Regrets, Remainders, Deleted Scenes, and Bridge Burning: The Immolation of Press Clips
Well, here we are. The final Press Clips. COME ON, POOKIE! Let's burn this mothafucka down!
A LONG TIME AGO, in a media climate far, far away, Jessica Coen was once the lead writer of Gawker.com in what is still to this day my favorite iteration of a blog (other than this one) ever.
On her last day, she wrote about an encounter with a certain editor that she'd been holding fire on until she left. Well, I don't have a story about him. But I never did this at Gawker, and well, now, I'm doing it. I've got a few things I've got to get off my chest. I'm done writing about media for money. Finished. Forever. It's the best gig I've ever had, but god willing, I'll never do it again. With that in mind, we've got some unfinished business to close out, some unsolicited advice to administer, some apologies to make, some confessions to spill, some regrets to share, and some fire to cleanse ourselves with. Press Clips, Day 28, The "Dolce Post" Edition. Let's get the less exciting things out of the way first. If you're not interested in anything but me burning bridges, skip to that part right here. But you're an asshole.
I regret not writing more. For one thing, because Jen's had to hold up this blog on her back for me to write the things I've been able to write about. I owe her a trip to a Mexican border town. Or an anesthesiologist. But mostly, I regret not writing more things I worried about writing. For one thing, doing your job without hesitation will never cost you another job, especially if you do it well. I'm not entirely sure that's been the case with me, but it's certainly something I've found to be true. For another thing, there's no New York Media Conspiracy, but there is a New York Media Set, a few of whom generally go completely protected from criticism. This is either because they're friends with everyone, and -- because they do not have jobs to offer you and do not care about what is and isn't your job when it comes to writing about them -- will make it known when they do not like something you write about them to others, some of whom one may overlap with professionally and/or socially. Hamilton Nolan nailed it: this is The Favor Economy, and it's thriving all too well. That said, I don't regret writing this at all, but the person it was written about is generally as guilty of having disclosure issues as way too many people who work in New York, including myself. It didn't make it any less of a post to me, but I could've done my part to stay further away from many of these people socially. The shit you talk is only as good as what you can back. Also, I deeply regret this post, because it looked like I was questioning the integrity of a guy I respect. I wasn't, but I was lazy in the wording and didn't make the call first. Bloggers and reporters are like bourbons. Not all reporters are bloggers, but all bloggers can be reporters. All it takes is a phone call.
I also regret not writing more about people who went under-recognized for their efforts, because unlike me and many of the people I've written about, they were too busy doing their jobs to promote themselves. More great things happen in media than shitty things. Things like this, for example.
But that said...
I don't regret everything else.
The animus I've received from trying to do this job to the best of my very limited ability is incredible! So many people in New York feel as if they've earned a shield against being written or talked about, despite the veracity of an item, and feel as if they're the sole determinant of the newsworthiness of themselves (see: Bill Keller vs. People Who Report on the New York Times). It's the most headsplittingly shortsighted irony in media. More than anything, it's an entitlement complex, and a gross one at that. I regret holding my fire for fear of more animus. I should've been a bigger asshole, not for me, but because these people deserve to have their figurative tree limbs grabbed, shaken, and pissed on, ideally by a child who knows no better (see: me). The only reason anyone's ever paid any attention to the shit I've done here to begin with boils down to: while I've written about a group of people and for an audience no larger than 200, I am somehow the only one writing some of these things! If nobody gave a shit, nobody would've read them.
[The incorrect execution of this concept is Fishbowl DC, which is almost completely and unilaterally terrible. More on that in a moment. I'd link to it but feeding them pageviews seems borderline criminal.]
But seriously, please: from bloggers to aged reporters to the most indomitable of editors, you should know better. Don't ever tell anyone else what is and isn't newsworthy, you narcissistic quasi-divas. Let your readers decide. If you're right, nobody will give a shit. And if you're wrong, and people do care, as a reporter, you know it should probably be written about! Remember, the State Department thinks Wikileaks is bullshit. Scale that down a thousand times. You think the media story about you is bullshit? And I'm a hack for writing it? Come on, now.
