Friday, July 10, 2009

More notes on Deadspin, Gawker, and Denton

Quite a while ago, I wrote about the commenting purges over at Deadspin and interviewed editor A.J. Daulerio about them. There have plenty of other developments in the sports world and the blogosphere since then, so I haven't returned to the subject; Andy Hutchins has a good breakdown of the new commenting system over at The Arena (and one that sparked a rather interesting response, plus substantial further debate) if you're interested in that.

However, some further material came to light today, which I felt was worth briefly addressing. Hutchins passed on a link to a Mediaite piece on Gawker Media czar Nick Denton's reinstatement of pageview bonuses to Gawker Media writers and potential willingness to pay for tips or photos, and that piece in turn linked to a fascinating interview with Denton at the Nieman Journalism Lab (a great site, by the way). There's a few tidbits in this one that are worthy of note.

Most interesting is an internal memo Denton passed on to Nieman's Zachary Seward. Here are the key quotes:

"[M]y hat goes off to AJ for bringing new writers into Deadspin and taking back the site from some commenters who thought they were in charge. Every transition is painful. AJ found that early when he started banning last month. But commenters on every site will be restive after we reinstitute the class system in comments tomorrow midday.

The favored commenters will be silent; and the illiterate ones will rant, well, illiterately. But we’ll be able to encourage the kind of discussion that *we* want — not one that is dominated merely by the most prolific of our commenters. It’s our party; we get to decide who comes."

Very interesting, Mr. Denton. That fits right in with his comments I mentioned in my earlier piece, where he said, "I look at Gawker comments as a party. We don't take responsibility or credit for individual comments, but we have the right to invite or disinvite guests and throw the best party we can. ... Just as a host isn't responsible for the vomit in the corner, we don't take responsibility for individual comments." In that post, I also speculated how the Deadspin commenting purge was something started at one of Gawker Media's smaller sites that could be spread across the network; that's since happened, with the new tiered commenting system engaged at all sites and de-starring/executions along with it, especially at Jezebel. It certainly seems like these changes are right in line with Denton's thinking, which is what I argued all along.

However, as long-time readers of this site will remember, that post caused a little kafuffle. I got an e-mail from Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio soon afterwards, stating that I was completely off-base with regards to Denton's involvement. That led to this interview, where Daulerio seemed remarkably candid about the process and how it was something entirely on his initiative. Here's a direct quote from him: "And no, Nick Denton did not have any involvement in how I handled any of these situations."

That could very well be the truth. My goal here isn't to get into a Tom Cruise/Jack Nicolson showdown about who ordered the Code Red, and it's quite possible that Daulerio decided to undertake this process completely on his own. In that case, there are a few alternatives. He could have known in advance that Denton would approve and apply that kind of strategy across the network, he could have known about the coming tiered commenter system and figured the purges would be the best way to prepare the site for that, or he could have done it completely on his own and just found out later that Denton agreed. If that wasn't the case, Daulerio's comments could still be true if he knew what Denton had planned and just decided to do it first; that way, Denton still technically wasn't involved even if the end result was in line with his plans.

Anyway, like I said, I'm not particularly concerned with casting judgement on either Denton or Daulerio or performing an intensive investigation on how these changes came about. It's their blog, and they're entitled to run it however they feel like. I only mention this interview because some readers might find it interesting. It also seems to vindicate my original post a bit, which is an added bonus.

A few more brief notes from that Nieman piece. Obviously, some traditional media outlets are taking umbrage at Gawker Media paying for pageviews and perhaps tips. I disagree with this. For one thing, Gawker Media doesn't present themselves as a traditional media outlet, so they shouldn't have to follow those rules. People know what they're getting from Gawker sites, and a lot of it is valuable stuff that you won't find in the mainstream until much later. Second, paying writers for extra pageviews is logical; basically, it just gives them an ownership stake in the blog, which is a good thing. Myself and others who run their own blogs make money from our pageviews and ads; why should Gawker writers be denied that opportunity? Obviously, there's the potential for them to go for overly sensationalist stories to try and cash in on this, but you can't do that in the long term and retain your credibility. Readers aren't stupid, and neither are Gawker writers.

