Today, Gizmodo loses one of its greatest assets: Writer, cool dad, comedian, and editor emeritus Brian R. Barrett. His influence in shaping Gizmodo and its writers over the last half decade cannot be overstated. This is the best of Brian Barrett ('s posts on Gizmodo), as chosen by those who will be greatly saddened (and inconvenienced) by his absence.
This fond remembrance is sponsored by The Veil as Gear, because a symbol should be regulated not on the base of its practicality, but its meaning.
Kyle Wagner: OK, sure, the Brian Barrett you see today is three parts stress ulcer, two parts formaldehyde, but before he was an overworked, under-rested cautionary tale of a dad/boss, he was a Gizmodo junior reporter who took commercial acting auditions during work hours and lied to Blam about writers block or some shit when really he was banging out entire features on a wobbly Starbucks table, then running upstairs to sit in a waiting room for 90 minutes.
You can see a lot of that Brian here in pre-boss posts like, this, where he and The Human Cannoli-Stained Tank Top with Grease-Arms Attached eat KFC Double Downs and then use an editorial assistant's iPad to prove, uh, that you shouldn't, and also mainly that Barrett and the greaseball are pretty good on camera.
Brent Rose: There have been so many [great Brian Barrett posts] I've loved that I'm mostly drawing a blank, but this one [above] tickled me.
Also, as an editor, he once took a particularly acerbic review I wrote of a phone and made it even harsher and meaner. This major consumer electronics company was so furious that they tried to get me fired. They called Brian to complain about it, and all of the things that they singled out as particularly unfair were actually changes that he made. But rather than telling them that, he was just like, "Yeah, Brent is such a dick." The view from under the bus was magnificent.
That ordeal aside, Barry is my all-time favorite editor to work with. He has literally taken hundreds of my posts and made them better, smarter, and funnier, and I'll miss his WASPy ass very much.
[UPDATE: Brian feels that he did not throw me under the bus and feels hurt and slandered by these allegations. In retrospect, it's possible that he didn't throw me under the bus but rather I was already under the bus and he advised me to play dead until the lions went away. In either case, it was a canny move, and he told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn't going to be fired, which was nice. The truth is that Barry always went to bat for us, even when we may or may not have deserved his support. He's one of the nicest guys in the business but he's fiercely loyal, and he's not afraid to step up and fight for his own when it comes to that.]
Gizmodo is full of hilarious characters, but perhaps none more so than Brian. Even before I worked at Giz, I made sure to check in on the Apple liveblogs because it was guaranteed that I'd be left in stitches. Brian's acerbic wit and knack for noticing minor absurdities is a gift to this thing called bloggin'. I will truly miss it. That, and his copious use of exclamation points.
Andrew Liszewski: If I had to sum Brian Barrett up in one word, it would be: He'll go to great lengths to avoid stealing, sharing, or otherwise acquiring media through legally questionable means. OK, that's actually 17 words, but they're all important.
You want a leader to lead by example, and when it comes to respecting copyright, Brian is always on the up and up. Countless Taylor Swift fans magically found her latest album appearing in shared Dropbox folders, but Brian went so far as to actually buy the CD off Amazon. (There was also a lesson in how messed up digital music distribution still is in there.)
He'll go to great lengths to ensure his media didn't arrive via shady channels, even if it means he's like three seasons behind on Downton Abbey and doesn't even know Mary's husband Matthew is going to die in a terrible car crash... That probably should have a spoiler alert in front of it.
Mario Aguilar: I do not know if Barrett is capable of writing a post for longer than two hours because it never took him any longer than that to knock one out. He's one of the more perfect bloggers we've ever had on this staff, writing posts very carefully from start to finish, then publishing without looking back. His blogs are always more lucid, clear, and logical than anything the rest of us could do with infinite time
Because of all of this, I'm fond of a few posts people probably don't usually think of. His SOPA explainer that cut sharply, that I think I remember that main Anonymous Twitter account put a link its bio during the blackout three years ago. Brian's takedown of the Livr hoax last year wasn't is most glamorous post, but for some reason, he felt compelled to go after this story. Oh and let's not forget the Barrett likes paying for content, including Taylor Swift.
Kate Knibbs: Brian is aces at distilling complicated cases into entertaining, informative posts, and he does it in the same amount of time it takes me to come up with a semi-decent headline. His explainer on the tense mobile payments scene when Apple Pay debuted made it exciting to read about an obscure corporate fight.
And I maintain that his treatise on boxed wine is a clarion call that will be heard. I will never chug Franzia again without pausing to remember my dearly relocated boss.
Sarah Zhang: Brian likes to say he wrote a "dumb thing" like when he wrote this "dumb thing" on his personal Kinja and asked if we wanted to splice to the Gizmodo homepage. (This is before he was the bossman.) This is obviously not a "dumb thing."
