The Thatcher-Generation Striver Behind Gawker

The New Yorker has a long and interesting (to me!) profile of Nick Denton, enigmatic impresario of Gawker Media, the blog company that publishes (in order of reported popularity) Gizmodo, Gawker, Lifehacker, Kotaku, Deadspin, Jezebel, io9, Jalopnik, and [NSFW] Fleshbot. Even if none of those sites floats your boat (though seriously: Brett Favre penis!), the article's discussion of 21st century publishing, examination of the entrepreneurial mindset, and journalistic genealogy with Spy magazine, are thought-provoking for those who are into such things.

I've been friends with Denton since the late '90s (I'm quoted in the piece for mostly semi-comic effect), so take the following with a grain of salt, but I think no other media figure has been more important in exposing three fundamental pathologies of turn-of-the-century American journalism: It was deathly boring, it grossly undervalued writing talent (especially eccentrics), and it didn't take proper advantage of the Interwebs. Also, I like this quote:   

"If you're running Spy, at some point you have a choice: do you want to be the cute, unprofitable, ultimately doomed niche publication, or do you want to create something that's viable and lasting?" Denton said. "I didn't like the story of Spy. They failed."

Since the mic is on, one microscopic clarification that maybe two people in the world will care about: Former Hungarian parliamentarian Peter Molnar, who wrote his country's media law in the '90s (which I covered) and co-taught a Berkeley journalism course with Denton in the aughts, is described as sounding "less frustrated than nervous" when talking about Denton ("I don't want to say negative things about Nick"). But Molnar always sounds nervous. The end.

I wrote about weblog business models back in 2005. Also enjoy this relevant Tim Cavanaugh interview with Kurt Andersen for Suck.com back in 1999.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I don't know about other media, but everyone knows that blogs are killing sports journalism. Just ask Buzz Bissinger and Bob Costas.

  • Tman||

    I think Denton has clearly taken advantage the fact that print journalism has been in a state of denial about 21st century media. Subscriptions to dead tree formats are dropping on a daily basis, and more and more major news publications are enhancing their online presence.

    Denton has also cut free Gawker sites that didn't fit/didn't produce enough revenue within the Gawker empire. The Consumerist was let go last year, although they seem to be doing fine on their own.

    The suits at the NYT and WSJ are well aware that the Denton's of the world are the future of journalism. Print journalism will be dead within the next 20 years, and it's sink or swim time for most of these businesses.

  • ||

    "I think Denton has clearly taken advantage the fact that print journalism has been in a state of denial about 21st century media. Subscriptions to dead tree formats are dropping on a daily basis, and more and more major news publications are enhancing their online presence."

    Huh? Every "major news publication" has had a major online presence since the mid- to late-'90s. Many of the big metro papers had significant Internet operations even in the pre-Web days.

    Print journalism hasn't been in "denial" about anything. It has simply encountered the same reality encountered by anyone else with an advertising-based business model: online advertising is a dud.

    Print publications would be fine, even thrilled, to be online-only outfits... if it were possible to actually make money (and thus finance daily journalism) that way.

  • Tman||

    Every "major news publication" has had a major online presence since the mid- to late-'90s. Many of the big metro papers had significant Internet operations even in the pre-Web days.

    That's why I said "more major news publications are enhancing their online presence". Some have been successful (WSJ) at getting people to pay for it, others (NYT) not so much. At the same time, these publications have been going out of business whether they have an online presence or not (see : http://newspaperdeathwatch.com/ ).

    Print journalism hasn't been in "denial" about anything. It has simply encountered the same reality encountered by anyone else with an advertising-based business model: online advertising is a dud.

    Whether that's true or not (and Google's success at online advertising would argue otherwise) the fact remains that people are buying less newspapers, and the trend is continually downward.

    Print publications would be fine, even thrilled, to be online-only outfits... if it were possible to actually make money (and thus finance daily journalism) that way.

    The point is that they aren't making money either with Dead trees or online. They are losing money, period. The days of full page Macy's ads supporting your newspapers payroll are over. And the Denton's of the world are only going to be more successful as they refine their business models to deal with the changing supply and demand of online advertising dollars.

  • bhus||

    Future of media? Get serious, bro. According to the New Yorker piece. Gawker Media is a blog "empire" that makes $15 million per year. This "new media empire" makes less than what the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue makes in 2010. Much less. The SI Swimsuit Issue alone makes $50m+ per year easily. Even though online porn is pervasive, this "old media" one-issue franchise makes way more than Gawker's "new media empire" annually. People Magazine makes more money in 2 weeks than Gawker Media makes in a year. The publishing group at Time Warner, 21 magazines, makes about $3.6b even after 25% decline over the past 2 years. This group generates more money in 2 days than what Gawker Media generates in a year. Playboy magazine in print form in 2010 generates more than the Gawker empire. The problem with journalists is that they don't know how to read financial statements, they are only good at gauging the cultural popularity of totally rad concepts.

