Commentary

'Gawker' Ditches Gossip For Politics

The media world is wiping a tear from its eye this morning -- or maybe it’s just heaving a sigh of relief -- with the news that Gawker.com will stop covering media industry gossip in order to focus on politics.

As part of the transition, the site laid off seven staffers, some of whom, in good Gawker fashion, quickly took to social media to air their grievances; six new positions will be created.

Founder Nick Denton explained Gawker’s strategic repositioning in a length memo to staff, laying out a new mission under a new editor-in-chief: “Alex Pareene’s Gawker will ride the circus of the 2016 campaign cycle, seizing the opportunity to re-orient its editorial scope on political news, commentary and satire.”

Denton continued: “Politics, writ large, has provided the scene for some of Gawker’s most recognized editorial scoops, such as the exposure of Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor, the bullying power of Fox News, the first questions about Hillary Clinton’s private email address and the jet-set partying of Bill Clinton with a convicted pedophile. Is there any doubt that the 2016 US presidential election campaign, a contest between reality-defying fabulists and the last representatives of two exhausted political dynasties, will provide rich new opportunities for sensation and satire?”

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Denton also revealed a new editorial direction for Gawker’s sister site Gizmodo, which will “commission, curate and distribute more original video.”

Taking a broader view, Denton affirmed the distinct identities and missions of the various sites in the Gawker empire: “Each is a cultural leader: Gawker for news and politics; Gizmodo for technology; Lifehacker for productivity; Jezebel for the empowered modern woman; Deadspin for sports and men’s lifestyle; Kotaku for video games; and Jalopnik for car culture.”

He also took a moment to boast of the continued success of the business: “Together, the seven Gawker Media Group properties reach 104m people a month according to Quantcast. They attract more affluent millennials on desktop and mobile Web than any other pure-play digital media company other than Buzzfeed…”

The announcement that Gawker will ditch media gossip marks the end of an era, which to many probably seemed like a reign of terror, when the mere mention of the name could make media execs, PR pros, and celebrity handlers blanch.

But to be fair, it wasn’t just scurrilous gossip and character assassination. At its best, Gawker provided a platform for the underpaid and unappreciated drudges of the media business -- not coincidentally often younger and frequently female -- to dish out some well-deserved criticism and notoriety to bosses who were (at least, according to their anonymous tips to Gawker) vain, cruel, selfish martinets who took credit for other people’s work and ideas, blocked promotions, turned a blind eye to harassment and other workplace violations, and were generally useless corporate space holders.

That said, in recent months Gawker’s darker side attracted unwanted attention with items widely criticized as gratuitously malicious. Two incidents in particular weren’t mentioned in Denton’s post. This summer, a public outcry forced Gawker to withdraw a post about a media exec looking to set up an assignation with a gay porn star, which in turn, led to the resignation of two senior editors. 

In the other, the site’s publication of a sex video featuring professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, real name Terry Gene Bollea, triggered a $100 million lawsuit alleging invasion of privacy, which Gawker president Heather Dietrick admitted the site may lose last month — although she doesn’t expect the jury to award the full amount.

The turn to politics is hardly a guarantee that Gawker will avoid similar contretemps in future. It’s worth noting that the ill-fated item about the gay porn star hookup had a political dimension as well, which may have been a large part of the reason for the public outrage, stoked by a powerful political PR machine.

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