What would the Elizabeth Spiers of 2003 — the “outsider” Alabama native who founded Gawker to mock the New York media elite — make of the Elizabeth Spiers of 2005, a cable news talking head, owner of a book contract, and, arguably, member of the New York media elite?
ES: Well, the Gawker post was entirely facetious. No one on that list, with the possible exception of my current deputy Aileen Gallagher, is, to my knowledge, a contender for my replacement. And there’s a lot of backstory there that Gawker’s not disclosing. I think if you look at my writing, my worldview hasn’t changed very much, and people who know me well personally make a point of reminding me that I haven’t changed, even when I perhaps should have. (Still cranky. Still misanthropic.) But I do think a lot of people compare Gawker when I was writing it to Gawker now and project the current version back onto me even though I’m not writing it, even though I have nothing to do with it and even though it’s materially different from when I was writing it.
Also, I’m pretty sure “members of the media elite” get paid a hell of a lot more than I do, so I’d dispute that characterization.
LCB: During your tenure at Mediabistro, the site was significantly retooled and now seems to be betting the farm on blogs (there are now six gossipy media blogs). What’s the thinking behind this?
ES: Actually, it’s the opposite. We’re not betting the farm on blogs, and it’s a very small part of what we do. But it also happens to be one of the most visible parts of what we do, and that’s exactly the point: it’s the most low-cost method we have at our disposal to do real-time reportage and produce daily, if not hourly, content. We could put that money into the feature well or directly into marketing, but the payoff and the exposure would be much lower. On a revenue basis, ad sales for the blogs are a completely negligible source of money in our projections, but, that said, we’ve greatly exceeded our revenue targets for that line of business since our January relaunch. The blogs basically allow us to broaden our audience and drive traffic to the site.
LCB: Used to be you couldn’t open a newspaper without seeing a story about how people are blogging and blogging — short for ‘web log’ and a sort of an online diary— is all the rage. This stream of stories is slowing down now (although the New York Times did somehow feel the need to write about the Gawker-related firing). Are bloggers’ fifteen minutes almost over? Every news network now has a blog or two — Brian Williams is blogging. Is the era of a book contract for every blogger coming to an end?
ES: The number of people I can name who got a book contract and were only writing blogs pre-contract is in still the single digits, so I don’t think there has ever been “a book contract for every blogger.” I’m not sure what the media fascination with that is, and at least one of my writer friends has been repeatedly characterized as a “blogger with a book deal” despite the fact that none of the publishers who saw his manuscript even knew he had a blog. Most bloggers are writers, and that some of them might also be capable of writing good books strikes me as fairly intuitive, but it’s not something that’s happening frequently or even regularly. Let’s say there have been 20 blogger deals this year—and i think that number’s high. That’s 20 out of X book deals that get done in a year? That’s not a trend; that’s a drop in the bucket.
Regarding bloggers’ 15 minutes — I think the media focus on the format is dying down, which means it’s maturing. I’m on record somewhere in 2002 as saying that the blog bubble was going to burst any minute, and Nick Denton is on record agreeing with me —and that was well before we started Gawker. But you’re not going to stop hearing about blogs; they’re just going to become such a fixture that they’re no longer unique and they’re no longer portrayed as an isolated media phenomenon.
LCB: Monday is Halloween. Last year, according to your Mediabistro bio, you dressed as Judy Miller — “short bob wig, handcuffs, and a can of Raid labeled ‘precursor element.’” Who will you dress as this year?
ES: One of my friends suggested that I dress as Judy Miller again, but this time with a knife sticking out of her back.