dating from April 14, 2005. This might appear to the untrained eye as if the progression was actually a reversal, with fewer college graduates reading Gawker as the audience expanded. To which we can only respond: don't be stupid. The higher number is better, so it must be true. If you can't understand that, you must be a genius.

5.24.2005

Filthy Lucre Corrupts Idealistic Blogosphere

In this March interview with Lockhart Steele, certain precious, precious beans were spilled about how GM bloggers are paid. The normally scarce information about internal GM operations was quoted in the recent Times piece and paired with GM traffic data. The info from the Steele interview was sort-of disavowed, but it still lead to further speculation and some fun crazy-town math to figure out just how many kopecks your average GM blogger takes home in comparison to an equivalent MSM journalist.

Leaving aside the creakily outdated concept of paying by the word -- which last worked to a writer's advantage when Dickens serialized A Tale of Two Cities until the French Revolution finally, regrettably, ended -- this is not only a case of comparing crab apples to orange smoothies. It ignores the far more interesting possibilities presented by GM's new bonus system, where bloggers get access to a "bonus bank" of extra cash if they generate increased traffic. The bonus system was teasingly described by Steele and others in OJR, where Joel Johnson of Gizmodo allowed that the pay was was fair, but he still grumped, "I'd rather be writing than learning how to trick Google."

A better strategy would be learning how to trick bloggers -- especially other GM bloggers. You've already got audience overlap, reader interest, familiarity with the product family ... it's a potential traffic goldmine. Sure, there are already copious GM incest links in the sidebar, but who looks at the sidebars, unless you're checking out the latest American Apparel softcore model? Cadge a link in one of the regular listicle features ("Remainders" etc.), or even better, inside a regular post. Target their interests. Gizmodo and Kotaku were all over each other for the recent E3 electronic gaming convention, and naturally so. Gawker and Defamer regularly swap spit for the bicoastal celebs they tend to "share." There's no reason that the second-stringers shouldn't start preying upon their more corpulent sibling blogs, cleaving off little slices of traffic that the more popular sites won't miss, but which the up-and-comers can quickly bank, withdraw, and spend. Jalopnik needs to focus on Paris Hilton's skankmobile. Screenhead should employ Sidekick hackers to steal and publish link dumps from Maer Roshan. An enterprising Lifehacker should undergo Scientology "clearing" sessions with the stated goal to "be more like Tom Cruise."

And once the incentive system is itself incentivized, it's merely a short and briskly easy step into the wonderful world of payola. Want to scam a link in the next "More Good from Gawker" on Gizmodo? Ten percent sounds like a reasonable "finder's fee" for tossing a little geek traffic your way. Cash please. No, don't pay us, pay the blog! If things really get desperate, GM bloggers should consider purchasing advertising on other GM blogs. How could Nick Denton say no? The minimum ad buy is a little steep at $500-$750, but text links start at $150 for a week. According to GM's text-link hawker AdBrite, a $200 text link on Gizmodo buys access to an average daily site traffic of over 200,000 pageviews -- a cool million for the week. Of course, you can get access to almost as much traffic for $50 less at Fleshbot, and the click average is four times greater. More bang for the buck in all kinds of ways.

As the incentive system adjusts to compensate for increased traffic and demands that those levels be sustained, the pressure will increase. Eventually, GM bloggers will be forced to keep withdrawing from their bonus bank in order to subsidize kickbacks, ad campaigns, and guerrilla marketing initiatives. Denton will replace the regular paycheck with "Gawker Dollars" scrip redeemable only in the GM company store, which stocks nothing but vodka, intern chow, Condé Nast publications, T-Mobile Whenever Minutes, and a 24-hour brunch menu. All because a few greedy bloggers couldn't be satisfied with $2500 a month.

