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On July 16th, 2015 Gawker pub­lished an arti­cle enti­tled “Condé Nast’s CFO Tried To Pay $2,500 for a Night With a Gay Porn Star” that out­ed the CFO of com­pet­ing media orga­ni­za­tion Condé Nast as alleged­ly gay. What is more con­cern­ing is that they appeared to have worked with, and aid­ed, a black­mail­er in obtain­ing the sto­ry. This is an exam­ple of an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly uneth­i­cal move by Gawker Media and — touched on when report­ing Max Reads and Tommy Craggs res­ig­na­tions — result­ed in one of the most high-profile and uni­fied back­lash again­st a pub­li­ca­tion in recent mem­o­ry.

At every turn the arti­cle was a train wreck; with each indi­vid­u­al ele­ment alone being cause enough for any­one with a bit of sense or a set of stan­dards to pull the arti­cle, or at least han­dle it dif­fer­ent­ly. In fact, I think it breaks a major­i­ty of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and has even been denounced by the pres­i­dent of the SPJ (EiC Note: Though they could have done well to call out the his­tor­i­cal instances of Gawker being a bane of stan­dards as well. The SPJ call-out feels like an oppor­tunis­tic PR move to this SPJ mem­ber). It’s also served as glar­ing embar­rass­ment to all those say­ing eth­i­cal con­cerns raised over Gawker Media and oth­er out­lets were unjus­ti­fied or overblown.

Another Day at the Office

Nothing changed in the Gakwer news­room the day the offend­ing post was pub­lished. This isn’t some abhor­rent event and freak lapse of judge­ment. This is busi­ness as usu­al. To quote Executive Editor for Investigations at Gawker Media, John Cook:

John Cook Insert

He’s one hun­dred per­cent right to be con­fused and angry about why this was tak­en down, this has always been the real meat of Gawker’s reg­u­lar out­put. From the per­spec­tive of long-time crit­ics, this isn’t very sur­pris­ing and it seems that view is held inter­nal­ly as well. This is in-line with Gawker’s edi­to­ri­al prac­tices, this is the media stan­dards it sup­ports and has upheld for years. We have peo­ple com­ing out and admit­ting it and yet peo­ple are still cling­ing to this idea that there is not a sys­temic eth­i­cal prob­lem with the entire­ty of Gawker Media.

This is the site that is respon­si­ble for:

I don’t know how much more clear-cut of a pic­ture you can get, I’m run­ning out of adjec­tives to describe the com­plete lack of basic human­i­ty at Gawker Media. It is absurd this is one of the few inci­dents their read­er­ship and fel­low jour­nal­ists are call­ing out. Richard Lawson, the writer of the afore­men­tioned James Franco arti­cle, admit­ted the push of the year­long out­ing camp­ing came from the boss­es at Gawker Media.

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Whist we’re at it, let’s have a brief look at where Gawker’s polices have land­ed them today: 

  • They are cur­rent­ly in a high-profile law­suit by for­mer wrestling star Hulk Hogan for obtain­ing, then refus­ing to take down, a sex-tape record­ed and released with­out his knowl­edge or per­mis­sion.
  • They are cur­rent­ly embroiled in a bit­ter union­iza­tion dis­pute with their own staff that also has its own tale to tell in this lat­est chap­ter.
  • They are also being sued by their unpaid interns, in which Gawker claims they have the right to essen­tial­ly enact a lev­el of slave labor.
  • They lost many adver­tis­ers and a sev­en fig­ure sum due to Sam Biddle’s state­ment that “nerds should be con­stant­ly shamed and degrad­ed into sub­mis­sion” and to “Bring Back Bullying” with edi­tor Max Reid stand­ing firm­ly behind his com­ments.

Breaching the Editorial Firewall

There is anoth­er twist to this tale. This is a multi-layered fail­ure, where even attempts to cor­rect mis­takes lead into fur­ther mis­takes. Hours after the piece was tak­en down by Nick Denton and Gawker Media man­age­ment, Gawker’s Editorial staff issued this state­ment:


I’m not a PR agent, but wouldn’t it be pru­dent to at least pre­tend that the Editorial staff was not back­ing the arti­cle? The edi­to­ri­al fire­wall is meant to stop neg­a­tive infer­ence from the busi­ness and adver­tis­ing arms of a web­site effect­ing the edi­to­ri­al and pub­lish­ing sec­tion. Generally it is assumed that inde­pen­dent edi­to­ri­al leads to bet­ter stan­dards and that pres­sure from finan­cial inter­ests could lead to uneth­i­cal con­flicts and pan­der­ing to mon­eyed inter­ests. I’ve rarely heard of a sit­u­a­tion where edi­to­ri­al being over­ruled was so uni­ver­sal­ly seen as a good deci­sion. But instead of look­ing inward at the obvi­ous rot that had set in with­in Gawker’s news­room, there was a flur­ry of rash actions and bruised egos.  It seems the one thing can cause a Gawker jour­nal­ist to sud­den­ly devel­op an inter­est in eth­i­cal integri­ty is when you sug­gest they might be fal­li­ble.

