|BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: GAWKER'S ELIZABETH SPIERS.|
|By A.J. Daulerio||
Hoo-hah, Gawker! Gawker is thee place to get yer blah blahs out. Everybody loves the Gawker. Entertainment Weekly put the little sucker on its annual "It list" and Time Magazine listed it as one of the 50 best websites. A sassy young thing named Elizabeth Spiers is the irreverent wordsmith that makes it go. And she's parlayed her little web blip into a successful freelancing career -- Salon, Radar, The New York Times. Eff her.
Thankfully, the always cordial Mizzz Spiers has taken some time out of her busy schedule to go through the question and answer gauntlet that is Rock and A Hard Place. Tick. Tock. Boom.
BT: So this Gawker thing has really taken off. You can't beat this type of hype. You're on It lists and shit. Do you have a fear of being labeled "Gawker Editrix" or whatever the hell it is they call you forever and ever?
ES: Better Gawker Editrix than That Annoying Little Smartass -- a label which I vaguely fear permanently acquiring every time I put up another post. Or worse, Elizabeth Spiers, That Annoying Little Smartass Who Used to Be the Gawker Editrix Until It Started Sucking And Publisher Nick Denton Fired Her and She Never Ever Got Work Writing For Respectable Publications Again. Who knows. Gawker has its own brand now and the brand is bigger and broader than me, so I don't think the label will stick.
BT: Your worship of Kurt Andersen is well documented. A lot of people worship that dude. Every time you talk to most media geeks it's all "I
loved Spy! There will never be another Spy! I want to have an abortion with Kurt Andersen!" Why on earth do you think that is?
ES: Did I make that abortion comment on the record? Shit.
I think media people respect Kurt Andersen because he has certain editorial sensibilities that are extremely rare and has helped shape a number of key New York media institutions. My motivations are far less sophisticated: I just think he's smart and funny. I've been a media geek for a grand total of six-and-a-half months, so I'm in no position to sit around waxing nostalgic about When Kurt Was At The New Yorker. I don't have that sense of history. But I came across the Andersen/Carter-era issues of Spy a while back and thought they were brilliant. And I loved his novel.
I tend to develop intellectual crushes on people with a particular sense of humor. I have a similar fascination with the other half of the Spy duo, but I can't intellectually resolve the fact that Graydon Carter -- the same guy who did Spy and The Observer -- is capable of putting out a magazine that does feature length celebrity profiles with absolutely no irony (ever) and actually seems to have fun doing it. One of the things that struck me about Toby Young's book on his experience at Vanity Fair was that all the best lines were Graydon's. I just don't understand how he can turn that bullshit detector off long enough to condone, much less endorse, some vapid 5,000 word profile on the godforsaken Kennedys. (Oh wait. Ye$$$$$$$, I do. And he probably enjoys the glamour of playing with celebrities. But I don't WANT to believe it's true.)
BT: Speaking of abortions. Would you rather perform an abortion on a cat with a wooden spoon or stab a Yorkshire Terrier in the eye repeatedly for 47 seconds with a Bic pen?
ES: Well, I'm more of a cat person, so the Yorkie gets it in the eye! YEAH!!! Manhattan needs to be depopulated of those pretentious little pocket dogs anyway. I get tired of scraping them off the bumper of my SUV.
BT: That Gawker stalker thing's kind of funny. I once was in a stall at East Post restaurant in the East Village and took a poo next to Dan Hedaya, who played Nick Tortelli from Cheers. Man's kind of noisy. It sounded like he was giving birth to a rhino. Now, would that be something you'd print on Gawker stalker?
ES: If I didn't print that, it wouldn't be because it was "off the wall" or in bad taste. It'd be because it wasn't funny. But maybe it's just me, I stopped thinking fart jokes were funny in third grade. Oh, alright -- fifth grade. I don't have any specific restrictions on what I can and cannot print, aside from the general make-some-cursory-attempt-to-avoid-getting-sued guidelines. If I don't run something, it's generally not because I'm afraid it'll be controversial -- it's because I think it crosses some ethical line.
BT: Would you rather let George Wendt pee in your mouth or have Shelly Long wear a strap-on and ram you in the hiney for 22 minutes?
ES: You know, I've never tried a strap-on with Shelly Long -- although she has expressed considerable interest on a number of occasions. Well, there was that one time we -- no, that doesn't count. Nevermind. Shelly Long with the strap-on, it is!
BT: What's a blog?
ES: I think the technical answer is that it's website format composed of a series of posts, usually in reverse chronological order, usually updated on a regular basis. Socially, blogs usually engage in some sort of dialogue with other sites -- commenting on someone else's post, news items, whatever. I think blogging took off in a way that plain vanilla personal websites never did because it's fairly standardized and short form (which makes the content more digestible to consumers) and the social conventions encourage some sort of interactivity with other sites, (which makes it sort of viral). I'm sorry. I really have to stop now before I bore myself into a complete stupor. I hate talking blogs. Most people that read it don't even realize Gawker is a blog. Do *you* really care what a blog is? No, I didn't think so.
BT: So, what's a blog again? Nevermind. Anyway, that Anna Wintour lady is always a hot topic on the Gawker. Do you think she's as much of a raging douche bag as she's made out to be?
