Since everyone is posting the shit that they never had the balls to publish earlier, I’d like to share a post that I wrote last summer while Gawker Media was in the midst of one of its worst upheavals to date, centered around the outing of a Conde Nast executive and ultimately leading to incredible strife between Gawker’s editorial and sales teams. While that story seems to have blown over and most involved parties have moved on to bigger and better controversies, the allegory is especially relevant as Gawker Media faces a future of working for a company that may not understand editorial independence as well as we once did.
It’s currently 5:24pm in Panama City, Panama right now. The afternoon rainstorm is finishing up, and while I left Gawker more than 3 weeks ago at this point, I can’t help but watch what’s going on there right now with a perverse sense of horror. It tears me up to have to watch this mess from the sidelines. Not just because I feel for the people who are currently there that I consider friends, but also because there was a time when I would have tried to talk both sides back from the ledges you’ve seemingly hurled yourselves off of.
I’m breaking my silence and writing this post with hopes that business and edit can gain a better understanding of where the other side is coming from. It’s entirely possible you both turn on me and claim I don’t “get” your side, but I do. I have all along. I’ve been following this entire saga while recovering from Dengue Fever (not recommended), and those of you who know me know that I am nothing if not sincere when it comes to matters of church and state.
And that is exactly what we’re talking about here. Church & State.
The Church, or editorial, is the spiritual backbone and the reason that everyone in the State wakes up in the morning. Without the Church there is no soul, without the priests and priestesses there are no congregants, and without the sacrificial totems there is no impact on society. The Church at Gawker is the holiest of institutions centered around serving the public with Truths that they cannot receive elsewhere; a sacred tradition maintained only by those crazy few who have dedicated themselves to a life of suffering and relative poverty at the hands of an oft-ungrateful, unruly public. They are — above all — a pious people.
The State, or business, is the operational backbone of Gawker and exists to protect, promote, enrich and expand the territory in which the Church is welcome. These are your tax collectors, your civil defenders, your public work architects and your social security administrators. It requires dealing with contractors and clients, some of whom are a real pain in the ass to work with on a daily basis. These jobs are not always the most spiritually fulfilling (they are often held by pious people just the same), but the people who do them do so with precision and passion, and the specialized nature of these jobs makes them quite lucrative. They are — above all — a patriotic people.
We’ve learned that for publishing to function, there must be a strict separation of Church and State. That is, the Church is free to function without the State’s oversight or censorship, and the State is free to function without having to adhere to the absolute laws of the Church. In reality, however, that separation is murky at best, and oftentimes both Church and State find themselves naturally impeding on the other’s sovereignty. It is not because of animosity on either side, it is because the concerns just aren’t the same. They aren’t supposed to be.
Take, for example, a scathing post from the Church that accuses a client of the State of sins in the eyes of Truth. [SHAME] The Church does not care that the client may have helped finance roads, bridges and tunnels that allow their congregants to come to Church every day, because sin is sin and roads are a State problem. But for the State, they are presented with a new problem: Because of the actions of the Church, they may have to cease doing business with a long time supporter of the infrastructure, built on years of trust and diplomacy. The Church has affected the State, and the patriots will naturally feel as if they have been somehow targeted. They have no recourse; after all, the State cannot and should not constrict what the Church says. I’ve seen this play out dozens of times at Gawker, and each time it means a State employee having to toss cards from their rolodex, make long apologies, and work harder to get those roads funded next month. It is a lot of work, and it doesn’t help that the Church seldom apologizes for levying the charges that led the State here in the first place. But why would they? As agents of the Church, they do not answer to the State, only to God.
So in this case that started all this, the Church took a radicalized position that was considered so extreme, it wound up outraging members of the public, congregants and non-believers alike. The outrage caused a crisis for the State that was so severe, it was forcing potential road closures and legal challenges that would cripple or even destroy the State in a worst-case scenario. The State, unable to pull the post down itself, did the one thing it could when it comes to matters of the Church: they prayed.
And in this religion, you should know by now there is only one God, one Holy Father, one Creator. His name is Nick, and he is the one the religion is based around and the government is built to support. As Alpha and Omega, he’s the only one who the rules of Church and State do not apply to, for truly without Him there is neither.
He is the one who can decide if the policies of the Church are so radical that they indeed threaten to undermine the very operation of the State, which in turn would undermine the ability for the Church to continue to safely spread the word of the gospel: Truths that needs to be told. Perhaps the Church could have been left to discuss and work through its own disagreements on this particular dogma (as Monday morning QB I would have encouraged a much more public debate on this story pre-publication), but time was a factor and the State was now in jeopardy. So in weighing the interests of the Church and State, God rebuked his own people and sacrificed his sons in order to preserve the union from what appeared to be a potentially crippling worst case scenario. This may or may not have been the right call, but it was Nick’s call to make.
One more time: This was Nick’s decision to make. Not Andrew’s. Not Tommy’s. Not Erin’s or Scott’s or Heather’s. Just like when Nick barks that an advertisement needs to come down when a line is crossed, so too went a post. And it is reasonable and respectable that the two high priests responsible for that post felt as if their authority had been undermined; it had been. For members of the State who have a limited understanding of what a martyr looks like, understand that this saga led the Church to lose two beloved leaders in order to protect your establishment. This is a sacrifice that only the pious could understand, their martyrdom was to protest the desecration of the Church and preserve whatever sanctity they felt was left.
Nick cares about Church and State separation so much, there are only a few other employees at the company who were allowed to operate across those spaces with any flexibility. I was one of them, though I was pretty clearly a member of the State who had a strong relationship and deep appreciation for the members of the Church. One of my jobs was to anticipate problems that the State could create for the Church and mitigate them before they happened, shooting down ideas that would offend the sensibilities of our pious population.
And maybe that is the problem here. Most magazines and papers have a person whose job it is to tell writers and editors that they can or cannot publish something because it would greatly and gravely affect the continued operation of the State…she or he is called a publisher. The publisher takes into account logistical things like space and topical overlap, but they also consider other business vectors as well. They allow the editors to do their work without bias or influence, but in severe instances where the lasting operations of the State will be threatened by an edict from the Church, those issues can be discussed openly and freely among those who are affected. The publisher is not an agent of the State who works in the temple, but more like a lay Church official who has a keen sense of how the State operates.
After Mein Coke, I suggested filling this role for potentially controversial stories moving forward, not in order censor but to either help frame them in such a way that the State could defend itself most completely, or at the very least prepare the State for the backlash to come. Heather and Nick never responded to this idea, and I never brought it up again. Maybe I should have.
Alas, we’re here now. And I can taste the tension in the office all the way from Panama, so I want to remind all of you that you should all be pious. And you should all be patriots. You may have loyalties to one structure or the other, and you may have had a time where the actions of one side seemingly impacted your ability to do your job as an agent of the State or the Church. But you are #blessed with the otherwise wonderful job you have because of the people who live in a world you could never possibly understand, writing words or selling ads or building technology or processing benefits. You are ALL doing this for God & Country, never lose focus of that and please, for me, be kind towards each other. You all bend to the will and whimsy of Nick, don’t mistake his decisions as acts of war from your fellow citizens.