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Top Gawker editors resign after controversial story’s removal

The logo for Gawker Media’s flagship site, (Gawker)

Gawker Media executive editor Tommy Craggs and editor-in-chief Max Read will resign from their positions at the digital media company, Gawker reported Monday. The news comes days after the site published — and then removed — a widely condemned post about the personal life of Conde Nast’s chief financial officer.

“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,” Read wrote in a memo to the managing board of Gawker Media, the online publisher whose sites include Jezebel, Deadspin, Gizmodo, io9 and Lifehacker.

“In the wake of Friday’s decision and Tommy’s resignation I can no longer sustain that belief. I find myself forced to resign, effective immediately.”

Gawker also published a memo from Craggs to the Gawker Media editorial staff “as a means of explaining why I have to resign as executive editor.”

“On Friday, I told my fellow managing partners — Nick Denton, founder and CEO; 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,” Craggs’s memo reads. “The article, about the Condé Nast CFO’s futile effort to secure a remote assignation with a pricey escort, had become radioactive.”

Craggs also said that “advertisers such as Discover and BFGoodrich were either putting holds on their campaigns or pulling out entirely” in response to the piece. published, and then removed, a post late last week about text messages that a Conde Nast executive allegedly sent to a male escort. The post was widely criticized for, among other things, “outing” the executive. Gawker’s founder, Nick Denton, announced Friday that the post would be removed.

“It was an editorial call, a close call around which there were more internal disagreements than usual. And it is a decision I regret,” Denton wrote.

The editorial side of Gawker reacted publicly — and furiously — to what some characterized as a decision from the business side of the company’s managing partnership over the objections of its editorial leadership. Gawker’s own story Monday about the resignations called the contentious post’s removal an “unprecedented act endorsed by zero editorial employees.”

“Business executives deleted an editorial post over the objections of the entire executive editorial staff,” read a Friday statement from Gawker’s editorial staff. “Our opinions on the post are not unanimous but we are united in objecting to editorial decisions being made by a majority of non-editorial managers.”

In a memorandum addressed to Gawker Media’s editorial staff and shared online after the resignations were announced, Denton wrote: “To any that resign over the deep-sixing of the … story, and to any that find a gentler editorial mission too limiting: I respect the strength of your convictions.

“This is a decision you’re taking to preserve principles you believed I still shared. And since you were abiding by a policy that we had not formally superseded, we will treat all resignations as being constructive dismissal, subject to severance.”

Craggs was named executive editor of Gawker’s eight main titles last year. Before that, he was editor of Deadspin, Gawker’s sports and culture blog, from 2012 through 2014. Read became editor-in-chief of the flagship Web site in March 2014 after serving as Gawker’s news editor.

Denton, Gawker’s founder, stepped down as the company’s president in December.

“This is the company I built,” he said in his Monday memo. “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. 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 called the publication of the story “an unprecedented misuse of the independence given to editorial” and said: “Ot was my responsibility to step in to save Gawker from itself, supported by the majority of the Managing Partners.”

He noted that under the leadership of Craggs, “Gawker and other sites have done more ambitious reporting. … But even the best of our stories fail to get credit, in part because of Gawker’s reputation for tabloid trash, given another lift by the unjustifiable outing of a private individual in turmoil, in front of a potential audience of millions.”

Gawker’s story about the resignations noted that “Denton, for what it’s worth, was slightly more pointed” about the Conde Nast piece in an email to its author, Jordan Sargent, on Friday.

“You need to know you did nothing wrong,” the email read. “These are the stories we used to do. But times have changed.”

Denton said in his memorandum that he would meet with the editorial staff in New York.

Following the resignations, Gawker Media writers and editors took to Twitter to express their displeasure.

Mark Berman contributed to this post, which has been updated.