A writer doing a profile of Gawker Media publisher Nick Denton faces at least two built-in difficulties. The lesser is how to handle the subject of Denton’s immense head. Having
myself a few years ago, I didn’t even realize I was waiting to see how
till the moment arrived:
a famously large head that sits precariously on a thin neck and narrow shoulders.
Fair and accurate. Well handled.
The second problem is bigger and more ineffable. The New Yorker Denton profile is as good as they get. McGrath does some very funny close reading of Denton’s utterances and his circumstances. But something remains missing from the narrative of the rise of Nick Denton and Gawker Media, even as Nick Denton quite helpfully constructs it for you. Even people who experienced the growth of Gawker from the inside
It has to do with motivation. Denton says things about his motivation, and they almost sound as if they are describing his motivations, but at heart he seems completely alien to most writers and editors. It is as if everyone is telling the story of a famous restauranteur, when unknown to everyone—unknown even to himself—he suffers from undiagnosed anosmia. (Did the New Yorker write about a chef who couldn’t taste food?
But it was acquired, and he knew he had it.)
Denton the hypothetical restauranteur talks quite sincerely about crispness and juiciness and saltiness, in a way that makes them sound like shared and complete food values. But he can’t taste flavors! He is wealthy and successful in the food business, and people are lining up for his restaurants, but if you ask him, “What is the best appetizer here?” the answer is, “The critics gave us really helpful notices on the crab fritters, which was good for publicity, but the blooming onion alone accounts for 70 percent of revenue.”
Then you ask, “What is really flavorful?” and the answer is, “The old chefs always complained about the blooming onion, because they think they’re much better than the customer, and I don’t like blooming onions myself, but the new chefs understand it much better.”
Other, older kinds of restaurants are failing. It is Denton and his new chefs who will remake the restaurant business. Everyone agrees on this point.
And then Denton says, “I have always loved restaurants.”