Media commentators from CNN to The Financial Times are using the same phrase for this moment '' The end of an era. ''

But when did this era in media begin? Where in the media did this remarkable new openness and uncontrollable anger start? Answers, of course, are subjective, and I don't claim to know who the first person was to be searingly honest online or demonstratively mad on the Internet.

But to understand the period we all lived through, we need to give it a beginning and an end. And when I went back to find the origins of this media moment while researching a book on our recent history, the earliest, brightest sparks I saw came from a particular place.

The site was Jezebel, a blog started in 2007 by the founder of the sharp-edged media group site Gawker, Nick Denton. Jezebel wasn't intended to be revolutionary. He started it in the hopes of attracting makeup advertisements. 

Ten years ago, - a group of digital media companies thought the future belonged to us. New brands like Vice, Gawker, The Huffington Post, Business Insider and BuzzFeed News, which I helped start, had begun as blogs or something similar, outsider voices with audiences who were sick of the stuffy mainstream media.

They'd grown steadily on the Internet, and when Facebook arrived, they exploded with the social platform. They became experts in telling stories in a way people would like and share, and their links became more omnipresent in reader's newsfeeds. Their voices dominated the influential, sometimes toxic conversations on Twitter.

But they didn't turn out to be the future. Gawker shut down in 2016, briefly revived and shut down again this February. Last month BuzzFeed news closed up shop. The other iconic brand of the era, Vice, is reportedly near bankruptcy and has laid off many journalists in recent weeks.

On television, still America's dominant medium, social media also helped boost a new kind of confrontational hyperpolitical style, but that seems to be fading, too. Also last month the corporate  owners of cable networks pushed out two of the defining voices of the confrontational Trump years, Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon.

Jezebel was on one hand, a powerful early demonstration of how the online identity politics could be a force for good. Just a few months after the site debuted, one of its editors, Dodal Stewart, tuned up at a panel where she found women editors - who would never admit to reading the hostile, seething Jezebel - nonetheless sighting its statistics on the lack of Black models.

But the writers also soon realized they were playing with fire. Jezebel was feeling its way in a new world, one in which digital analytics had switched on the lights in the darkened room of distribution, leaving writers and their readers suddenly seeing one another clearly.

They could speak to one another directly, first in the comments section and later on social media. This offered an approximation of intimacy and made it easier to identify with a writer - or feel betrayed by her.

Small media dramas played out in public, Standard, unspoken operating procedures, such as Photoshopping away Ms. Hill's freckles and laugh lines and relying on anonymous White House sources, were open to furious challenges.

The results across media were more honest, diverse, combustible.

The writers' own self-exposure also helped make Jezebel feel so new. That apparently intimate relationship between the writer and her audience helped make Jezebel feel like a highwire act of writing, and it would become utterly familiar to journalists, when, a couple of years later, Twitter began to overtake the profession.

Jezebel's readers were devout, picking favorites among the writers but also moving swiftly to attack any who strayed from what they saw as political or social orthodoxy. Maureen Tkacik, the site's lead political voice, was particularly prone to straying and faced the kind of searing online mobs that would become familiar when Twitter [ which had just started ] grew more mature.

'' I felt like we had unleashed something that was more volatile than we realized,'' she told me much later.

The Master Essay continues. The World Students Society thanks author Ben Smith, who is the editor in chief of Semafor, was the editor in chief of BuzzFeed News and the author of '' Traffic : Genius, Rivalry and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral.''


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