From all the other posts on this list, you already know Brian is wickedly funny and fiendishly clever, but he also—let me put this the cheesiest way possible—has a lot of heart. Whether it's writing about snow in Birmingham or the Sony hacks, taking the compassionate view often runs counter to the default mode of the internet.
Utopias, Ranked (as edited by Brian Barrett)
Matt Novak: Brian is a great writer, but he's also an amazing editor. Frustratingly so. He can condense and streamline posts like nobody's business. But he's also injected some of the best lines into my otherwise mediocre blog posts.
A while back I wrote a quick, dumb post called Utopias, Ranked. It was silly and weird and not very good. But Brian added a line that made the entire post worthwhile: Game of Thrones but nobody has swords utopia. (It's funnier in the context of the post, trust me.)
It was a great line that absolutely made the entire fucking post, and frankly I was embarrassed. I didn't want to take credit for his joke and scrambled to find a way to credit him, offering to share the byline. But he declined (smartly, because the rest of the post really isn't very good to begin with) and went about his business. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Brian Barrett is better at both writing and editing than I am, and that I'm filled with tremendous shame he never got credit for the funniest thing to ever appear under my byline.
Sean Hollister: This post pretty much sums up why Brian is the best. Honest, ethical, opportunistic as all hell, and not afraid to diss Beyonce to her face.
Eric Limer: Brian Barrett is a master of the newsfeature, one of those quick but insightful 3 to 4 beat essays written in a single burst just minutes after something crazy has gone down. It's like an English major's last second sprint to finish an essay, except on the internet and also really fucking good. He's got a backlog of dozens of great ones. Including a few under my byline that he patiently spoon-fed me, I assume while also checking his watch, tapping his foot, editing three other things, and taking care of two young children simultaneously.
Brian walked me through tons of those , but my favorite posts of his are the ones that broke out of from, free of that simple and straight-forward structure (one that I sometimes still struggle with), free to do something weird and original and fun and great. His one-act play about an NSA Thanksgiving—which includes the greatest one-line cameo I have ever seen—is just one that comes to mind.
Meghan Neal: I love whenever Brian gets a chance to indulge his obsession with media content delivery models (writing or editing!), such as this post lauding WWE as the hero of the Future of TV, and then Disney as the hero of the Future of TV, and then... SpongeBob?, and ultimately wet blanketing all over on our a la carte dreams with a very smart post on why the Future of TV probably isn't worth it.
Darren Orf: I've only had the illustrious fortune to work with Brian Barrett for a short time. No, six months isn't nearly enough to understand the nuance of blogging expert/father figure Barrett's editorial powers. But my first few weeks here my impression was a simple one: "This guy writes like never." But you see, that's the trick. Because when Barrett sets his ten digits to a keyboard, he blogs gold.
The one of many examples that immediately comes to mind is "iPads are Forever." It's a story that you could write after some earnings call or an Apple announcement, sure, but Barrett made you care when you were reading his words, and by the time you were done, you didn't even realize that you were always in total agreement. He's like your best bud who just gets technology, and you don't even have to question it.
I remember Barrett saying that the post was "dumb" and wouldn't do well. It became the most read thing on the page that day. Hell, maybe even the entire week. Apply that phenomenon throughout 5 years and you have a writer/editor/friend that Gizmodo will sorely miss.
Full report: [PhysOrg]
Kyle Wagner (again): This is deeply stupid post that I love for two reasons beyond its basic stupidity. 1. This is actually one of the first times I remember contributing in some actual way to the site. I'd been writing for months by then, but largely stuff that any other blog drone could've assembled on the factory line. For this one, Brian needed an image that didn't step on the joke, and left it up to me. (I came up with a blank image and an arrow that just points at the link.) It's an OK joke, but—and this is one of Brian's best editoring moves—it felt like we'd worked together and made a funny thing together, when really he was just pulling your strings while you watched him pull your strings.
2. He loves this post so much. He's written a lot of great things, and edited a lot more besides, and it speaks very well of him and his ego that whenever anyone asks about his favorite Gizmodo posts, it's always this stupid, stupid thing that he mentions.
Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan: tell me if this is too sappy ok [It's perfect, Kelsey —EL]
Now that I've gotten Brian's What Time Is It? canon out of the way, I'll get to the tech blogging. Brian is a cool dad, and I mean that metaphysically, as well as literally. It's how I explain his uncanny calm during big, important news days at Giz. It's also how I explain his ability to keep a buffer of common sense and perspective about him when the rest of the team, or even the internet itself, has descended into madness. Or how he managed to get on Antiques Roadshow and have an expert appraise his six-year-old TV. Or his domination of the dad tech beat. Rarely, he writes about his life in the first person—in lovely posts like this, which Eric has often told me he goes back and re-reads because "it's that good."