5.23.2005

Blogging from the Back Bench

We don't like the name. And the cover mockups ("Nick Denton Speaks!" as if he was an otherwise silent Svengali on the order of Thomas Pynchon) bring a new level of cultural cringe to the blog set. But as soon as we saw it, we felt as if we'd known Blogebrity was coming all along. Not the print magazine part, which we'll hope is a joke, because if it's not, it's going to be. The inevitability was that a cheerfully specious buzz ranking of bloggers would, of course, attract links and comments from those bloggers. Grimacing, irritated, outraged, smug, clucking links, but links nonetheless. So just to get it over with, here's our casual notice of list placement followed by pro forma sarcastic remark about someone else on the same level: "We're flattered to make the C-list, though our presence is certain to devalue the relative position of Margaret Cho." There. Let's towel off and move on.

Blogebrity's rankings reminded us of our curiosity about GM's own internal popularity contest. It's a complicated calculus not entirely dependent on site traffic. Gawker, Wonkette, and Defamer get the red-carpet treatment in terms of publicity, but Fleshbot and Gizmodo bring in as much or more traffic and, presumably, cash. It's worth noting that while the other four blogs are still drawing heavy numbers, Wonkette's readership has more or less retreated from the spike gained during the 2004 election cycle. But nominal blogger Ana Marie Cox accrued enough branding visibility/notoriety during Wonkette's salad days to recline regally on a bombproof buzz pillow (at least until her book comes out).

But about GM's second string? Kotaku would seem a slam-dunk, since video games often occupy whatever net reader's free brainspace (or free hand) isn't surfing smut; but that market is so saturated online that eyeballs are hard to draw. We can only assume Jalopnik's gearhead audience is pleased by endless front-grill porn shots; but that audience is significantly smaller than those implacably searching for nipple slips. Screenhead is an excellent resource for time-wasting oddities, and we like that Blogebrity lists it under "Resin, Dong" (why not "Master, Thigh"?); but like Sploid and to a lesser extent Lifehacker, Screenhead lends itself to clicking offsite rather than internal surfing and resulting pageviews. And then there's the ghost ship Gridskipper, still cruising its own personal Bermuda Triangle after claiming the wailing souls of 15 bloggers and counting.

Since GM has yet to actually discontinue a blog, only Nick Denton knows what his threshold is for putting a site permanently out to pasture. Of course, even a less successful GM blog still gets more traffic than many commercial sites -- and the vast majority of other blogs. And given the low fixed costs of operating each GM blog, it may be less a case of worrying about your underperforming Gridskippers as it is spreading the wealth of your overperforming Fleshbots. Denton so far seems inclined to use his cash-cow (and buzz-cow) blogs to help underwrite the whole GM family in the name of synergy. Good news for the B-listers, even if their party invitations only grant access to the VIP room, and not the VIP VIP room.

5.20.2005

The Mature Man Must Publish 17 Blogs

According to Adam L. Penenberg in Wired, Edwyn Chan aims to become the Nick Denton of China. Denton, once the Si Newhouse of blogs due to oft-repeated parallels between GM and Condé Nast (in terms of hype and structure, not scale or number of Town Cars) is now himself the transportable analogy of choice for upcoming nontrepeneurs. There are similarities, as Chan sold off an early net venture and relocated to a nominally foreign land (he's from Hong Kong). Blogs in China might seem a tough sell, and Chan admits there are obstacles. He has the expected difficult dealings with the ossified Chinese commercial bureaucracy, but potentially more worrisome are potential conflicts with the gong an political net police. Sure, they don't harass you like embittered publicists or litigious celebrities, but Chinese cops are more likely to, say, entomb you in a shale quarry.

Those risks aside, Chan's Blogku Media is pursuing the dream, and he's already got three blogs up and running. It's a struggle to lure investors though, since few people in China have any idea what a blog is or does. Actually, that's probably a good thing for Chan, given blog advertising's track record in the States. As Chan says of potential sugar daddies, "All they know is that it's something hot which they hope to be able to cash out hopefully in less than a year." Ha ha ha ha! Cash out! In less than a year! From a blog! Pardon us as we laugh through our sobbing, and vice versa.

