Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The people at Gawker don't seem to like the world they've built

There’s a big to-do at the U.S. website Gawker over a story being withdrawn, apparently in order to placate advertisers.

A number of senior people have noisily resigned, claiming the independence of editorial has been fatally undermined. 

The new generation of digital journalists working in U.S. media don’t stop at giving themselves the rather inflated job titles favoured by their eyeshade-wearing predecessors; they also seem to think they can hold the same line between “church and state” once so dear to Time magazine and the New York Times.

But that was in the days when news media was a two-revenue stream business. The old position wasn't a principled stand - it was just common sense. Some of the money came from advertisers; the rest came from readers. The job of the editor was to hold the line between the two streams. You couldn’t lean too far in the direction of one for fear of making the other, to use one of the most popular weasel words in the contemporary lexicon, uncomfortable.

If on the other hand you’re an internet media business like Gawker (where readers don’t pay) you only have one revenue stream. That’s the advertiser. Or sponsor or commercial partner or whatever you call them. In this new dispensation, where the advertising is the only source of cash, the advertising will always win. A child could tell you that.

This is the new Jerusalem the Gawker people eagerly built. Now they’ve got it, they don’t seem to like it.


  1. Interesting, but not entirely a new problem. If you work in B2B, as I do, then readers frequently receive the mag free - controlled circulation isn't new in that sense.
    The power of a relatively independent editorial in this environment is the long-term commercial view that the better the magazine, the more engaged the reader and therefore the better the sales story for advertisers.
    Doesn't always work that way of course in the short term, and yes, if it came down to us against them then 99% of time 'them' will win. The real change required in editorial mindset is not that they need to give the farm away, it's that the farm does not have limitless subsidies anymore.Trouble with editors like me is that the stables on our farms house an awful lot of expensive high horses...

  2. I think there is a little more to this story.
    From what I understand, Gawker published a story outing a prominent businessman. There didn't seem to be a public interest angle to the story, i.e. the businessman wasn't hypocritical about LGBT issues. The story was just mean.
    Apparently, the editorial team met and decided by a majority not to remove the story, but the owners over-ruled them. This is when the two editors resigned citing interference in editorial issues.
    I guess the editors are making a principled stand, but they made a lousy decision in the first place.
    Check out a discussion on the issue at The Young Turks:

  3. Like Andrew I work in B2B and edit (and publish) a magazine that derives all its revenue from advertisers and commercial partners.
    The accepted wisdom in this market is that you have to namecheck these benefactors in your feature articles (indeed base such articles around their world view) and to avoid anything that might alarm them. I always suspected this was nonsense and indeed since publishing my own trade magazine I have proved this to be the case.
    None of our advertisers gets any favours: if they want publicity for a new product or project, they understand they must pay for it (and such editorial will be clearly badged). There are no exceptions. And they continue to buy into the magazine because they know their audience is reading it.
    I know that's veering slightly off the point DH is making in the original post, but I think it's a point worth making. Too many B2B titles cringe at their advertisers, but they're just creating a vicious circle. If you allow them to dictate your agenda you end up with an inferior product that only the advertisers and the PR people want to read. And that means a magazine that offers no value, to the reader or the advertiser. Everyone loses.

  4. Here at Even Monkeys Fall Out of Trees I'd like to think that any potential advertisers would give me free rein whether to publish a story, or not. The readership, such as it is, would soon let me know if I was being mean about someone. Which I hope I never am (apart from the time I was rude about Alan Price). However, you can't beat a good old fashioned kiss and tell story, or a well executed sting. Continued on Page 58.