Happy Birthday, Nick Denton
Today is Nick Denton's 56th birthday. Nick was the founder of Gawker Media, and I had the pleasure of writing for one of its lesser-known blogs, Sploid, for the entirety of its brief run from 2005 to 2006. Before working for Nick, I had been toiling away in the brokerage industry, and so I am deeply and eternally grateful to him for helping me to escape the awful orbit of Wall Street. That said, I remain to this day haunted by the time Nick ruthlessly crushed my spirit in front of a roomful of his friends and associates.
In late summer 2004, I found myself the victim of the merger of Chase Bank and Bank One; I was soon to be unemployed, but with a reasonably generous severance package. Around this time I heard that Choire Sicha and Ken Layne were going to be launching Sploid, a new site for Nick Denton’s Gawker Media empire. Ken was an old friend from the mid-nineties, when we'd both lived in San Francisco, and we had recently, along with our friend Charlie, written a blog in the run-up to the 2004 election called I Can’t Wait to Vote. With literally nothing else to do, I casually mentioned to Ken that I was imminently available to do just about anything for very little money.
For reasons I no longer recall, Choire dropped out before the site before it even launched and Ken reached out to see if I was interested—of course I was. Over the coming weeks and months, Ken slowly forged the site’s identity, while at the same time patiently teaching me how to write. Sploid was a bit of old London journalistic bombast mixed with hyper-ironic sneering Gen-X contempt, we’d do piss takes of the day’s most pressing stories, as well as the most inane. It was great fun.
Traffic never exploded, but we achieved enough of a following and had found an engaging enough voice that we once had a conference call with two morons from TBS who were interested in maybe turning Sploid into a TV show. Things were going well for about half an hour, until something Ken or I said made it clear to them, apparently for the first time, that the stories on the site were all true. Suddenly they were no longer interested. In any event, we managed to keep the site going for eighteen months before Gawker decided to shutter us in the summer of 2006.
Years later, in 2013, Ken wrote to say he was going to be in New York for a party at Nick's and would I like to be his date. The occasion was to be the launching of Ken's newest site for Gawker, one whose name now escapes me. We met for a drink beforehand, then headed over to Nick’s loft. Nick was, of course, fuck-you rich at this time, having not yet fallen victim to Peter Thiel’s lunacy, and lived in a big beautiful SoHo loft with a living room big enough to play floor hockey. The grandeur of the place was, however, tempered by a Death Star-like sculpture hanging from the ceiling—it was fucking huge, like seven or eight feet across, this massive pale orb with an uneven surface.
The party was brimming with food and drink and merriment and above-it-all Gawker Media types. Eventually, Nick moved to the head of the room and asked for everyone’s attention. He thanked those in attendance and started talking wistfully about all things Gawker. Finally, he mentioned Sploid, saying something to the effect of “Honestly, it’s among my all-time favorite Gawker blogs”—was he blowing a little smoke up Ken's ass on his special occasion? Sure, possibly, but still, the Blogfather himself, the man who’d forever changed the publishing world, was calling the dearly departed Sploid, where I’d represented ~30% of the voice, the crème de la crème.
And then he dropped the hammer by remarking on what an amazing job “Ken and Choire” had done with it. “Choire”? Are you fucking kidding me? With all due respect to Mr. Sicha, who is far more accomplished at, well, everything than I am, but that fucking guy didn’t write word-fucking-one for Sploid. I turned to Ken with a look of hurt, rage and bewilderment on my face and Ken, god bless him, just chuckled and shrugged.
The one saving grace was that nobody in the room, save Ken, knew who I was. Yes, I had met Nick once or twice, as well as his right-hand man, Lockhart, and a few of the other GM bloggers, but in the grand scheme of things I was invisible and so was spared a mass swiveling of heads, hundreds of eyes turning to me as I basked in the soul-crushing shade that Nick had just unwittingly thrown at me. I was allowed, instead, to just stand their stewing, alone with my misery in the shadow of a planet-sized sculpture.
Anyway, happy birthday, Nick. And thanks again.