As events have unfold­ed it has become clear just how strong­ly the edi­to­ri­al staff felt this was a stan­dard of jour­nal­ism worth defend­ing. As we report­ed on, Gawker has lost two of its senior edi­tors, depart­ing not because they felt the uni­ver­sal­ly reviled arti­cle had caused too much dam­age but because some­one had dared to over­rule them.

Other parts of the media have tak­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pile-in, smelling blood in the water. The Hollywood Reporter even went as far as to com­ment on the future employ­a­bil­i­ty of Gawker’s staff with the sleazy and shame­less con­tent of their by-lines:

I can hard­ly imag­ine who might hire some­one from Gawker, or who would not recoil at the cru­el­ty, obscen­i­ty and log­or­rhea of a Gawker writer’s clips. Gawker staffers need­ed a union to pro­tect the only job they might ever have in jour­nal­ism. (empha­sis added) They were per­haps pro­tect­ing too their right to cru­el­ty and obscen­i­ty and to be unedit­ed, now expressed in the bru­tal expo­sure of the pri­vate, unex­cep­tion­al, if sala­cious details of a quite unpub­lic man’s life far from the pub­lic inter­est.” –

This state­ment pre­dates the Read’s and Cragg’s res­ig­na­tions, but I can’t help but think who in their right mind would take on a pair of edi­tors who had fal­l­en on their swords defend­ing Gawker’s prac­tices. With con­tent that have report­ed­ly caused two very large adver­tis­ers, Discover and BFGoodrich, to sus­pend or can­cel cam­paigns on the with Gawker Media. We may only be see­ing the tip of the finan­cial ice­berg here. There was also a sting in the tail for Sam “Seven Figures” Biddle, as it emerged one of the Gawker part­ners and their head of adver­tis­ing had flat­ly asked Read why Biddle hadn’t been fired yet for his ill-advised com­ments.

The New York Observer went even fur­ther, with a state­ment that can only be described as the edi­to­ri­al equiv­a­lent of an unlu­bri­cat­ed fist­ing:

Hypocrisy is too weak a word when it comes to Gawker. It is instead an indis­putable pat­tern of mal­ice and men­dac­i­ty almost with­out par­al­lel in the his­to­ry of media. It is essen­tial­ly a twelve-year spree of destruc­tion, pain and waste. The sole pur­pose of the entire repug­nant edi­fice has been to make a sin­gle own­er fab­u­lous­ly rich and a revolv­ing door of medioc­re writ­ers feel impor­tant and pow­er­ful.” –

Jesus, leave some for the rest of us.

Whilst the­se kind words are encour­ag­ing, it can’t help but feel a lit­tle oppor­tunis­tic. It is now seen as “safe” to go after Gawker; pre­vi­ous­ly silent jour­nal­ists are falling over them­selves to kick Gawker now it is safe­ly down. Perhaps if some of this spine had been locat­ed ear­lier we could have pre­vent­ed some of the anguish their uneth­i­cal — and some­times down­right inhu­man — con­duct has caused? Not that I’m devel­op­ing some sym­pa­thy for the tabloid rag sud­den­ly. Quite to the con­trary, my words of advice to the media would be “pile in faster and kick hard­er” but don’t for­get to learn some lessons in the process. Gawker has been very influ­en­tial and their dra­mat­ic down­ward spi­ral needs to be a wake-up call for all their imi­ta­tors and cheer­lead­ers.

The Gawkeratzi

Fact is, Gawker is not unique. The “stan­dards” they push are actu­al­ly pret­ty typ­i­cal.  It’s part of a wider land­scape of press that have used pol­i­tics and divi­sion as a shield for their uneth­i­cal behav­iour — pub­li­ca­tions I mock­ing­ly refer to as “The Gawkeratzi.” We live in a world were Salon can jus­ti­fy vio­lent loot­ing as a valid form of polit­i­cal expres­sion whilst shops are still burn­ing but also put out arti­cles blan­ket label­ing peo­ple who are gamers as “Terrorists” when they want to hold the Gawkeratzi to account. The Verge can delib­er­ate­ly whip-up a mob to attack a man who just land­ed the first probe on a comet for the pat­tern on his shirt and agen­da sites like The Mary Sue and fel­low Gawker sewer-pipe Jezebel attack who­ev­er they please on an almost week­ly basis. For any of the mod­ern rage-bait media to take the moral high-ground over Gawker is laugh­able, espe­cial­ly after they were com­plic­it in attempt­ing to pro­tect Gawker and their prac­tices pre­vi­ous­ly.

