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May 26, 2008

Emily Gould: A Blogger More Than Exposed

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This week the New York Times Magazine published an article by Emily Gould, a blogger who started her blogging career with her own personal blog and eventually ended up writing for Gawker, a very popular site that promises "media gossip and pop culture round the clock."

In the article, Gould talks about her lifelong tendency to "overshare" and how her original blog, Emily Magazine was an expression of that compulsion to overshare.

Her oversharing went into overdrive when she hit the big time, getting a job as a writer at Gawker.  She was to be responsible for twelve of the forty posts the blog published daily and suddenly she felt like she had achieved her destiny.

Her Times article talks about how revealing personal details were satisfying in spite of the consequences:

Injecting a personal aside into a post that wasn’t otherwise about me not only kept things interesting for me, it was also a surefire way of evoking a chorus of assenting or dissenting opinions, turning the solitary work of writing posts into something that felt more social, almost like a conversation.

And Emily discovered she liked the attention.  I mean really liked it.  She was so addicted to the life of electronic talking, in the Gawker offices, she would hold complete IM conversations with someone sitting right next to her.

As for her writing, the more outrageous the personal details, the greater the chance she would expose them.  The power of being able to write whatever she wanted about whoever she wanted was a very heady thing.  And Gawker's notorious tendency to infuse a burst of meanness into their posts seemed to suit her even more.  But it came with consequences.

Like the time Jimmy Kimmel confronted her on a "Larry King Live" interview:

Kimmel launched an attack on one of Gawker’s regular features, a celebrity “stalker map” that relied on unsourced tipsters, one of whom claimed to have spotted Kimmel looking drunk a few months earlier. It took me a minute to catch on to the fact that Kimmel wasn’t acting out some blustery caricature — he was serious about the idea that Gawker had violated his privacy, and he was genuinely, frighteningly angry.

After that interview, all of a sudden, Gould was the one being stalked.  Everyone had an opinion about her and no one was shy about voicing it.  She began having serious anxiety attacks and wouldn't leave her apartment for days at a time.

The article's a fascinating read but after reading all ten pages I laughingly found myself unsatisfied. Yes, she gave us a look into the world of high pressure blogging---12 posts a day after all----yes she shared her eventual regret about revealing personal details of her life and of those close to her, and yes she eventually quit her job at Gawker.  But what I didn't get was a genuine sense of where she was in the world and what her aspirations might be based on the experiences in those ten pages.

For example, on the last page of the Times article it says this is Emily Gould's first article for the magazine.  What does that mean?  Is she working for the Times full time?  Is she writing something else other than her original blog?  Does she want to?

I felt I was given a story without much of an ending.  It's true, she was critical of her own actions during her stint at Gawker, but as one of the over twelve hundred commenters at the New York Times said:

Somehow, publicly proclaiming your overcoming an attention addiction (in the New York Times, no less) is akin to celebrating your successful stint in rehab in a bar. I sincerely doubt Ms. Gould has learned anything significant in her experiences or else she would not be posting here.

Another commenter at the Times had this to say:

As a blogger, I've always felt slightly nervous about how satisfying it feels to post something extreme or provocative. As a person, I've always been confounded about how people feel justified about posting their uncensored thoughts with little regard for who could eventually read it. My own blog is extremely self-censored, alias-protected, and incredibly mild in content, and I still don't tell people about it.

With a certain level of discomfort, I strongly agree with the first sentence of that quote.  But with a certain level of relief I strongly agree with the rest of that quote as well.  It's a tough balancing act, but one that all bloggers face sooner or later.

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