As Hurricane Sandy whipped New York into devastation on Monday, Gawker Media was one of the media companies that saw its websites shut down by a flooded data center. In the week since, Gawker has been publishing its various sites using Tumblr, and will probably continue to do so through the weekend, according to founder Nick Denton.
Mr. Denton got some solace for the lost ad revenue: State Farm opted to sponsor the Tumblr blogs with the tag line "Backup Site Covered By State Farm" as well as information on how to file a claim. Insurers such as State Farm, Geico, Allstate and others are some of the advertisers that buy into disasters and have emergency funds set up to do so.
But while Mr. Denton says he's been happy with how his writers and editors have taken to the makeshift publishing system, he can't help but lament his favorite component of his websites that was left behind: Kinja, Gawker's new commenting system rolled out this summer that aims to surface the best comments, and threads of comments, on individual articles.
"Kinja would be so awesome right now," Mr. Denton said Thursday afternoon at The Breslin, a New York City restaurant located a few blocks from the temporary office Gawker has set up for employees on 34th Street in Manhattan. "We had the first really good signs on the commenting system maybe two or three weeks before Sandy," he said, referencing Gawker Media site Kotaku's use of Kinja to crowdsource the best videogame sunsets for a post. "You apply that to an event like Sandy, where you have a million people with a story ... it would have been amazing. That's the great missed opportunity."
So did Mr. Denton consider employing another backup publishing platform that supports other commenting tools, or looking elsewhere to solicit comments?
"They all suck, and I'm not just talking about Disqus," Mr. Denton blurted out before the entire question left the reporter's mouth. "Then you have Branch, which is good, but limited. Reddit has pedophiles. Facebook has idiocy. And Twitter has lies and such telegraphic short space for comments that there's no potential for any real discussion."
Tell us what you really think, Mr. Denton. Yet these strong words don't come as a big surprise considering Mr. Denton built Kinja to solve this very problem: in his eyes, there's no commenting system that can intelligently surface really smart or witty comments to the top while banishing so-called trolling to the background.
When it became clear on Tuesday that the main sites wouldn't be back up for at least a few days, Mr. Denton asked his ad team to look for a sponsor, since most of its advertisers had no interest in running their campaigns to the backup sites. Working with OMD Chicago, the backup sites began carrying State Farm sponsorship Thursday night.
Still, this was not exactly new revenue for Gawker; instead, State Farm simply chose to allocate some of the money it was already supposed to spend on Gawker properties toward the sponsorship, according to ad director James Del.
For Mr. Denton, the revenue isn't the main attraction here, he contends.
"A campaign like this is capturing the moment, and capturing attention," Mr. Denton said. "It works on a media level and a reputation level."
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