In a meeting today at the offices of Gawker Media, founder and CEO Nick Denton stood before employees to defend his decision of last week to summarily disappear an article about the personal life of a high-ranking executive of Conde Nast. The move was contentious, as any Gawker reader well knows: Though some editorial staffers disapproved of the story, they appeared unified in their opposition to Denton’s power move, which had the support of big shots in advertising and other company departments. “Our union drive has expressed at every stage of the process that one of our core goals is to protect the editorial independence of Gawker Media sites from the influence of business-side concerns,” read a statement from staffers. “Today’s unprecedented breach of the firewall, in which business executives deleted an editorial post over the objections of the entire executive editorial staff, demonstrated exactly why we seek greater protection.”
In various pronouncements and posts, Denton has responded that the piece went way over the line: “It 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.” Such rationales didn’t appease Gawker Media Executive Editor Tommy Craggs and Gawker Editor-in-Chief Max Read, both of whom resigned over the incursion.
Gawker Media executive features editor Tom Scocca tells the Erik Wemple Blog that one of the fixes advanced by Denton in today’s session is a piece of paper. Denton reasons that editorial principles outlining just what constitutes a Gawker Media story might diminish these sorts of clashes in the future. In an e-mail exchange, he confirmed as much: “No paragraph can substitute for the judgment of an experienced editor,” he noted. “But a statement of principles can at least provide a more consistent and transparent guide than the passing down of company lore from editor to editor, and from editor to writer.” Presumably the statement would affirm that Gawker Media is committed to printing stories that are both true and interesting/meaningful — which is a refrain of Denton’s in the aftermath of the Conde Nast blowup.
Scocca, a former colleague of the Erik Wemple Blog, emerged unconvinced by Denton’s pitch. “It was pretty annoying and crappy,” says Scocca. “Nick got up and tried to express his belief that this was anything other than him freaking out about Twitter and he offered some historically dubious claims about his own record and journalistic priorities that people were able to challenge on the spot.” Denton claimed that the story lay outside of Gawker’s editorial tradition, while staffers, including Scocca, protested that it’s just the sort of stuff he had encouraged for years. “There was a lot to dispute in Nick’s analysis and we disputed it,” recalls Scocca.
“It seems untenable to me that the statement of editorial principles is going to suffice to cover all the circumstances” of the future, says Scocca. Further, he says, the whole idea of a guiding document reflects an “untrue” narrative — that Gawker Media has had a problem in publishing stories that meet both the true/meaningful bars laid out by Denton. “If you don’t think Tommy Craggs has been producing interesting and meaningful content, you haven’t been reading the site,” says Scocca.
Another sticking point for Gawker staffers: If Denton thought so ill of the Conde Nast piece, why didn’t he stop it prior to its posting? “Nick had been aware that this story was going up and so the idea that the story was so identifiably reprehensible…is given the lie by the fact that Nick was aware the post existed and didn’t exercise the publisher’s prerogative” to kill it, says Scocca.
Asked if he’d read the piece pre-publication, Denton tells us, “I hadn’t, no. I haven’t read a story prior to publication since Tommy took over. He talked us through it. I told him I didn’t see the point.”
Whatever the case, Gawker will be convening en masse again. “There’s another meeting tomorrow, hopefully to find a way through: reconciling editorial independence with the company’s mission,” Denton tells us.