In an unprecedented move for the company, Gawker Media took down a reported post publicly outing the chief financial officer of Condé Nast, who reportedly attempted to hire a gay adult film star as an escort despite being married to a woman.
There are many factors at play in this development. The post was published on Friday, July 17, and taken down within 24 hours after a vote by Gawker’s management. The only representive of the editorial side of the company was executive editor Tommy Craggs, who was against the takedown. Four other Gawker officials representing the business side of the organization, including founder and publisher Nick Denton—who is gay himself—ultimately made the decision to remove the post.
On Monday, July 20, Craggs and editor-in-chief Max Read resigned. Both editors stood by the relevance and reportage, by Gawker blogger Jordan Sargent, believing not only it was within Gawker’s editorial vision to report on the sexual orientation of an executive—who has a wife and children—but also that it was a huge breach of Gawker’s mission for the business side to have sway over what is posted.
Denton’s explanation for removing the post included the idea that a mid-level media executive’s private life is not a matter of public concern. In a letter to Gawker’s editorial department released on Monday afternoon, he explained his reasoning further:
“The insistence the post remain up despite our own second thoughts: that represents an extreme interpretation of editorial freedom. It’s an abuse of the privilege. And it was my responsibility to step in to save Gawker from itself, supported by the majority of the Managing Partners.
“I’m sorry also that Jordan Sargent, reporting this story impeccably despite a personal drama, was exposed to such traumatizing hatred online, just for doing his job. And I’m sorry that other editors and writers are now in such an impossible position: objecting to the removal of a story that many of them found objectionable.”
However, another factor was advertisers such as Discover and BFGoodrich threatening to pull out of their campaigns with Gawker if the post remained live, according to a memo that Craggs sent to the editorial staff.
Denton said in his letter, “Were there also business concerns? Absolutely. The company’s ability to finance independent journalism is critical. If the post had remained up, we probably would have triggered advertising losses this week into seven figures. Fortunately, though, I was only aware of one advertiser pausing at the time the decision to pull the post was made; so you won’t be able to pin this outrage on advertising, even though it is the traditional thing to do in these circumstances.”
To the see the battling sides of Gawker play out their beefs on the Twitter-sphere and their own blogs is something to behold. Whatever side you fall on regarding whether the post was justified or not, there have been some damning—and gay-shaming—statements in the aftermath that make it look like Gawker is sinking further into the muck than ever before.
One such statement was posted by former Gawker editor-in-chief Max Read, who wrote on Twitter, “Given the chance Gawker will always report on married c-suite executives of major media companies fucking around on their wives,’” according to ThinkProgress. (The tweet has since been taken down.)
Gawker’s controversial firebrand of journalism has come under a lot of heat lately: Hulk Hogan is suing the company for $10 million for invasion of privacy, due to Gawker posting an excerpt of the wrestler in a sex tape.
Now, Gawker—and hopefully other media organizations—understand that treading in waters that include outing an individual, public or private, for what they do with other consenting adults is not okay. Such stories are bound to look insensitive, and don’t allow the person the autonomy to come out (or not) on their own terms.
Perhaps this is Gawker’s comeuppance, but mostly it should be a lesson for all media to be a little more thoughtful and a little more discerning when reporting on the private lives of others.