We won't descend to mocking Babelfished Chinese web pages, but we thought we could at least get the translated gist of the Blogku "humor" blog, ShuangA, since humor is universal. We certainly like the repurposed shouting Pac-Man mascot, but most of the links seem to concern romantic advice or movie tips (like the imperious "The mature man must watch 10 movies," including eclectic choices Roman Holiday, Braveheart, E.T., and The Seventh Seal). Perhaps the jokes are simply too inscrutable for the decadent occidental mind. If we're reading it right, there also doesn't seem to be any actual blogger commentary, just a descriptive headline and excerpt of each linked item. Could this represent the premature Sploidification of the nascent Chinese blog scene? Are you as ashamed of reading that sentence as we are of writing it?

Of course not. If the protocapitalist protoplasm simmering in China can produce all those other boom economies, there's no reason a Chinese Nick Denton can't emerge and thrive. Once Chan begins downplaying his own hype and gets hit in the face with dofu fa by the flashy editor of Boxun News, he'll know he's arrived.

5.19.2005

Terrorist Pie Attack Spoils Otherwise Dignified Radar Launch Party

We tried to get out, but they keep pulling us back in. Exceeding even the "enthralled" predictions of "die-hard fans" like ourselves, Maer Roshan's minions tried to pie Nick Denton at the Radar launch party last night. And we really, really wanted to move on. But ... the pie missed. Missed. Presenting: the most painfully obvious metaphor in the perceivable human universe for the Roshan-Denton tiff.

If the assault had succeeded, and if we were all gazing appreciatively this morning at glorious photos of Denton's custard-splattered mug ... well, we'd probably be banging out the first post of the newly created "Roshanist" blog. But we do not grade on the curve in this class. Given the stellar lineup on the Radar masthead and business side, isn't there a single good arm in the lot? Apparently the unsuccessful piessassin was a goon belonging to publicist Nadine Johnson, which should spell out the motives behind the stunt in bold-type letters FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. But any aspiring publicist who can't hit a large-headed man with a pie at a few paces isn't going to have much luck slinging bullshit through a fax machine. Choke. Send that kid back to the gimp box at NJ, Inc.

Denton retaliated for the near-miss by pouring his wine on Roshan's head, which caused the enraged mag editor to rip off one of his fire-engine-red Manolos and whipsaw Denton with the four-inch heel. Denton kept him at bay with a few toe kicks and by raising his arms in his coat in order to appear larger. The two circled and snarled like housecats in heat until Denton sprang low and sank his incisors into Roshan's meaty thigh. Shrieking with rage, Roshan grabbed two precarious handfuls of Denton's hair and yanked with abandon. They tumbled over and behind the bar and were only subdued after being repeatedly doused with pitchers of top-shelf cosmopolitans. We have all this on good authority.

However, we're at a loss to explain the following, from Gawker's take on the subject:

As the boys were a wee bit messy after their spat, Roshan had to leave his own party for an hour while he and Denton went up to Roshan’s room to change into some clean clothes. Denton borrowed Roshan’s jeans (they were a bit large, we hear) and running shoes, then spiced the ensemble up with a t-shirt from Roshan’s boy-toy. Maer, we can assume, changed into one of his several spare Zara suits.
They took an HOUR to change clothes? Now that Denton has gotten into Roshan's pants, walked a mile in his shoes, and taken the shirt off his (boy-toy's) back, perhaps these two crazy kids can put aside their differences and make it work, after all. Regardless, we vote for a time-out on both parties and their posses. Unless this escalates into Bad Boy vs. Death Row territory, we're going to maintain radio silence on the feud as a sign of respeck for the peace. Join us, won't you. We're really going to try this time. Please join us, for God's sake.

