In Silicon Valley, Gossip, Anger and Revenge
Silicon Valley likes to keep the media on a tight leash. Tech executives expect obedience, if not reverence, from reporters. They dole out information as grudgingly as possible. Sometimes they simply buy a chunk of a publication, a time-honored method of influencing what is deemed fit to write about.
Valleywag declined to play the game.
It was a gossip sheet for the digital age: abrasive, knowing, cynical, self-promoting, sometimes unfair. It dispensed snark by the truckload, printing things that people knew or surmised but were off the table. It said Google co-founder Larry Page had dated his then-colleague, Marissa Mayer. That the Google chairman Eric Schmidt was a playboy and a scamp. That the Napster co-founder and early Facebook executive Sean Parker’s wedding was seriously over the top.
它堪称这个数字年代的八卦小报：粗鲁伤人、无所不知、冷眼旁观、自我推销，有时候还不怎么公平。它成堆成堆地抛出恶言恶语，发表那些人们知道或能够猜测出来，但从不公开谈论的事情。它说谷歌的联合创始人拉里·佩奇(Larry Page)约会自己当时的同事梅丽莎·迈耶(Marissa Mayer)。还说谷歌的董事长埃里克·施密特(Eric Schmidt)是个花花公子兼流氓。Napster的联合创始人及Facebook的早期执行官肖恩·帕克(Sean Parker)的婚礼搞得太过头了。
Most notoriously, at least in retrospect, the tech gossip blog said in late 2007 that Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and was an early and significant investor in Facebook, was gay.
Outing famous people has a long and not particularly respectable history, but Valleywag said it was celebrating Mr. Thiel. The point, as Valleywag’s then-editor Owen Thomas wrote in his post, was that even in Silicon Valley, “a gay investor has no way to fit into the old establishment. That frees him or her to build a different, hopefully better system for identifying and rewarding talented individuals, and unleashing their work on the world.”
This was gossip with an attitude, and an agenda. And what it unleashed was Mr. Thiel’s ire. He secretly financed a suit brought by the wrestler Hulk Hogan against Valleywag’s parent, Gawker Media, which has resulted in $140 million in damages. Gawker is appealing.
The revelation of Mr. Thiel’s involvement in the suit this week brings the complicated relationship of Silicon Valley and the media once again to the forefront. The technology world is ever more important and richer, with smartphones in everyone’s pocket conveying a stream of news that Silicon Valley not only delivers, but helps shape. At the same time, the tech companies are less transparent about what they do.
“Silicon Valley is a closed world and has become more closed at the elite levels,” said Fred Turner, chairman of the department of communication at Stanford. “The gossip that circulates between people doesn’t always leap into the media the way it might in New York. So Americans know the Valley primarily through its advertising, its self-promotion and its products.”
Valleywag challenged that, and the Valley — or at least Mr. Thiel — pushed back.
“We should not be surprised that they act like entitled industrialists out here, because they are,” Mr. Turner said.
Valleywag was born in 2006, an arm of Gawker’s then-expanding empire of blogs, and it died last winter. It had a hiatus or two along the way, with Nick Denton, the Gawker founder, stepping in to write the blog at one point. Its most influential years were in the beginning, especially under Mr. Thomas, who ran the site from 2007 until 2009.
“On one hand the reporting was terribly caustic and brutal and on the other it was really thorough and investigative and accurate in a lot of cases,” said Brandee Barker, former head of global communications at Facebook. “I would read a story and think, ‘How on earth did they find this information that is correct?’ Other times I’d read Valleywag and think, ‘This is the most evil and unfair characterization of somebody I’ve ever read in journalism.’”
John Cook, executive editor of Gawker Media, who helped put Valleywag to rest last year, said the site “didn’t play the access game.”
Gawker 传媒的总编约翰·库克(John Cook)去年协助关闭了Valleywag，他说，这个网站“不玩信息渠道的游戏。”
Mr. Thomas, now business editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, said the goal of Valleywag was to improve the tech community.
托马斯如今在《旧金山纪事报》(The San Francisco Chronicle)担任经济版编辑，他说Valleywag的目标就是令科技社区得到改进。
“Silicon Valley said it had ideals,” he said. “All we asked was that it live up to those ideals. If you’re going to say that you’re a meritocracy, then don’t hire all of your buddies to launch a start-up who all happen to be young white men. Don’t say you’re apolitical when you’re secretly funding anti-immigration measures.”
For Mr. Thiel, taking action against Gawker may be a win. Dan Lyons, an author who was briefly a Valleywag writer, said what Mr. Thiel did “sets a scary precedent,” but “my guess is that most people hate Gawker as much as he does, so he probably ends up looking like a hero among his own crowd.”
That response was not long in coming. Scott Adams, whose Dilbert cartoon is a satirical look at the modern workplace, wrote on his blog on Wednesday that “this is another example in which I think citizens are taking a more active role in fixing the world when government isn’t the right tool for the job.”
Mr. Adams wrote approvingly of Mr. Thiel, “I assume he is acting out of a combination of revenge and a desire to make the world a better place.”
Without this week’s news, Valleywag’s legacy would be uncertain. Several Silicon Valley figures asked to comment on Wednesday said they had not read it or did not know it was defunct.
Others, like the Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff, an occasional Valleywag target, said simply about the site and this week’s events, “I don’t care about any of those people.”
还有一些人，比如 Salesforce的首席执行官，曾经短暂充当过Valleywag靶子的马克·本尼奥夫(Marc Benioff)，简洁地评价这个网站与本周的这些风波：“所有这些人我全都不关心。”
The news about Mr. Thiel funding the suit against Gawker broke just as the previous contretemps about Silicon Valley and the media — how Facebook shapes the news that its users see, sparked by a story in Gizmodo, another Gawker property — was dying down. Mr. Thiel, as it happens, is a Facebook board member. Facebook declined to comment on Mr. Thiel.
Mr. Thomas, who is himself gay, argues that Valleywag was not really outing Mr. Thiel. “I did discuss his sexuality, but it was known to a wide circle who felt that it was not fit for discussion beyond that circle,” he said. “I don’t believe he was in the closet. He was never hiding it.”
However much Valleywag said it admired Mr. Thiel for being “the smartest V.C. in the world,” it took a more disparaging view as well. In one post about Mr. Thiel’s claims of hiring only the best to work at his hedge fund, Clarium Capital, Mr. Thomas wrote, “Oh, really? Take a look at their résumés on LinkedIn. Like so many of this outspokenly harebrained libertarian’s theses, the claim sounds good on paper but doesn’t stand up to inspection.”
Mr. Thiel returned the favor, calling Valleywag “the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda.”
“It scares everybody,” he said in a 2009 interview with Pe Hub, a private equity publication. “It’s terrible for the Valley, which is supposed to be about people who are willing to think out loud and be different. I think they should be described as terrorists, not as writers or reporters.”