    In my view, even that $15 million number sounds high. At 450 million pageviews at $2 effective CPM across 100% of pageviews, which would be high for such a generic network, this is $900k per month. $2 per 1,000 pageviews = $2,000 per 1 million pageviews. $2,000 x 450=$900k per month in revenues. Increase it to $3 effective CPM, you get $1.35 million per month. I am sure the NFC Championship Game on FOX this year will generate more money over 3 hours than Gawker will this year. But at least they got some cheap pageviews from Favre. This is the crappiest form of media with a model that is very low margin. 120 Gawker employees supported by $15 million in revenues...that's horrific.

  • ||

    I'm pretty sure fleshbot is higher than a lot of those sites in popularity...

  • zoltan||

    No kidding! How is Fleshbot lower than Jezebel? Christ the world is coming to an end! For your viewing pleasure [NSFW]

  • ||

    Of all of those, only Lifehacker is actually very good. I still read io9, but it annoys me at least as often as not.

    The politics is crazy left on Gawker, and that bleeds through to some of the other sites as well.

  • ||

    What? Lifehacker is typically pretty awful. Their "hacks" are usually simple common sense. Every once in a while I see something interesting... but that's the exception.

    I *love* gizmodo though.

  • ||

    I agree that it only occasionally posts something super cool, but it does do that.

  • ||

    If you think fin de siecle American journalism was deathly boring check out Hunter Thompson's collected letters about his experiences in the field at the end of the 50s and during the 60s. It wasn't easy trying to get a laugh out of Arthur Schlesinger Jnr. One could regard this chum of yours as the modern version of Jann Wenner (publisher of Rolling Stone magazine for much of Hunter's 'tenure' there as National Affairs Desk editor). Although as far as I can see, he hasn't published anything that has rocked the establishment's boat in the way Wenner did (and his magazine recently did again).

  • Binky||

    Re: the (non-photo) illustration.

    Are those mushrooms, anchovy pizzas, flattened vulvae, ... or what?

  • cynical||

    Pancakes?

  • ||

    Anybody else see Bruce Campbell in that pic?

    More appropriate alt text:

    This is not a photo of Bruce Cambpell. It's not a picture, drawing, painting, sketch or doodle of Bruce Cambpell either.

  • zoltan||

    Bruce Campbell used to be so hot in those Evil Dead movies. It's a shame to see such an awesome looking guy go downhill with age but it happens with everyone.

  • ||

    I hate Gawker, in all its permutations.

    The end.

  • ♥♥♥||

    COOL STORY BRO

  • ||

    At much as I think the entire Gawker family of blogs is run by idiots, the only one that really offends me is io9. Jezebel is hilarious. Fleshbot is rarely more than barely interesting (it refuses to solve it's tension between titillation and porn news outlet (a tension I find childish and boring.)) Lifehacker has it's moments.

    Denton has figured out how to make money at blogging. Good for him. But I don't feel the need to throw him a parade.

  • T||

    io9 offends me for the gratuitous insertion of politics into things that are properly apolitical. I don't need that.

  • ||

    SugarFree linked to an io9 post that did that with 9/11 and The Forever War earlier today. Annoying.

  • T||

    Given the context of The Forever War I'd have no problem if io9 wanted to discuss our misadventures in Indochina and the connection between the two, although I doubt they could do it competently. But trying to take literature from 40 years and torture it into a metaphor for current events isn't just annoying, it's stupid.

    It'd be like me trying to claim The Three Musketeers is an indictment of executive power and the rise of Blackwater. Yeah, I could do it, but it'd say more about my peculiar psychosis than it would say about the book Dumas wrote.

  • ||

    That's silly. The Three Musketeers was clearly about Iran-Contra.

  • T||

    No, The Count of Monte Cristo is about Iran-Contra. Edmund Dantes imprisonment is clearly a metaphor for the hostages, and the acts he takes as revenge are obviously playing up the bankrupt bourgeosie ethics of the Reagan administration's action in negotiating their release.

  • ||

    You're being too literal. The Count of Monte Cristo is about the impending evil domination of the corporation. Dantes represents the evil of unrestricted power in the hands of the private sector. The book has a happy ending, however, when Dantes repudiates the free market and wealth and joins a socialist commune.

  • ||

    The constant Dr. Who coverage offends me the most. Seriously, fuck Dr. Who.

  • ||

    Agreed. Though I could tolerate the occasional Tom Baker reference.

  • ||

    +1000

  • ||

  • ||

    That's not Bruce Campbell either.

  • T||

    You shaved to go in drag for an early Halloween party?

  • ||

    You're getting closer...

  • T||

    You're stalking Epi again?

  • Rich||

    Sarah Jessica Parker before her nose job?

  • ||

    Why it's Charlie Jane Anders, the Senior Associate Editor of io9.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Also, I like this quote: "If you're running Spy, at some point you have a choice: do you want to be the cute, unprofitable, ultimately doomed niche publication, or do you want to create something that's viable and lasting?" Denton said. "I didn't like the story of Spy. They failed."

    True, but that doesn't mean they didn't create something valuable and lasting. I remember several of their articles, even a decade later. And Spy was more than "cute" - it was probably the most well written magazine of the late 20th century.

  • ||

    I am a moderately active commenter on gawker and io9,

    but shh

    you are only allowed one degree of deviation from CORRECT THOUGHT and I think reason.com would be judges as waaaaay over the line.

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