Gawker returned in 2021 with the air of a drunk stumbling back into a party he had never been invited to. Leah Finnegan, the new editor, admitted that the brand was “toxic” but appealed to the reader to keep “an open mind and an open heart.” (What is this? Gawker or an e-celeb issuing an apology video over a sexual harassment scandal?)

Me, I was biased. I hated Gawker. The original site was a hive of mean-spirited moralists. The average Gawker employee was the sort of person who would post revenge porn while lambasting people who mildly transgressed against speech codes. Their writing pioneered the sort of effortful indifference that still...

Gawker returned in 2021 with the air of a drunk stumbling back into a party he had never been invited to. Leah Finnegan, the new editor, admitted that the brand was “toxic” but appealed to the reader to keep “an open mind and an open heart.” (What is this? Gawker or an e-celeb issuing an apology video over a sexual harassment scandal?)

Me, I was biased. I hated Gawker. The original site was a hive of mean-spirited moralists. The average Gawker employee was the sort of person who would post revenge porn while lambasting people who mildly transgressed against speech codes. Their writing pioneered the sort of effortful indifference that still leads Brooklynites to claim that people are “having a normal one” and things are “like, er, yikes”.

Uploading footage of Hulk Hogan having sex, which had been recorded without the Hulkster knowing, turned out to be one of the more expensive errors in modern history. Hogan, funded by the billionaire Peter Thiel, whose sexuality Gawker had exposed years before and who had clearly harbored one hell of a grievance, sued them into non-existence.

Frankly, I think this was a marvelous illustration of the phrase “fuck around and find out.” Not only is it inherently obnoxious to post people’s sex tapes but Gawker had (a) been given opportunities to take it down and (b) explicitly denounced the practice in other cases. (Gawker hypocrisy was always a rich seam of material. When nudes of female celebrities leaked, an op-ed announced, “Behind Every Bullied Woman Is a Man Yelling About Free Speech”. When a nude picture of WWE star Seth Rollins was leaked, though, Gawker Media blog Deadspin announced the news beneath the cheerful headline, “Let’s All look at Seth Rollins’s Dong.”)

Say what you like about Gawker, though — really, I mean it, say what you like — but it was not dull. The site published allegations against Kevin Spacey before anyone else. It released footage of then-Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford smoking crack. Even people who hated the bastards dropped in now and then.

The new Gawker, though — which follows an abortive previous attempt to resurrect the site — is mean and dull. Take a recent piece, “Rest in Power, White Ladies”. Reflecting on the deaths of Eve Babitz and Joan Didion, the author mocks “white sisters” for their public displays of grief and says:

I dropped out of university so I never got to learn about Didion. Never too late, I guess.

Now, you can absolutely make fun of performative memorialization but this is performative ignorance. Saying you had to go to university to learn about Joan Didion — one of the most popular and accessible writers of modern times — is like saying that you have to go to Italy to learn about lasagne. This is not a satire of pretension, in other words, but an example of it.

This kind of peculiar laziness is all over the website. You can sense the writers trying, straining, struggling to summon up the cocksure cynicism of Gawkerites of old but their efforts fail, because that style is ubiquitous and because they have no talent for it. Who among us has the bravery to call Chris Pratt and Chrissy Teigen “annoying”? Gawker does, in its article “The Most Annoying Celebs of 2021”. The writer cannot do it wittily or eloquently. She just mentions something a celebrity has done and writes “annoying.” could make a better joke about “Karlie Kloss” and I don’t know who she is.

A lot of this stuff reads like BuzzFeed if instead of being written by innocent journalism wannabes it was written by embittered journalism never-wases. Perhaps that is not the case yet that is how it seems. There is even a list of favorite TikTok videos, most of which the author hardly has the energy to caption. My God. Take some pride in your work! I’ve written articles I’m not especially proud of but this has the air of a homework assignment that a student has churned out four days late.

Leah Finnegan has put an optimistic spin on the first year of Gawker 3.0. Finnegan writes:

Gawker was reborn, and against all odds, people read us. As proof, here are our most-read stories of 2021…

Perhaps I am missing a deliberate joke here but there is a difference between being read and being read. Having “most-read” articles does not mean that many people read them. Perhaps they do, but from their social media analytics it seems unlikely. “Gawker’s Most-Read Stories of 2021” has eleven likes on Twitter and no retweets.

The problem is that if Gawker had a real selling point it was its willingness to stick its head into a lion’s mouth. That might not be a smart thing to do. It might be rather cruel if the poor lion is minding its own business. But it undeniably attracts attention. No one else mentioned the rumors about Kevin Spacey, I suppose, because the Usual Suspects and House of Cards actor might have sued the pants off them. It was easy to criticize Gawker — and fun too! — but it was ballsy, reckless or both.

Now, there is no risk-taking. Understandable, I guess. Gawker did a lot of ill-advised, obnoxious risk-taking and ended up being ruined. But Gawker without that risk-taking is like a toothless alligator — still mean and still ugly, but also a bit pathetic.