Gawker's Alex Pareene on the site's political shift, Hulk Hogan, new media

Gawker's newly minted editor-in-chief Alex Pareene details the outlet's unique approach to covering the presidential campaign and editorial changes he has implemented since joining.

Image via David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons; under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license
Image via David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons; under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Name: Alex Pareene
Title: Editor-in-chief
Outlet: Gawker
Preferred contact:

Gawker announced last year it is retooling as a politics site. How has that gone?
It’s going well. Retooling as a politics site was a little opportunistic in the sense there was a [presidential] campaign coming up. We wanted to make sure people know we would be a place to go for campaign stories.

You fooled Donald Trump into retweeting Mussolini. What has your approach been to covering the presidential campaign?
It’s the most-covered thing in American politics, so it is tough to find a way to come at it when you are competing against places with much greater resources in terms of budgets and staff. We have to pick unique angles. Part of that is being more daring in doing things other media outlets wouldn’t, like building a Twitterbot to troll Trump.

Is Trump bad for the country but good for Gawker in terms of what people want to read about?
Yes. Any journalist over a beer would tell you the same thing — even the editors of The New York Times if they were honest with themselves. But publications like The Times still have to put up the pretense of covering Trump fairly. We are free to say he is a fraud, a crypto-fascist, and a clown who is playing with dangerous forces — he probably doesn’t even grasp how dangerous they are. The beautiful thing about being here is we can cover him much more critically than straight publications can.

In March, Hulk Hogan sued Gawker for publishing a sex tape. He won $115 million and was later awarded an additional $25 million in damages. What does this mean for Gawker [which is appealing the suit]?
We're still going to do what we do. In fact, our new deputy editor, Kelly Stout, formerly of The New Yorker, [joined a week after Hogan won the suit].

What’s your take on the former Gawker editors who published a story outing a Condé Nast exec?
I am so far beyond worrying about that story anymore. I don’t even want to dredge it up. I admire every single former Gawker editor and consider them friends.

Gawker bargained the first union contract at a digital media company. What does this mean for Gawker’s content and employees?
It will be great for bringing in talent. It’s a net-positive for us in every way. In terms of content, I don’t think it will mean much difference in terms of what we publish.

Does Nick Denton have a big say on editorial decisions?
Less than he used to. I first worked at Gawker 10 years ago, before leaving and coming back. He’s been much more involved in business stuff and not necessarily editorial. People have this impression of Nick as puppet master controlling what all the Gawker sites do. But that is not true at all.

What other editorial changes have you made since becoming editor-in-chief last October?
I was brought in because of my background as a political commentator and satirist. We started focusing more on the election. I’ve focused on politics and figuring out the Gawker way to tackle a crazy national election. We killed Defamer, our Hollywood gossip site, because that’s not something I had been particularly adept at or hugely interested in. I want Gawker to be the best site I would want to read.

What’s been your favorite story since joining?
When [Gawker reporter] Ashley Feinberg got Jeb Bush to write her an email denying he wore the same sweater four days in a row.

What is the biggest challenge at Gawker?
Our reputation as snark merchants... It occasionally makes it difficult when we publish very good and very serious work for people to give us the credit we deserve. That is a common new media problem. I am proud of the serious journalism we have done.

What’s your advice for PR pros who want to pitch Gawker?
Read the site. Be familiar with the writers and what they cover. Your best bet is to tailor it to a particular writer you think would be most interested in it.

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