Last month, when Gawker founder and CEO Nick Denton pulled down an article alleging that a Conde Nast executive had tried to hire an escort, he surprised many people by writing that the site was no longer about just putting "truths on the internet."
"The line has moved," he wrote. "And Gawker has an influence and audience that demands greater editorial restraint."
He added in a later memo that "business concerns" played a role in his decision to take down the story, concerns such as the site's defense against an invasion of privacy lawsuit from Hulk Hogan, and the potential for lost advertising. He also acknowledged that the "gentler editorial mission" hadn't been formally articulated to staff before then.
Among the questions lingering a month later are which kind of Gawker readers prefer -- and whether it's the same one advertisers want.
Mr. Denton and Gawker Media President and General Counsel Heather Dietrick spoke with Ad Age about the episode, advertising and whether the company was really changing its name to get away from the Gawker brand, an idea he had floated. (It's not.) Our conversation, at the company's new office on Fifth Avenue, has been edited and condensed.
Advertising Age: When Tommy Craggs resigned as the company's executive editor, he called out a "Fear and Money Caucus" among the managing partners, meaning the four who supported pulling the article. Nick, how much did business play into how you handled the article?
Nick Denton: My No. 1 concern and my overwhelming concern was with our editorial reputation and to some extent my own personal reputation, because my name and Gawker's name are completely, inextricably connected. We pride ourselves on going close to the edge on stories because that's where our audience is, that's what our readers want from us. There are plenty of places to go and get stories in the mainstream, and most of them are identical and not distinctive. Our readers come to us for bold stories that others will not cover. On this occasion we overstepped the line and our editorial reputation was at stake. As founder, as guardian of the editorial ethos, I made the decision that this was a post that shouldn't be up there.
Ad Age: Heather, why did you vote with Tommy not to pull down the story?
Heather Dietrick: While this is not the type of story we want to do, it certainly qualifies as newsworthy and legally defensible.
Ad Age: What are the editorial mission and boundaries going forward, and how do they differ from last year?
Mr. Denton: We've always been focused on the idea of revealing the story behind the story, so taking what might appear in the newspapers or on television or some generic online news site and picking it apart, looking underneath. So that mission is the core of the Gawker mission and it remains the core of the Gawker mission. There's always room for editorial misjudgment, and in this case we made an editorial misjudgment. We've acknowledged it, we've corrected and I think by so doing we've kind of refocused the attention internally and externally on the main mission, which is to reveal the real story.
Ad Age: Are you working on ways to articulate what's the real story, and what's interesting and true but not a story that you want to tell?
Ms. Dietrick: The whole editorial group is working on creating just a simple statement, a few sentences that articulates the kind of journalism that we want to do around here. It will describe what's newsworthy -- not newsworthy in the legal sense but in what it means at Gawker for something to be newsworthy and have us publish it -- so we can hold up any post, and it really only applies to the posts that are on the very edge, and say, OK, this fits this ethos that we all believe in and we're all behind, to tell the story behind the story, to reveal something, to have a point to our edgiest work.
Mr. Denton: Think about the stories that Gawker is most famous for. Whether it's Manti Te'o -- There wasn't a revelation about him, there was a revelation about how easily the media had been seduced by this sentimental story that turned out to be a complete hoax. Or the iPhone 4 story, which was about our willingness to defy the Apple marketing machine, the classic timetable for releasing phones ahead of set-piece launches. We don't play along with those kind of games.
Ad Age: Discover pulled ads from Gawker over the article that started all this and BFGoodrich considered it. What is the appeal of Gawker to advertisers now in particular?