Lucky Breaks

A good question…

From just about any way you look at it, the three years I’ve
spent at Jezebel and the six
years I’ve spent at Gawker Media have been a continuous series
of calamities ranging from the minor to the severe. If I’d been
scripting it for a prestige miniseries you would tell me my
plot was excessive and unrealistic. I don’t know what to tell
you. Since I took over Jezebel in September 2014, I have
watched a group of teenage shit-stirrers bring adults to their
knees in the name of rectifying gaming journalism, been
hit by a truck and
for several months, watched two beloved
coworkers leave the company in
despair, learned to walk again,
testified about my sex life
in a nationally covered trial about a former wrestler’s sex
tape, watched a real-life billionaire vampire villain proudly
take credit for dismantling Gawker, seen my
company declare bankruptcy and then get
bought by a corporation that
chose to shutter a website I once
edited, and seen a blustering, sexist moron become president of
the United States while attempting to direct coverage of it on
a feminist website.

I have also had the time of my life.

I first stepped into the Gawker offices in August 2010. I was
visiting the city from my hometown in Vermont, where I’d been
waiting tables since graduating college that May,
because I had a job interview to be Sloane Crosley’s assistant
at Vintage Books. I didn’t get the job, but that night a friend
texted to say that she was stopping by a party at Gawker and
that I should come, too. After a string of aggressive emails
and a shaky interview (to which I wore flats, a pencil skirt
and a striped pink Oxford, an outfit that most people would not
recognize me in today), I was offered unpaid, largely
unsupervised night shifts at Deadspin. I accepted, of course,
and also accepted a (paid) job at the New York City Parks
Department to subsidize my volunteer writing job.

A few days before my first day in Central Park, a story broke about a woman
sportswriter who’d been harassed by members of the New York
Jets and subsequently brushed it off. I stayed up most of the
night writing a Very Serious Column about
the situation and sent it off the next morning, before heading
to my first day at Parks on about three hours of sleep.
Deadspin published it and more than 80,000 people read the
story that day, while I sat sweating in a blazer at my new
desk, writing copy for a department newsletter called The
Daily Plant
. A few days later, Deadspin also published a
mocking riff of the take I’d
so lovingly crafted. My inbox flooded. I had just turned 22
years old, and I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into.

The only reason I have a career today is because I stumbled
into a place that took chances on young writers and gave them
platforms on which to experiment and learn on the job. (This
standard is apparently so unusual that, in court last year, I
had the pleasure of listening to a stranger ask me if I had ever fucked
my bosses to get to where I was professionally.) In my first
year writing at Deadspin I learned, as the site’s first woman
staffer, how to confidently write for a large (mostly male)
audience, deal with criticism and dismissiveness, and develop a
voice. A year in, A.J. Daulerio sent me to southern Illinois to
report undercover on the Gathering of the Juggalos, an assignment I had no business
getting. Where else would I have been trusted to do it anyway?
As managing editor of Gawker I learned how to run a website and
wrestle the best work out of some of the most talented writers
on the internet. In any given week, we’d publish in-depth
investigative pieces,
genre-shifting personal essays, field trips
into professionalized idiocy, and
Caity Weaver—all this
alongside the basic detritus that makes up so much of the
internet to this day. (It must be said that that last headline
was an edit; I’m sorry, Neetzan.)

I had a fun and edifying stint at The Hairpin, where, with Jia
Tolentino, I worked with and published a new writer just about
every day—something that few editors these days have the
privilege or overexcitement to do—and enjoyed the kind of
absolute editorial freedom that is increasingly difficult to
find online these days. Then, three years ago, I wrote a long
memo to some men who no longer work here to pitch myself as the
next and third editor of Jezebel. I wrote, among other things,
that women’s magazines were no longer the site’s enemy; that
they’d too thoroughly co-opted and hijacked the qualities that
once made Jezebel so unique, and that the goal for the site
would be to cease appealing to the “outrage cycle” that I felt
was dominating most of women’s media at the time. I wanted to a
foster a women’s website that was opinionated but not angry,
political but not preachy, critical but accessible. The
Hairpin’s stated ideal at the time was to function as a women’s
site insofar as it is run by women; Jezebel’s ethos should
similarly be, I wrote, “feminist because its writers and
audience are feminists.”

What I meant by that—and what I hope should be quietly yet
obviously true to any committed reader of this site—is that I
wanted to continue to build a site that cares about and engages
with and reports on women’s issues every day, while also
entertaining the radical possibilities that, in a more
equitable society, “women’s issues” would be a blurred,
dissolving category, and that men—who now comprise a full 40
percent of Jezebel’s readership—would care about those issues,
too. Modest as it may sound, I think we’ve come pretty far in
achieving that goal. I’m enormously proud of the expansions
Jezebel has made the past three years, including its subsites
The Muse, The Slot, Pictorial, and Millihelen (RIP), along with all of our original
video production, two excellent podcasts,
and live events. I’m proud of all the
original reporting we regularly publish here, on topics ranging
from delusional pregnancies to state abortion laws,
campaign wage disparities to
women war reporters, conspiracy theorists to Ted Cruz college rumors,
campus rape to gay marriage, and everything else in between. I’m proud of our
cultural criticism, on album reviews and movies and TV shows and books and romance novels. And I’m
equally proud of the small and silly things we did here. We
took over Deadspin for a day, ran a week’s worth of content
about the movie Titanic (and then,
a week later, an oral history on that week), and generally
indulged our dumbest ideas and headlines and shared them with the world,
all in the name of fun.

Thank you to the Jez writers and editors for creating and
sustaining what, in its best moments, can feel a bit like a
freestanding, girls-only clubhouse in a business full of
uptight, besuited senior vice presidents of nothing. For three
years now I have had the pleasure of hiring and working with
the very best team in the business, and watching them figure
out what they’re good at and then share it with the world has
been the single most rewarding part of my career. The staff
here worked hard even when they had excuses not to (“If the big
board was a fight,” Tom Scocca texted me a week into my
hospital stay, referring to Gawker’s infamous traffic
leadership board and making me cry while on a morphine drip,
“the ref would have stopped it by now”), and they made me laugh
every single day.

That last part might sound like a small thing, but it’s been
meaningful to me, especially during a stretch of time in the
news and the world that has felt so relentlessly bad.
For a long time, I think I just assumed that the internet
naturally fostered the fun, freewheeling spirit that I always
associated with going to work. I see now that I have merely
been extraordinarily lucky to have gotten my start at one of
the few remaining shops that allowed all of the best things the
internet has to offer to exist under the same
roof—independence, combined with equal parts audaciousness,
irreverence, and technically unlimited copy space—and to have
been surrounded by people who shared that spirit and helped
encourage it. Gawker Media was a place that took life-changing
chances on young writers and editors and gave them the
paychecks and freedom to do work that they could not have done
anywhere else. It’s a brave, important, dwindling pursuit, and
I feel incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon and benefited
from it. I hope it continues to exist.

That’s why, all those calamities aside, I will probably spend
the rest of my time on earth chasing the feeling from seven
years ago, when I posted my first blog here and got my start.
I’m OK with that. Thanks for reading.

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