The photos, along with Gould’s essay about life as a blogger, elicited a deluge of vicious Internet commentary, often from other bloggers who felt Gould had given blogging a bad name—“Some bloggers are able to write about things other than themselves. Seriously,” huffed New York magazine’s Daily Intel blog, a Gawker competitor. And following numerous demands from Jezebel readers that we somehow “weigh in,” I obliged with a post in which I jokingly advanced a theory that Denton had created Gawker with the intention of destroying journalism by infecting its practitioners with a lethal addiction to a kind of reality-TV version of the media, in which “mundane trivialities” and “the ceaseless trade of imaginary currency” kept them impervious to the alarming shortage of real currency—both pay and prestige—in the business by supplanting any underlying theoretical purpose journalism might initially have been invented to serve. That afternoon I ran into Denton at the office.
“I liked your post,” he said, which was his typical response to negative attention.
“Yeah, I mean, I don’t know what all the fuss is over,” I said. “They’re not even particularly hot photos, for Emily.”
“Well, and why does anyone become a writer in the first place?” he asked, stressing the first syllable of “writer,” as if the word itself could only ever be uttered with implied air quotes. “The same reason they start playing guitar in high school and try forming bands. To draw attention to themselves.”
Considering all this, it seems odd to tell you that working for Gawker Media was probably the least-demoralizing media job I’ve ever held. The principal reason is that I eventually blundered into an unexpected intimacy with readers on the dreaded “demand” side of the equation, who turned out to want something other than, or in addition to, what everyone and their algorithms suggested.
Producing a Web site that targets women requires engaging with the topics that have always been the focus of media that target women. But since for me this was mostly an experiment in personal brand-building, I did not feel compelled to conceal my contempt for these topics, and for the reprobate economic forces that, I reasoned, had forced me to write about them. Contempt would just have to be part of the “Moe Tkacik brand” (which was not to be confused with the body of mostly respectable journalism produced by Maureen Tkacik).
Of all the resentments I had accumulated before coming to Jezebel, I had never much dwelled on the misfortune of being born a woman. But women, who so disproportionately bear the nothing-based economy’s unrelenting fusillade of invented insecurities and predatory sales pitches, were ideally positioned to share my list of grievances. It makes sense, in retrospect, that a readership so universally practiced in the faking of things—orgasms, hair color, age, disinterest in men one was actually interested in, etc.—would humor the intolerance for fakery that helped define the “Moe Tkacik brand,” which was basically an angrier, more recklessly confessional, and more contemptuous version of myself.
This point about fakery was driven home for me by a (pretty brilliant) idea that Nick Denton had—to offer a cash reward to whichever turncoat from a women’s magazine slipped us the most egregious example of a retouched cover image. The winner submitted the original version of a ludicrously altered Redbook cover featuring the country singer Faith Hill, which I posted, along with the published cover and a fake art-department memo, under the tagline, “Photoshop of Horrors.” The thing paid for itself with a deluge of traffic and all manner of “mainstream” media attention.
But the real revelation, to me at least, was that the readers who came for Faith Hill returned for posts about the Iranian insurgency, the foreclosure crisis, military contracting, campaign finance, corporate malfeasance, the global food crisis—essentially whatever I found outrageous or absurd or interesting on a given day.