Friday, January 03, 2014

Happy Birthday To Wonkette!

(Illustrations from "Building a Better Photo-Op", 11-26-07)

Is it difficult or easy to believe that Wonkette has been around for ten years? Maybe a little bit of both?

Longtime Pony Pals may remember that I guest blogged for Wonkette a few times during the Alex Pareene and Ken Layne regimes, and then later did a weekly "Condi Roundup" column. I honestly can't remember who contacted me first about doing it, but I was very flattered to be asked, because at the time, Wonkette was kind of a big deal! And also at the time, the site was owned by Gawker, so they paid, which was nice, but I would have done it for free if they had asked (SO many readers!).

Here's how it worked: I was set up on their Wordpress account, assigned a username, and then it was off to the races.  You would connect with the other writers and the editor via chat (AIM at first, later Gmail chat). Throughout the day, you'd search, search, search for something to write about, or troll the tip email account for material (slim pickings!). Sometimes the editor would assign a topic, and other times you would suggest a post you wanted to write, and then would get the thumbs up or down from the editor. After writing the post (and finding appropriate illustrations), the editor would review it, and then either you or he would post it. Mission accomplished! Now do it 11 more times!

Bloggers were required to come up with 12 posts a day, and before actually trying it, that seemed really easy to me. Boy, was I wrong! I found the whole thing to be really nerve-wracking, but exhilarating at the same time. Sometimes it would be, like, 3PM and I'd think, "OMG, I've only done seven posts, arrrrrrgh!" That's when I'd hit "One News Now" or, in desperation, see if Ann Coulter had said anything that day (easy post!).

At the end of the day, even though I'd engaged in little or no physical activity whatsoever, I was exhausted. How did these people do it? Day after day, week after week, 12 posts a day! This was a valuable lesson, because I realized I could NEVER do this for a living. No way. As you'll see below, it's a good thing I found this out.

After Alex Pareene left, another editor took over. I don't remember his name, but he didn't last long. Meanwhile, I stumbled into a major scoop. The Larry Craig scandal had just broken, and I was at a bar chatting with my friend Dave, and the following conversation took place:

Me: Ha ha, are you enjoying the Larry Craig scandal?
Dave: Yes! Very much! You know what? I slept with him once!
Me: Are you KIDDING ME?
Dave: No! (Tells story.)
Me: Uhhh... David, are you aware that I'm a part-time gossip blogger? I would LOVE to write about this on Wonkette.
Dave: Never heard of it. Sure!
Me: Would you go on the record?
Dave: Sure, why not?

So the next day, via chat and email, I interviewed Dave and got him to write his story in the form of a narrative. It was quite an explicit tale! And he was willing to go on the record, which nobody had in relation to Larry Craig's gayness. I knew I had a really hot scoop on my hands. Before I even had a chance to offer it to Wonkette, in a case of perfect timing, I was asked by their new editor if I could fill in for another day. I said yes and promised that I had a really good story for them.

I posted the story early that day, and then two things happened: First, the post blew up immediately. It got picked up by every blog, and then, KABOOM, it was posted on Perez Hilton, which launched the sordid tale into the stratosphere. Second, OMG, I got panicky emails from Dave. It turns out that he didn't know about how popular Wonkette was, and worse, he didn't understand what I meant by "on the record."

"I didn't know you were going to use my name!" Dave said. "And my picture! You've got to take that down!" I tried to explain to Dave that it was too late, that he had agreed to go on the record, and that the post was everywhere and even if Wonkette took it down, it had already been quoted on hundreds of places all over the web. Now it was my turn to panic. I talked the editor and shared David's concerns. There was a lot of back-and-forth between the three of us, and eventually Dave relented (soon after, Dave told me he was glad it had happened, so phew. We're still friends).

In the meantime, poor Dave's phone was ringing off the hook, and I even got a phone call from Good Morning America, who were keen to feature me and Dave. I declined. "What part of this story," I asked, "is suitable for a network morning show? The whole crux of the story, the thing that makes it so outrageous and noteworthy, is that I reported a senator getting shit on his dick! And if I were to talk about it on TV, THAT is what I would want to discuss, because I'm pretty sure that's a journalistic first."

And then Wonkette's editor did something truly unforgivable: to "cash in" on the popular story, he created a second post which included quotes from Dave taken from our private emails discussing his concerns with the story, emails which were understood to be private. I was aghast at having my story hijacked, and Dave was upset because he felt his privacy had been violated again. Gahhhhh. I wrote an angry email to Gawker honcho Nick Denton, and he agreed that the editor had been totally out of line and unethical. The editor left Wonkette shortly thereafter. I believe he was a poor fit for the site to begin with, but this instance was likely the straw that broke the camel's back.

I believe I was considered to be an obvious choice to be the next editor of Wonkette, and some of the Gawker folks kind of tried to hint around that idea, but as I said above, I had done enough for them to know that I didn't want the job, and there was no way I could work full-time at the National Gallery of Art and run a high-volume, commercial website. I made it clear that I really enjoyed working for them, but I wasn't their man.

After that, David Lat and Ken Layne took over, and Wonkette was really good again. I contacted Ken and asked him if he'd be interested in a weekly column about Condoleezza Rice, since obviously this blog alone wasn't big enough to contain all my feelings about America's Princess Diplomat, and thus the Condi Roundup was born. I did the Roundup for about seven months, and during that time really got to like Ken Layne a lot. It turned out that we had much in common, especially our mutual familiarity with Arizona and the desert.

After a while, writing the Condi Roundup got harder and harder as I eventually ran out of things to say about her (or so I thought!). Then Gawker sold Wonkette to Ken, and he let me know that he could no longer afford to pay me for the column. Since it had pretty much run its course, we both agreed that a mercy-killing was in order, and we parted on friendly terms.

So that's my Wonkette story! The site will always have a fond place in my memories, and I'd certainly write for them again, because writing in that voice is really fun.

I don't know their current editor, Rebecca, at all, but I think she's doing a good job, and I still enjoy the site quite a bit. Happy anniversary, Wonkette!


Civic Center said...

Glad to read you're still friends with Dave, and I love the moment of panic: "It turns out that he didn't know about how popular Wonkette was, and worse, he didn't understand what I meant by "on the record."

Comradde PhysioProffe said...

Awesome that you wrote at Wonkette! I had no idea until now, but I love Wonkette, too. Their sense of humor is right up my alley.