UPDATE, YOU CEASELESSLY HOWLING BITCHES: Well, at least we get to skip lunch since we'll be running out to the suicide store for sleeping pills and a single hollowpoint round. Turns out Denton took more of a pasting than originally reported. And now we're told the assailant wasn't a Nadine Johnson goon after all -- rather, an "unidentified man in a blue baseball cap" did the deed, then fled the scene. Who's first to claim responsibility or issue a j'accuse? Krucoff?

Roshan was both "horrified" and "saddened" by the incident, which redefines the notions of horror and sadness in a very positive direction. Still, if the assailant wasn't a Roshan plant, then we can expect a tautly worded apolo ... er, statement from Denton regarding the prematurely vengeful wine-dumping on his putative host. Radar's online item is justifiably gleeful in exacting more than a pound of flesh over that act, and we have to admire the cool execution of placing several Denton-targeted character assassinations right alongside pious and laughably insincere statements of concern from Roshan. And the photos are indeed glorious. Welcome to the new NEW low!

AND FINALLY: Denton's blow-by-blow. Hope you weren't planning to read about anything else for the next five thousand years.

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.

5.17.2005

Who Loathes You Baby

Hated: Wonkette.
Hater: Steve H., conservative blogger at Hog on Ice, "Native American since 2005." Contributor to Huffington Toast, right-wing satire which makes the original look Proustian by comparison.
Beefs: Wonkette not a real blogger because she is employed, doesn't have comments or trackbacks, has guest-bloggers, steals limelight from Steve H.-approved "genuine" bloggers, has a vagina.
Slams: "Wankette," "exact opposite of a blogger," "poser," "hired hand," "complete fool," "hack," "obnoxious," "ordinary," "writes on a sixth-grade level," "person with no memorable quotes," "person whose only discernible talent is the ability to compile and synthesize gossip," "syntho-blogger," "mainstream," "prefabricated," "brainless imposter," "hired copywriter," "Pat Boone."
Name checks: Joe Queenan, Orville Redenbacher, Dan Rather, Matt Drudge, Chris Matthews, Brit Hume, Howard Dean, Art Linkletter, the Monkees (x2), Nick Denton, Mickey Mouse, Little Richard.
Freud says: Violent interior conflict between libertarian-conservative ideals and reptile-brain attraction to Wonkette physical hotttness. Barely sublimates arousal at ass-fucking jokes by recasting personal sexual fantasy as thinly veiled parody. Blog-jealousy so embarrassingly tumescent that it's likely visible from space.
Chew on this: "But the MSM swallows her whole and doesn't even notice the plastic aftertaste."
Hard to believe: "If she stopped calling herself a blogger and her site a blog, I'd have no problem with her."

5.16.2005

Short Shrift Memo

Return with us now to the golden bygone era of thirty days ago. New baby Sploid was howling along, kicking energetically as its umbilicus withered and its type size expanded. Sploid was not the first GM blog with two co-editors, as that appears to be Gawker's modus operandi as well. However, it's the first GM blog (as far as we can tell) that splits blogging duties into discrete shifts as regular everyday practice. Hence the Sploid shift memo, typically from Ken Layne to Choire Sicha and vice versa. The cosmological media blogger mind-meld awakened, recognized a tiny spark of novelty, and immediately loved it to death.

Sploid doesn't have "posts" in the classic GM sense (or in any sense really), so Layne and Sicha may only monologue in the shift memos. The early memos adhered very lightly to the purpose of an actual shift memo, pointing out possible breaking news to the oncoming shift, or dumping links close to the outgoing editor's heart but not worthy of BIG HEADLINE treatment. There is apparently some sort of rationale as to what kind and how many Sploid headline links go up in a shift, and it would be interesting to try and reverse-engineer that rationale from a day's worth of headlines. Perhaps "interesting" is too strong a word.

