John Cook is an asshole. You are almost certainly a more pleasant and sensible person than John Cook, but you would not be here if it were not for what a colossal asshole he is.
There was a time, not that long ago but unimaginably distant, when it was OK to be an asshole. You could say you were one. You didn’t need to cuddle with your friend on live Twitter video and read tweets to one another about what friends you were. You did not need to give a shit what other people thought about you. All you needed to do was to tell the truth, with courage and integrity.
No one had more courage and integrity than John Cook. No one was more willing, as a reporter and editor, to be the asshole, to bring down the wrath of the gun nuts or the Fox News goons or the high-strung Quality Journalists on his own head. No one—literally, no one else—was there to run the newsroom in its darkest hour, into the darker hours still to come, fighting and losing and fighting and losing and fighting on anyway.
Tradition says that here is where I should roast him, where I should talk about his hilariously catastrophic hiring decisions, his homeownership in the very most non-embarrassing suburb for people who could definitely still live in Brooklyn if they wanted to, his dad-rock guitar-hero dreams, his dedication to quitting smoking that was almost as strong as his dedication to bumming cigarettes. John lived that tradition—endlessly roasting and endlessly roastable, fearless and funny and unashamed. He left the company twice and came back twice, drawn back to the fellowship of the weird and surly and otherwise unemployable, the culture of writers who couldn’t quite imagine being anywhere else, with anyone else.
Now we know what that culture got us: the contempt and condescension of other journalists as we battled for our existence, our inside jokes read aloud in court to inflame a jury of mistrustful Floridians, our honest or facetious confessions of weakness and failure compiled and passed along and signal-degraded by message-board cretins to form an endless smarmy indictment of who we are and what we did and why. It leaves us sitting and waiting to learn whether every word we ever published will be deleted, along with the ones already deleted, by whoever has the money to buy the wreckage of the years of work and care and bravery and idiocy that added up to Gawker.
Was it worth it? Day after day, an incoming message or phone call or news report would make him groan or gasp or swear, or grip his head in his hands. He would curse into his phone and listen and curse again, speed-walking away to find a quiet corner in which to handle the latest disaster, or he would slam shut his laptop and stomp off. And then he would come back to his desk. Sometimes he would still be there, in his chair, long after night had fallen.
He took the blame. He let himself be a target for the wrath and anxiety of an office under siege when no one even knew the reason why. He fired people he loved because there was not enough money to pay them, because a billionaire had maliciously bled off the company’s funds on pointless legal fees attacking a true story in revenge for other true stories. The man who flew to Toronto to try to buy a crack video counseled prudence, because without prudence there was no hope any of this would survive.
Here you are. There he goes.
Lacey Donohue, former night editor of Gawker, former editor of Defamer, former managing editor of Gawker, former executive managing editor of Gawker Media, former deputy executive editor of Gawker Media, current senior editor at Hulu:
Date: Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 4:20 PM
Subject: the one where john says goodbye
To: Edit <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It’s a scary Friday the 13th in New York City today because John—our John—is leaving us. To say I’m exceedingly proud of him for what he’s accomplished on our behalf is an understatement; he will now leave our fold (again) and seed the wider world (again) with what we built at Gawker Media (again). The choice to leave is a no-brainer, but it’s also sad because we know this is a final goodbye: John can’t go home again. Gawker is dead.
The steel and determination of each and every one of you kept Gawker Media alive and kicking and fighting during some very tough times, but no one felt the emotional toll more keenly than John did, and I know that none rose more gracefully to the challenges we faced, except for the night he drunkenly lost his laptop in a bar and called 911 to report the “crime.” He was there for us, and kept us all motivated and blogging through the storm, except when he grabbed the mic at our weekly standups and somehow managed to make what little good news we had sound funereal at best. We wouldn’t be here without him—and I know for damn sure we wouldn’t have been able to smoke inside the office without his cheerful insistence that no one would be able to smell it by Monday.
But we are here today, and we are professionally stable—though not emotionally or financially—because of John. There will be no search for his replacement because he is irreplaceable. His questionable story choices, hiring decisions, and tastes in fashion and food can all be forgiven because his laugh, especially his Friday afternoon sillies laugh, was enough to lift us out of any gutter. The gutter is not just metaphorical; I know many of you have landed in actual gutters over the years, and I hope the next time you find yourselves there, you imagine John’s laugh, and get the strength to get the fuck up and get in a cab because Jesus Christ, you’re fucking grownups, stop acting like babies!!!
