During a string of “boring, terrible” office jobs, Gabriel Delahaye started to regularly comment on Gawker’s articles. He wasn’t just doing this for fun. He had every intention of getting himself noticed: e-mailing tips to the editors and just making himself “a general nuisance.” He wanted to be a writer, and while he had a blog, he was trying to develop a presence on Gawker’s site. “It seemed like the only access point to that industry,” says Delahaye. “I didn’t understand how else to do it, so that was the route I took.”
It worked. After writing for his own site for three years, and commenting a lot, a friend of Delahaye was having lunch with one of the editors of Gawker. She was saying how she was going on vacation, and didn’t know who would fill in while she was gone. Since frequent commenter Delahaye was already on their radar, his friend brought up his name, and they had him do the fill-in gig. Now the senior editor for Videogum, a blog that is owned by Buzz Media, his commenting career has come full circle: he recently hired a few of Videogum’s more regular commenters to be guest editors while he went on vacation.
As the principal writer for the site, Delahaye had developed a following amongst his readers, and finding a writer from within the commenting community was a way to “keep people feeling positive about the site for the week that it was different.” He says that the people who post on Videogum are very supportive of each other, and seeing one of their fellow commenters move on to writing content makes them welcome the newbie to the job. “They cheer each other on,” says Delahaye.
When a site takes its comment section seriously, treating it as an integral part of the site rather than a nuisance, a site can stand to gain a lot—and not just in traffic numbers. Some sites regularly find contributors from the comment section, hiring them and even promoting them. A well written and informative comment can serve as proof of a person’s interest in a site and its content—a sort of audition, allowing a person to try out their ideas on other people. And for employers, particularly ones in a blog setting, mining the comments for possible hires is a way to find someone whose writing voice matches that of the site.
Left-leaning political blog Daily Kos embraces this idea fully, hiring almost exclusively from its comments section. Susan Gardner, the executive editor of the site, had been an editor of a community newspaper in her twenties, but took fifteen years off to raise her children. Once she had some more time, she started reading the site regularly, ultimately signing up to comment. She was soon writing what Daily Kos calls “Diaries,” which is a longer type of blog entry that lines the right hand side of the page, an option available to any commenter after a week. Soon her diary entries were being featured on the front page, and eventually she was chosen for a fellowship. She moved up from there, going from full time contributor to executive editor. “I was jazzed,” says Gardner. “To get paid to do what you do in your spare time is wonderful.” And while many people who go to Daily Kos realize that some people do get hired, for many contributors, it’s mostly about impressing the people who interact there frequently. “The bigger issue is reputational within the community,” says Gardner.
Charlie Harper had quite a reputation as an anonymous poster on Peach Pundit, a politically conservative blog, after the real estate bubble burst and he lost his job. He had a lot of free time, found a passion in writing about Georgia state politics, and eventually gained enough of a following to be moved up to being a front page contributor. He is now the editor-in-chief of the site, though this is not a paid position (Peach Pundit has no revenue model at this time). But over the years he had developed a sense of ownership of and engagement with the site, eventually outing himself in a post and admitting that he wasn’t the political insider he had been alluding to be. He apologized to those who were disappointed and felt that they “were misled into thinking I was ‘somebody.’”
Richard Lawson was becoming well known in the Gawker community under his pseudonym LOLcait, but his secret was that he actually was an insider; his job was in ad sales for Gawker Media. He started posting because he felt intimidated by the comments section. “I just wanted to prove to myself that I could participate in this thing,” says Lawson. “Then I kind of became addicted to it.”