Paying for tips also isn't a bad idea, but I doubt it will happen on a large scale, particularly in the sports world. What likely will happen is Gawker will pay for some exclusive celebrity photos or inside sources; even some of the respectable British papers have done that for a while, and it hasn't led to the downfall of civilization. Obviously, paying for information does raise questions about its credibility, so the source needs to be carefully considered. I'm not saying it's something I'd necessarily do, and I'm not arguing that all media outlets should follow their lead, but I don't think Gawker doing this is going to cause any major problem.

However, I doubt you'll see Gawker Media pay tipsters who just send in links any time soon, which is probably the majority of those who submit tips to Deadspin. For one thing, the information's out there already; all tipsters are doing is drawing their attention to it. That's still a valuable service, but it's one that you don't have to pay for in my mind; anything of substantial value will probably come in from multiple sources, and good writers will find it, whether that's via Internet browsing, e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Even if some writers won't submit tips without being paid, enough still will that they should be able to get that information for free.

What I would like to see from Gawker Media is a more consistent linking and attribution policy, in line with the guidelines I laid out here. Too frequently, their sites will just mention "a tipster" or "tipster X". That's not particularly helpful, either towards providing that person with their deserved credit or allowing readers to properly evaluate the source. If they would commit to identifying the source of their tips (unless anonymity is requested) and providing a link to their website, they would be flooded with useful tips without any need to pay. In the link-based economy of the Internet, a Gawker Media link is probably just as useful as direct payment anyway; it provides a lot of traffic, which in turn helps your advertising revenue. They could provide regular attribution and links to help smaller blogs out and increase goodwill towards their brand (which has been sorely lacking lately), generating their own traffic in the process from the linkees' future links back to Gawker Media stories and submitted tips. That's a great way to increase your blogosphere reputation and bring yourself all the tips and goodwill you'll need without having to shell out any cash. It's basic economics; if you increase the supply of people willing to provide you with information, the price of that information drops to a level where just a link or a nice mention's good enough to compensate for it.

Unfortunately, Deadspin in particular seems to be pursuing a bit of a "us against the world" mentality lately, which makes it unlikely that they'll go to this strategy. It's too bad that that line of thinking is now showing up in the blogosphere, as I've complained about its existence in the mainstream media often enough. The Internet's an awfully big place, and there's plenty of room for all of us in the sports corner of the intertubes. Deadspin and Gawker are doing very well for themselves, as showcased by the discussion of ad revenues in that Nieman piece and the increase in their traffic detailed by Simon Owens of Bloggasm. It wouldn't hurt them to adopt a less adversarial approach to the rest of the sports blogosphere, and it might even help to the degree where they wouldn't have to even discuss paying for tips.

Update: Received the following update from Denton (@nicknotned) on Twitter: "@AndrewBucholtz Yeah, AJ's purge was his own idea. But it fit with the wider Gawker plan. And I agree with you on giving more link credit." Thought I'd pass it along. Makes sense in my mind, as that fits some of the scenarios outlined above. Also, to re-state; Gawker Media does some links very well (such as the old Blogdomes and some of the single links in more recent times); it would just be nice to see credit consistently given in a uniform style, particularly for tips from a third party.


  1. As long as they continue the "us against the world mentality, Andrew. It's going to do one of two things. Cause a sense of elitism amongst the "survivors" However, Starburied commented that we have become the Inside-Outside club, of sorts.

    Where we're seen as the "cooler party" because it seems people are having more fun on the outside.

    Gawker is going to learn that simile a lot later than expected, sadly. And Denton will be the one on the outside looking in.

    As far as I'm concerned, we're all moving onto a lot bigger and better things. And to that, I'll gladly drink.

  2. Thanks, James; good point on the elitism. Personally, I'm not a fan of elitism on any side, whether among surviving commenters or those who chose to leave. It's a big Internet; there's plenty of room for all in my mind, and cliques only detract from that.

  3. While I agree with you Andrew that elitism does more harm than good, I think there is something to be said about finding "your" audience. Nothing is for everyone, and tailoring your product and/or environment to attract the "right" audience is in every blogger/writers/content producers best interests.

    One only has to read the comments on any major newspaper's site to see what happens when you cast the net out too far.