Gawker’s Nick Denton on Boredom, Commenters, and Niche Audiences

An image from Deadspin's Tiger Woods coverage.

Gawker Media founder Nick Denton had some choice words for the commenters on his eight sites, as well as for a couple attendees sitting in the front row at Ad Age’s Media Evolved conference on Tuesday in New York. During a “fireside chat” with Simon Dumenco, Ad Age’s editor-at-large, he was questioned about the sheer volume and often negative tone of comments on Gawker’s sites.

“You can moderate out the toxicity, but not the boring people. They haven’t violated any community guidelines, but they haven’t added to the discussion,” Denton replied.

Boredom was also clearly on his mind when he asked distracted conference attendees seated up front, “By the way, are we boring you?” But Denton’s take on Gawker’s evolution, re-design, editorial goals, interaction with well-known readers and the value of social media was anything but boring.

“Gawker grew up as a blog network and that approach worked well until 2008 when we had smaller niche audiences,” Denton explained. Now Gawker Media sites have twenty million unique users and he said they are loyal, repeat visitors. The re-design earlier this year was meant to “reinforce the focus on gigantic news stories to bring the brands to a larger audience,” he added.

As an example of Gawker’s pursuit of news stories, he cited Deadspin’s reporting on the Tiger Woods sex scandal. Another giant story that helped cement Gawker’s online status was the iPhone 4 incident last year when their Gizmodo blog  bought the prototype for the new Apple model someone found in a Silicon Valley bar. Denton said this resulted in “two weeks of massive publicity.”

Further elaborating on Gawker sites’ reader comments, Denton raised his hand and admitted, “I plead guilty since I helped create the situation. Now we need a quality measure for all the comments. But our audience is cooler and more authoritative than it may seem.”  He reported that through phone calls and emails he receives frequent feedback from high profile readers. Some are fans of the sites, such as NBC anchor Brian Williams, while others, such as film mogul Harvey Weinstein, call to complain.

“We’re big enough to take criticism if you disagree with our articles,” Denton insisted. “I wish some of the private, smarter conversations would show up on the sites. I’d like authorities and celebrities to be comfortable commenting. But this group doesn’t care about badges and they don’t want their comments permanently displayed online.”

Regarding social platforms, Denton said, “no one thinks social media is that great and everyone accepts its limitations.” He also criticized “other media properties that only focus on their most vocal critics and consign themselves to the gutter.” He reported that there is a new product in the works at Gawker, but when pressed for details, he offered no further comment.

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