Volume 18 • Issue 49 | April 21 - 27, 2006

Wall Street gets snarky

By Rachel Fershleiser

If, like me, you are irritated by the media’s tendency to overuse the word “snarky,” particularly in reference to the “blogosphere,” there is someone you can blame.

“I started using it,” says Elizabeth Spiers, founding editor of Gawker.com and editor/publisher of Dealbreaker.com. “I was looking for some descriptor for Gawker — I thought of it as cheeky irony.”

The cheeky, ironic voice Spiers brought to that media gossip blog helped fuel its meteoritic rise to Manhattan must-read, and led to subsequent gigs at New York Magazine and Mediabistro. It also helped her land a book deal for her debut novel, “And They All Die in the End,” to be published next year. Not bad for a former financial analyst from Alabama.

Now Spiers, 29, has combined her business acumen, eye for gossip, and considerable writing ability to create Dealbreaker.com, an “online business tabloid and Wall Street gossip blog,” which she launched last month. It’s the first of what will be a commercial blog network published and operated by Spiers — much like Nick Denton’s Gawker Media, which includes sites like the Hollywood gossip blog Defamer and the gadget blog Gizmodo. Spiers admits it’s not exactly a new idea.

“What we’re doing is a traditional media model,” she says. “We’re just creating content and selling ads against it.”

Dealbreaker is run out of a large office on Beach Street in Tribeca. The space is filled with cubicles and techie types, most of whom work for other ventures of Carter Burden, a Dealbreaker investor. Power cords and cables are taped to the carpet and snake up freestanding halogen lamps to the ceiling. It isn’t glamorous, but it’s a nice step up from Spiers’s living room couch, where she worked when she was writing for Gawker.

She is dark-haired and very petite, with thin eyebrows and thin lips that hardly move as she speaks. In person she comes across as extremely intelligent, somewhat shy, and deeply serious— a sharp contrast to her often hilarious online voice. A recent, characteristically acerbic post reads:

You may have heard that at a time when the rest of us are paying record prices at the gas pump, Exxon CEO Lee Raymond is walking away with a $398 million retirement package. Well, it’s not true. The actual number is closer to $99 million, with the remaining $300 million coming from options and other payments to which he was already entitled. So have some sympathy for the guy, he’s gotta drive too.

Spiers has been writing since she was five, but didn’t consider it a viable career option until her blogging took off. “I thought being a writer was like being a painter or something,” she says. “It’s just too risky, even if you’re good. There’s no 12-step way to be successful as an artist.”

So after attending Duke University, Spiers moved to New York to work in business. She started a personal blog and befriended Nick Denton, who eventually approached her about starting an online city guide. At first she thought he was merely asking her business advice because she’d worked in venture capital, but eventually she agreed to write it.

“When we started Gawker, it was going to be a hobby and a side project,” she says. “It sort of exploded into a full-time job and an actual business, which we never anticipated at the beginning.” (Gawker Media now includes 14 sites. Spiers says she and Denton are alternately friendly and not speaking.)

Another major player in the commercial blogging scene, Jason Calacanus, CEO of blogging network Weblogs, Inc, is more enthusiastic. On his personal website, he refers to Dealbreaker as the first blog in “her own Weblogs, Inc/Gawker” and says, “if I could buy stock in a person I would buy EZSP.”

EZSP herself is modest, but seems confident about her chances for success. “A lot of financial journalists don’t have a basic understanding of finance, so I come in with an advantage,” she says. Still, she keeps number crunching to a minimum. “Dealbreaker is really personality driven. I don’t plan on doing equity analysis on the blog. I don’t think that’s what people come to Dealbreaker to read.”

So far, what people come to Dealbreaker to read are an “Opening Bell” column each morning, updates throughout the day on Wall Streeters’ foibles from insider trading to filmmaking, and a satirical column written by “Muffie Benson-Perella,” a young blonde socialite in the investment banking world.

New blogs will debut this fall, but Spiers won’t reveal what their topics — or targets — will be. She also plans to improve the look and breadth of Dealbreaker and hopes to have a staff of ten by this time next year. Beyond that, she says she can’t predict the future of her blog empire because so much is based on experimentation and feedback, but she has some insights on the future of Web content as a whole.

“Until you solve the portability problem with Web content, I don’t think it’s going to wipe out newspapers and magazines,” she explains. She fingers her Treo with one hand and my notebook page with the other as she describes the electronic paper she’s seen prototypes of.

“When you realize you could have an entirely blank magazine that would transmit Web content,” Spiers says, “you can see a future where everything is on the Web, but it looks a lot like traditional media. It makes so much sense economically; if that technology ever becomes cheap enough, we’ll see an immediate transition.”

For the time being, though, people will have to stay glued to their computer screens to read Dealbreaker— and plenty of people are already whiling away company time on Spiers’s site. She won’t reveal exact traffic figures, but she does say they are already a little over 200% of what was predicted for the entire month.

“Response has been extremely good, especially from people in the finance industry. The only people who have been a little catty about it are, frankly, bloggers.”

Photo by Paul Sarkis


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