Journalist, political blogger
Steve Gilliard was one of the first journalists to establish a nationwide reputation in the new medium of blogging. As a writer for the influential blogs NetSlaves and Daily Kos, Gilliard reveled in a freedom of expression he had not known in more traditional media. Quickly finding his voice as a steadfast, sometimes aggressive, defender of liberal values, he established The News Blog in 2003 and ran it full time until his death in 2007.
Steven Gilliard Jr. was born on November 13, 1964, in New York City, the oldest child of Steven Gilliard Sr. and Evelyn Lillian Gilliard. His love of words was almost immediately apparent, and he could read much of the newspaper at the age of three. His early education took place at two well-known schools for gifted children: Hunter College Elementary School and Hunter College High School, where he was known for his shyness and his love of history. After high school Gilliard attended New York University, receiving a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1989. While still in school, he began working as a freelance writer and researcher for a variety of print media. Much of his work was done anonymously, however, and his name rarely appeared in print. Frustrated with the low pay of freelance work and eager to raise his profile, Gilliard accepted a job in 1996 with Crossover Technologies, an online entertainment company specializing in political simulations. He was hired to work on the "President '96" project, which was operated by players from around the world who managed a presidential campaign in the simulated world of virtual reality. Gilliard's time at Crossover impressed upon him the Internet's potential as a medium for both political dialogue and unrestricted self-expression. He remarked in an interview posted on NetSlaves, a blog focused on the perils and opportunities of working for Internet companies, "People have moved to the web for a lot of reasons. A lot of it has to do with personal freedom."
Gilliard joined NetSlaves in 1998 as a blogger and so-called media operative. His work there, much of it focused on politically explosive topics such as corporate mismanagement and sexual harassment, garnered increasing attention, notably from Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the founder of Daily Kos, an influential political blog with a liberal perspective. Impressed with the comments Gilliard left on Daily Kos's readers' board, Zúniga offered him an official role. By 2003 Gilliard was a contributing editor and regular guest blogger with a particular focus on the U.S. involvement in Iraq. Gilliard's analysis of the war in Iraq, then in its early days, was notable for its historical focus. An avid reader of history, particularly military history, since childhood, Gilliard's knowledge of the region's history was unusual, even unique, among bloggers. Zúniga later attributed much of the explosive growth in readership his blog site experienced in 2003 to the quality of Gilliard's posts. Within a few months, however, it became clear that Gilliard had larger ambitions. As Zúniga put it, "Steve was a big personality, and … needed his own stage."
In August of 2003 Gilliard left Daily Kos to launch his own political blog with a friend, usually identified only as Jen R. Called, simply, The News Blog, its aim was straightforward political commentary, without pretension. Gilliard remarked in his first post on August 6, 2003, "If you've read me at Daily Kos and NetSlaves, then you know what to expect. If not, it's really simple: I say what I mean and mean what I say." As in many political blogs, the tone of Gilliard's site was often combative, with sarcastic humor a standard weapon. Zúniga, who remained one of Gilliard's closest friends and colleagues, wrote, "If you knew Steve only from his blog, you'd think he was a pit bull. He was blunt, loud, aggressive, unafraid, and took no prisoners. But you'd meet him in life, and he was the exact opposite." Occasional glimpses of this quieter persona are visible in Gilliard's posts. For example, in an April 2, 2000, post on NetSlaves, called "Let's Talk about Geeks," he wrote of the loneliness he felt as a blogger and self-described "geek" working at home, alone, in a small apartment. "You start to wonder if you've created a world so limited that you can't really reach beyond it." Most bloggers are unable to make a living solely from selling advertising space on their sites, but Gilliard managed to do so. While his success in this regard enabled him to spend all his time writing, it may also have increased his social isolation. "Anything I do, any life I make," he wrote in the 2000 NetSlaves post, "is going to revolve around words and computers and strange, bright people."
By far the most controversial moment in Gilliard's career came in 2006, when he published a scathing attack on Michael Steele, a conservative African-American politician running as a Republican for one of Maryland's two Senate seats. Gilliard—who once wrote of African-American conservatives, "Most African Americans hold such people beneath contempt"—published a doctored photograph in which Steele appeared as a minstrel. The implication was that Steele, like the African-American minstrels common in white-owned entertainment productions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was willing to debase himself and his heritage to earn the approval of whites. Reaction was furious, with Jeff Jacoby, a well-known conservative columnist for the Boston Globe, calling the picture a "racist slur." Gilliard responded by e-mailing a response to Jacoby and then posting both Jacoby's column and the e-mail on his blog. While a number of liberal leaders joined conservatives in criticizing the photo, the incident appeared to have little impact on Gilliard's ability to attract readers and advertisers to his site.
Gilliard's health had been delicate since childhood. In February of 2007 an infection attacked his heart, which was still weak from a valve-replacement procedure three years earlier, and spread quickly to his kidneys. He spent most of the next four months in intensive care at Manhattan's Lenox Hill Hospital, where he died of organ failure on June 2, 2007. As a sign of the growing importance of the medium he helped establish, he was the first blogger to receive an obituary in the New York Times.
At a Glance …
Born Steven Gilliard Jr. on November 13, 1964, in New York City; died of organ failure on June 2, 2007, in New York City; son of Steven Sr. and Evelyn Lillian Gilliard. Politics: Democrat. Education: New York University, BA, journalism, 1989.
Career: Freelance writer and researcher, 1986-96; Crossover Technologies, writer and game developer, 1996-98; NetSlaves, blogger, 1998-2003; Daily Kos, contributing editor and guest blogger, 2003; The News Blog, cofounder and editor, 2003-07.
Boston Globe, December 28, 2005.
New York Times, June 6, 2007.
New York Times Magazine, December 30, 2007.
"The Gilliard Family's Obituary for Steve," The News Blog, http://www.thenewsblog.net/ (accessed June 18, 2008).
Gilliard, Steve, "Let's Talk about Geeks," NetSlaves, April 2, 2000, http://www.disobey.com/ghostsites/netslaves/comments-old/954682214,76206,.shtml (accessed June 18, 2008).
Gilliard, Steve, "Wednesday, August 6, 2003," The News Blog, http://stevegilliard.blogspot.com/2003/08/welcome-to-my-new-blog.html (accessed June 18, 2008).
Gilliard, Steve, "Wednesday, December 28, 2005," The News Blog, http://stevegilliard.blogspot.com/search?q=%22beneath+contempt%22 (accessed May 30, 2008).
Kos (Markos Moulitsas Zúniga), "Steve," Daily Kos, http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/6/3/1741/20535 (accessed June 18, 2008).
"Steve Gilliard: Web Writer and Damn' Proud of It," NetSlaves, http://www.disobey.com/ghostsites/netslaves/interviews/gilliard.shtml (accessed June 18, 2008).
Chideya, Farai, "Steve Gilliard's Powerful, Controversial Voice," News & Notes, National Public Radio, June 8, 2007, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10881999 (accessed June 18, 2008).
—R. Anthony Kugler
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