(I created this presentation for a business journalism class I was invited to speak to at Central Michigan University. Jalopnik contributor and big thinker Micki Maynard said I'd have access to a computer and projector so I made a Kinja blog post for it. This is a very simplified version of what's going on and, I'm sure, if you're finding this any time after early March 2013 it'll be hilariously out of date. This is my thinking at the time. — Matt)
Gawker Media started in a SoHo apartment with one employee and is now one of the largest and most influential publishers on the web. How'd that happen?
We’re a tabloid at heart. You ask if we have a policy. There is no policy for this, or for anything, really. The whole point of the company is that we trust our reporters to be smart and judicious without having to adopt the ethical pretense that what they’re doing is anything but a sort of professionalized rudeness.
I’ll get killed for this, but: Journalism ethics is nothing more than a measure of the scurrilousness your brand will bear. That’s it. Ethics has nothing to do with the truth of things, only with the proper etiquette for obtaining it, so as to piss off the fewest number of people possible. That works fine for a lot of news outlets; we don’t have to worry about niceties.
— Tommy Craggs, EIC of Deadspin.com in an interview with SportsJournalism.org
For all of the leaked Gawker memos and the tomes written by journalists few statements better encapsulate how powerful the mission is of Gawker Media, and why that's as powerful as the medium.
Statistically speaking, if you regularly spend your time on the Internet you've read a Gawker Media property. But let's pretend you haven't and start with the basics.
What Is Gawker Media?
- A privately-held blog network founded in 2002 by journalist/entrepreneur Nick Denton.
- Gawker, Lifehacker, Deadspin, Kotaku, Jezebel, io9, Jalopnik, Gizmodo
- A technology company that creates publishing tools.
- A sales and licensing team.
How big is it?
According to Quantcast it has roughly 23.5 million domestic unique visitors and nearly 40 million global unique visitors and approximately 500 million pageviews per month. Compare that to 8.5 million domestic unique visitors for all of Cox media and about 18.6 million domestic for NY Times and 78 million for all of Yahoo!.
How'd it get started?
In Nick Denton's apartment, in 2002 by Denton and editor Elizabeth Spiers. What was once a sort of personal blog about living in Manhattan (and Gawking at it) turned into a Manhattan-centric Media blog, then into a general news site.
Quickly, other sites launched: Gizmodo (gadgets), Fleshbot (porn), Wonkette (Politics/DC), Defamer (Hollywood), Valleywag (Silicon Valley). Then Lifehacker (DIY), Jalopnik (Cars), Deadspin (Sports), Consumerist (Consumer products), and io9 (Sci-Fi). Other sites included Idolater (music), Gridskipper (travel), Sploid (Headline News), and Oddjack (Gambling). Some of these closed and were sold before ending up with the eight current sites.
Initial Growth In The Pre-2008 Advertising Crash
Gawker initially benefited from being the first to strongly embrace the medium of blogging. What to most was a way of describing their day-to-day activities and recipes Nick Denton saw as a way of reaching anyone with an Internet connection by writing what others wouldn't think to publish.
In 2004, Gawker would receive over one million pageviews a month. By 2007 that number was 10 million pageviews a month.
The ability to publish so quickly and to such a large audience was largely disruptive, especially at a time when the online Content Management Systems for large news organizations involved multiple layers of editors and technicians.
Because the sites were fueled by low-quality banner display advertising, money was essentially generated per click and thus the amount of pageviews a site generated translated into how successful the sites were. Writers were paid per-post with more, typically, for features.
This was the era of the Gawker Stalker map, where people posted stories of celebrities and where they saw them. For instance, Maggie Gylenhall and Peter Saarsgard walking together holding hands in the meatpacking district.
With the uncertainty around advertising and the financial system in 2008, a few sites were sold or folded and a few people were laid off.
The Era Of Big Stories And Unique Visitors
Like any media entity, a big source of growth came in the form of huge scoops. The metric was no longer pageviews, which rewarded galleries and listicles, but unique visitors, which rewarded exclusives. Stories like the Jenn Sterger/Brett Favre seduction scandal and the reveal, early, by Gizmodo of the iPhone 4
Because the site was a traditional, reverse-chronological blog at the time, Gizmodo had to stop publishing when the iPhone story broke so that there was no content on top of it. This lead to the 2011 redesign, which allowed siteleads to splash a story to the front page with all the other stories relegated to a sidebar on the right.
Stories from this era include Jalopnik revealing the 2014 Corvette more than a year early and Romney's internal financial memos.
Most recently, Deadspin upended the traditional sports media world by revealing that Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend story was a hoax.
The Kinja Redesign
Giving control to the internet and its users is the only logical choice that a modern corporation can take on, Newell said. Pre-internet thinking in terms of direct communication with consumers is harmful; the internet is much better at organizing individuals than a corporation will ever be. Open markets are what thrive in the digital age…
In early February, Jalopnik was the first site to switch over to the new Kinja redesign and the larger Kinja network. Aesthetically, Jalopnik works more like a reverse chronological blog, albeit with the ability to pull out recommended stories and features them.
The bigger news is that the Kinja system gives everyone the ability to publish with the same tools within the same ecosystem as the mainstream Gawker sites. If the mission of Gawker is to elevate interesting voices and conversation, especially from outside the privileged world of media access, this does so by recognizing that Gawker Media is an institution able to be challenged.
The Lessons Of Gawker Media
- 1. The medium is important. Gawker's initial structure with its ease of publishing and its low costs allowed it to grow beyond the reach of traditional news outlets.
- 2. The mission is important. Other sites adjusted how they published. They incorporated Wordpress and other CMS tools, but the mission of Gawker allows it still to outflank major media.
- 3. Access is good, but only up to a point. Being an outsider has its advantages.
- 4. Working on the web isn't something you do just to get a job in print, it is now a respectable career
Five Things A Good Reporter For Gawker Media Knows How To Do
- How to write a good headline. That's 80% of why a story is successful. (Meet The Guys Who Paid $4 Million For A Lamborghini Sight Unseen vs. What I Learned From Hanging Out With The McLaren P1's Development Chief)
- How to write a good lead (i.e. how to summarize a story in about 40 words).
- How to scour the web for information (how to reverse Google image search, how to find deleted tweets, how to locate someone on Facebook).
- How to search public records (LexisNexis, FOIA requests).
- How traffic works. Where it comes from. How it moves from place to place around the Internet. The difference between a unique visitor and a pageviews.