Gawker Media is in the throes of an upheaval, following the removal of a controversial post on Friday that detailed the alleged sexual escapades of a senior executive at Condé Nast.
On Monday, Gawker executive editor Tommy Craggs and editor in chief Max Read resigned, citing that no one on the editorial staff at the company voted to take down the item. Gawker founder Nick Denton, meanwhile, continued to defend the decision and insisting it was a one-time only reversal.
“I want to give you some sense of what happened within Gawker Media on Friday, and what has happened since, as a means of explaining why I have to resign as executive editor,” Craggs wrote to staff Monday.
“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,” he continued. “The article, about the Condé Nast cfo’s futile effort to secure a remote assignation with a pricey escort, had become radioactive. Advertisers such as Discover and BFGoodrich were either putting holds on their campaigns or pulling out entirely.”
Despite Craggs’ protests, Denton took down the post Friday afternoon, citing that Gawker has “changed,” and that readers of the gossip site, too have “changed.” There was also an outcry across social media to remove the post, which many deemed as a low blow.
For his part, 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.”
Gawker did not provide details on who would fill the positions left open by Craggs and Read.
But Denton immediately took to the site to defend his decision — and deny 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 went on. “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.”
Denton then added: “The company promotes truth and understanding through the pursuit of the real story — and supports, finances and defends such independent journalism. That is and remains its mission, and this story was in violation of it.
“We pride ourselves on pushing boundaries and know that every story requires a judgment call. There was strong internal disagreement on whether the right judgment was made. I believe it was not and could not defend it.
“Were there also business concerns? Absolutely. The company’s ability to finance independent journalism is critical. If the post had remained up, we probably would have triggered advertising losses this week into seven figures. Fortunately, though, I was only aware of one advertiser pausing at the time the decision to pull the post was made; so you won’t be able to pin this outrage on advertising, even though it is the traditional thing to do in these circumstances.”
He admitted 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.”
A union representative for Gawker declined to comment on the current situation of the company, offering that he would let the media site “speak for itself.”
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.”