This week, Gawker Media’s editorial room has been divided over a controversial story the company chose to remove from its website. But a heated comment thread from January between Gawker writer Leah Finnegan and her boss, founder Nick Denton, shows a cultural clash in the company’s editorial department has been brewing for months.
In January, Finnegan wrote an article bashing the names actress Zoe Saldana chose for her children, Cy and Bowie. Her post was titled, “Zoe Salanda Gives Birth to Hipster Scum.”
Denton commented on the article, “I know you’re joking, but to anybody but your hardcore fans, this is just nasty. You’ll regret writing that headline.” He felt Saldana’s children would grow up, Google themselves, and become very upset.
Finengan fired back, “I never regret speaking my truth and criticising a poor celebrity naming choice, Nick.”
Denton didn’t let up. He responded:
Look, I know it’s hard to write an attention-grabbing headline. And these aren’t even such preposterous names. If or when Derrence and I have kids, I expect you’ll be much more brutal.
But if you must be mean, here’s a suggestion: position yourself as defender of these poor defenseless infants, victims of the poor parental naming choice.
Zoe Saldana will still cry when she gets the link; readers will still laugh and gasp at your easy viciousness; your objective will be achieved. And at least you won’t be punching quite so far down.
Denton launched Gawker in 2003 and bootstrapped it into a media empire with more than 100 million monthly readers and tens of millions in annual revenue. The company is known for “exposing everything,” from football player Manti Te’o’s non-existant girlfriend to a Hulk Hogan sex tape, no matter the consequences.
But lately, Denton seems to have had a change of heart. Earlier this week, Denton and a few other Gawker executives voted to remove a controversial story about the CFO of Conde Nast allegedly trying to hire an expensive porn star for a rendezvous. Many felt the story, although it appeared to be accurate and well-reported, should never have been published. It outed someone who wasn’t famous and presumably humiliated him very publicly.
The decision to remove the story caused a number of Gawker employees to quit, including the site’s Editor in Chief, Max Read. But Denton reportedly told his staff during an internal meeting this week that what Gawker has become isn’t the company he founded.
This cultural divide at Gawker has been brewing for months, possibly years. Denton began 2015 with a long post titled, “Back to Blogging,” in which he promoted six staffers to executive positions that would essentially replace him as the company’s CEO. He also noted that the company hadn’t been attacking important stories, like the Edward Snowden documents, and it needed new direction. Denton admitted he was burnt out during 2014 too; he took a sabbatical after his wedding last spring and came back with renewed energy and a desire to get Gawker headed down a better editorial path.
Denton unearthed the January thread between himself and Finnegan, who is still employed by Gawker, on Twitter today.
Finnegan replied to his tweet, “I fondly recall the convo we had after this, Nick. I said, ‘Zoe will be OK, she has $US20 million.’ You said, ‘So do I.'”
Here’s part of the thread. You can read the full comment argument here.
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