At 12:04 p.m. on April 25, a skirmish broke out on Jezebel.com.
It began when the upstart Web site for women, whose slogan is “Celebrity, sex, fashion. Without airbrushing,” posted a photo of Angelina Jolie in a low-cut yellow dress. As part of a popular feature called Snap Judgment, readers offered biting comments on everything from Jolie’s eye-popping neckline to her possible state of mind.
Then a commenter with the screen name Calraigh wrote that, despite being pregnant, Jolie looked like “an Ethiopian famine victim.” Within minutes, a half-dozen angry readers had made their own snap judgments of Calraigh:
“Are you serious?”
“That comment is inappropriate. I don’t know what website you think you are on, but that is not how we roll.”
The Jezebel blog was founded last spring by Gawker Media as a smart, feisty antidote to traditional women’s magazines (or “glossy insecurity factories,” as Jezebel describes them). It quickly developed a loyal following and has seen an influx of new visitors, after being name-checked on the official blog for Gossip Girl, the prime-time soap opera.
But as Jezebel’s first anniversary approaches on May 21, its readers and editors are learning a lesson right out of high school: popularity has its pitfalls, and mean-girl behavior is hard to quash.
Some readers, in comments on the site, have accused editors of political bias and misogyny. Readers have called one another, by turns, immature, boring and cliquish. This spring the editors responded by banishing certain commenters and putting others “on notice” for being nasty or, worse, not funny.
“I feel like Jezebel is a club more than a blog,” wrote Elizabeth Palin, 26, an accountant from Fayetteville, North Carolina, who comments under the screen name Muffyn.
All this over a Web site that set out to be — dare one say it? — nice.
When Anna Holmes, the managing editor of Jezebel, was hired to create what her new employers described to her as a “girly Gawker,” she thought long and hard about how much of its parent company’s infamous snarkiness to adopt.
“I wanted Jezebel to be welcoming,” Holmes said during a rare weekday foray out of her home office in Queens, New York.
Written and edited by a staff of seven women, the blog mixes style commentary and gossip with no-holds-barred posts about politics, the economy, sexism and, certainly, sex.
Recent posts — they go up about every 15 minutes from 10am to 7pm on weekdays — include commentary on Texas polygamists, a discussion about fertility and a critique of Scarlett Johansson’s singing skills. There are regular features such as Pot Psychology, in which Tracie Egan, an editor, answers readers’ sex questions while under the influence of marijuana, and Cover Lies, a send-up of women’s magazines. (One, in April, bore the headline, “Well Isn’t the Cosmo ‘Sexy Issue’ Just a Sexy Breath of Fresh Sexual Sexy Sex Air!”)
Though the site is still plenty snarky, it steers clear of the vicious remarks about age and weight one finds elsewhere on gossip blogs. Readers of Jezebel find the kinder tone appealing.
“I actually was a commenter on Gawker,” says Jessica Young, 28, a Brooklyn graduate student. “When Jezebel came up, I almost immediately switched over.”
With fewer than 360,000 unique visitors most months, according to Nielsen Online, Jezebel doesn’t come close in scope to larger women’s sites such as iVillage. But in February, after the Gossip Girl blog mention, Jezebel saw a spike in traffic, garnering more than an estimated half-million unique visitors for the month, according to Nielsen.