SEARCH AND DESTROY Nick Denton’s blog empire.

Interesting take on media that I am more and more finding disgusting and very frustrating and perhaps this article explains who and all the connections we should be wary of. Click here to read the full article or an excerpt below.

 

Denton arrived in Manhattan with a list of important people he planned to meet, and a personal mission to unsettle many of them. That summer, he abandoned the science-fiction novel he’d been working on and started what became Gawker Media. He saw in the traditional blog format—links with commentary, presented in reverse chronological order—the potential for a leaner, more accountable publishing model aimed at niche audiences, or verticals, that could be bundled together when selling advertising. Just how lean? He paid Elizabeth Spiers, the original Gawker writer, two thousand dollars a month, on the assumption that posting twelve short items a day, mostly in response to things she’d read in the Times or gleaned from fashion-magazine sources, was a part-time commitment. When Spiers complained, after several months, that the gig was taking over her life, he told her to relax on weekends and pro-rated her pay downward. Later, as the brand grew more established, and as the number of writers in his stable increased, he settled on a new payment scheme: twelve dollars a post, with a pool of bonus money paid out according to the number of page views generated.

Paying bonuses for traffic meant not only keeping statistics about what readers did and didn’t like but sharing that information with writers—a supreme journalistic taboo, as it could easily lead to pandering. Pandering was precisely Denton’s aim, and he took it one step further when he started publishing his traffic data alongside the stories themselves. It almost felt like a sociological experiment designed to prove the obvious: that readers are herd animals, that heat begets heat. A photograph of an unidentifiable mammalian carcass on a beach, cleverly dubbed the Montauk Monster, is viewed two million times: go figure. “I think people are sort of waking up to it now, how probably the biggest change in Internet media isn’t the immediacy of it, or the low costs, but the measurability,” Denton told me. “Which is actually terrifying if you’re a traditional journalist, and used to pushing what people ought to like, or what you think they ought to like.”

He is fond of suggesting that newspapers would be shamed into shuttering their Albany bureaus if they acknowledged the full breadth of their readers’ habits, beyond the “ten most e-mailed” lists. No “traditional” journalistic outfit has yet copied this particular innovation of Denton’s, although Jacob Weisberg, the editor of the Slate Group and a wary admirer, admitted to me that he has lately “sort of wanted to,” adding that “people are afraid it has implications that will be followed.”

In Denton’s case, the implications were outright expectations. He expanded the network outward from Gizmodo and Gawker and then Fleshbot, in 2003, to include Wonkette, a political blog whose portrayal of Washington, D.C., often made it sound more like Las Vegas or Reno, and Defamer, a withering Hollywood digest, along with Oddjack, “a sneak peek at the future of gambling.” By 2005, he was earning a small profit on a few of the sites, but he was also beginning to conclude that nano-publishing, as his business plan was sometimes called, doesn’t really work. At the outset, he had assumed that, in order to be viable, each individual site would need to achieve a million monthly page views; that threshold, he believes, is now twenty million. He has since sold Wonkette, shut down Oddjack, and folded Defamer into Gawker proper, as a kind of Letter from Los Angeles.

The network’s nine sites, in order of over-all domestic readership, are Gizmodo, Gawker, Lifehacker (a sort of Idiot’s Guide to the digital world), Kotaku (video games), Deadspin, Jezebel, io9 (science fiction), Jalopnik (cars), and Fleshbot. Together, they generate more than four hundred and fifty million page views a month, from roughly seventeen million unique visitors, which, as Denton boasted a few weeks ago, is better than the Web sites of the Washington Post and USA Today. Neither paper is in the porn or the science-fiction business, of course, and Gawker itself has an audience about equivalent to that of PBS.org. The “geek” sites, as Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Kotaku, io9, and Jalopnik are known internally, bring in twice the traffic of the “gossip” sites, suggesting that British-inflected class angst may not be a long-term-growth model.

“To what extent is it good or damaging?” Peter Molnar mused recently of Denton’s publishing career. “Of course, he’s free to do it. Only in a dictatorship would you consider stopping him.”

Cartoon
“Honey, can we talk?”

Denton sometimes encounters people who are unhappy with what he is doing. “This publishing woman,” he began. “There was this comment saying that she looked as wrinkled as Yoda. And I was having dinner at the Waverly, which I don’t usually do, but she came over and started berating me, saying, do I take responsibility?” He did not evince any wounding; he has acquired the skin, he once said, of a rhinoceros. “Don’t you think most people more or less just accept this as part of the scenery now?” The example he gave is instructive on several levels. First, there’s the lack of a name, which is not a matter of discretion—Denton opposes discretion on principle—but a function of his and Gawker’s essential tribalism. (The woman was merely a stand-in for the decline of old-line publishing.) Also, the emphasis on physical appearance: Denton is a staunch believer in the primacy of vanity, and holds that calling someone ugly will always trump calling him incompetent or a thief. (His own first Internet humbling occurred in 2003, when he read a blog post about the size of his head: “I was cut to my core.”) Next, notice that the apparent offense resulted from “a comment,” something posted in reaction to a story he published, not the paid labor. Gawker’s writers will hint at your incompetent thievery with parenthetical wit, or by employing an exclamation point or a question mark where a period would suffice, but the real insults come from an extremely dedicated clique of anonymous readers, after the fact.

The same dissembling does not occur with the New York Post and its gossip column Page Six. The difference was that Gawker’s implicit mission seemed to be to destroy the established media, both by cannibalizing its content and by obliterating the reputation of everyone who produced it, without any apparent conviction about what ought to follow.

What traditional journalists ought to fear, Denton suggested, is not Gawker but so-called content farms, like Demand Media, which dispense altogether with professional storytelling, in favor of search-engine-optimized information packaging. Even Denton’s own writers live in constant dread of diminishing word counts and the inevitable dumbing down of the culture. (One of them confessed his fear to me about “the robots” taking over.) “How things show up on Twitter, these days, matters more than the full text,” Denton told me. “There’s no room for nuance in headlines anymore.” He offered a couple of suggestions for this account: “Ten Things You Need to Know about Nick Denton,” “Why Nick Denton Is an Asshole.”

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