In his August internal memo, Gawker chief Nick Denton tells staff, “There’s too much news on the web; and way too little explanation,” a sentiment encouraged by the fact that a quarter of Gawker Media’s top stories are its servicey posts.
Here’s the full memo, via Romenesko:
Kevin Purdy’s highly informative story about the effects of caffeine on the brain in Lifehacker was the breakout story of July. And the reader interest in the piece highlights — do we really need a reminder? — the draw of the explanation. There’s too much news on the web; and way too little explanation. Fully a quarter of the top stories are straight how-tos or otherwise helpful or informative.
Do we really need any reminders of the other patterns either? The stories to which people respond are the stories to which they’ve always responded, since way before the internet. Readers enjoy strong opinion, such as Charlie Jane’s attack on Night Shyamalan. They like mysteries, especially photoshop mysteries, as Gizmodo demonstrated with its coverage of BP’s photoshopped PR pic.
They like photographs generally, as Gawker demonstrated with its package of exclusive pics of Mark Zuckerberg doing dorky Silicon Valley things. And video: Adrian Chen’s slight item on a man with a hard-on for Sarah Palin was more popular than most wordier pieces.
We haven’t been known for great yarns, leaving that to long-form publications such as magazines. But Jezebel’s story about the clueless secretary, told through an email thread, showed how a narrative can work. (Jezebel was the star site of the month; though Gawker, io9 and Lifehacker also came in strong.)
Other patterns? Well, there were four stories featuring teenagers in the top 20; the 11-year-old girl abused by the evil trolls of 4chan; the 15-year-old who tricked Apple; the 17-year-old who swapped a phone for a Porsche; and the 19-year old extorted by the world’s worst person. In terms of web interest, we know that female trumps male. Youth also trumps age.
Take a look through the full list below of Gawker Media’s most viral stories. It’s seriously the best guide to web journalism there is. Every story that made it onto that list had to be both interesting and well-packaged. If you can get just a few of your pieces onto that list each month, you’re golden; both here and at any future media job.
Though I can’t say I recommend Dash Bennett’s approach, which was to run subject lines from emails I had sent him over the year. That item scraped in at #100.
Or course, there are plenty more gems among the thousands of stories that we put out each month, among those that don’t make it into the Top 100. I’m just going to mention one. If you have a moment, read Joel Johnson’s advice to people who take their phone affiliation way way too seriously. It’s as good a piece as you’ll read anywhere.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.