This morning I was treated to a delightful piece of investigative journalismism (hat tip to Twizzlerss) by Cory Blair of AJR.org entitled "How I Became a Kinja Star for, Like, 10 Minutes." In it, Blair explored what makes Kinja users (who, for the record, don't have a single official moniker, but rather are more commonly defined by where they post e.g. "Jezzies," "GTers," "Balkers") act the way they do, and more specifically, how they dole out their much-coveted recommendations or "stars."
The piece got a lot right. Dark humor, witty turns of phrase, first commenters, and pop culture references are all favored in our community and thrive in our current iteration of Kinja, known colloquially by the devotees as NuKinja. But the piece also got a few things wrong. Before going into my response proper to Blair, I'd like to address the Real Housewives of Orange County fiasco (yes, I just typed that sentence) that Blair encountered, which will inform my discussion of the Kinja community below. Here's the relevant portion from Blair's piece:
Directly above the Kenya story, I spotted a recap of "The Real Housewives of Orange County," a show for which I have an intense, severe hatred and, thus, no problem savaging for the purposes of riling up a virtual crowd. I commented:
My conclusion was that trashing "The Real Housewives of Orange County" won't award you points on Kinja. It's kind of like being a housewife on "The Real Housewives of Orange County"; even if you get a lot of attention, you still lose.
We as a community do not tenaciously hold onto the Real Housewives franchise, nor do we attack any wanderer who may speak ill against it. Sure, there are those that watch the show religiously, but like the majority of stories on Gawker (and I'm speaking only of Gawker for the time being, not Jezebel, Kotaku, Deadspin, et al) we like to skewer and roast our stories before digesting them.
There was nothing different about the Real Housewives experience Blair recounted except that as a Kinja user, Blair chose to demean Gawker's choice of story placement in the hope of being starred. This is what the users attacked: the faulty logic behind Blair's choice of comment, not the attack on the Real Housewives franchise. Hamilton Nolan, the once and future king of the Banhammer, which contained the power in its virile metal to remove users from the site and force them to start their commenting careers anew, once said that you wouldn't walk into a friend's living room and shit on their couch. Likewise, why would you walk into Kinja and shit on what you find?*
If a Kinja user doesn't like something, they are more than capable of showing themselves out without leaving a useless, pompous comment. When they do happen to leave a comment, we're more than happy to illustrate the error of their ways by showing how wrong their judgment was.
But to address the concern even more specifically, Gawker is a blog whose tagline reads "Today's Gossip is Tomorrow's News." It has remembered its rag roots even while transitioning into providing a mix of journalism, essays, trend pieces, and dalliances. So, yes, a piece on the Real Housewives of Orange County is just as acceptable as a piece on Kenyan tragedy because that's what its readers want to read. There's no other reason for these stories being there. Gawker is upfront and honest that it survives based on our clicks, and the readers who come to the site appreciate knowing that they can get their hit of pop culture alongside more substantive world news.
With that aside, I'd like to add my two cents to the conversation that Blair started about the Kinja community. Gawker (and again, only speaking specifically of Gawker.com) attracts readers who know that the world, at times, comes prepackaged by the media for a lazy mainstream audience. CNN likes to see "both sides" of an argument when really there may only be one, and unspeakable monsters such as "gay people" get funny euphemisms by The New York Times such as "he follows Tom Daley on Instagram." Gawker readers relish in the take-downs of these institutions because they throw the curtain back on their contrived storylines and veiled ambitions. CNN doesn't really think there are two valid arguments in the Global Warming crisis, they just want to corner the middle-of-America political spectrum, an endeavor that proves more futile every day. And likewise, The New York Times has no problem with gay people, but to call someone "gay" directly in print may be a transgression of the social niceties that the Grey Lady still believes exists. Such an act could tarnish its old world reputation.
But Gawker does not play by these rules. Gawker exposes the hypocrisy, the illogical conclusions, the fakeness, the opportunism, the smarm, and all the other bullshit that the rest of the media (and culture) use to turn a profit. It functions as a modern satirist and uses snark and sarcasm to achieve its aims. It regulates the behaviors of individuals in the public eye by providing a space for their less-than-perfect decisions to be skewered, discussed, and fed back into the public discussion refined with a more robust understanding of what made them wrong to begin with. Understanding that this is the role Gawker plays becomes crucial for understanding what role the Kinja user plays.
As Kinja users, we are part of the refining process. For a clear example, the perennial favorite: frat guys dressing in blackface on Halloween. This is an unequivocally wrong action, but unlike murder or theft it persists based on faulty reasoning on the part of the perpetrators. Certain White people think that dressing in this attire is a fun joke. They think that we live in a "post-racist" society. They have "Black friends" which they think make them immune to racism. They weren't "actually being racist."
Obviously this is a problem. Why do people still think this way? It's at this point that Gawker comes in, puts these people on a pedestal, and shows the internet the error of their ways. While this may seem inhumane, the frat guys' actions were more so. And in showing their offenses to the Gawker community, we come in and by wit, prose, GIF, or other means dissect the inappropriate actions, spread to Facebook, Twitter, etc. and thereby inform others that this is not how you should act. To this end, commenters that can more effectively roast the offender, move to the top. I get that at this point, the Kinja threads sound a little David Lynchian, but in the blunt, honest, somewhat cynical vein of Gawker, I'm just saying it like it is. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Can a Kinja user elucidate a politician's sin by pulling up a screen grab from Breakfast at Tiffany's? Can you take a Beyonce lyric and apply it to a television network's racist pilot that leaked to Defamer? Can you create a pun in four words that more effectively summarizes the article than even the article could? These are the comments that rise to the top because in seeing them, readers remember the morsel of truth that Gawker wanted to impart. We don't star bland, mundane, pedestrian comments like "why is this news?" because that doesn't add anything to the discussion. We recommend posts that contribute to the learning process by adding more information or a new angle, often via humor.
Kinja users genuinely want the best for our society, but we're smart enough to realize that the channels we learn about our society are not always equipped for the Truth bombs that are necessary to tell a story effectively. We use the tools of the internet that spread—snark, irony, sarcasm, etc—to achieve our progress. The Kinja community understands that we all have our masks that we wear to conceal our blemishes, and we reward those who can most delicately pry away the veneer.
*It occurred to me well after posting this that Brian Moylan, not Hamilton Nolan, should be the owner of the Banhammer title. However, I've always attributed this nugget of wisdom to Nolan and I can't find definitive evidence of who stated it first. I've left the passage unchanged.