Q&A: Nick Denton, Gawker Media

Gawker Media Publisher Nick Denton is the cool kid of micropublishing, an industry where anyone from a journal-writing teen from New Jersey to the owner of a professional basketball team in Texas has a blog.

Gawker Media Publisher Nick Denton is the cool kid of micropublishing, an industry where anyone from a journal-writing teen from New Jersey to the owner of a professional basketball team in Texas has a blog.

Blog tracking firm Technorati currently lists nearly 2.5 million of them, and some believe this figure to be much higher. Denton publishes only six of them, but, since they're so influential, he's associated with the emerging media more than anyone else. His empire includes the blogs Gawker (New York media), Fleshbot (pornography), Defamer (Los Angeles and Hollywood), Kinja (a blog aggregator), Wonkette (politics), and Gizmodo (gadgets). These receive a combined 10 million page views per month. Despite their disaffected attitude, the editors of his niche blogs are serious about posting new content daily, a work ethic that separates them from a large percentage of other blogs. Depending on the editor?s point-of-view, the posts - oscillating between gossip, comments on a published article or the random celebrity (or politician) sighting - can be sarcastic, vitriolic, and praiseful. Recent obsessions have included Graydon Carter, a Washington staffer that maintained a sexually-explicit blog, and an anonymous blog that is allegedly written by an A-list celebrity. Where does Denton fit into all of this? He once worked for the Financial Times and founded First Tuesday, an internet-era events business, and Moreover Technologies, a provider of news search technology to companies and portals. Q. What was your initial impetus for starting the Gawker media empire? - A. The simple answer is that these are the titles that I wanted to read. It used to make me annoyed that the story one would read in a newspaper would bear very little resemblance to the story one would hear from a reporter about what was really going on. I wanted to read the stories that I hear from people informally rather than the text that makes its way through the whole editing process. Q. What is the biggest impact citizen journalism will have on the public relations practice? - SR, New York A. Blogs provide a filter between PR professionals and journalists. Reporters have been increasingly overwhelmed by pitches. They don't open their emails or answer the phone a lot of the time. Some of the more savvy journalists are looking at the web as a filter. Smart PR professionals need to start looking at indirect ways to reach reporters and subtle pitches to weblogs or the creation of weblogs for a specific campaign. That's a good way for PR professionals to get an idea out there in the hopes that it will get to influential reporters. Q. Do you think the pitch to a blogger should be the same as a pitch to a reporter? - A. I don't see why the approach should be that different. Obviously there are more blogs out there and the same hands-on approach isn't going to scale to weblogs. But the bloggers now may be more ready to open a PR pitch email. I know that the writers of the Gawker site sometimes get overwhelmed by the volume of PR pitches. PR pitches to the higher-traffic sites need to be as well honed and designed as PR pitches to mainstream journalists. If a journalist for the New York Times gets a really stupid press release, he or she won't do anything but ignore it and probably ignore all future communications from that company. If a weblog writer receives a stupid press release, they may mock it. This is not to say, "Abandon all communications with weblogs." Just make sure the pitch is a good one. The price of getting it wrong is high. Q. Do you sense, from PR professions, a bit of incredulity that blogs receive such high traffic? - A. I don't think there's any point in pretending indignation that PR professions don't realize that blogs are taking over the world. It just will take some time. I think some PR people are afraid to approach weblogs because they're uncertain whether or not the traditional rules apply. They may be afraid that they'll get mocked if they pitch, which is actually possible. This should cause PR people to be a little wary of the kinds of press releases they send. Q. How did the Gawker Publications tone develop? - TA, New York A. I think it's a tone that is suited to the medium and a tone that talks to the readers on the same level. If you think about the traditional media, you have artificially written press releases delivered to the reporters, who go on to write a lot of convoluted articles that have to obey certain rules that are quite unlike the way a journalist would tell a friend over a drink at the bar. With Gawker publications, we were looking for professional blog format that stayed true to blog voice. The readers want to hear the gossip [told like it was] over a drink at the bar. They don't want the rather unnatural tone of an article in the newspaper. Q. What should PR people do if they feel the client they represent has been maligned or erroneously portrayed? - A. Weblogs are more willing to correct. There's less of a process, so we're more likely to give equal provenance to corrections as to an original, erroneous story. PR people should absolutely write in and say, "Hey, you got this wrong" or "You missed a certain aspect of the story." Q. Do you think that Gawker succeeds because of the rapidly available content from its "field reporters" that send it celebrity sightings? - A. I think it's less a matter of speed, than it is interactivity. Choire Sicha, who writes Gawker, relies very heavily on readers in a way that a writer from a mainstream publication may not. We're very open to tips from readers and PR professionals. We run things that we think are interesting or funny, and correct them if we're wrong. It's something between a traditional newspaper and a free-for-all