“You can’t be afraid to have people hate you,” Jessica Coen, editor-in-chief of Jezebel, coolly told the group of NYU-SCPS Summer Publishing Institute (SPI) students as we sat in a meeting room at Gawker Media headquarters. At the same time, other SPI students were off visiting magazines like Women’s Health, The Food Network Magazine, Marie Claire, and Time Out New York. Our group couldn’t resist signing up to tour this edgy digital media company.
Coen’s bold statement aligns with what most people associate with the gossip blog Gawker. Want to know which politician is cheating on his wife? Check out what’s on Gawker. Want to know which tween star is partying too hard? Refer to Gawker. Anything that you might be embarrassed to read in front of your parents can likely be found on Gawker. Breaking a scandalous story before traditional media outlets do so is Gawker’s trademark, which is reflected perfectly in their tagline: “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news.”
As the voice of Jezebel, Gawker Media’s take on current events with a wry feminist bent, Coen represents the face of just one of eight sites that fall under the company umbrella. Gawker Media’s other blogs, which focus on a range of subjects, include: Gizmodo (technology), Kotaku (videogames), and Deadspin (sports). Though purely an internet-based company, Gawker Media generates a huge amount of attention. The company as a whole has about 14 million unique visitors a month with Jezebel accounting for 1.7 million of that number. While you might think the most visited site is the flagship, Gawker (3.9 unique visitors a month), it’s actually Gizmodo at 4 million uniques.
At the start of our visit, Gawker Media’s PR manager, Kevin Prince, guided us up the narrow steps to the two loft-style floors in SoHo where the company is located. We were struck by the openness of the office with simple workstations and no barriers between them. This reflects the company’s philosophy of universal sharing of information. We were led to the large rooftop patio where Gawker Media holds its parties for clients and special events. Later this month, there will be an event to raise funds to fight for same-sex marriage. Many people might be shocked that Gawker has any kind of moral compass at all. Said Brian Moylan, a staff writer: “Sometimes we post stories that regular newscasters would never touch.” But he was quick to point out that they don’t release rumors unless they believe there is a fairly reasonable chance the rumors are true, based both on the source as well as Gawker’s knowledge of the situation.
It was also apparent that the Gawker Media staff members regard themselves as professional journalists, not just gossip-mongers. Coen, for example, scours 500 RSS feeds every day and makes sure the site updates about every 15–20 minutes. “People have a tendency to look down upon people who write online,” she says. Judging by Gawker Media’s consistent record of breaking stories first and then being mentioned in traditional news outlets later, I’d say they are sitting pretty in the digital age.
by Evan Oare