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.”

Lawson started worrying that his real identity would be discovered, as much of his commenting was done while at work. So he e-mailed a Gawker editor, and eventually was asked by the big boss, Nick Denton, if he would like to write, transitioning out of ad sales and joining the editorial department full time.

Ryan Tate was also offered a writing job with Gawker, after mocking, of all things, a job posting on Gawker looking for writers. “We’d offer you a big salary but then you won’t work hard, or well. You lazy, incompetent chimpanzee,” reads part of his post. Tate, who had been writing about real estate for the San Francisco Business Times, was getting irritated with his job and spending increasing amounts of time on a few of the Gawker sites, with varying degrees of “frustration and snarkiness” due to what he felt was a strain on his creativity from his then-position. “I just felt like playing and expressing myself creatively,” says Tate. “And here’s this place where I can try out these ideas, or writing in this style.”

Nick Denton, the founder and owner of Gawker Media, wrote over Gmail chat that finding and hiring good writers was difficult. “It was much safer to look for talent online - and where better than to tap the best of the commenters,” he wrote. Denton mentioned Richard Lawson as a way of dealing with a “commenter rebellion” that took place after a well-liked Gawker editor left the site. Denton also mentioned Ryan Tate’s criticism of the job post, writing that it was done “so viciously and so skillfully that I wanted him on my team.”

Denton says that Gawker’s most recent change to the commenting section is a design change, with a thread and the comments being displayed in the same width and in the same font as the body of the article. “We want to treat the best of the comments with the typographic respect that we’d give to an article produced by one of our writers,” he wrote.

 

Alysia Santo is a former assistant editor at CJR.