This will be a long thing about The Awl, so if you don’t care, please feel free to ignore.
A few weeks ago, when we realized that The Awl’s birthday was coming up (an easily rememberable 4/20), we batted around some high level ideas on what we could do on the site to commemorate it. Eventually we all got busy, as we all have been prone to do lately, and we never came up with a real idea of what we could actually do. One of the ideas in play was, for me, as the business person, to write a state of the union sort of thing about the site. I wasn’t so into that idea at the time, and even as I tried to put it together this morning, I realized I could never do anything like that without feeling like it was unnecessarily self congratulatory or, just overall, feeling like a dickhead.
In a lot of ways, when I look back at the first two years of the site, that’s sort of what we’re all about - almost to a fault. There’s a trend on the internet now to talk about how great you are. Platforms like Twitter or Facebook are just a way to promote your wares and show all the various ways that you think you’re great and awesome. It couples well with the idea of “entrepreneurism” and “creating” that’s also seems to be really hip right now, or at least very popular amongst the more vocal participants of my various social media streams. And obviously we’re all guilty of this kind of behavior, but some of us more than others, and a select few of us are insanely heinous and obnoxious about it and should stop acting like anything they do is cool and stop checking in to Foursquare too - but that’s neither here nor there.
What does this have to do with The Awl? Well, as great as we think we are, and I think we’re all very happy with the product that we’ve made—Choire and Alex with the site’s content, and myself with the model we’ve built to monetize that same unique and thoughtful content without compromising too much of ourselves—aside from instances where, late at night on the birthdays of our site I write long things on my personal Tumblr about how I think we’ve actually done something really cool, we rarely ever talk about this. Seldom is it discussed amongst ourselves, but we definitely don’t ever talk about it in any sort of public forum.
Now, I think for us as human beings, this is probably for the best, because, in case it wasn’t clear a couple of paragraphs before, I really hate the idea of what self-promotion has become on the internet and I would hate to be a part of that. (If you ever think we’re a part of that, please tell me in a private channel, not in public because that would be embarrassing and mean.)
So why would avoiding any of this jerk-ish behavior be a bad thing for us? Well, really, it comes back to what The Awl’s biggest problem and strength is: an unwillingness to play by the stupid rules in order to win on the terms of what other people seem to have set for us.
Confused? Sure. There are a lot of run-on sentences here and it’s sort of an arduous and over-written thing to work through. What I mean to say is that the current rules in place to win at having a New York internet publishing entity are stupid and wrong, both in terms of perceived and actual success.
For the former, perceived success, it’s all about getting attention and talking about how great you are, all of the things that I said I hated above. It’s not about actually doing anything, or building an audience, or making money, it’s about interacting with a lot of insufferable people who overvalue their own importance and want other people who overvalue their own importance to write about their collective overvalued importance. That doesn’t mean that everyone who participates in this system and wins is a jerk (there are lots of those people I don’t think are jerks), and that doesn’t mean that everyone who participates and wins is not smart (there are lots of those people who are way smarter than me). But also, and I want to be clear here, a lot of those people ARE phony jerks who are not smart and, to me, are also insanely annoying.
Why does this irk me so much? Well, because sometimes, a dumb person will come up to me and say something condescending and rude about our business and begrudge it based on their stupid assumptions, due largely to the fact that we don’t ever talk about how we’re doing alright and have built a profitable business out of literally nothing but a shit ton of work and the help and support of a lot of incredibly generous and kind people. So, yeah, that’s been annoying. (Also, I’m insanely competitive, so that’s a thing in play here too.)
As far as actual success and how we are sort of too stubborn for our own good, it essentially comes down to the now standardized model that exists for how to build a large, behemoth, words-based content website. It’s sort of easy? Create a huge mountain of garbage statistics of audience and inventory, and then place a tablecloth of seemingly intelligent content to cover it like a veil. There are obviously exceptions to this model, the most exceptional, non-old publication to do this being Gawker, but when it comes to your HuffPo’s or whatever, that’s essentially the shady ass blueprint, and you know what, it works incredibly well. Now, for better or for worse, we don’t do that - which is much more of Choire and Alex’s call than my own, but I trust their editorial sensibilities, and at the end of the day, I think we’ve figured out a way to balance it all anyways, or we try to exercise some integrity.
So what’s the point of this? Why even write any of this out in this long winded and wordy way? Because I thought, for once, on a day when it might be slightly appropriate and not completely (although still mildly) obnoxious, I thought I could congratulate Choire and Alex (and me? ^_^) and the very nice people who read, contribute, and have helped the site to exist, for doing it. For building something that is so stubborn that by all accounts of the stupid rules that stupid people have made, that it shouldn’t exist, but it continues to do so, and will continue to do so until we just can’t anymore.
(So f everyone else.)