In celebration of a newly reinvigorated media job market, the Media Mob has an occasional series of interviews with people about to jump into an exciting new gig.
Jim Newell is replacing Alex Pareene, again. Mr. Newell has been hired as Gawker’s politics editor, taking over for Mr. Pareene, who left Gawker for Salon in April. Mr. Newell has been working for Wonkette, a D.C. gossip blog that was sold by Gawker Media in 2008. He will not, however, be leaving D.C.
We chatted with Mr. Newell yesterday afternoon about what it will be like to write for a Gawker audience (versus an insidery D.C. audience) and returning to work for a company that sold his last employer.
Observer: Hi Jim
Jim Newell: Hello!
Observer: is now still a good time?
Jim Newell: Yes it’s fine. I will type with decent grammar and punctuation for this.
Observer: haha type however you like
Jim Newell: okay then I will type like this.
Observer: when did you get the offer to move to Gawker and how long did it take you to accept?
Jim Newell: i got an offer last week mid-week and took a couple of days to make up my mind before accepting.
Observer: was that an easy decision?
Jim Newell: I think, by that time, it was. I had pretty much worked out what I would like to do in the event of an offer. But I’ve been at Wonkette for a long time, over two and a half years, so moving to anything else seemed strange at first.
(two and a half years is a lot of time for a BLOG)
Observer: that is a long time!
Jim Newell: Yes, it is 40 blog years.
Observer: have you picked a last day yet?
Jim Newell: Ha ha not really, even. I think Friday, but maybe sometime next week? I have to finalize this with [Wonkette editor Ken Layne]. But I’m starting Gawker on June 7, one week from Monday. I want to get a few days off in between, so I don’t go insane in my first month.
Observer: do you have to move? are you in D.C. now?
Jim Newell: I’m in DC now and will be staying here. I want to be around the HOT POLITICAL ACTION. No not really, I just have my modest life here.
Observer: will proximity help you blog about politics? Alex Pareene was based in New York, right?
Jim Newell: Pareene was in New York, yes, and did a fine job. And 99% of the stuff I’ve done for Wonkette hasn’t involved leaving the house or even knowing what’s outside of it. (Monsters, probably.) But there are events or rallies or happenings that I sometimes like to go to. Maybe I’ll want to do more of that stuff in the future, I don’t know?
It certainly was nice to have a place to stay on Inauguration weekend.
Observer: I don’t read Wonkette usually, but I asked a friend who works on The Hill what it’s like. he said “they’re very ok with swearing and calling senators anuses…today they called Sen. Nelson a big gay wario.” that was you?
Jim Newell: Yup
Observer: what will change, if anything, about your angle on politics writing for Gawker?
Jim Newell: Well my voice won’t change, my views won’t change, my sense of humor won’t really change. But I will probably be less over-the-top, sometimes. Wonkette is known more for being absurd, surreal, vulgar, and readers enjoy that. Gawker might be a touch more general-audience. I’ll have to define my terms better, too, since Gawker isn’t strictly a political site where everyone gets every reference.
Observer: right, i bet the bigger audience (I’m assuming) will be cool for you. but will it be boring to write more general-interest stuff? or at least less challenging if not boring.
Jim Newell: No not at all! I don’t think there’s anything wrong, or anything that forces you to dumb yourself down, about writing to a wider audience. I’ve probably gotten into all sorts of bad habits over the last couple of years where I assume too much on behalf of readers and could make my writing better by fixing some of that.
Observer: that’s a good point, but i didn’t mean dumbing down. I just mean that you’ve been writing for people who by and large ‘get it’ and now your posts will be sandwiched between other Gawker content. People aren’t going there for political commentary. or are they? is that your goal?
Jim Newell: I think some people are, maybe not the large Internet masses. But I think plenty of people who weren’t interested in celebrities or robots or new telephones or whatever went there to read Pareene’s stuff, because he had made his political writing a destination on its own terms. And I hope I can do something similar.
Observer: i think that Adrien Adrian and Maureen are doing a really great job so far (they’re funny!), are you excited to come on at a time when there is new blood? do you feel like the site is heading in a new direction now?
Jim Newell: I am! Both of them are very funny. Maureen is a friend of mine, actually, we used to write IvyGate together. As for the site moving in a new direction, I don’t really know. There are certainly MORE people there, if you just glance at the masthead. But it’s a mix of people who have been around for a couple of years as well as new ones.
Observer: speaking of, you were with Wonkette when it was sold by Gawker. how does it feel to go back there now? has anyone given you guff for that?
Jim Newell: VINDICATION! No, I don’t know. It just feels like I’m going back to a bigger operation that’s really expanded its reach in two years. Wonkette’s always had a good relationship with Gawker, owned or not. Has anyone given me guff for this? I mean I know what the phrase means, but what do you mean? Are people calling me a sellout?
Observer: something like that
Jim Newell: Ha ha no. Everyone has been very nice and complimentary.
Jim Newell: Yes, we literally share the same blood! No I don’t know. Both sites are written by ex-Gawker Media people with similar senses of humor, is all.
Now I am going back so it doesn’t count.
Observer: I was thinking that if an Awl editor went back to Gawker there would be guff
Jim Newell: Oh, well I’m not entirely clear what the Awl’s relationship to Gawker is, publicly. Do they have a no-link policy or something? I think it would be a bigger deal for them. The equivalent for Wonkette would be for me to go to Politico.
Because we despise them!
Jim Newell: The point of this all is I really had no qualms about going back to Gawker and am in fact looking forward to it! You New York people and your battles.
Observer: we had this item a couple of years ago about Pareene getting burnt out at Gawker — are you worried about that?
Jim Newell: Eh, I’m not too worried about it right now. Every blogger tends to feel burnt out at some point. Then you realize no one else will ever hire you and you deal with it, ha.
Observer: Ken said in his post today that you start working around 4pm and that your position is being eliminated — how did that make you feel?
or was that just to stop the torrent of “Hire Me!” emails
Jim Newell: Ken likes to make fun of me in posts. It’s one of the things I will miss most, not even joking.
Observer: great — is there anything else i should ask you? i feel like i should ask you a politics question
maybe, what’s the funniest email you’ve ever gotten from a press office about one of your posts?
or do they just totally write you off?
Jim Newell: No major politician would ever write to us! We’d post it. Their staffs have people who monitor these things, though. Things get read.
Observer: that must feel good — people are reading you. Gay wario is out there reading.
Jim Newell: I don’t have much else to say. I am writing up this post about CNN accidentally having the word “nigga” in one of its segments about an old black lady, it’s funny.
Observer: you made a joke about following in Pareene’s footsteps. is there anything you want to do differently than him?
Jim Newell: I don’t really know. I don’t actually blatantly copy him, just his exclamation point usage. I’ll just start and see what happens.