It's been quite a year for Gawker owner Nick Denton. In the last several months, his blogging empire has endured lawsuits, cyber attacks, a botched website redesign and the unrelenting disapproval of mainstream media critics. But it's also turned a profit, with revenues reportedly between $15 to $20 million. In the bleak business of online media, that's cause for much swagger.
Swagger he has. Denton has already been dissected in separate multi-thousand word profiles for New York magazine in September and The New Yorker in October. Interestingly, in a story by The Atlantic's James Fallows on the future of new media published this morning, Denton seems to be losing interest in defending himself.
Fallows asks him about one of his properties' more infamous stories of the last year: "I Had a One-Night Stand With Christine O'Donnell," an anonymous, oversold account of one man getting naked, but not having sex, with Delaware U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. After the piece was published and criticized by media observers, the site eventually published a justification attacking O'Donnell : "She lies about who she is; she tells that lies in service of an attempt to impose her private sexual values on her fellow citizens; and she's running for Senate."
Does Denton feel the same way? Not exactly:
"I don't believe we should have done that defense," he tells Fallows. "It's helpful when someone is a hypocrite, but we should have just said that our interest is voyeuristic. 'We did this story because we thought you would like it. We thought it was funny, so we thought you'd think it was funny, too.' And there was a tidal wave of traffic and attention."
Fallows also broached the questions of whether substantive journalism can succeed online and if the Gawker model can thrive beyond mere gossip. "Not the worthy topics," Denton said. "Nobody wants to eat the boring vegetables. Nor does anyone want to pay [via advertising] to encourage people to eat their vegetables."
He also sounded distinctly wistful for his non-gossip days::
Look at me. I used to cover political reform in post-communist Eastern Europe, which had been my subject at Oxford.
And now I tell writers that the numbers (i.e. the audience) won't support any worthiness. We can't even write stories about moguls like Rupert Murdoch or Barry Diller unless it involves photographs of them cavorting with young flesh.