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We’ve seen the bar pro­gres­sive­ly low­ered and stan­dards slow­ly erod­ed so far that an action caus­ing adver­tis­ers to say “enough is enough” has to be beyond extreme. Gawker is being sued from all angles, boy­cotted by large sec­tions of the inter­net and has made major gaff after major gaff. Yet many adver­tis­ers, baf­fling­ly, still remain. Editors and CEOs seemed OK with stan­dards being brought down as long as the clicks kept rolling in, but how long can this degra­da­tion and free-fall real­ly con­tin­ue? I can’t see big brands with large legal depart­ments and a care­ful­ly craft­ed image want­i­ng to be seen next to a blog post writ­ten by an unpaid intern glee­ful­ly shar­ing acts of black­mail and libel. Online media is in a dire state, yet there have been very few suc­cess­ful or last­ing attempts to make it reform from either con­sumers or adver­tis­ers; as long as it still pays then the­se sites will keep doing what they do. If you want any lev­el of change then you have to make sure being high­ly uneth­i­cal is also high­ly unprof­itable.

The Blueprint Already Exists

Something else quite extra­or­di­nary also hap­pened: Mainstream media out­lets like USA Today began to report on the GamerGate and their boy­cott list for what it was: an attempt to hold an unac­count­able media cor­po­ra­tion to account via con­tact­ing adver­tis­ers, a tac­tic that many of those who were now angry at Gawker media had begun sug­gest­ing. (Editor’s Note: I feel it impor­tant to men­tion that con­tact­ing adver­tis­ers of out­lets that peo­ple have dis­putes with has long been a valid tac­tic of con­sumer advo­ca­cy groups over the years.)

The online dis­cus­sion drew in some crit­ics of Gawker and its affil­i­ates from a past issue — its involve­ment in a long-running online con­tro­ver­sy over the treat­ment of wom­en in gam­ing, and video-game jour­nal­ism, that’s loose­ly referred to as #gamer­gate. The Twitter account that advo­cat­ed tar­get­ing Gawker’s adver­tis­ers linked to a web­site, “,” whose sup­port­ers advo­cate tar­get­ing the adver­tis­ers of Gawker and oth­er blogs.” –

Its pret­ty amaz­ing for USA Today to men­tion GamerGate as a con­sumer boy­cott cam­paign with a par­tic­u­lar focus on Gawker Media, with the implied burn that Gawker and those on the GamerGate’s boy­cott list are sim­ply “blogs.” Operation Baby Seal turned out to be a use­ful ready-made resource for all those now call­ing for change at Gawker Media, even when some of those peo­ple had called the­se same boy­cott efforts “attempts to silence writ­ers” mere months ago. As for GamerGate itself, the state­ment by one of their senior writ­ers, Adam Weinstein, should give you some indi­ca­tion of just how incred­i­bly furi­ous Gawker is about the con­sumer boy­cott that report­ed­ly cost them upwards of sev­en fig­ures and caused numer­ous adver­tis­er sus­pen­sions and pull-outs.


This state­ment itself is almost humor­ous in its anger and deflec­tion; here is a pub­li­ca­tion that has just put out some­thing even its staunchest defend­ers call “repug­nant,” yet their writ­ers and staff are doing the equiv­a­lent of throw­ing them­selves on the floor and hav­ing a very pub­lic tear-stained tantrum. The Gawker  flair for being an unapolo­get­i­cal­ly repul­sive human beings is as present as ever, even in their moments of sup­posed con­tri­tion. A man who is paid to write for a liv­ing wrote that inane screed, as his site was in the mid­st of being sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly dis­avowed by the entire pop­u­la­tion of the inter­net. Even as an ama­teur writer, I am ashamed it exists. After the bat­ter­ing the orga­ni­za­tion has received, the asser­tion that “Gawker is not that bad” (Emphasis added by Editor) seems to be the best defense he could muster.

