It’s been a tough week (year?) for Gawker Media. Earlier this week, a former female writer took to Medium to slam the blog publisher’s treatment of its female employees. Today brought news that Gawker would be focusing on politics, letting four go in the process, and that the company would fold several of its verticals.
Gawker co-founder Nick Denton and top editor John Cook put out memos explaining the changes. They said that Gawker.com, which has its roots in publishing flame-throwing media gossip, would be doubling down on politics. Women-focused Jezebel also would be refocusing, onto celebrity and pop culture fare, with two staffers leaving as a result. More broadly, Gawker Media will be shutting down many of its subsites like Gawker’s The Vane and Jalopnik’s Flight Club, saying they’ve caused editorial confusion.
The company also will be shelving plans to license Kinja, its troubled publishing technology backbone and will just use it for in-house operations. And there will be belt-tightening.
There has been other upheaval at the company. Executives including Andrew Gorenstein, Gawker Media’s president of advertising and partnerships; and Erin Pettigrew, who built Gawker Media’s e-commerce and direct-response business, have left.
Gawker.com’s new political direction drew skepticism from Twitter, including from ex-Gawker staffers including Ana Marie Cox, founder of former Gawker political blog Wonkette; and Gawker.com co-founder Elizabeth Spiers.
Gawker, but for politics? Will never work. https://t.co/X8QrIrTIoE
— Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox) November 17, 2015
— Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) November 17, 2015
One obvious problem with Gawker's new politics focus: Its lack of a DC presence https://t.co/dniybvxQQ2
— Corbin Hiar (@CorbinHiar) November 17, 2015
The narrowed focus may be an about-face for Gawker, which had long embraced the idea of using Kinja to democratize blogging, but its time was coming. Denton has long taken pride in Gawker’s status as an independent publisher, but today’s developments show that going it alone comes at a cost. The company has grown traffic in the past year, but it lags in comparison to its VC-soaked competitors including Mashable and Business Insider, which have expanded much faster. The middle is a hard place to be in today’s digital media economy, where many advertisers are obsessed with reaching as big an audience as possible (and preferably not one with Gawker’s brand safety issues).
It’s a snap back to reality for Gawker, which recently moved into its airy, new headquarters near Union Square. The company’s been roiled by its costly lawsuit against Hulk Hogan, and it was pilloried in the public when it published an exposé of a Condé Nast executive’s private life. That led to Denton saying it was time for a kinder, gentler Gawker. Is Kinja, long a thorn in Denton’s side, next to go?