Anyway, the pretense of actual shift-memo utility was quickly dropped, and the Sploid memos are now almost entirely made up of Layne and Sicha pontificating and/or kvetching about mundane personal details and travails. Layne warns against the dangers of McDonald's fruit salad and reports on his neurotic dog's adjustment to California; Sicha responds by describing his own mid-youth crisis. It's like they've discovered blogging all over again.

As with venerable codger (in Internet time) the Onion, we usually find the Sploid headlines sufficient unto the day in terms of humor value; we rarely click through to an actual story. That means we scan Sploid's front page in about thirty seconds, and without a new shift memo, we click on nothing. Of course, if we did click on a headline, we'd be leaving Sploid anyway. We don't know what this means for Sploid's advertising and internal pageview capacity as compared to other GM blogs (their ad rates are still undeclared), but it would seem reasonable to assume Sploid is not going to develop much else in the way of original content. Which is kind of a shame really. Why can't Sploid have its own version of Ed Anger?

5.13.2005

Advertiser Shout-Out Haterade

One of the most fun things about blogging is the haunting fear that somewhere, someone is doing something inappropriate. Every blogger worth his or her sodium chloride has an entire stable filled with high horses, saddled and bridled and ready to mount at a moment's notice. Few issues have drawn as many irate torch-waving posses as blog advertising, especially where blog ads tread too close to the line of death separating them from editorial. And GM's practice of running weekly advertiser/sponsor lists among the blog posts has drawn particular venom. For example, here's Andrew Krucoff, responding to Elizabeth Spiers' response to Adam Cohen:

I refer to Jason Calacanis who once said he just barely tolerates Gawker Media's practice of editorializing advertiser "shout-outs" in blog posts. Do these posts count as part of the famed daily quota of 12? I have no idea but if so you then they are getting paid to blog about advertisers and you lose this argument. In fact, if that's really the case, let's just close up shop entirely because the system would be too corrupt to fix.

We salute Calacanis' commitment to tolerance, and we also commend Krucoff's frequently lonely crusade to defend the rights of bloggers while holding them to eminently reasonable ethical standards. And we do believe in maintaining editorial credibility, which is what we really mean when we talk about editorial independence. Of course, there really is no such thing as editorial independence, since advertising profit or the eventual prospect of same is the only reason most editorial exists. In classic journalism terms, editorial credibility is maintained by separating edit from ads, church from state. Mark Glaser in Online Journalism Review oddly refers to this division as a "Chinese wall," and we assume he doesn't put journalists on the side of the marauding barbarians.

There are two root ideas at work here. First is that advertising should not influence editorial coverage -- virtually a dead concept anywhere but hard news, as any "lifestyle journalist" will tell you. Just because there's a publisher or other manager acting as intermediary between business and edit doesn't mean that Chinese wall isn't extremely permeable. Regardless, as far as we can tell, GM hasn't planted any posts about how awesome BustedTees are. And though there were plentiful Democratic Party and liberal-pol ads on Wonkette during the election cycle, it seems likely that was a case of the advertisers playing to (and paying for) Wonkette's already sympathetic and similarly inclined audience.

The other core idea, and what seems to annoy Calacanis and Krucoff above, is that readers should not mistake advertising for editorial -- i.e. the advertiser "shout-outs" run in with GM blog posts. We have to agree with Spiers here, in the sense that these are clearly labeled as ad content. One could argue that there should be a line running above and below, or the item should run with a color box, or some other cosmetic element to set it off further. But these are just matters of degree. Anyone who mistakes these for blog content is just as likely to mistake the sidebar text ads for a blogroll. Some people will assume an endorsement no matter how many tiny disclaimers are peppered around.

Krucoff's other point above is a little off-topic, but it's worth mulling. Do the heds and intro lines for the shout-outs count as part of the blogger's paid posts? Should the blogger's flesh blacken as if burn'd when exposed to advertising copy? We don't know, but if that does count in their posting total, we say good for them. As far as we can tell, the shout-outs have become so generically similar that each would take about ten seconds to write. That's an easy post knocked off the Friday quota. And none of the shout-outs seem to endorse a particular advertiser; they just express rote appreciation for all the current advertisers. It's not exactly a payola-level mortal sin.

