Keenan “J.K.” Trotter—the only man bold enough to not simply go after the likes of David Petraeus, Shepard Smith, Philippe Reines, Ben Smith and Jonah Peretti, The Wing, and his own boss, but to address questions like whether Katie Holmes had her own secret entrance to a Manhattan Whole Foods (she did) and whether there should be parents (no, according to Keenan)—is leaving Gizmodo Media Group, which will greatly diminish the quality of both our reporting and our lives. There are a lot of stories I would like to tell about Keenan, but knowing that there is no way that telling any of them, no matter how well, could possibly convey what it feels like to attempt to make sense of his insane troll logic or how thoroughly mystifying his various operations are even when you know what he’s up to, I will simply mention that recently, during a Special Projects Desk staff meeting, he casually proposed shooting himself in the leg as a way to add an element to a story he was working on.
Here are some other stories.
There was never any secret entrance to Whole Foods. Keenan made the whole thing up for his own sick amusement. Certainly not someone I would hire to do investigative reporting at any sort of respectable journalism establishment.
In early November 2015, John Cook, for reasons I will not disclose here, told Keenan he had to start arriving to the office by 9:30 each morning. Because I was the only person who was regularly at the office at an adult time, I was tasked with tracking this. Every time he was not in the office by 9:30am, he was to text me.
(Keep in mind these screenshots are all on West Coast time because my life is happier now.)
November 2, 2015
He was more than slightly late.
November 9-10, 2016
He did it in that he was NEAR the building at 9:30am, which in Gawker Media measurement was about as good as it got.
November 12-13, 2015
One out of two ain’t bad.
December 1, 2015
Still waiting for the receipts.
December 2, 2015; December 14, 2015
He was supposed to be in his chair at 9:30 December 2. He definitely wasn’t. Still waiting for the December 14 story.
December 18, 2015
He never brought me anything.
January 13, 2016
I was always right. And he was still late.
And somehow, on this day in January, I stopped tracking Keenan’s time. Life got a little worse, as we all know. Making sure butts were in chairs stopped mattering when I was worried about whether or not the chairs would even be there the next day. When gaslighting and trauma became a way of life. When minutes—whether you were late or early—were things that just needed to pass quickly so you could all get on the subway at the end of the day and exhale, try not to cry, oftentimes cry, and avoid your phone, wondering how the fuck this could all be happening. Sometimes at the end of the day, years later, I’m still slammed by a wave of anxiety and tears and wonder the same.
You gave it all, Keenan. You are weird as shit. You are loving. You are loved. You were always John Cook’s favorite. You still are. But please know that tracking you via pin drops and texts was a privilege that didn’t seem as weird at the time as it does now.
Once during the Hell Time when we were having some drinks at the office after hours Keenan was being squirrelly about the shades on the windows in the Gawker pod, and then it somehow came out that he refused to sit in the seat adjacent to the window because he was worried about a sniper setting up in the building across the street. He was OK with, like, Biddle sitting there though.
I would love to share some of my memories of Keenan but unfortunately he has encrypted them with a YubiKey that I have since lost.
All Keenan ever asked was that the universe make sense, or that it be made to answer for its failure to make sense. In his hands, the old formulation of the Gawker mission—“Publish true things on the Internet”—became a holy sword, to wield against whatever forces sought to bury truth or spread untruth. Wherever (and truly, truly wherever) there was rumor or falsehood or confusion, the truth could be brought to bear (literally, if the occasion demanded, to a bear). If the targets or objects of his inquiry struck others as petty or irrelevant, it was because those people missed or chose to miss the larger point, Keenan’s vision of humankind undeceived.
Deceit won out, of course. The destruction of the company struck all of us in different ways but it may have landed hardest of all on Keenan, who wanted nothing more than to keep on telling the truth.
Everyone has their own idea of what Keenan’s masterpiece might have been. His relentless excavation of Katie Holmes’ maybe-secret-maybe-entrance to Whole Foods was nothing less than art. But even that artwork was defined by its incompleteness, by the fact that there is always more knowledge to be gained, more light to be shined into the endless darkness of ignorance. Keenan believed in nothing if not the process of seeking and finding. To me, the true pinnacle of his work is a thing unseen, upsetting to contemplate, and only vaguely hinted at: a vast encyclopedic dossier, like Joe Gould’s “Oral History of Our Time,” on the history and people of Gawker itself, compiled for no purpose other than that it could be compiled.
Audrey Gelman Jul 2 (4 days ago) to me
can I invite Keenan to the wing as a goodbye gift
Tim Marchman Jul 2 (4 days ago) to Audrey
You certainly can, but I would like to be able to make mention of that in his going-away blog.
Audrey Gelman Jul 2 (4 days ago) to me
Tim Marchman Jul 2 (4 days ago) to Audrey
Keenan is insanely, worryingly brilliant. If I learned he was doing a story about me, I would be very, very nervous 24 hours a day. He would expose all my dark secrets the way he exposed Katie Holmes’ secret Whole Foods entrance.
But he is also a very successful, if totally unwitting, troll. That’s because he likes to propose the most practical solutions to societal problems, and those solutions are always entirely insane. I have never been more trolled than by his suggestion that we ban nuclear families, raise every child collectively, and, like, hire women to be surrogates. To deal with the problem of existing parents, he wrote, “The best solution seems to be a gradual transition, during which a greater and greater percentage of the population is required to be sterilized, and a greater and greater percentage of children are raised collectively.”
