I sent this note to Gawker Media’s editorial staff this morning:
I wanted to send a note about the fantastic week that Gawker.com has had, owing to Ashley Feinberg and Lacey Donohue’s quick work on Josh Duggar’s magnificent hypocrisy and Rich Juzwiak’s shepherding of Dee Barnes’ reclamation of NWA’s history. But first, a quick detour to a less obvious success.
The New York Times’ Sunday investigation into Amazon’s corporate culture and management practices was magisterial, clear-eyed—and very familiar to Gawker Media readers. Almost all of the details about Amazon’s heartless, intense work environment—the cult-like uniformity, the unsentimental disregard for basic human emotional needs, the Lord-of-the-Flies-style forced internal competition—were on display in a series of Gawker.com posts by Hamilton Nolan in 2013 and 2014 that gave voice to Amazon workers from the warehouse to the executive suites. The manager who slept in his car in the parking lot on Sunday nights so he wouldn’t be late to morning meetings. The customer service reps who suffered panic attacks. The staffer who noted bitterly that “ every new employee is better than you and every future employee will do a better job.” A good round-up of those posts can be found here.
This is not to denigrate the Times story, which involved more than 100 interviews and placed the conversation about Silicon Valley’s demented work ethos front-and-center as only the Times’ front page can do. But goddammit, we were first. Hamilton was first. And the impact of the Times’ story is in fact a testament to our own power here at Gawker Media—our ability to sniff out the stories that other less agile outlets are ignoring (for now) and read them into the record without navigating the hurdles and barriers to fast, honest publication that exist for our competitors.
Hamilton’s serialized Amazon scoop was not an isolated incident. Gawker.com [clears throat] was out two years ahead of the establishment press on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state to skirt open records laws and maintain personal control over conversations that by law belonged to the American people. Gawker’s post [clears throat again] in 2013 breaking the news of Hillary’s private address ended with a prescient observation: “And if, as it appears, Blumenthal’s emails contained information that was classified, or ought to have been treated as such, it could be a major security breach for Clinton to have allowed it to be sent to her on an open account, rather than through networks the government has specifically established for the transmission of classified material. Why, someone could hack into it. You never know.” Again, it took the Times’ (excellent) reporting years later to spark congressional and FBI investigators, but goddammit, we were first. And Sam Biddle’s follow-up reporting on Hillary aide Sidney Blumenthal’s off-the-books intelligence operation reported in collaboration with ProPublica’s Jeff Gerth, caused Blumenthal to be held to account and deposed by the congressional committee investigating the State Department’s conduct surrounding the Benghazi attack. Again, we were first.
And so it was with Tom Scocca’s post referring the world back to credible, but almost entirely forgotten, allegations of rape against Bill Cosby. When Scocca wrote last February that “nobody want[s] to live in a world where Bill Cosby [is] a sexual predator,” less than half the staff of Gawker were even aware of the accusations. A year and a half later, Cosby faces dozens of accusers who were emboldened to come forth by a cascade of coverage and support that Tom got rolling with that post.
If there is a lesson here, it is that we need to work on how to package and present our reporting in a way that launches these conversations and investigations outright, instead of serving them up to our purported editorial betters to amplify and extend them.
But that’s not to say we completely lack that power ourselves. Watching the staff of Gawker launch and land the Dee Barnes and Duggar stories this week has recalled, for me, the experience of yanking on a lawn mower pull cord—you overcome a little resistance, engage the crankshaft and the flywheel, and wait for those sparks and crackles to coalesce up into a steady, satisfying, slightly menacing rumble.
Both posts—at last count totalling 3.2 million uniques between them—offered up an astronomically perfect alignment of our values and an audience hungry to understand the reality beneath the veneer. They simply refused to let two men—one a gifted and powerful artist, the other a low-rent reality star and moral scold—profit from falsehoods. Dr. Dre produced a movie in service of his greater glorification, but it didn’t tell the real story of his actions. Dee Barnes did. Josh Duggar foisted himself on audiences, seeking celebrity and money in the false persona of a faithful Christian husband, while also using the political process to impose his theocratic worldview on the rest of us. But it was a lie. Ashley told the truth.
Each of these stories—punchy, confident, solid—is like a piton jammed into the face of a rock wall. It bears the weight of all of us as we work on the next one, hammering it in a little bit higher, and pull ourselves up. So I hope these stories buoy you after the month we’ve had, and serve as a reminder why we’re here, the power we wield, and what we can accomplish when we wield that power with confidence and precision.