ES: I think that she's an extremely talented editor and ideal for the job from a business perspective. Because of that, she gets away with treating people badly and making insane demands (of the do-not-be-fat-in-my-presence variety). You have prima donnas in every industry and if they're good at their jobs, people tolerate their bullshit. The media industry's no different. I doubt seriously that she's evil incarnate, but it's hard to say, because I've never met her. Maybe she really does eat small children for breakfast and push blind people into oncoming traffic. I'm not sure. I just end up commenting on the *caricature* of Anna Wintour -- which I think she reinforces to a certain extent because the image serves her well professionally. And if I'm wrong and it is more truth than caricature, I'd say it's probably calculated behavior. I'd imagine that it's easier to do a job like that and be effective if you view people as utilitarian instruments and you're not too concerned with being liked personally. If you scare the hell out of people, they're not going to put up much of a fight when they disagree with you. But it's a risky approach to
management. One screw up, and you have an army of people you've slighted just waiting to crucify you.
BT: Who do you think would win in a street fight: Jim Romenesko or Nick Denton?
ES: A street fight with Romenesko would require that Nick bother to leave his favorite smoking chair at Soho House and engage in a vaguely bourgeois activity that could potentially involve the loss of blood. I just don't see that happening. That said, Nick's over six feet tall and hits the gym on a regular basis. I wouldn't pick a fight with him.
BT: Hey! The New York Times is really fucking up these days. You just wrote something for them. Did you find your editors incompetent clods? Were they all zonked out on Percodan?
ES: The New York Times is a big place. I think it's statistically impossible for *all* of the editors to be incompetent clods. That would require a level of consistency that the Times just doesn't have. My editor -- Jodi Kantor -- is a fairly recent addition to the Times and has been pretty fearless about trying new things. She heavily encouraged me to use the "Gawker" voice in that piece, and that's very un-New-York-Times. I think she's going to shake things up, and it's going to be very, very good for them.
If they don't kill her first, that is. The old guard isn't going to take well to a 28-year-old coming in and trying to change things -- even if she's right, and even if it's for the best. Whether Jodi has the talent and the ability to do the job well -- and I think she does -- is just going to be irrelevant to some people. She's in a tough position.
Someone , for example, that Jodi "seemed aloof." Seemed aloof? What the fuck does that mean? She doesn't respond when you speak? Or is it that she doesn't bring you cookies every day and ask about your cat? If she's not doing her job, I can be sympathetic, but if she's not stroking someone's ego enough to make to make them confortable with her status as their boss, it's another thing altogether.
I think the Jayson Blair situation and associated soul searching has
led people to believe in some absurdly utopian ideal when it comes to
what they expect from newspaper editors. Imagine what would happen if
an underling at Vogue whined to the press that Anna Wintour "seemed
aloof," Page Six would laugh and hang up the phone. If someone
at the Times seems aloof, however,
I don't think the Times is being *unfairly* ridiculed. I do think it's being over-ridiculed (talked about way too much), but they brought that upon themselves. At some point, the Times made itself the biggest story of the day, and while I believe it was a well-intentioned effort to atone for various sins, I think it's bad journalism. There are more important things to talk about. They should have apologized and left the incessant navel gazing to industry publications that specialize in that sort of thing -- the Romeneskos, the CJRs, (godforbid) the Gawkers.
BT: Do you anticipate any kind of Gawker backlash anytime soon? How do you plan on dealing with *that*?
ES: Gawker is, like, sooooo two months ago. I can't believe you're still talking about it. I never anticipated that Gawker was going to get the media attention it got -- or ANY media attention, really. Then again, I'm the type of person who believes that people who think "the glass is half full" are incredibly naive, so it's ALL one big pleasant surprise to me. I can't believe people are paying attention. I can't believe we don't get more hate mail than we do. I can't believe no one has cornered me at a party and demanded to know who the fuck do I think I am. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.
So yeah, I think there will be backlash. I don't know when. I thought we were on Minute Fourteen in February, and it's still going. Tomorrow, maybe? In terms of dealing with it, we just have to keep the site fresh, find ways to innovate, and replace whatever gets stale. And we have to do that anyway. There are no barriers to entry in this business. A lot of other people are capable of doing Gawker-like sites. The buzz is going to eventually die, and competitive sites are going to spring up. But we know that. We're not sitting around getting lazy because things are good.
BT: What happened to Talk magazine? What's that lady doing?
ES: Last I heard, that lady (Tina Brown is her name) was networking with other freelancers at Media Bistro events. Talk was a great magazine, but there was no fiscal responsibility. I think people were operating on the assumption that they had long-term Si Newhouse-type investors who would keep pouring money into it because they were true believers and loved the publication institutionally.
BT: Right! Tina Brown. Would you rather eat a salad out of Tina Brown's vagina or have sex with Art Cooper's corpse?
ES: I have to choose? I can't do both? You know I'm a media whore.
ES: I'll suppose I'll have to pick Art Cooper because if I picked Tina, I'd probably have to read a Thursday Times of London column about how not only do self-important bloggers insolently nip at the heels of normal media people, they're now demanding sexual favors as well. And while Tina's not normally averse to sexing up, well, anything, the salad bit was perhaps a little declasse for her tastes -- and in front of Dr.Kissinger, no less.
Sucked all the gravitas right out of her book party.