So, do the shout-outs call into question the GM blogs' credibility? Only in the eyes of other bloggers, and then only because the hed and intro lines seem so superfluous and forced. Our suggestion is to just do away with the pretense of the "shout-out" euphemism and the jazzy intro lines. "Thanks to This Week's Sponsors" would be fine. We can't imagine it would make much difference in click-throughs -- and if it did, you'd have a convenient metric measuring exactly how many people were actually fooled by the advertorial head-fake.

5.12.2005

Still Waiting for "Lifeskipper"

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a successful blog is that it provides an extremely efficient way for readers to waste time. Efficient waste may seem like a paradox, but it's at the heart of what drives most blog traffic. Certainly there is a significant percentage of any high-volume blog's audience that reads for vocational or avocational reasons, but the vast majority are killing downtime or procrastinating. This kind of audience is automatically drawn to diverse, funny, colorful, idiosyncratic, digestible, novel, and frequently updated content. Standard blog boilerplate. What's more rarely acknowledged and even more rarely achieved is that the ideal blog on any subject represents a perfect alloy of refined wit and extreme stupidity.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! GM blogs (among others) make hay on this premise by wedding intelligent, literate bloggers with lowbrow subjects. Sure, it's a bit elitist, but it's a redemptive kind of elitism. The message is that, just like their readers, the GM bloggers embrace the tawdry and the foolish, and they really do mock because they love (to mock [to love] (etc.)]). The only thing better than seeing Paris Hilton accidentally expose her cooter is to read a good line about how we're all disgusted with ourselves for being titillated by same (as long as we do actually get to see her cooter). The punishment fits the crime, but it hurts so good. This kind of thing dominates the GM gossip blogs like Gawker and Defamer, but it pops up on Screenhead or Fleshbot when a link is particularly horrible and disgusting and funny-bad. There are even gems to be found on the product/service blogs like Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Kotaku, and Gridskipper, where the bloggers visibly perk up when they get to post about something inane or ridiculous rather than another review or industry rumor.

Which allows us to finally excavate our lede: Lifehacker is the exception that proves the rule, while simultaneously taking the efficient-waste contradiction to a whole new level. The subject is self-improvement in the most general sense, and it's geared to almost any agenda or interest the reader may have in that vein (work, home, sex, tech, fun, etc.). There is very little if any sarcasm, mockery, or condescension; instead, Lifehacker adopts a positive hey-whatever-works-for-you attitude that suits the material. In other words, there is no catering to readers' wishes to indulge in relishing the stupid.

There is, however, a darker imperative at work: this nonstop buffet of efficiency tricks is presented in the same efficiency-destroying fashion as other GM blogs, and it has the power to make you feel just as bad about yourself -- without the guilty pleasure payoff. It's a more pure and ascetic masochism. We can't stop reading Lifehacker, and yet we have implemented none of its suggestions. Zero. It's not as ego-destroying as a can-do superheroine like Martha Stewart, as that actually lets you off the hook. You could never be Martha, after all, so why bother trying? These are just a few ideas from different sources all over the place. Just take the ones you like, the easy ones requiring little hassle. You can handle that, right? Maybe just one idea? Well, don't sweat it. Go see if they've posted any more nipple slips on Defamer. Come back in a few hours, maybe by then you'll have wasted enough time to actually accomplish something.

5.11.2005

Maer Roshan Rashômon

There needs to be a long and unwieldy German philosophical term for the process of collectively deciding that something which is objectively and inarguably uninteresting can be made interesting if enough obsessive attention is paid to it. This term would need to incorporate the sentiment that at least part and possibly the majority of the interest derives from watching the subject fail spectacularly and consistently. How else to describe Gawker's meticulous coverage of Maer Roshan and Radar magazine?

