Get Off My Internets: Here's Something You Didn't Care About, and Shouldn't
My mentor, the journalist Paul Boutin, taught me plenty of rules about developing a story. My favorite is this: If the reader hasn't yet heard about your subject, you need a good reason to tell them about it. Never write a post that goes "here's something you didn't care about, and shouldn't."
I dreaded writing about "Get Off My Internets" because it does just that. GOMI is a small but growing blog that mocks "microcelebrities" and online entrepreneurs such as Julia Allison, Tumblr founder David Karp, writer Rachel Sklar, Digg founder Kevin Rose, journalist Paul Carr, political heir Meghan McCain (the most famous of the line-up), and a few people I've never heard of and cannot possibly be bothered to learn about. A typical GOMI post combines criticism of a specific blog post or Twitter update with general mockery of the post's author.
I saw this blog as a horrible, pointless Two Minutes Hate run by and for unbalanced obsessives. But my editor convinced me to interview the editor, Alice Walker Wright. And now I'm only convinced that GOMI is pointless. Wright doesn't seem to disagree.
It turns out that GOMI has plenty of worthwhile things to say, at least to anyone who feels that Sarah Lacy or Cary Randolph has gone un-analyzed too long. Of course, the vast majority of people have never heard either name, but these people aren't entirely private citizens. Lacy is a BusinessWeek journalist and published author. She's most famous for a poor interview she conducted with Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg at the SXSW conference in 2008. Her response to that situation - she tweeted, "seriously screw all you guys" - is characteristic of how she deals with anything she doesn't like. So to the extent that Sarah Lacy influences the world with her work, she should be held accountable for bad behavior on the job.
Okay, I'm the target market for a post about Lacy. I'm familiar enough with her work and personal life (she blogs about both in the same places) to know she bought a house in S.F.'s Mission district. I've argued with her about whether she fought Proposition K because decriminalizing prostitution wouldn't help sex workers, or because, as she's implied, streetwalkers bring the property value down in her neighborhood. So as the ideal reader, I can say that when Wright calls out Lacy for rudely saying that India and the Mission smell like urine and feces, she's doing a small service to the world. The same goes for calling out Paul Carr's duality or catching Julia Allison lifting phrases from Wikipedia. These are useful to the extent that the subjects are influential.
But just how influential are they if most intelligent readers haven't heard of them? Shouldn't Wright aim her criticism higher? Not really. Professional bloggers and journalists have that covered. Wright's criticisms are almost entirely based on the information her subjects made public. She's not seeking out hidden gossip.
With one huge exception. In September, GOMI published a blind item about Richard Blakeley, reporting that he was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend Jessica Amason. Wright followed it up with case details from a public court record.
While there are certainly valid defenses of GOMI's behavior, and while Wright included the proper "alleged"s, this post was not simply analyzing already public information. "Several people sent it to me along with links to the public record of his arrest, saying it was newsworthy," Wright told me. "I didn't really think it was going to blow up like it did." The post still passes Wright's simple standard: it interests her, and it's about an internet person behaving badly.
But this standard doesn't always turn out meaningful posts. Plenty are awful. On Friday Wright mocked someone named "thatgirlallison" for having "freakass club fingers" and for saying that the MTV show Jersey Shore was full of guidos. Wright wrote, "Maybe she should keep her cute little descriptions of entire groups of people to herself." The problem is, not only is this pretty touchy (come on, it's Jersey!), but the show is not about New Jersey in general, it's specifically about guidos. Thatgirlallison had only accurately described its content with the same words MTV uses to market it.
I asked Wright about this. She admitted that she'd never seen Jersey Shore, and that her commenters had made this same objection. "So, live and learn," she said.
And I can't fault her much for that, not as a former Gawker Media blogger who wrote plenty of regrettable posts, and saw my peers do the same (though never as badly as me - I once demanded that Gawker's readers watch a video of a soldier throwing a puppy off a cliff).
But paid gossip bloggers write stupid posts because they get paid. This is why we assume that anyone doing it for free must be truly obsessed. I've talked to plenty of part-time haters before. Most pretend that they really don't care. Wright seems to mean it. She acknowledges her failures; I couldn't goad her into an argument about anything. She also tellingly doesn't care about her reader count.
An obsessive will always check their traffic. Ask them their pageview count for the month and they can at least estimate it on the spot. Wright had to go check. It's about 80k. Last month was 60k. Her best month was September; she told the party blog Guest of a Guest that GOMI got 280k pageviews.
I asked her the view count for August. She IMed back, "ha August was 7k. thanks Gawker." It seems that Wright hadn't really noticed when her reader count shot up by one thousand percent. She truly doesn't care. "I don't see that it matters since I'm not seeking advertisers," she told me. "I mean, yippee, cool, but don't really concentrate on getting hits."
She cares a bit more about her content, but she's still ambivalent. When I criticized the guido post, and how she could have avoided it by googling "Jersey Shore," she replied, "Yeah, but sometimes I don't care enough to bother. It's laziness on my part because I don't hold my blog to a journalistic standard. I probably should."
And that's the beauty and the danger. Alice doesn't care. She just posts what interests her. Plenty of other bloggers, less or more obsessive about their subjects, have no higher journalistic standard, and they don't need to be held to one - they're not so influential, and even the ones trying to take over the world won't get too far.
But every now and then, Gawker will link to their story, or the San Francisco Chronicle will profile them in a blog, and they'll get a little more attention. Whether or not you try to take over the world, sometimes it gets handed to you. And at that point, if you haven't been holding yourself to a journalistic standard, you probably should.