The initial version of this article featured several factual errors, which have been corrected as of September 15th. To go directly to the list of errors and corrections, please click here.
This spring’s imbroglio over the Emily Gould cover story in The New York Times Magazine brought national attention to what might, previously, have been considered a particularly regional, or particularly inside-baseball, tangent of meta-journalism. Her article, about the personal and professional scrutiny she was subject to as an editor of the New York media site Gawker, was itself subject to exacting close readings and debate in a variety of online comment threads. It seemed like every blogger had something to say about Gould. That was, perhaps, the piece’s intended purpose: the author, in writing about how she had served as a lightning rod for controversy at Gawker, brought the Times Magazine the zeitgeisty attention (and pageviews) that Gawker enjoys.
As a reader both of Gawker and of the Times Magazine, I read the story out of habit, but I felt a strangely visceral response as I clicked forward through the pages. I felt both an alienation from Gould and a strange kinship with her. As someone who had once considered himself a “young journalist,” I had seen Gould’s ironic, quick-draw writing style adopted by countless collegiate bloggers, and summarily ingrained in the Columbia University campus media culture, a culture whose pace was set by the widely-read, fast-and-loose Web site Bwog, which had been called “Columbia Gawker” in its planning stages. I had worked at Bwog and its parent, the monthly magazine The Blue and White, until my sophomore year of college, a few months before Gould’s story came out. For better or for worse, Gould had set the standards for my generation of journalists, and that made her story compelling to me. I was able to identify with her identity crisis over blogging as well: writing pithily for a 24-hour cycle driven by commenter appetites hadn’t been what either of us had set out to do.
I had been a reader before I called myself a writer. I began reading Time between the stacks in the elementary school library and The New Yorker between textbook pages in eighth-grade science class. These magazines, and others I read, told a story far greater than the weekly parade of newsmakers and eccentrics found inside the pages of each issue. In the aggregate, they seemed to dramatize their own creation. Time gave a sense of hierarchy and majesty to the passage of years. The continuity of The New Yorker’s typeface, and of the magazine’s lofty place in our culture, spoke volumes to me about journalism as authority or institution.
I began casually reading Gawker during my senior year of high school. Despite, or because of, my ignorance of the names in play and the stakes of the game, Gawker was a light, entertaining read: the internal rivalries, secret allegiances, and anonymous tipsters of publishing houses and magazines. From my computer in Connecticut, I didn’t think Gawker’s, and Gould’s, sarcasm and gossip-mongering represented the way the truth about the media. The New Yorker and Time-Life buildings were zeniths of professionalism and skill in my mind, while Gawker’s streetfront offices just represented a specific amusing and cynical viewpoint—one that was still fun to check in on now and then, though.
But more and more, I would run to the library computers between classes at my small boarding school to see what new items had been posted. Few, if any, other students there read Gawker. While I used to devour magazines like The New Republic in the library during free periods, I now couldn’t escape the thought that these magazines were relics. Gawker flaunted a philosophy that felt less and less blasphemous - that everything was irreparably broken (in the media, in New York, in general) and it was better just to laugh and mock. What was to be done? The less time I spent reading the magazines I once loved, the more time I spent reading just how much I didn’t need to read them. By the time I arrived at Columbia—New York, at last!—I was reading the site daily, as were many of my college classmates, as I discovered when students I’d seen at publications’ meetings (and their parties) began spouting off about Emily Gould.