You can’t have any effect on a media empire by impo­tent fist-shaking alone, in this lat­est spasm I don’t think there has even been an attempt to grasp that Gawker is a Network. That’s one of the only ways the GamerGate cam­paign was able to gain any trac­tion at all: they real­ized that sim­ply going after one arm of an orga­ni­za­tion is fruit­less when it can keep mak­ing mon­ey using the same edi­to­ri­al prac­tices else­where. Gawker isn’t just Gawker. It’s Jezebel, Gizmodo, Deadspin, io9 and Lifehacker; all of the­se sites feed into the same pot of mon­ey that enables the stan­dard of jour­nal­ism we see in them today. If you tru­ly want to hit Gawker in the wal­let then con­sid­er the­se tac­tics that have already proven effec­tive:

SIDE CLICKSRemove Clicks
: In the past, sites like Gawker ben­e­fit­ed great­ly from “rage clicks.” People shar­ing and click­ing on arti­cles that were open­ly designed to cause con­tro­ver­sy and dis­ap­proval. Gawker is almost proud of the fact that as long as the clicks keep com­ing in it does no mat­ter if peo­ple are click­ing on the con­tent because they like it or because they hate it. Those angry at Gawker in the past have been inad­ver­tent­ly fuel­ing their suc­cess by fun­nel­ing traf­fic to the site.

Archiving using is a way of shar­ing a snap­shot of a page host­ed else­where. This allows peo­ple to share, analy­se and draw atten­tion to arti­cles they find unac­cept­able with­out giv­ing are more clicks to a site. Archiving has been one of the cor­ner­stones of the GamerGate revolt, with browser exten­sions like GG Blocker” used to auto­mat­i­cal­ly dis­play archived ver­sions of cer­tain sites on the boy­cott list.

This prac­tice removes an incen­tive for web­sites to delib­er­ate­ly print inflam­ma­to­ry arti­cles and is also a good way to track­ing any alter­ations or dele­tions. With the inter­net is forever, and any incrim­i­nat­ing evi­dence can be retained and put in front of spon­sors.

Contact Advertisers and Ad Networks: This isn’t just as sim­ple as express­ing dis­plea­sure in a gen­er­al sense to com­pa­nies you see appear­ing in side­bar ads, you need to show the adver­tis­er that this con­tent is appear­ing next to their brand. Modern web­sites have to use mul­ti­ple ways of adver­tis­ing to sur­vive, so some com­pa­nies will not be adver­tis­ing direct­ly with the site in ques­tion and may not be aware their ads are being dis­played on the offend­ing pages. In this way, con­tact­ing adver­tis­ers is extreme­ly worth­while since many may not be aware of the con­tent until they are informed.

Since adver­tise­ments are sold via net­works, it is also worth look­ing up the terms and con­di­tions that net­works make sites sign up to. We know Gawker has bro­ken Google Adsense poli­cies on mul­ti­ple occa­sions but has thus far not had puni­tive action tak­en. Getting ad-tech to pull out of a web­site is a big deal as it removes a huge chunk of rev­enue and mul­ti­ple poten­tial adver­tis­ers at once.

Advertisers have become more and more desen­si­tized to con­tent they would pre­vi­ous­ly find objec­tion­able, ensure you make it clear why this con­tent dam­ages their brand. For exam­ple, GamerGate got adver­tis­ers who want­ed to appeal to gamers to pull out by telling them the con­tent was anti-gamer and active­ly put them off.

Maintain Public Pressure: It’s easy for adver­tis­ers to ignore a sin­gle flur­ry of atten­tion, but a sus­tained peri­od of repeat­ed com­plaints will make the issue hard­er to ignore. Advertisers don’t like the neg­a­tive atten­tion pub­lic pull-outs cause and so many may sim­ply qui­et­ly not renew their con­tracts. The key is to be deter­mined and dig-in for the long-haul. Make appeals on places asso­ci­at­ed with the adver­tis­ers brand like their Facebook or YouTube pages. It might seem tacky but by virtue of being a sheer nui­sance you can get com­plaints addressed.

The boy­cott prac­tices of GamerGate have already begun to seep into the main­stream body of peo­ple dis­gust­ed with Gawker’s actions. Watching peo­ple share Gawker’s links using and begin­ning to con­tact adver­tis­ers was an encour­ag­ing sight to behold. Whether they real­ize they real­ize it or not, the­se peo­ple are build­ing on the suc­cess­ful tac­tics of Operation Disrespectful Nod and Operation Baby Seal, tac­tics some peo­ple pre­vi­ous­ly attacked. Activities pre­vi­ous­ly smeared by a des­per­ate media, led most­ly by Gawker Media, are not ris­ing to the sur­face as best prac­tice. GamerGate seems to have had an extra­or­di­nary effect on build­ing a tem­plate for boy­cotts of new media.

