The Will To Blog

Emily Gould writes for the New York Times Sunday magazine:

In the fall of 2006, I got a call from the managing editor of Gawker Media, a network of highly trafficked blogs, asking me to come by the office in SoHo to talk about a job. Though Gawker was a must-read for many of the people working at the magazines and newspapers whose editorial decisions the site mocked and dissected, it held an irresistible appeal for desk-bound drones in all fields — tens of thousands of whom visited the site each day.

Sometimes Gawker felt like a source of essential, exclusive information, tailored to the needs of people just like me. Other times, reading Gawker left me feeling hollow and moody, as if I’d just absentmindedly polished off an entire bag of sickly sweet candy. No one was loved. At my old job, it would have taken me years to advance to a place where I would no longer have to humor the whims of important people who I thought were idiots or relics or phonies. I felt liberated — finally, a job where I could really be myself! After college, she worked as an assistant in L.A. and maintained a personal blog. “I tried not to read the comments,” Jessica told me when we met for a drink just before I started work at Gawker. I needed to know what people were saying about me. Reading the comments created a sense of urgency, which came in handy when trying to hit deadlines 12 times a day.

I relayed some of the choicest bits to Henry, who also thought I shouldn’t be reading the comments. The commenters at Emily Magazine had been like friends. Now, with Gawker’s readers, I was having a different kind of relationship. When Jessica cautioned me against reading the comments, she also told me that the commenters loved it when she revealed personal details.

“Emily, don’t quit Gawker!” a young guy shouted at me from his bicycle as I walked down the street one day.

We each wrote our allotment of Gawker posts in the mornings, and in the afternoons we went to the beach. The next few weeks eliminated every constant from my life except my job. Now I felt totally comfortable posting a picture of myself in a bathing suit on the site, inspiring Josh to do the same. I felt blazingly, insanely energized, and the posts came more easily than they ever had before.

After the first night Josh and I spent together, I woke up as the sun rose and sat down at my desk to write a post that was nominally about a recent New York Times article about the shelf-life of romantic love. I shudder involuntarily when I read this post now. The commenters loved it.

Gawker had recently added a counter beside each post that displayed how many views it received. Now it was easy to see exactly how many people cared about my feelings. Readers e-mailed me their own breakup horror stories and posted hundreds of comments, advising me about flavors of ice cream to eat, and I reveled in the attention. I had managed to turn my job into a group therapy session.

We named it Heartbreak Soup. Josh was one of the first people I told about the blog. Then I opened another tab in my browser and logged into Gawker to start compiling the morning’s gossip. I was essentially talking to myself.

I lulled myself into imagining that these Heartbreak Soup readers, like those old Emily Magazine readers, might not even know what Gawker was, that they were reading just because they liked my stories.

One night, after writing a post about my first summer in New York, I put a link to Heartbreak Soup on my Facebook page under “Web sites.” Not long after, Josh told me he wanted to have a talk with me about how unsecret my “secret” blog had become. I remembered the fight I had with Henry about the “Project Gayway” post. I offered to make the posts that mentioned Josh inaccessible by password-protecting them.

At home, I wrote about what had just happened on Heartbreak Soup, and then I password-protected the post, feeling strange and sad.

Losing the Will to Blog

In October, New York magazine published a cover article about Gawker’s business model and cultural relevance. That week, when I walked around at parties, trying to elicit funny quotes from whatever quasi-famous people were there, all anyone wanted to talk to me about was Gawker. At the end of November, I announced my resignation via a post on Gawker.

I wasn’t reading The Sunday Times or New York magazine, because what was the point? Two months after I quit Gawker, Josh wrote an article in the New York Post’s Sunday magazine about how violated he felt when I wrote about him on Heartbreak Soup, quoting extensively from my blog posts to make his points.

If only I could! Google, YouTube, Gawker, Facebook, WordPress, all gone. “I’m taking it down,” Ruth called to me from the living room, where my laptop sat on a table, displaying our no-longer-so-secret blog.

If the article had been published when I was still working at Gawker, I would have been able to steer the conversation that it provoked.

Late one night, I unlocked Heartbreak Soup and wrote one last post there. In it, I talked about how a single blog post can capture a moment of extreme feeling, but that reading an accumulated series of posts will sometimes reveal another, more complete story. I talked about how taking the once-public blog and making it private, though tempting, felt like trying to revise history.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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