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After three years of intermittent scrounging for a media job in New York City, I finally had enough. Sure, I still relished my stalker-like relationship with the human resources staff at Random House. And my compulsive digging through job listings had become a comfortably fruitless habit, like buying lottery tickets or picking at toenails. Even when I landed the occasional interview, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was playing the walk-on role of The Applicant—and playing it badly.
My perky and expensively composed resume had been emailed around the block so much that it probably triggered spam filters, so I decided that I needed to pull an attention-getting stunt. I hoped to attract a few freelance gigs, or even a shot at some midlevel masthead turf. Ultimately, I found myself packed into a Soho beer garden with the mandarins of Gawker Media, introducing myself as the new, permanent editor the Gawker Media travel blog Gridskipper.
The "stunt" I pulled was writing an anonymous blog called Gawkerist that paid an absurd level of attention to Gawker Media blogs and bloggers. Everything about Gawkerist was meticulously, cynically planned, except the end result—actually working for Gawker Media publisher Nick Denton. I only told two people about Gawkerist—my girlfriend and an old pal safely ensconced in hometown Alabama. To both, I explained that since New York media types were always interested in Gawker Media (albeit sometimes begrudgingly), it seemed like a logical topic to attract their attention. After picking the target, I next had to figure out the logistics.
Gawkerist had to be anonymous, as I thought a mystery blogger would arouse more buzz than a blogger with a name and face, however non-famous. I implemented a paranoid series of steps (probably laughable to anyone with actual technical skills) to make sure no one could trace my blog, e-mails or comments back to me. I also resolved to indulge in no personal asides, keeping the Gawkerist voice clear of blogger navel-gazing. I fully intended to reveal myself eventually, but I didn't want someone else to out me prematurely.
I had initially thought Gawkerist would work as a parody, commenting on Gawker blogs in the same way that Gawker blogs comment on their subjects. But that went out the window on May 9, the day of my first Gawkerist post. The New York Times ran a widely linked article the previous weekend by Tom Zeller, Jr. ("A Blog Revolution? Get a Grip"), about Gawker Media publisher Nick Denton, Gawker Media, and the future of blogs in general. It was the perfect jumping-off point, and I found myself writing a longer-form post that resembled a sarcastic media column.
When I finished, I realized that writing the post had been fun, and more challenging and stimulating than typical blogging. But I could probably keep it up for three months, tops. Maybe someone will have read it by then, I thought.
That was 1:29 pm on May 9. By 6:49 pm that day, I received my first email from blogger (and former Gawker employee) Andrew Krucoff:
now that is some fantastic, clever writing of the likes i haven't seen in a long time. i only know three people personally who could write something like that: my friend chris gage, alex balk, and the sacramento is the new new york guy. i know you're none of them so I salute you mystery person and would buy you a drink if such a virtual plane existed.
I didn't know Krucoff personally, though I'd read his site The Other Page for some time and his Young Manhattanite interviews on Gothamist, plus various interviews and features he had contributed to Gawker. I ate up the praise and replied appreciatively. We exchanged e-mails over the next couple of days, as I continued to post on Gawkerist. Then, on a lunchtime whim, I decided to mass-mail the Gawker bloggers and a few other New York media sites to kick-start the process.
Unbeknownst to me, Krucoff had already alerted Gawker personnel about Gawkerist's appearance. I had grossly underestimated Gawker Media's fascination with itself. GM's editorial director Lockhart Steele responded, sardonically demanding more Krucoff-related coverage. Joel Johnson of Gizmodo and Brian Crecente of Kotaku wrote in, cursing me for not including them in the Gawkerist blogroll. Fleshbot's John d'Addario promised to clandestinely forward a nude group photo of Gawker Media bloggers. (Perhaps fortunately, this never happened). Jessica Coen of Gawker.com and Nick Denton also responded, both expressing pity that I would waste my time writing about them—an attempt at reverse psychology.
Coen and Denton also correctly guessed that the entire stunt was an elaborate cry for help, employment-wise. Steele suggested we meet for coffee. (Bear in mind that Gawkerist had been in existence for only three days.) You could safely say that things were moving faster than anticipated.
The other unanticipated development was the fevered speculation about my identity. Former GM editorial director Choire Sicha, at that time still blogging for Sploid (and now an editor at the New York Observer), noted amusingly about Gawkerist, "it's well-written, so it has to be someone we know." When Steele proposed our meeting, he qualified the proposal with, "Or would it turn out we already know each other?". I seriously considered extending the stunt into an actual hoax, recruiting Krucoff or someone they actually did know to pose as me.
If the Gawker Media people were interested in finding out who I was, Krucoff became positively obsessed. Over the first two weeks of Gawkerist posting, I exchanged over 200 e-mails with Krucoff, most of which cycled between him accusing me of being either his friend Chris Gage or mediabistro's anonymous "foreign correspondent" blogger "Sacramento is the New New York". Krucoff even flatly (if satirically) stated that Gage and I were the same person on his Young Manhattanite blog—an assertion picked up and repeated by several other blogs. I think both of us thrived on Krucoff's endless reservoir of conspiracy-generating energy.
In the meantime, my meeting with Steele led to a test-run on Gridskipper, and I exited the anonymity closet on Gawkerist. Time from first post: three weeks. As expected, those who were shocked were only shocked that I was a nobody. And now, I'm taking over Gridskipper permanently in an effort to bring that underloved blog out of the basement and into the bright, cheerful sunlight. The final irony is that I had actually interviewed with Nick Denton in the fall of 2003 to edit the blog that would eventually become Gridskipper. I probably did myself no favors then by mispronouncing Choire Sicha's name (correctly pronounced CORE-ee SEEK-ah) about a dozen times.
It was genuinely weird to mix with the blogging upperclassfolk in that Soho beer garden, as I always thought blog events or parties would feel awkward and high-schoolish. It did—but now it's for work, so it's OK! And yes, all the Gawker bloggers are very attractive and intelligent and entertaining, just like you always knew they would be. Krucoff was there, and despite confronted with my physical non-Chris-Gage existence, he hissed, "This proves nothing!" The man sticks to his guns.
On my first day of real live pro blogging, it nearly killed me to produce a dozen Gridskipper posts by the end of the day. By the end of the week, I was comfortably producing 16 a day, and I'd developed a combination of carpal tunnel, eyestrain, and spinal curl that I look forward to enjoying in the coming months.
I can't recommend the stunt method for every frustrated job-hunter, but it's been cathartic to say the least. As for myself, I'm looking forward to letting my resume languish unrevised for awhile. HR managers throughout Manhattan can breathe easier. Except for you, "GP" at Random House. I know where you live.
Chris Mohney is the editor of Gridskipper.com, a Gawker Media blog.