He might have been a teenage word bully, but John leaves us a grown-up hero. He gave us the strength to tell those in power to get fucked. He gave us the strength to keep going while we got fucked.
John: Fuck you for going on vacation and making me shutter Gawker. Thank you for everything else. I miss you so much.
Kashmir Hill, senior reporter, Special Projects Desk:
John Cook has tried to hire me a few different times at a few different places. I usually said no with a lot of regret. We finally got to work together when Fusion merged with Gizmodo Media Group. A lot of people told me John was dead inside before I started working with him, beaten down by all the nasty things that happened to Gawker and the world in the last year or so. They were right. But even the zombie version of John is a damn good editor who ensures that stories that challenge the powers-that-be see the light of glowing screens across the internet. The newly alive-inside John that emerges from the cocoon of the next few months is definitely going to remove many terrible people from positions of power and influence. But I will remind him of this time he abandoned me should he ever try to hire me again.
Anna Merlan, senior reporter, Special Projects Desk:
Being featured in the Gawker documentary was a big moment for John. It was also a big moment for a friend of mine, who texted me this:
Congrats to John, and apologies to my friend, who I did not text back. Later that day, she decided she had been mistaken.
Victor Jeffreys II:
The ONE time John smiled!
Ryan Brown, senior vice president, business development, GMG:
Veronica de Souza, head of audience and social, GMG:
My first day at Gawker was March 7, 2016, so most of my conversations with John have consisted of him delivering extremely bad news to me. This is his third goodbye post and most of the burns have been delivered by people way funnier than me. What I can offer is this list of questions John Cook has asked me in the past 1.5 years. Please enjoy:
- What is our watermelon video?
- Can we Facebook Live from a phone tied to a bunch of balloons?
- Why does Venmo want access to my contacts?
- What’s my Venmo username?
- Where are you? I’m hiding at my desk
- How does my iPhone know my address?
- What’s the @WHPublicPool twitter password? (January 2017)
- What’s the @WHPublicPool twitter password? (May 2017)
- What’s the @WHPublicPool twitter password? (September 2017)
Bye, John! Note that you are still expected to show up to Bring Your Kids To Work Day with all three Cook boys.
UPDATE: After I sent this, he asked me for the @WHPublicPool Twitter password for the fourth time.
Alex Pareene, former editor in chief of Gawker, current politics editor of Splinter:
If journalism schools were actually designed to teach people how to be good journalists, the dummies who attend them would be taught by people like John Cook, and not by the Ethics-Humpers and Graybeard Futurists who seem to populate most of them currently. John could certainly give students a better sense of how to report—and, a much more important lesson, what to report on, and why—than most of them seem to currently be getting.
But the real reason some journalism school should probably hire John is that he is going to need the work. At this point he’s far too broken and difficult to work in any normal, 2017-era newsroom. Eventually, he’s going to need something steady—he’s got six rambunctious sons and a mortgage, he’s gotten too used to being overpaid, and his poor wife also works in digital media.
He needs academia, because—I cannot stress this enough—John is otherwise unemployable. All of his “skills” are just litigation risks now. Vox Media is not going to hire him to “develop VR Experiences” or something. He can’t even upload photos from his phone without help. He’s going to end up wearing tweed and yelling at 20-somethings for not listening to the correct sort of guitar music anyway, so you might as well make it his “job.”
Emma Carmichael, former editor in chief of Jezebel, current dog walker:
Here’s a really dark video John sent me of the office scene the moment we all found out about the Hogan judgment. I was alone at a family resort in Puerto Rico after testifying and sent back a selfie of me with a tequila shot and the caption “Cheers from hell.” I’d like to welcome him to the unemployment ranks with the same touching note.
My pupils are dilated and I’m on my phone so sorry if there are typos!!
Sam Biddle, former senior writer for Gawker, current technology reporter for the Intercept:
“I’ve enjoyed working with John over the course of many years, and consider him both a friend and a mentor. I wish him the best of luck going forward.”
