Editorial: Bouncing Back

By: Nu Yang

Bouncing Back
In July, a media organization announced a round of buyouts for employees as it planned a rebranding and relaunch. No, it wasn’t a daily newspaper; it was Gawker Media.

Known for its salacious content, the website was placed under heavy scrutiny after it published an article about a married male media executive soliciting a gay escort. Many people called the story an invasion of privacy. Others saw no news value from the report. Gawker founder and chief executive Nick Denton ended up pulling the article from the site. As a result, Gawker Media executive editor Tommy Craggs and Gawker.com editor-in-chief Max Read resigned in protest of Denton’s decision. Soon after, more names of departing editors and writer emerged—some left because they didn’t like the updated editorial standards and some left because their positions no longer aligned with them.

To those who remained, Denton outlined in a memo a future where the new version of Gawker would be “10 to 15 percent” nicer than the old one.

“(We will) establish a clearer standard of newsworthiness; inject some more humanity into Gawker.com; bring in more experienced executives, managers and editors; and refine our workplace culture; and continue,” Denton wrote. “This is the next stage of our evolution.”

As this was going down in the digital sphere, I had to wonder what traditional legacy publishers thought of this entire situation. Were they shaking their heads? Pointing their fingers with an “I told you so” because “See, this is what happens when you start treating a gossip site as journalism?”

Or is there a lesson that needs to be learned here, no matter what platform you’re on?

“To me, the story wasn’t out of character for Gawker, nor did I think it ‘vile’ or any of the hyperbolic adjectives heaped upon it: It seemed perfectly in line with the aesthetic of this world of digital anarchy,” William Arkin, founder of Gawker Media’s national security site, wrote in a note after announcing his departure from the company.

For some time now, newspaper publishers have fought back against the “digital anarchy” of websites like Gawker and BuzzFeed. Now, the readers that fled print are rebelling against “tabloid trash” and listicles in search of deeper, original journalism. This is the moment for newspapers to win back those readers.

Often the hard work that newspapers produce gets overshadowed by reports of internal turmoil, from frustrated employees to declining revenue numbers. No one likes to air out their dirty laundry, but sometimes, it’s these kinds of transparencies that allow for a clean slate.

Despite Gawker’s recent setbacks, Denton told the New York Times that the paper (and perhaps other print publishers) shouldn’t relax just yet. Who knows? Maybe this reboot might even make his company more successful, and as Denton said, “Gawker always bounces back.”

Well, so do newspapers.

The Times recently reported it netted more than $16 million in profit for its second quarter “as digital growth and cost declines offset a continued drop in print advertising across the industry.” The report said for the first time, it passed the 1 million mark for digital subscribers. These “smaller victories” should also be celebrated.

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Published: September 4, 2015

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