Nick Denton says he is stepping down as president of Gawker Media, the company he founded. A new seven-member managing partnership, of which Denton will be a part, will now run the media company, which owns Gawker, Jezebel, Deadspin and other popular websites.
“We will return to our mission: more linebackers with fictional dying girlfriends; less pandering to the Facebook masses,” he said today in a memo to staff. “In 2015, Gawker will be the very best version of itself; I will be the best version of myself. We will be bloggers again.”
Specifically, he said, he wants to “resume the activity that brings the best out of me: blogging.”
Denton, Gawker media’s largest shareholder, will remain CEO. The others on the management board are: executive editor Tommy Craggs, President Heather Dietrick, Andrew Gorenstein, president of advertising and marketing; chief operating officer Scott Kidder; Erin Pettigrew, chief strategy officer and Tom Plunkett, who is now the chief technology officer. Plunkett, the memo noted, will soon shed the CTO title.
Joel Johnson, the outgoing editorial director, appears to be out of the company. Craggs takes over that position. Denton, in the memo, called hiring Johnson “a mistake.” He said:
“During this period I made a mistake in Editorial, hiring a talented guy whose voice and vibe I loved, who represented nerd values, and whom I thrust into a job which changed under his feet: he was competing with Lockhart Steele of Vox and Ben Smith of Buzzfeed, two of the most effective editorial managers in the business, each with the funding to go after the very best talent. … I was in so much in a hurry that I didn’t even look at other candidates, a cardinal sin. I made a mistake, and I’m sorry to Joel, and I’m sorry to those to whom he is a friend.”
Denton’s websites offer a mixture of gossip and news – they broke the story about Rob Ford, the Toronto mayor who was filmed smoking crack; and Manti Te’o, the college football player whose girlfriend turned out to be nonexistent. The websites have won a devoted legion of fans, including many in the traditional media and among millennials, who are coveted by advertisers.
In a 2011 interview with NPR, Denton said he wanted them to offer more than snark and gossip.
“I would like to show the full range of content, from scurrilous and sensationalist through to beautiful and uplifting, because people can’t live on snark and viscous gossip alone,” he said at the time.
By all accounts, he was successful. Although in recent years, Gawker was overtaken by websites such as Buzzfeed, Gawker’s revenues were up more than 30 percent, and its web traffic was also up – though Denton, in his memo, criticized the reason for its increase.
“Editorial traffic was lifted but often by viral stories that we would rather mock. We — the freest journalists on the planet — were slaves to the Facebook algorithm,” he wrote. “The story of the year — the one story where we were truly at the epicenter — was one that caused dangerous internal dissension. We were nowhere on the Edward Snowden affair. We wrote nothing particularly memorable about NSA surveillance. Gadgets felt unexciting. Celebrity gossip was emptier than usual.”