Adam Pash, former Gawker Media director of editorial labs, current lead engineer at Postlight:
Never in my life have I offered John Cook tech advice. I have never worked in tech support. I have never wanted to work in tech support. I am sincerely sorry that Apple continues to push you into the cloud. (Maybe a good investigation for your upcoming leisure time?)
Aleksander Chan, managing editor, Splinter:
When I think of the person who embodies everything the late Gawker Media believed in—radical transparency, a revulsion to bullshit, a sense of humor that’s actually funny—I think of John. And when I think of John, I also think about how he inspired people to do some of their best work or fought to let them at least try. When those thoughts pass, I remember how I can count on one hand the number of people who reached out to me during one of the worst days of my career so far, and I’ll always be grateful that John was among them.
J.K. Trotter, senior reporter, Special Projects Desk:
I learned how to be a reporter from John. Along the way, and more importantly, he taught me how to be a decent person in an industry that constantly tempts you to be otherwise. I would tell a longer story here, but I’m working on another one that John put me up to.
Jim Cooke, GMG art director:
John got me to quit smoking because I was tired of him asking for cigarettes every day.
Kelly Stout, former senior editor of the Special Projects Desk, current features editor of Jezebel:
John was there during the most mortifying moment of my entire goddamn life, which is a cool memory we share. He was smoking outside the building, looking all weathered and wise and I was outside too for some air because it was like, the day after the election. I asked him for a cigarette, which he gave me even though I don’t smoke and he knows it, but I think he also knew I was trying to seem cool. I inhaled and coughed a lot and he said “Jesus, Kelly,” looking at me the way you might look at a freshman who just barfed warm keg beer all over his shirt. I longed for death’s sweet embrace.
Thanks for the memories, John!
Surya Mattu, data reporter, Special Projects Desk:
Having worked closely with John this year I learnt more than I ever thought possible about the whites of Sean Spicer’s eyes. It is this and his enthusiasm for sniffing network packets that I will miss the most.
Ashley Feinberg, former senior reporter for the Special Projects Desk, former senior writer for Fusion, former senior reporter for the Special Projects Desk, former senior writer for Wired, current senior reporter for the Huffington Post:
The first time I tried to quit to John Cook, I was working at Gawker, and John took me into a conference room where I spent the most uncomfortable 40 minutes of my life. I can’t remember the exact conversation we had, but it was something along the lines of “Ashley why are you doing this” followed by John placing his head in his hands and looking like he wanted to die. I ended up not quitting.
The second time I tried to quit to John Cook, it was over Slack and John was much more at peace with it, only telling me I was dead to him once. I also ended up not quitting then.
The last time I tried to quit to John Cook, John had taken me to get a drink about a month or so beforehand. I am pretty sure he was supposed to be trying to convince me to stay, but we both ended up just talking about how miserable life is and how nothing we do could possibly matter so what’s the point.
Anyway, I wish John the best of luck in his new career working The Upshot for The New York Times.
They’re lucky to have you.
Hjalmar Sveinbjőrnsson and Alexander Bejestrand, Gawker’s Nybro Action Team:
“John Cook was the best John we have ever meet.”
Nybro action team
Max Read, former editor in chief of Gawker, current editor of New York magazine’s Select All:
The last time John Cook left Gawker, I was made editor-in-chief of the website; about six months later, my poor management skills resulted in a writer under my employ tweeting ‘bring back bullying.’ As most commentators now acknowledge, the reaction to this tweet was the catalyst for a set of processes that culminated, two years later, in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. So when I say John was a wonderful boss, I mean it deeply, in the sense that if he had stayed my boss, the world would be a better and less scary place. What awaits us all now that John’s firm hand will be fully detached from the tiller of Gizmodo Media Group can scarcely be imagined.
Alex Dickinson, executive managing editor, GMG:
I’ve been a big fan of John Cook’s journalism for years and the chance to work with him was one of the main reasons I joined Gawker Media. The guy can’t do basic tasks like print PDFs or use Google Calendar, and apparently loves watching videos of himself playing guitar, but he’s the best editor I’ve ever worked with. He’s saved my ass more times than he knows and I’m going to miss the shit out of him.