That said, I also don't regret holding fire on a few stories that would've done well with pageviews. Three that come to mind:
- A tip about why someone who just got a new job had been fired from their last job.
- A story about one publication beating out their rivals for a story that killed the other two.
- And a feature about what some of the most well-read reporters and editors in New York City make.
With the first one, I was far from the only person to receive that tip, and it felt like a smear job, and one that wouldn't be worth dredging up only to have the truth of the matter inevitably remain blurry at best. Someone else took it.
With the second one, it was unnecessarily mean. The only "news value" in it seemed to be a cruel gossip item and a press line for one publication over two others in a singular instance indicating nothing, really.
With the third one, it would have been absolute chaos. I actually still want to see someone nail that down, but really, I knew I'd have to divulge what I make. I was on the other side of my own story and it made me incredibly shifty. Funny how that works! Young MediaBistro reporters, this one is all you guys, because everyone knows you guys are paid in Harrah's markers and inhalants.
The Wired party is at Death & Co. at 7PM on the 14th. Wear your best ridiculous "steampunk" hat or whatever and crash it. The IAC party is on the 16th. Go to the lobby of the IAC building and sneak past their security guards and crash it. Or don't. Whatever.
Sorry if I didn't return your call. Or email. Sorry.
Congratulations to Zeke Turner! That sucks for the Observer. I've got a lot to say about the Observer, especially considering I've only written for them once, like, two years ago. But I wrote about it critically very much as a fan, which I still am. It wouldn't be giving anything away to say that it feels like anyone who has ever worked or works at the New York Observer has sent me a tip about it. This is only important to know because it underlines just how much they truly love - or loved - that paper. It can still be a great place for young reporters to emerge under great editors, and its the only paper carrying out the great editorial mission the Observer was started to do, but those editors happen to have a young owner who enjoys over-involving himself and appearing in both the real and fictional versions of his own paper, so it goes without saying, he probably (and supposedly!) enjoys dictating what's in it in a manner unbecoming of the role of a publisher in the business of "news." Be that as it may, it is his paper, sadly, but they can still train great writers and make that paper happen. I had an entire post about this but that right there was basically the gist of it anyway. I'm still gonna read the Observer every week. I really do enjoy it. That said, this was one of my three favorite things I got to write over the last year. It was just funny.
Talk all the shit you want about old media, but Conde Nast pays well, and pays on time. Maybe that's why they're going under?
Never in my life have I ever seen such open schaudenfreud about a single living human being who worked in New York City media than I did about a certain former New York Daily News editor. I got two posts out of that, and there was still more where it came from. It was like she ate puppies for breakfast and forced her staff to pull the trigger on them with her for "lunch." The era of the old-school media boss who is terrible to their employees is over. Judith Regan, this is why you'll never mount a comeback: because you're a terrible person, is why. This is why media gossip can be a good thing sometimes! Do some stupid, terrible shit to your employees, and it will be reported on!
Trying to figure out who leaked Journolist, I gleaned one very important lesson: the young DC media scene is ugly. It makes New York City's clusteryfucky, kabal-like closure to outsiders and elitism look downright welcoming. Unless you can maintain a life that doesn't involve caring about anybody else in your field down there, don't go, don't go, for the good love of Christ, don't go. Also, Betsy Rothstein's as corrupt as the day is long! Wanna see why? Well, go back and look at all the old Fishbowl DC posts about Sam Dealey. And then read the posts about a journalist named Julia Duin. And then figure out who Betsy Rothstein is transparently running game for. And then look at her Twitter follows and followers. I've never written this about anyone ever before, but Laurel Touby, can't you shut her down? Good people there are generally outnumbered. Oh, yeah, and I basically figured out who leaked Journolist but I'm not 100% sure -- no smoking gun -- so I can't ever actually report it. That said, I'd be glad to share all of my research so far with a young, enterprising reporter, though as a historical aside, I'd like to point out that this article from the American Prospect in 2005 perfectly outlined the reasons behind and inevitable debate fueled by the smearing of conservative blogger Dave Weigel and the gross, fear-driven animus old-school journalists have for their younger, pluckier, bloggier counterparts. It's the story I probably cared most about while I was here.
