November 15, 2005

Shredding the Envelope

Jossip's David Hauslaib talks to Gelf about the fallout from his coverage of the ongoing Peter Braunstein saga.

David Goldenberg

On Monday, David Carr, a media business columnist for the New York Times, chastised two blogs in a piece entitled, "When Bloggers Joke About the Unfunny." Carr took offense to the treatment that Gawker and Jossip were giving the horrific and weird story of Peter Braunstein, a Manhattan writer accused of setting fires and then dressing up like a firefighter to gain access to a woman's house, where he allegedly sexually assaulted her. Braunstein is still at large.

David Hauslaib
David Hauslaib
In his column, Carr claimed that blogs' coverage—which has included, among other things, comparisons of Braunstein to Lindsay Lohan and a poll as to where he might be holed up—is immature, irresponsible, and lacks "the vocabulary for genuine human misfortune." While Carr does talk to Gawker editor Jessica Coen, he quickly dismisses her explanation that humor is one way of dealing with fear. (Coen seemed unfazed by the article—her site barely mentions it.) Jossip's David Hauslaib, who says he never heard from Carr before the column appeared, shared with Gelf his thoughts about the Times column, Jossip's coverage of the Braunstein story, and the difference between bloggers and journalists. Here are excerpts from our email exchange:

Gelf Magazine: Is the mention from the Times worth the admonishment that came with it?

David Hauslaib: A mention in the Times is like sex with Laguna Beach's L.C.: You'll tell your friends about it, you'll want to do it again soon, but you know you've merely been used. I'm glad Jossip is on David's radar, as I'm a big fan of his and respect his work intransigently. But sure, it's a little hypocritical for such a respected reporter to harp on a blog's journalistic credibility (of which Jossip claims to have in very limited capacities), when he doesn't so much as fire off an email asking for explanation. That said, he made some great points, but Jossip's editorial isn't about placating his ego, so of course we're going to go on the offensive, if only to pretend to feel hurt. (Hence "Rape isn't funny, Peter Braunstein is—and David Carr begs to differ.")

GM:Carr states that you not only push the envelope—you rip it to shreds. Are there any subjects that are off limits? How do you make those decisions?

DH: There is no hard list of topics that are off limits. Even my boyfriend [the New York Daily News's Ben Widdicombe], who is a media personality in his own right, gets some snide treatment now and then. I don't have an agenda other than to make my readers laugh at the absurdity of media and celebrity. No, I don't find it tasteful to make fun of a rape or murder victim per se, but there's comedy to be found in every situation—so when a story comes on my radar, I'm always looking for the punchline. In the case of Peter Braunstein, the punchline is in his absurdity, his journalism background, and the media spectacle he's turned into (which we'll take some blame for).

GM: What do think of your coverage of Peter Braunstein?

DH: As for Jossip's coverage, it could be much worse, much more feral. I didn't not cross that line intentionally, but I found a joke or two could be made within a realm that can make readers laugh without adding fuel to a horrific crime. As the headline stated: "Rape isn't funny, but Peter Braunstein sure is." And I stand by that: Rape is not funny, but yes, Braunstein is ridiculous (though some say "brilliant," probably including himself).

GM: What are your thoughts on the whole blogger/journalist divide?

DH: The blogger/journalist divide is a social creation, perpetuated for the most part by journalists who don't want their profession stymied because a few jackasses with keyboards are suddenly mentioned in the same sentence as them—and that's completely understandable, just like how real celebrities don't like reality-TV stars infringing upon their gift bags. But you won't hear many bloggers clamoring to be disassociated with journalism, unless it's part of your publicity shtick like Jossip's, where we seldom pick up the phone, fact-check, or conform to j-school commandments. Or so we convey to our publics.

GM: Is there a reason you don't do more reporting? Is it a matter of productivity or are there other reasons?

DH: Most "original reporting" at Jossip comes by way of tipsters, who regularly fill our inbox with insider information. I much prefer that method (call it laziness, call it ingenuity) than actually having to make calls to media personalities with bigger false egos than Jossip's own. There's that, and my budget is whatever's left on my Starbucks card.

GM: Is it fair that Carr sort of lumps Gawker and Jossip together? Are there any key differences in terms of your coverage of Braunstein? What about your coverage in general?

DH: Jossip and Gawker both cover the media world, but we attack it from different angles. I can't speak for Gawker, but at Jossip my goal is to give media insiders a chuckle at the bubble they work in. Carr was completely in his right to adjoin our two sites to compare our coverage of Braunstein, since we're really the only two media blogs out there that care. I didn't know it at the time, but I latched onto the Braunstein story first with what turned into a very popular and widely circulated item on Nov. 3, when I ran the New York Post's juxtaposition of the firefighter rape story and Lindsay Lohan's firefighter Halloween costume. It turns out that was only the beginning.

GM: Do you think Carr's piece is a way for the New York Times to write about Braunstein while at the same time appearing to be above it all?

DH: I doubt the Times enlisted David just to get in on the Braunstein coverage. They easily could've exploited the story in the Metro section if they so wished. I think David attacked the subject because, well, it is a media story (which is why Jossip is covering it at this point, now that the Lindsay Lohan joke has been made), and aside from the sensationalized New York Post, the blogs are the ones covering the story most heavily.

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Article by David Goldenberg

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