Hamilton Nolan is Gawker‘s longest-tenured (and best) writer, and has been instrumental in shaping the media behemoth into what it is today. Usually taking on the more serious topics on the site, Nolan is known for his acerbic writing style, his love of boxing, and, well, his bluntness…
Lucky for us, it was on full display when he answered the questions that I now realize I spent far too long coming up with.
As part of our “10 Questions With…” interview series, I chatted with him about internet slang, good guys v. bad guys, and “wreckage porn.”
The Daily Banter: The inevitable softball: Why be a writer?
Hamilton Nolan: It was my only marketable skill.
The Daily Banter: You’re one of Gawker’s longest tenured writers, and they gave you a unique opportunity in that you had sort of a free reign to make your writing (and the site itself) whatever you wanted it to be. Do you think you could have done what you do anywhere else/has that ruined you from working anywhere else?
Hamilton Nolan: I don’t know of anywhere else that offers both the freedom of Gawker and the audience of Gawker. Most places can offer you either freedom, or a lot of readers, but not both. Many places will say that they want you to come there and “do the same thing you do at Gawker,” but the reality is very few places are prepared to offer writers this much free reign.
The Daily Banter: Do you like your commenters as much Nick Denton says you all do?
Hamilton Nolan: Yes.
The Daily Banter: Just last week, your new editor-in-chief Max Read sent out a memo banning internet slang. Did you personally see that becoming a problem on the site?
Hamilton Nolan: I interpreted that memo mostly as Max reminding himself not to use internet slang, because his cliche-riddled prose could become a dangerous issue that enemies could use against us now that he is in a position of power.
The Daily Banter: In terms of internet writing in general, you make a point to rail against people that do a lot of “I-writing.” Who is the asshole we should heap the blame on for popularizing this trend and how do you see it being quelled (if we even can)?
Hamilton Nolan: I (heh) do not know that it can be blamed on any one person–it’s an industrywide problem, driven in large part by the fact that confessional-style first person writing is capable of pulling in a lot of readers online, particularly if it’s about sex. Editors chase those readers, and writers follow what the editors want. In the long run, though, people want to read good stories, so I’m optimistic about the long term quality of online writing.
The Daily Banter: You actually have railed against more than a few people in your career, and I have to admit I (and Daily Banter editor Ben Cohen) love when you go after Thom Friedman. What do you have against him and writers like him?
Hamilton Nolan: I guess what I “have against” Thomas Friedman is that he’s one of America’s worst writers, yet he’s still incredibly famous and influential. I would prefer that our nation’s famous and influential writers be smart and have at least minimal writing ability.
The Daily Banter: What do you think it is that’s in you that makes makes you want to drop the gloves — or maybe in your case put them on (zing) — and actually go after those that you find deserving of it? What’s your motivation, and do you ever worry you’ll get tired of fighting those fights?
Hamilton Nolan: The whole thing that drew me into journalism in the first place was the promise that journalism could be used to get the bad guys and help the good guys. That is the same thing that draws people into police work, so it’s not a totally healthy motivation. But I think most good writers/ critics/ journalists are driven to some extent by that feeling.
The Daily Banter: Speaking of unimportant writers, you made your own site’s 50 Least Unimportant Writers list back in 2012, with them calling you a “Thought Catalog writer on Muscle Milk.” If you did have to write for Thought Catalog, what would you cover?
Hamilton Nolan: Death.
The Daily Banter: As a DC native who is obliteratingly white, I’d love to know about your time at Howard University. DC is doing all it can to add a *White to their “Chocolate City” tagline, but what was it like around U Street and Shaw back then? Did you get really into go-go?
Hamilton Nolan: I never fell in love with go-go although I was forced to listen to a lot of it by the DC natives. The area of DC where I lived back then, Shaw and U St., were much, much, much different than they are now. That area has undergone the fastest and most complete gentrification of any area of any city I’ve ever seen in my life. Which is good for the economy I guess but terrible for the hip hop clubs that used to be there.
The Daily Banter: You have a lot of fascination with boxing and particularly the plight of boxers in terms of their health; you’ve even called post-fight interviews “wreckage porn.” How do you balance your love of the sport with the knowledge of its repercussions?
Hamilton Nolan: I think any responsible boxing fan has to also be an advocate for making the sport safer, to the extent that’s possible. There are several common sense reforms that could help do that. That said, it will always be a brutal sport, which is both part of its appeal and its tragedy.
The Daily Banter: If the world is screwed past the point of no return (or close to it), what do you think was or will be the nail in the coffin?
Hamilton Nolan: A nail.