Of course, everyone -- including Gawker bloggers regular and sundry -- openly admits that paying so much attention to Roshan and Radar is part of the joke, and admitting the joke is also part of the joke. This creates an endless feedback loop that defies the laws of normal humor thermodynamics, counter-intuitively creating more energy where there was little (or none) to begin with. Energy here being buzz and the blog equivalent of column inches (and presumably site traffic). Lacking the ideal German term, it's useful to think of it as a variation of the rake joke -- named for a gag in The Simpsons, where Sideshow Bob steps on a rake, which flips up to smack him in the face; when he stumbles back, he steps on another rake, which does the same. Then it's back to the first rake, and repeat endlessly. At first, it's not funny. Then it becomes boring. Then stupid. Then briefly funny. Then annoying. Then very stupid. Then unbearable. Then, Platonically, it becomes very, very funny. Appreciating this joke requires a delicate mix of sensitivity to cerebral humor, slapstick, sadomasochism, and/or a rabid unwillingness to ever admit you don't get it.

Unfortunately, Maer Roshan can't keep stepping on rakes forever and Gawker can't keep cackling about it, though both seem determined to try. The very banality of Gawker's perpetual coverage is yet another part of the joke. It's ironic that a preview/mockup of Radar's first relaunched issue leads with an article titled "How to Be Famous for Doing Nothing at All." We wouldn't by any means call the two previous issues of Radar "nothing at all," but a two-year gap between issues makes for some attractive comparisons. Still, in this arrangement, everybody wins. Even if Roshan bristles at Gawker's personal needling, he will always love the free publicity. In a perfect world, the magazine would never quite relaunch, setting up a permanent relationship of exquisite tantric denial.

All that said, we have to admit that we're actually fans of this joke, especially because it's less pathetic than the HuffPo debacle and less depressing than Tina Brown's years-long farewell tour. It takes us back to those sepia-tinted days when Gawker was almost all media gossip and less about Fred Durst's unit. We'd be willing to bet long money that while Gawker's mockathon will ultimately be just as disposable as the relaunched Radar, it will probably be more fun to read.

5.10.2005

Don't Go! We Barely Got to Not Know You

As more GM bloggers take holidays to write books or vacationate, or as certain GM blogs are still in search of a more permanent subcommandante, GM is fast exhausting its reserve lineup of name-checkable guest editors. This week at Gawker though, it's Alex Balk, and-do-we-really-have-to-include-this-"aka" The Minor Fall, The Major Lift aka TMFTML. Balk was joined Monday in temp-co-guesting by his frequent blog-canoodler Lindsay Robertson, an arrangement which is the blog equivalent of second base (blogrolling being first; third and home are oral and coitus, just like in the real world, or so we and most bloggers like to imagine).

Balk is a good catch as a guest editor, considering his signature style of arch yet self-deprecating indignation (plus alcohol/narcotic/or hangover-from-same reference) versus various Times columnists or similar targets. That style, with slight variations, is widely echoed in blogs the world over, in GM and elsewhere, so he's a natural GM fit. Even better is his generalized discomfort with blogging and maybe even his own style, as exemplified by a brief hiatus and a dismissive quote in the New Yorker about cashing in with his own book deal (since reconsidered, in the post-D-nasty-$650K world perhaps). This ambivalence is a perfect match for Nick Denton, known for his surgical buzzkilling of blogging evangelists of any stripe. The only surprising thing is that it took this long for Denton to press Balk into service. March!

Today, Balk is joined by an anonymous "recovering lifestyle journalist" using the pseudonym "Myles na Gopaleen," which we won't bother to google-splain for you. We'll let this person -- referred to by both genders of pronouns, curiously -- have her/his hermaphroditic day in court, but let us rush to judgment just a little bit. "Name" guest bloggers are good, anonymous or not; named unknowns are good too, because that's how you run into new talent. But temporary and anonymous? Gopaleen's first post does dare to use the word "mimesis," which we both admire and despise. Still, unless Gopaleen sticks with the cover name or dramatically unveils later, there'll be no way to follow him/her after the GM tour of duty expires. We guess this move is designed to insulate from industry reprisals, but is that ever a factor anymore? Hasn't Gopaleen heard of Toby Young? There really is no such thing as bad attention.