discussion group in which the writer acts as the moderator of the reader-generated suggestions or stories. Q. It seems like it would be difficult for a PR pitch to make it onto Gawker without being mocked. It will either be ignored or made fun of. - A. We only mock things when they're worthy of it. The common theme for all of our sites is that they question conventional wisdom. Everyone has been very quick to say that Bonnie Fuller is going to crash and burn at Star magazine. There was a piece in Slate a couple of weeks back in which there were scores given for each of the celebrity weeklies. Star magazine won the competition and we cited them on that, pretty much saying, "Don't write her off yet." I think we're more willing, than most publications, to say, "Hold on a sec, maybe they're not as bad as that." A PR person doing a damage-limitation might do well to pitch us. A PR person could use a blog to turn things around. We don't have any real agenda; we're not in anyone's pocket. We can't be bribed, blackmailed, or suffocated. We give everyone a fair shot. We like underdogs because we're underdogs ourselves. Anyone who has an underdog PR pitch has a fair shot. Q. What would you say is the progenitor of Gawker and its ilk? - A. People make the mistake of thinking of weblogs of being something entirely new. Weblogs are just the latest iteration of web media. We look at Daily Candy, Drudge Report, The Smoking Gun,, and Feed as the progenitors. Q. How insidious is the name blog? Do you mind the name at all? - A. I'm not particularly interested in the name and I see no value in engaging in the discussion of "what is a weblog?" It's arcane. They are independent web titles. They vary from romantic yearnings from a kid in Iowa to a political commentary on politics like Instapundit. Q. Gawker, Gizmodo, etc. cultivate a sort of elitist mentality in whatever genre they cover. Was that intentional or did it developed organically? - TA, New York A. The titles aren't aimed at the mass market. We have a very clear idea of what the Gawker audience is: 25-34, urban, early-adopter, and online- and media-savvy. It's not as if these people have stopped watching television. A lot of them just spend most of their days in front of a computer screen. I prefer to think of it as targeted media. It's a media that can be targeted because we don't need a gigantic advertising revenue in order to break even. At the same time, I try to hire people who aren't going to become insiders too quickly. They're going to think of themselves first as representatives of the readers, rather than representatives of the establishment that lecture their readers. Q. Why do so many people feel they need to have a blog? - A. I don't think everyone needs to become a writer. We're going from a world where there were one million writers and nine million wannabe or frustrated writers - people who occasionally wrote "letters to the editor" or complaints to customer service departments. Now those nine million writers are publishing online. Most of the sites that they create are only going to be interesting to their friends and themselves. But new talent wins out, and talented writers are not going to have to go through the media organization mill to [get a chance to] express themselves after 20 years as a reporter when they finally get a picture and bylined column. It's almost impossible in print media for anyone who is young and feisty to express himself or herself. The only time, in traditional media, when you get to express yourself is when you're 60 and no longer have any opinions that speak to the person you once were. Blogs allow those types of writers to circumvent the usual journalistic training program. It allows them to have the voice they have when they're young, without having it knocked out of them. Q. I wish the Internet would blow up. What do you think about that? - KH, New York A. [Laughs]. Q. Why is Defamer anonymous while Wonkette and Gawker are not? - BF, Los Angeles A. That's because the editor of Defamer has worked in the industry. Q. What do you think about [Gawker Editor] Choire Sicha being named one of the New York Press' 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers? - SR, New York A. I'm very happy for him. Q. Finally, what advice would you give to PR people? - A. It would be useful for PR people to work more closely with advertising departments for a particular campaign. We get pitched by PR people who really ought to be advertising, and it's cheap to do so on weblogs. There are also certainly advertorial opportunities that cross the line between advertising and PR. The pitches need to be short and conversational. One line and a link to the press release is much more preferable to the press release. Such as, "I saw you wrote about Lord of the Rings, I thought you might be interested in this movie that is coming out this week." Invite webloggers to screenings. There's nothing a weblogger likes more than advanced notice and a chance to scoop the competition. Don't send attachments. It's hard for a writer to insult (or mock) a PR person if they sent a line and a link. It's only if the PR person invades the blogger's inbox with some ludicrous screed that they're likely to become a target. Your job does not end once a story has come out in the mainstream media. The articles are often read through weblogs. If an article gets linked by Drudge or Gawker, it has much more impact than just sitting on the inside page of the Wall Street Journal. A really great PR strategy is to find a paragraph that is funny and appropriate, excerpt it, and say, "I thought you might be interested in this." A forward-thinking client would demand that of their PR professionals. Not nearly enough people do that. If it's Coke versus Pepsi, you might think Gawker might be too bitchy for a positive story about Coke. But maybe it would be the appropriate venue for a negative little piece for Pepsi.

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