THE STORY THAT JUST KEEPS ON GIVING: Gawker Media has now become the perfect Gawkerlike story — and no end appears near.
On Monday, the site saw its two top editors resign, following the removal of a controversial story on Friday that detailed the alleged sexual escapades of a senior executive at Condé Nast. Gawker executive editor Tommy Craggs and editor in chief Max Read quit, citing that no one on the editorial staff at the company voted to take down the item.
Leah Beckmann, the site’s current deputy editor, has been asked to served as interim editor in chief, while investigations editor John Cook has been asked to act as interim executive editor. It could not be confirmed whether they have accepted the roles.
Gawker founder Nick Denton, meanwhile, has spent the last five days defending his decision — the latest taking place at a staff meeting Tuesday.
How do we know? Well, this is Gawker, so the meeting was live tweeted by the company’s features editor Leah Finnegan.
She wrote a series of tweets, in which Denton addressed the Condé Nast story debacle: “‘we have to take some responsibility for what we did… for violating an established standard.. blah blah blah taking a post down.’ –nick”
On the blowback that the story incurred on Denton, she wrote: “nick just said he only has ‘one celebrity friend’ left.”
Later, her boss addressed another controversial story that has put Gawker in the news — the Hulk Hogan lawsuit. Hogan has sued Gawker for $100 million, after the site posted video clips of the wrestler having sex.
Finnegan tweeted: “‘i realized that the hogan story… was actually on the edge’ -nick now expressing a ‘hulk’ of regret lmao.”
She ended the barrage with: “this has been gawker all-hands meeting livetweets. please DM me for resume.”
Up until then, Gawker’s — now unionized — staff had been relatively quiet on Tuesday, despite the fact that it threatened a site blackout after Craggs and Read left. That never materialized, but what did was a host of conspiracy theories about why Denton — the original muckraking mastermind of the Internet — removed the controversial post in the first place.
Some speculated that Gawker was pressured by Condé Nast or others. An insider said those scenarios were unlikely, but noted that there was a “huge” amount of social pressure for Denton to act.
Craggs justified his departure in a memo to staff: “On Friday, I told my fellow managing partners — Nick Denton, founder and chief executive editor; Heather Dietrick, president; Andrew Gorenstein, president of advertising and partnerships; Scott Kidder, chief operating officer, and Erin Pettigrew, chief strategy officer — I would have to resign if they voted to remove a story I’d edited and approved. The article…had become radioactive. Advertisers such as Discover and BFGoodrich were either putting holds on their campaigns or pulling out entirely.”
While Denton acknowledged advertising pressures, he said his decision to remove the post was directly related to soiling the “reputation” of Gawker as it readies to square off against Hogan in court.
Denton also offered that Gawker has “changed,” and that readers of the gossip site, too have “changed.” There was an outcry across social media to delete the story, which many deemed as a low blow.
Read said: “That this post was deleted at all is an absolute surrender of Gawker’s claim to ‘radical transparency’; that noneditorial business executives were given a vote in the decision to remove it is an unacceptable and unprecedented breach of the editorial firewall, and turns Gawker’s claim to be the world’s largest independent media company into, essentially, a joke. I am able to do this job to the extent that I can believe that the people in charge are able, when faced with difficult decisions, to back up their stated commitments to transparency, fearlessness and editorial independence.”
Denton immediately took to the site to defend his decision — and denied it was based on business concerns. “The managing partnership as a whole is responsible for the company’s management and direction, but they do not and should not make editorial decisions,” he wrote. “Let me be clear. This was a decision I made as founder and publisher — and guardian of the company mission — and the majority supported me in that decision.
“This is the company I built. I was ashamed to have my name and Gawker’s associated with a story on the private life of a closeted gay man who some felt had done nothing to warrant the attention,” Denton, who is openly gay, continued. “We believe we were within our legal right to publish, but it defied the 2015 editorial mandate to do stories that inspire pride, and made impossible the jobs of those most committed to defending such journalism.”
He acknowledged that the decision to take down the post was “such a breach of everything Gawker stands for, actually having a post disappeared from the Internet. But it was also an unprecedented misuse of the independence given to editorial.”
Even after all that, he took to Twitter on Monday and defended himself to an admittedly “confused” Jezebel editor at large Jessica Coen, adding: “Okay, let me clarify: ‘Don’t out someone who doesn’t want to be out — unless there is a worthwhile story there.'”
Employees from the company, which operates sites including Gawker, Jezebel and Deadspin, voted to form a union with the Writers Guild of America, East last month, citing the ability to “bargain” and “negotiate a contract.”
A union representative for Gawker declined on Monday to comment on the current situation of the company, offering that he would let the media site “speak for itself.” (Not like there was much left to say, anyway).
An insider surmised that once things truly settle down and new top editors are brought in, current Gawker writers would likely begin to trickle out by choice or they will be fired. A “new Gawker” will be baptized until the shinier, nicer Gawker becomes stale and not acerbic enough to the likes of Denton and friends.
Then the “cycle” will begin again, a source said, adding: “Time is a flat circle.”