Inflammatory Writ

Ana Marie Cox, journalist, commentator, and former blogger for the notorious political blog Wonkette, was introduced at the second career lecture of the Distinguished Speakers Series at the University of Chicago, as “standing on the precipice of journalism in the 21st century.” In response, Cox began her talk with the observation that “the thing about standing on the precipice is that a lot of people don’t know whether or not they’re going to fall off or not.” Cox’s speech was full of the rapier wit and sharp commentary she showed on Wonkette, and it provided interesting insights into her own fascinating career path.

Cox described her own career as very varied, with Wonkette as one point in a long line of jobs. After graduating from University of Chicago with a B.A. in history, she first pursued a career in academia at Berkeley, only to find the writing–and the academic track–to be highly dull. She next took a job at a New York publishing firm as a copy editor, but ended up spending much of her time developing witty commentary for a listserv. Although she said she spent “too much time” on said emails, she did manage to capture the attention of the editors of suck.com, the earliest common ancestor of all modern blogs. She worked at suck.com until it closed. After working as a freelance writer for some time, she was hired by the owner of the wonkette.com domain name, a wealthy man who wanted to know more about politics. She then made the site into her inimitable platform for humorous, perceptive commentary.
Cox spent much of her lecture setting forth a few rules she relied upon in her life as a writer and journalist. Key among these was the idea of following one’s own interests “regardless if it has a point.” Her career was based on this simple idea. This includes supporting political causes, as Cox did by making Wonkette into a platform for gay rights during George W. Bush’s second term.

As for journalism being on the precipice? Cox noted at the end of her lecture that, “Journalism is a bit like punk rock; there’s always someone who wants to do it better than the previous guys…the institutions may change but journalism will always remain.”