Nick Denton, Founder of Gawker Media Group, explains the inspiration: I was at the Financial Times. When you work at a newspaper, you’re struck by the gap between the story that appears in the paper the next day and what the journalists say after deadline. The version they tell over a drink is much more interesting—legally riskier, sometimes more trivial, and sometimes it fits less neatly into the institution’s narrative. That conversation is more revealing than what passes for news in newspapers and on television. That question asked over a drink by one reporter to another—so what really happened?—is the impetus for all the work we do.
Like the millennial communities it has attracted, Gawker Media Group sets great store by honest communication. Open dialogue—about news, ideas, products and personal experiences—has animated the Gawker brands from their launch as blogs to the media properties and communities they are today.
The company was founded and built by web pioneers and writers, adhering to transparency in the exchange of information and a clear purpose: to tell stories stifled by the conventions of the mainstream media, and explain the workings of the system, including the workings of the media and even their own editorial organization.
Gawker and the other brands have retained from their blogging origins an unapologetically candid style: a Gawker writer is like the little boy in the fairy tale who blurts out the obvious but unsaid, that the emperor has no clothes.
Since opening the Kinja publishing platform, the conversation has broadened to include contributions and criticism from readers. Gawker, Gizmodo, io9, Lifehacker, Deadspin, Jezebel, Jalopnik and Kotaku are now energized by communities of bloggers and commenters, writers and readers who interact more than on other media properties.
A story will often be instigated by tips and ideas from readers, and it is itself the prompt for further conversation. This is participatory media—social media whose value and power derives from interaction more meaningful than a share or a like.
The resulting stories instigate obsessions, push the boundaries of mainstream media, puncture hypocrisy, and allow people to find others that share their feelings or challenge their thinking. The company’s motto—Get the real story—distills the appeal.
The cultural influence of GMG brands springs from a willingness to broach topics from which others shy away. Says one agency enthusiast: Jezebel has been at the center of four of our plans—we’ve taken on lots of women’s projects, and Jezebel is the leader in that space. They have a point of view that was well before their time; they were and are leading culture.
GMG is committed to the free expression expected by the digital natives that make up the majority of the Group’s audience. If it’s interesting, a Gawker writer’s initial instinct will be to share the opinion or information with readers, especially if it refutes a lie, clarifies a public confusion, exposes a crime or hypocrisy, or illuminates an important public issue.
As TV hosts like John Oliver have also demonstrated, a conversational tone can bring even the most serious of subjects to life. The Gawker impact is most obvious in politics, entertainment and media. Because writers are independent thinkers and unfettered by traditional journalists’ need for access, they often raise the questions that drive the news agenda. For instance, Gawker identified Hillary Clinton’s secret email account long before her campaign became embroiled in the controversy, and the site questioned Bill Cosby’s personal reputation a year before the rest of the media dared.
These stories, and the coverage of hacks like that of Sony and Ashley Madison, have put GMG at the center of the intellectual and legal debate over personal privacy, journalistic ethics and free expression.
Opinions are pungent, dispensed without favor or unacknowledged bias; readers expect no less. One writer might love the new Surface tablet. Another might hate the Xbox One. Diversity of opinion — and open argument — is essential to the reputation for honesty that Gawker writers enjoy.
Because readers are so quick to call out bogus news, stories dig for deeper truths. Gizmodo showed the health benefits of chocolate are supported only by the credulity of science journalists — and that our understanding of science is warped by our own liking for sensation. Lifehacker runs a series debunking other health myths. After the hack into the user database of Ashley Madison exposed a family-values moralizer as a hypocrite, Annalee Newitz on Gizmodo revealed that infidelity site was itself a fraud, nearly devoid of women.
Because writers are constantly experimenting and adapting to reader feedback, stories go in unexpected directions. As much of a signature as a Gawker exclusive is Gizmodo’s oddly captivating account of every movie Jimmy Carter watched during his presidency or Lifehacker’s informative look at people skills learned from working in retail.
Some stories and conversations are so honest and raw that they would never appear elsewhere. Take this story and discussion on childbirth on Jezebel or Deadspin’s guide to consoling the bereaved, which prompted a powerful conversation about mortality itself.
The eclectic audience-driven editorial mix, from the awe-inspiring to the light-hearted, is reflected in the Group’s expanding original and branded video work.
It is precisely because writers on Gawker and other properties engage with readers, share their enthusiasms and show their real selves and motives, that they have credibility with an audience detached from most media companies and advertisers.