Last year was a tough one for Gawker Media. But as publisher Nick Denton told Nieman Journalism Lab yesterday, the first half of 2009 has been better than expected. In fact, with a 35 percent increase in ad revenue during the first six months of the year, compared to 2008, Denton is once again offering his writers bonuses for surpassing pageview targets — a feature of the newsroom that was cut during last year’s cost-slashing efforts.
What’s more, Denton said reinstating pageview pay also opened up “the possibility of web-style checkbook journalism,” meaning Gawker will pay tipsters based on the number of pageviews a story based on their tips generates. It’s something the controversial new media company tried last year, when it offered tipsters $7.50 for every 1,000 pageviews a story reached.
Gawker’s cutbacks last year started in April, when the company sold three blogs â€” Wonkette, Gridskipper, and Idolator. By the end of the year, Denton had also sold off Consumerist and consolidated Valleywag into flagship blog Gawker.
Throughout it all, Denton maintained a glum view of the future of the industry and he made cuts accordingly. But his predictions seem not to have affected his company. However, despite his company’s success this year so far, Denton remained cautious in a memo sent to staff, obtained by Nieman Lab:
“Chris Batty’s sales and creative services teams have done an impressive job in bucking the advertising slump; but we have no idea how long we can continue to out-perform competitors,” he said.
Denton also called the pageview bonuses “modest,” pointing out that they are “aimed at the writers who aren’t paid as much as their traffic would warrant.” And, they’re only promising the bonuses through the second half of the year.
Still, it’s a big step for a media company that publicly reveals how many views each story gets. As Gawker writers live and die by the numbers they should get compensated for their hard work, especially if their base pay is less than their work deserves. Yes, this move is controversial, but we’re at a scary point in journalism’s long history where freelance writers are working for very little — or worse, nothing — just to have some work at all. So, we support publishers acknowledging that good writers deserve to get paid for good work.
And as other media companies struggle, any company racking up a 35 percent increase in ad numbers should garner the attention of competitors, critics and industry experts. Maybe its time for other companies to look to Gawker to see what they’re doing right. Or maybe that’s just what happens when media companies stop trying to “commit journalism”.