In the early 00s when I was in journalism school, my professors were feebly trying to bestow me and my fellow students with the skills required to work in print media. Sure, they said, the future of journalism is online. But none of them could quantify what that meant or how to teach it. The school’s curriculum was a great foundation, I guess, but by the time I was done, my skill set was already outdated. I was a media dinosaur.
So I studied Gawker Media. Gawker, and Gawker’s sister sites, presented the framework for what writing online could look like—objective and sarcastic. I suspect anyone who has ever dabbled in independent publishing online is feeling a bit sentimental this week. Almost every writer has a favorite Gawker story. They certainly remember the Gawker story they were most scandalized by.
One thing I think Gawker and its sister sites deserve credit for is consistently covering sex work and giving sex workers bylines. They kept tabs on almost every NYPD-with-an-escort snafu, their vintage Eliott Spitzer coverage was delightful, they interviewed cam girls, espoused the virtues of dominatrix school, and alerted us every time Justin Bieber touched a stripper. Much of this coverage was silly, but the frequency of it and the casualness of its tone helped normalize the idea that sex workers are news-worthy. Gawker Media even had an entire blog dedicated to the adult industry—Fleshbot.
But where Gawker Media truly stood out to me was the sheer amount of sex worker bylines it sported. One of Gawker’s earliest contributors is a former peep show performer: Sheila McClear. Melissa Gira Grant was one of Valleywag’s most popular columnists. An anonymous dominatrix explained survival in a post-Craigslist market on Jezebel. A stripper wrote a letter about your boyfriend. The porn performer who was outed by her classmates at Duke, Belle Knox, broke down lateral whorephobia. Dylan Ryan discussed making feminist pornography. Gawker featured a two-part series by a dancer who worked through the Republican National Convention. Melissa Petro’s heartbreaking essay, No One Thinks to Call in Rape When You’re a Sex Worker, appeared on Jezebel. My personal favorite is Robin Hustle’s essay on the emotional labor of women’s work, primarily sex work. Those are just a few examples that I dredged up through Kinja’s awful search engine. There are many more.
Quite a few T&S alums graduated to Gawker Media (primarily Jezebel) as well. T&S co-founding editor Susan Elizabeth Shepard hilariously unpacked the formula for writing a strip club trend piece during a national convention. She made a list of journalists who stripped at one point. She displayed her talent for in-depth reporting with her exploration of why Uber is able to skirt more labor and tax laws than strip clubs. Oh, she wrote about Sons of Anarchy, too. Another co-founding editor, Charlotte Shane, published this knock-out on stigma and the way it subtly tears us down. Juniper Fitzgerald articulated how making porn and using drugs helped her relationship. This T&S greatest hit will always be worth revisiting, and Jezebel reposted it: “There’s No Such Things as a Free Colonic“. What we’re most proud of, of course, is the republishing of Peechington Marie’s moving T&S post: “The Erasure of Maya Angelou’s Sex Work History“.
News flash to Peter Thiel, and to our civilian readers: not everybody deserves kindness—especially when you’re in our line of work, knowing so many people are buttressed by institutions that actively harm us. I’m thinking of the Amnesty detractors, the entire Oakland Police Department, and the horrendous Dominique Roe-Sepowitz. So that’s what I’m also going to gratefully take away from Gawker’s legacy. That sometimes, it’s ok to be mean.