But here's the thing—and this is going to sound like a string of tropes, but whatever, because they're true: We were all smarter writers and funnier bloggers because of Brian. It's difficult to overstate how good of an editor and leader he is. It's easy to list my favorite posts of his, but a lot harder to demonstrate my favorite posts that he's edited into greatness. There are too many.
Adam Clark Estes: The first best Brian Barrett post that pops into my mind has to be Self-Douching Chicks Reject Lame Cocks This is shouldn't be a surprise since Brian reminded us all of this post at least once a month. It's a great post!
But what the kind of wow-I-wish-I-could-do-that Brian Barrett writing that I'll remember best is his authoritative but approachable posts explaining why you should care about, say, last year's blizzard in the South or the Sony hacks or the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. These pieces are crystal clear, information-packed, and impressively fun to read. This is a hard thing to do with complex topics—especially that fun part. Brian's sharp mind and fatherly wit in these posts not only made me smile laugh out loud the first time I read these posts. I find myself going back months later and re-reading them, too, finding jokes or insight I missed the first time around and having fun all over again.
Leslie Horn: The best of Brian is the stuff you don't see. There were times when Brian was essentially running the site himself, and manning a set of unruly writers in need of some semblance of order. The posts you know and love so much would have been nothing without Brian's careful, clever hand. Almost every good headline I ever wrote was only good because there was a touch of Brian in it. Brian is the rare whole package. By that I mean, he's equal parts great writer, great editor, and great leader. But we're here to talk about our favorite Brian posts, so that being said, Here are a few:
In which he argues we should let panda's die off. Brian hates pandas, and he will never let you forget it
In which he chronicles the saddest pillow. I mean, how else would we stay apprised on this sad sitch?
And this post, which shows so many of Brian's strengths as a writer and an editor.
Ashley Feinberg: I have been putting off writing this for a week (Eric is IM-ing me right now whining that I am literally the last one [True—EL]) because there is absolutely nothing I can put into words to fully express how sad and/or screwed I am without Brian. Largely because I can't ask Brian for help! Brian is great at pretty much every genre of blog post and it is equal parts astounding and infuriating. There's larky Brian: Self-Douching Chicks Reject Lame Cocks. Playwright Brian: The NSA's Thanksgiving Dinner Talking Points: A Play in One Act. Friend to animals Brian: The Dog Beekeeper Suit: A Few Questions and Answers. Angry Brian: Seriously, Enough With This Apple Holiday Ad. AND THE LIST GOES ON
I've never met someone more honest, sympathetic, and ethical who can manage all those qualities without being an uptight dick. Brian is the opposite of an uptight dick. Apologies to every teacher/professor I've ever had—but Brian is infinitely better and I would probably be in hole somewhere scratching words in dirt were not for him. I just hope he's ready for me to IM him every day for headline advice.
Robert Sorokanich: It's damned near impossible to pick a favorite among all the Brian Barrett masterpieces that have graced this page, but Barry's trip to Antiques Roadshow with a hulking flatscreen in tow really defines the Barrett genre.
Just look at that headline. It's the perfect setup for a cringey disaster—you get the distinct impression that someone's going to be made a fool, whether it's the befuddled Antiques Roadshow expert or the playing-dumb jerk he's faced with. You read this title and buckle your psychic seatbelt for a Da Ali G Show-style rollercoaster of displaced embarrassment.
But what you get is a genuinely charming and sneakily informative bundle of expertly-crafted joy. Nobody gets flummoxed, punked, or made to look like a boob. There's no elaborate conceit here, no "look at this pathetic schmuck," no schadenfreude.
In the overly-snarky, hyper-self-aware, gnashingly mean world of blogging, that's more rare and valuable than the biggest Antiques Roadshow jackpot.
That's the magic Barrett touch, the one that runs through his writing, his editing, his management style, and as any of us who ever worked for him can attest, his parenting. In the Roadshow post, he invites you behind the writerly edifice that others would be tempted to construct, and tells you exactly what happened. He doesn't feed you a candy half-true tale—he respects you enough to explain exactly how it all happened, including how it was set up and who was in on the joke.
In my year and a half working at Gizmodo, that truth and respect came through in every interaction with Brian. And on the reader side, it's there in everything he writes—usually in the fat part of the ubiquitous-to-Barry-posts paragraph that starts with But!or So! or Yet!
It's a damned shame that Barry's taking all that and his 2008 Toshiba elsewhere. But wherever that TV and its owner end up will be better for it.
Even if the TV's only worth $100 now.
This retrospective is sponsored by The Veil as Gear, and is a controversial move!
These are but a few of Brian's fantastic bloggings at Gizmodo, and surely there are even more that we missed. If you have favorites of your own, please share! I'm looking at you, Kerry Kilos.
And Brian, we'll miss you, you bastard.