I want to assure you that Keenan 100% means this. He has also, thus far, proven impervious to arguments like “You’re kind of describing a slightly more social justice-y version of the Handmaid’s Tale” and “But Keenan, people love their children?”
I don’t really have a point here and now I’m trolled all over again. Farewell to Keenan, who will do great things and probably continue to make all of us deeply uncomfortable in the process.
I love Keenan to death. He is both the best reporter I’ve ever worked with and one of the most wonderfully bizarre people I’ve ever met. This made him the perfect Gawker blogger—both his chops and personality shined through equally whether he was tracking down court transcripts, Whole Foods blueprints, or Martin Shkreli’s grey hoodie. That last one, though as ephemeral as anything he ever wrote, is in its own way the purest distillation of the Keenan experience: he got weirdly obsessed with something, tracked it down like it was the most important story on the planet, and the results basically left me mindblown—that hoodie was truly soft as a motherfucker. I was lucky to often be working into the night at the desk next to him (because he was doing his job to the highest degree, whereas I was doing the regular-ass work I had put off during the day), and with him leaving I think we can say that Gawker has finally (mercifully?) been laid to rest.
On the evening of August 17, 2016, I was eating dinner at a bar called Old Town with David Margolick, a reporter for Vanity Fair. He wanted to talk to me for a story he was writing about my then-boss, Gawker Media founder Nick Denton, and Peter Thiel’s conspiracy to ruin him and his company. The day before, Univision had purchased the company out of bankruptcy. I was out of my mind. Nick had told me that Univision might keep Gawker.com, the heart of the operation, or it might decide to leave it in bankruptcy, effectively killing it. He’d told me that perhaps, if I make a good case to the Univision executives for Gawker’s survival, they might be persuaded. He’d said I had a couple days to put a presentation together.
While I was fielding Margolick’s questions about when Thiel and Denton first met, and if they’d communicated over the years, my phone rang. It was Nick. He told me to get to the office immediately. There was an urgent conference call with him and Isaac Lee, the Univision executive who masterminded the acquisition. I don’t really remember why I needed to get to the office: Nick wasn’t there. I probably could have fielded the call from anywhere.
But I excused myself and ran the three or so blocks to Gawker’s cavernous, brushed-metal-and-concrete lair. It was around 8 p.m., all was quiet and empty and dark save the sound of the cleaning crew working its way around the floor. I went into a vacant conference room, closed the door, and took the call. It was short: Univision wasn’t buying Gawker. It was never really in the cards. Gawker was dead.
All the arguments, all the stories, the years of increasingly frantic and terrorized scheming to preserve this thing we’d built, and that had built us—it had all come to crashing halt. I remember sitting in the flurorescent glare with my head in my hands, running through the funeral chores: Telling the staff, figuring out who would go where in the company, deciding how to wind down. I’d agreed with Nick to tell the staff the next morning and then break it on Gawker. I had momentous news and I couldn’t tell anyone.
I opened the conference room door to leave, and standing there was Keenan. My boy. The one person who would most desperately want to know this secret I carried, and the one who would be most devastated to learn it. I must have looked half-dead. He was cheery, a little loopy, unable to explain to my satisfaction what he was doing in the office so late. We chatted. I swallowed hard and tried to fake a smile and said goodnight.
What was Keenan doing there? I asked that question a lot. Keenan was—around. He liked being in the office, and he liked making it comfortable, personalized for his workflow. After working with Keenan for—five years?—you got used to him turning up unexpectedly. Lurking. Before I hired him at Gawker, I gave him a test assignment, running down an intriguing rumor about Philip Roth involving a woman who lived in Connecticut. Unbidden, and failing to reach her by phone, he hopped in a Zipcar and drove to her home in Warren to door-knock her; he found her in her garden. That creeping tenacity in pursuit of a story is what caused Shep Smith to snap his photo, and BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith and Jonah Peretti to marvel and sigh at his now-legendary cross-examination and what sent him scurrying about the bowels of a Manhattan Whole Foods in search of Katie Holmes’ secret passageway No one internalized and represented Gawker’s ethos of transparency and full disclosure—the systematic liberation of data—more thoroughly than Keenan. Sentimentality and softness were no excuse. The truth was its own justification.
Which is why it was cruel of me to hide it from him that night, and walk away without telling him that something he loved had just died, right behind that door. I should have told him, and let him run to his desk and tell everyone else, which is the only thing he’s really good at.
It has often been said that in the movie version of our lives, Keenan would be played by Mark Ruffalo. To that I say, Mark Ruffalo wishes! Keenan is a singular force in this world and no fictional depiction could do him justice. Shortly after publishing a story about the Wing, he decorated the Special Projects pod in the manner of the Wing which both pleased and intimidated me profoundly. He is an incredibly talented reporter with unrivaled meticulousness, and kindness and generosity that makes an incredibly tough world feel softer. There’s no one I’d rather share a beer with at 5pm in the office (has to be in the office because Keenan does not enjoy walking with groups to bars) and hear his latest conspiracy theory. He is the perfect mix of incredulous and sweet; once you’re on Keenan’s team, you’re on it for life. I intend to stay on that team.