Jia Tolentino, former deputy editor of Jezebel, current staff writer at the New Yorker:
One time, at karaoke, I put “Drops of Jupiter” in the queue as a sort of “goof,” and then forgot that I had selected it until I heard those classic, moving piano chords fill the room. I looked at John, whose face seemed suddenly transformed, as if he’d just seen an old friend. “This song!!” he said, emotionally. “This song is GOOD!” We sang it together, and he knew every word. Truly incredible to see John Cook—an adept, ingenious, wonderful man who I had only ever previously witnessed in states of moderate to severe unhappiness—metamorphose into someone who loved life and all it had to offer when presented with his favorite band, Train.
Stephen Totilo, editor in chief, Kotaku:
I worked with John before we both got on the Gawker Media rollercoaster. Someday, once John comes to grips with his secret love for video games, we’ll work together again. Others can roast John better than I can, so, instead, an earnest thought: no fiercer seeker of the truth—wherever it takes him or her—have I ever met. Aside from the smoking, John will forever be a role model. Thanks for everything, John. I’m looking forward to round five.
[Editor’s note: To conceal this post from John during its production, we chose the Kotaku drafts as the place he was least likely ever to look.]
Dell Cameron, staff writer, Gizmodo:
I’ve never met John in person and looks like now I probably never will. We’ve only spoken a couple of times come to think of it. He seemed okay. Nothing about him irked me in the slightest. One time he even said a story I helped write was pretty good, so that was cool. Actually I think I did meet him at a film screening a few years ago. I forgot about that.
Katie Drummond, former executive managing editor of GMG, current executive editor of The Outline:
Two things stand out to me from my time working for John Cook. The first is his incredible skill as a recruiter. When he offered me the job as editor of Gizmodo, John took me out for dinner (well, he ate dinner, I’d already eaten because he hadn’t specified we were going to a nice restaurant but had actually asked me to “grab a beer,” so I had a drink and watched him eat) and told me he could pay me less than I was currently making, to run a technology site that had peaked in 2009, for a company that was PERHAPS going to go bankrupt because of a nasty little sex tape lawsuit. Next, he took me to a bar and we got regrettably drunk, and he told me all sorts of horrible, kind of insane things about the site and the company, and then put me in a cab and told me to “think about it.” I did, and I took the job the next day.
(Upon rereading this, I’m now absolutely convinced that John was actually trying to get me to turn down the job so that he could hire someone else. Well fuck you John, didn’t work.)
The second thing that stands out is John’s inadvisable largesse in doling out free cigarettes. Seriously, the man has wasted thousands of dollars giving out smokes to anyone who asks—myself included. I have many fond memories of us standing outside (or more accurately, sitting on the ledge of our office building’s exterior, slumped over in defeat, puffing away). He’d be giving me his thoughts on something about Gizmodo, or I’d be giving him mine. Or, just as often, neither of us would be speaking at all. Just slumped there smoking, staring at the traffic and the people and the trash, both wondering how the hell we’d ended up here, at a dying media company about to be acquired by Bad Option A or Bad Option B, smoking cigarettes and arguing about a blog called SPLOID.
Jokes aside, I want to say that John gave me an opportunity that turned into a uniquely wonderful gig and one I’m grateful to have had. He also had my back 100 percent of the time, and advocated for me both outside the organization and within it — probably to his own detriment. Plus, he sent my baby a onesie when she was born. Most of you assholes didn’t get us shit.
Tommy Craggs, former executive editor of Gawker Media, current senior enterprise editor at the Huffington Post:
[Tommy Craggs did not file in time for publication]
Brendan O’Connor, staff reporter, Special Projects Desk:
I’ll never forget all of the wisdom and advice that John, a grizzled investigative reporter, has imparted to me across the years: the time he invited me, when I was a baby freelancer, to a party at Nick Denton’s apartment and didn’t introduce me to anyone; or the time he yelled at me for being to mean to a cop in a headline I wrote when I was a weekend editor at Gawker; or the time he told me not to wear black clothing while covering protests. Once he laughed at me when I asked if he’d ever seen The Melvins in concert. I was just trying to connect, John.
This story was produced by Gizmodo Media Group’s Special Projects Desk.