Monday, December 03, 2007

Gawker Eds Jump Ship Without Life Preservers

Interesting news in digital journalism this week: Three editors at Gawker, the sarcasm-fueled gossip site, announced that they will be leaving the Gawker Media empire. This includes:

Why? Mixed reactions from the group -- some are tired of Gawker, some are tired of a 5-to-9 job and some just want to try something new.

The New York Observer reports that "Maggie Shnayerson, who started on Sept. 24, is now the longest-serving editor at Gawker." And I think that's a pretty interesting indicator as to the challenges Nick Denton and Co. face as a major employer of alternative journalists/editors/publishers/citizens.

Women's Wear Daily reported some chilling facts about an alternative media organization like Gawker: extremely limited upward mobility. Still.

"In my dreams I'm going to find a job reporting on fires," said Sicha. "But I'm a little creaky and old to do that." He added, "I just feel like, now that everyone sort of operates at the speed we do, who's actually going to do the stuff that takes some time or some reading?...Everything has become knee-jerk like we are." In other words, "There can be one TMZ, but if there are going to be eight TMZs, I want out."

Gould struck a similar note. "Whatever Gawker originally set out to do, it kind of did, and now it just feels over," she said. "I would love it if it just fell off the face of the earth....I don't want to say the meanest thing or the most shocking thing possible anymore, because it gets so old and so soul-killing. There is stuff I really care about. I'm not interested in tearing it down as much as describing it."

It's not only subject matter -- after all, the magazine business is known to be a revolving-door-type industry -- but rather there's nowhere to go. Gawker's been adding some lesser positions to it's portfolio of hired help, but for the most part, the people who leave haven't anywhere to aspire to get to. And there aren't exactly any companies quite like Gawker, either.

Why is this important, then? Because it shows that Gawker Media, despite its largesse, is still an alternative. No matter what they pay, or supposed benefits, or what have you, it remains an anomaly. When you're done with Gawker, you're probably done with the independent blog world, at least on the level of success you had at Gawker. Many editors -- say, Jessica Coen or Ana Marie Cox -- went on to MSM, Big-J employers and tried, sort of, to replicate what they were so damn good at on Gawker. But for the MSM-wary, few options remain. Gawker's still the top.

So where does Gawker fit in the grander scheme? It remains to be seen, although I would suggest that it's still a springboard for "bigger," "better," more mainstream media. But until it grows -- or a competitor does -- it's clear that Gawker alums will continue to walk through the revolving door at a rapid pace. Those that don't jump on the MSM bandwagon might just never be heard from again.

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