The Ugly, Gawking Masses

Gawker’s biggest mis­take in this instance was not going after some­one its audi­ence felt was a “valid tar­get.” They cooked up their usu­al recipe of sleaze and pub­lic sham­ing, but this time it involved out­ing an alleged­ly gay man. For their pro­gres­sive allies this was a step too far. Their audi­ence is angry most­ly for the vio­la­tion of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, not the basic fail­ure to adhere to any kind of eth­i­cal con­duct in their quite com­mon attack arti­cles. The out­ting of a gay man is just the icing on the cake. Their read­ers have been ful­ly com­plic­it in Gawker’s past actions; their audi­ence are the ones who have cheered on increas­ing­ly deplorable con­duct as long as Gawker was able to paint their tar­gets as car­toon­ish “anti-progressive” vil­lains.

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Us vs Them” is the core of how Gawker gets away with gra­tu­itous hit-pieces on pub­lic fig­ures and those they pluck out of obscu­ri­ty to pub­li­cal­ly shame. If this had sim­ply been a base­less accu­sa­tion that a com­peti­tor had tried to hire a pros­ti­tute, then it would have gone by unno­ticed. It would still be whol­ly uneth­i­cal, but the read­er­ship wouldn’t have bat­ted an eye­lid. It seems the mis­cal­cu­la­tion was a polit­i­cal one, their usu­al thin veneer and pan­der­ing to the bias­es of the read­er­ship were not present in this arti­cle and so their read­er­ship was jolt­ed into see­ing the full hor­ror of what Gawker actu­al­ly puts out.

As Nick Denton stat­ed in his e-mail, he thinks Jordan Sargent “Did noth­ing wrong” only that “Times have changed.” The pol­i­cy of “No bad tac­tics, only bad tar­gets” espoused by the washed-up inter­net crit­ics of this world seems to be a good sum­ma­tion of how the media, and the “activists” they lead around by the nose, oper­ate. Gawker is as vicious, spite­ful and sala­cious as ever but it keeps its fans hap­py by slight­ly adjust­ing its tar­gets as the doc­trine of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness shifts. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that David Geithner is a human being who has been sub­ject­ed to an extreme lev­el of media slan­der and sham­ing, which is prob­a­bly a very strong case for legal action, despite not pre­vi­ous­ly being a pub­lic fig­ure of any note and despite the­se claims being far from proven. If some of the ele­ments of the sto­ry had been dif­fer­ent, he would be just be anoth­er in the long line of peo­ple whose life had been adverse­ly effect­ed for no real gain by Gawker.

insert sewer

Despite the unfold­ing train-wreck of depart­ing staff, it feels like the depress­ing truth is that many of those who object­ed to Gawker’s arti­cle on David Geithner are already los­ing steam and fail­ing to con­vert their out­rage into any­thing last­ing or pro­duc­tive. Simply recog­nis­ing online jour­nal­ism is rot­ten is just the first step. The mem­o­ry of this short spasm of out­rage is already fad­ing, they are angry at Gawker today but will be angry alongside Gawker again tomor­row — latch­ing onto what­ev­er Jezebel or Kotaku tells them should be the tar­get of their two-minutes of hate. I believe the­se peo­ple care, I real­ly do. I just think they lack the orga­ni­za­tion and the will to do any­thing about it beyond being mild­ly enraged for a day or two.

Gawker won’t go away unless you make it go away. “This thing sucks” is just a state­ment, if you want change any­thing then you have to build into a force that can­not be ignored.  You may also have to make peace with the fact that going after the media means the media will use all their dirty tricks to make you look evil and dis­cred­it­ed. Some are sit­ting back and expect­ing Gawker to crum­ble in the face of this cluster-fuck, but you can’t count on that. Now is the per­fect time to apply as much pres­sure as pos­si­ble. This is a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to crys­tal­lize uni­ver­sal dis­ap­proval into real, tan­gi­ble improve­ments to online jour­nal­ism. I sug­gest we take it.

(EDIT: July 22 2105 (21:14 EST): J.K. Trotter cor­rect­ed to Jordan Sargent.) SweeneyOpinionGawker,OpinionOn July 16th, 2015 Gawker pub­lished an arti­cle enti­tled “Condé Nast’s CFO Tried To Pay $2,500 for a Night With a Gay Porn Star” that out­ed the CFO of com­pet­ing media orga­ni­za­tion Condé Nast as alleged­ly gay. What is more con­cern­ing is that they appeared to have worked with,…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.