Okay. Now, the fun part.
1. I'd have some thoughts about Gawker but others have articulated them way more than me, suffice to say, I still read it, but it's no longer the most forward-thinking blog in that company! That's probably Deadspin. Given that it's a news blog it's squandering the inherent potential to be the most forward-thinking blog in that company, but they're also seeing wild success. Can't argue with that. Though less opportunities to do this would help. Also, I still don't get why my old boss isn't there any more -- the higher numbers aside! -- because I don't think that's got anything to do with the situation! Whatever. It's Gawker. I still read it. I just don't enjoy it as much. I'm sure I'm not the first former-staffer to say that. Well, maybe the "I still read it" part.
2. I've never used a job interview or information gleaned from a job interview for a story until now. Interviewing with Page Six, I'm sitting in the News Corp commissary with Richard Johnson and Emily Smith the week Neel Shah is to leave. It was going fine until they asked me if I enjoyed going out. I told them having worked for BlackBook before, I was familiar with some of the nuances of being a nightlife reporter and knew it'd probably be intensified, and I'm a bit of a homebody. The kind and generally charming Emily Smith turns to me, and says: Last night, I was out with Snooki until 3 AM. I'm pretty sure I'd given myself up at that point, because I started laughing. It was the moment I knew I'd never work at Page Six because spending a night out with Snooki until 3AM sounds like fucking hell. It was also the moment I came up with the idea for the cover story I did with Joe not two months later. And then a month after that, pretty incidentally, Richard Johnson was transferred out to LA to work on The Daily.
3. You people working for The Daily really drank the Kool-Aid on that thing, haven't you? Never in my life have I ever experienced such outright animus for not taking a job. I'll spill: they were offering me 15% more than I'm getting now -- a not insignificant raise -- to be Richard Johnson's man on the ground in New York. I didn't take it for a number of reasons, none of them having to do with what I imagine the prospects for The Daily to be (for the record: pretty solid) or for what I imagine working with most of the people on that thing would be like (for the record: pretty fun). And what did my would-be future boss have to say to me upon my telling him, very emphatically and apologetically and with a little remorse - after only being given 24 hours to decide whether or not I'd take the job - that I wouldn't be climbing aboard?
Richard Johnson: "You'll regret this. I've got to get on another call. (Click)"
Dick Johnson, shocker! You've never not been fairly cordial and nice in our encounters, but I've heard of this magical Scary All-Powerful Gossip side of you, and it isn't cool. I may in time come to regret not working with a great group of people on what I imagine to be what will one day be viewed as an important, vital step in the evolution of media properties. But I will never -- never -- regret not working for someone who tells me "You'll regret this" on turning down their offer.
The truth is: the main reason I turned it down had to do primarily with - as one very smart media reporter reminded me - the idea that everyone who's ever worked for Richard Johnson has been his leg-man, and he inspires the kind of fear in them even after their jobs to the point where they have nothing bad to say about him despite a consistent record of letting underlings get tossed under the bus, even possibly inspiring one underling working with him again to throw him under the bus, and then cover his ass for fear of retribution.
No, I won't regret turning down that kind of job in the least.
4. [I'm abstaining from saying anything more about Jimmy Dolan here, mostly because I was warned not to. And I care that people here don't lose their jobs. But, yeah: that's that.]
- - -
And so, there's that. One more and I'm done. But that was fun, no?
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