Regardless, if it's a labor to love any guest blogger, how are we supposed to form an emotional bond with one who's both transient and faceless? Sure, we might have preferred transient and faceless in college, but we're all adults now, and such things are reserved for nostalgia or the Hamptons. And how can we know that Denton isn't beta-testing his ultimate creation, the blogger bot (not a new idea as some will certainly attest). We hope that the GM guest bloggers, good though they may be, remain maneuvers of convenience rather than a new business model. Even though running herd on the guests might represent a logistical headache for GM, they might also bring in curious traffic, sort of like viewers who never watch Saturday Night Live unless their favorite celebs are hosting. For our part, we prefer a little continuity, even if it's only temporary.

5.09.2005

Where the Magic Happens



Move along, nothing to see here, says Nick Denton as usual in this weekend's Times piece by Tom Zeller, Jr., about all this newfangled blogamajiggers the kids are into these days. Certainly the poor man has been through a lot, and by a lot we mean far too many journalists attempting to lubricate the interviewee with a bit of gentle foreplay, perhaps as a prelude to a guest editor slot at one of his blogs. But Denton will have none of that, and you get the impression he'd scoff if you dared to compliment the weather. No jokes about the "Gawker empire," his corporate identity is a disadvantage, blogs are more destructive than creative, blog hype is stoked by "unemployed or partially employed" marketing flacks, he will not comment on money or profit, advertisers must be kept at arm's length to avoid "grim" consequences of compromise, and blog coverage is "disproportionate" and "out of whack."

This is old hat for Denton's cadre of unemployed or partially employed bloggers (and readers), and one suspects there's an occasional rolled eye when whoever had the misfortune to be in the Tribeca office that day is corralled for yet another painfully posed photo-klatch like the one above. Cluster together now! Laptops out, everyone! Why doesn't Coen have a Powerbook? Never mind. Now, Mr. Denton, please turn around in your seat toward the camera. Give us surprise, but mixed with a delighted yet bashful elan. It's as if you were all deeply, deeply into your blog work, and look! It's a visitor! Hello friends, don't mind me! And how are the blogs doing today? You there, Steele, blog faster! With more intensity. Don't look at me, look at the blog!

Not everything is cheese and crackers at GM, though. Stowe Boyd, unfeasibly goateed and beret'd president/COO of boring tech newsblog aggregator thing Corante and "well-known media subversive," says Denton is simply not hard enough on himself. Not by half! Snap, but he even calls GM nothing but an "old media company in new media clothes." Old media! In blogs, that's the equivalent of playing the race card. Boyd prefers bloggers who flit about like "dancers or sculptors" (Zeller's words) while "pursuing their muse" (Boyds'). Since the GM bloggers are "indistinguishable from any freelance writer, with no ownership of what they produce" (Zeller again), then "These people are hirelings" (Boyd).

Hirelings! What scurrilous slander. One of Denton's many good fortunes is that those who speak against him often sound too nutty to take seriously, and Boyd is no exception. Who knows if he actually really called for workers to own the means of production as well as its products, or if he really does want more dancing/sculpting about blogging (sculpting sure, but dancing bloggers are not pretty sights to behold). But which GM blogger would actually give a chicken's cloaca about owning their blog posts? "Pardon me, Nick, but I prefer to reserve rights to the Blind Item Guessing Game for my book deal." Other than as link-farm fodder, GM blog posts are designed to expire, which is why they have to guarantee a dozen posts a day to keep eyeballs coming back. A fetishistic attachment to perpetually owning ephemeral work is the real hallmark of old-media harrumphing.