Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Why 'Gawker Media' Could Become True Journalism -- And How Nick Denton Is The Next William Randolph Hearst

Gawker recently announced the launch of its 14th blog, Jezebel, which will have a focus on "women, women's media and fashion." Its managing editor will be a Star/In Style vet, its editor will be a WSJ vet and its associate editor will hail from the offices of Elle.

But that's not the news. The real story happened on the same day, and stems from Gawker Media managing editor Lockhart Steele's words upon his departure from his own position, who mentioned that the new media institution is moving away from aggregating web stories and toward breaking original stories.

Wait....huh? Gawker breaking original news? What's next, a Gawker Wire Service for syndication nationwide (or, at least, in blue states)?

I don't know if the name "Gawker" and the phrase "breaking original stories" contrast for you like they do for me, but it's worth noting that behind its expansion, Gawker Media is slowly turning into the rogue, "gay," "virgin," "eunuch" of the MSM crowd (in their own words) rather than the blog crowd. What I mean to say is, Gawker Media is slowly changing its stance from MSM "opposition" to "alternative."

Gawker has always played off the audiences of MSM. For example, the flagship blog and its West Coast sister Defamer cover the Page Six/Us Weekly/In Touch/People beat; Wonkette covers The Politico beat; Gizmodo covers the Popular Mechanics beat; Valleywag covers the Wired beat; Jalopnik covers the Motor Trend beat; Consumerist covers the Consumer Reports beat; and so on. Its new blog does the same -- only this time, it's stealing directly from women's magazines, one of the biggest audiences in the media world.

Gawker Media style has always been 50 percent wrath and 50 percent news aggregation. And while they've done a great job diversifying their portfolio (and I'm calling a men's interest blog or a business-oriented blog as the next one out the door, you heard it here first), the real news is that Gawker is moving away from that 50 percent news aggregation.

What that means is, in effect, that Gawker Media is getting closer and closer to being the journalism outlet it so vehemently denies being. And that in and of itself is fascinating. Will Gawker start paying more to its editors for original content (any Gawker editor reading this is probably thinking, "Not on your life if Denton's still in charge")? Will there be less stress on posting 20 posts a day and more stress on posting original content? Will there be Gawker people out in the field -- dare I say GM reporters?

I'm getting ahead of myself, of course. But you get the idea. Gawker Media readers already depend on the company for its signature vitriol. Will it depend on it for content, too?

Furthermore, Gawker Media sites would become more like MSM -- original content and aggregated content when needed (like the AP, but without paying for it). But this is a whole new brand of journalism, effectively digital yellow journalism: Original opinion mixed with original stories.

On this kind of path, Nick Denton would be the next William Randolph Hearst, the next Joseph Pulitzer, the next Rupert Murdoch -- a man with an army of niche publications tweaked for the popular masses.

I don't expect the shift to happen quickly. Gawker Media still has a lot on its plate. But if that's the direction the company's headed -- original content -- its editors' cries of "not journalists!" may soon ring hollow.

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