July 26th, 2015
03:08 PM ET

Founder of Gawker Media Nick Denton: "...in this particular instance, the judgment call was wrong, and I had it reversed.”

Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Founder of Gawker Media, Nick Denton, joined host Brian Stelter. They discussed the recent events at Gawker which led to the resignation of former executive editors, Tommy Craggs and Max Read, the changes Gawker is making, and Denton offering his staff members a chance to leave if they dislike the new direction of the company.

Reliable Sources airs Sundays, 11 a.m. to noon (ET).

Video & Text highlights and a full transcript from the show are available below.

MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’s RELIABLE SOURCES”

VIDEO:

Meltdown at Gawker Media; what now?

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS:

Denton on the departure of Gawker’s top editors, Max Read and Tommy Craggs: Both Max Read and Tommy Craggs are men of considerable principle, and sometimes inflexible principle. They resigned over this particular issue.  I don't think it was really a story worth resigning over.  I don't think this was the particular hill to die on. …I value their passion and their commitment to - independent journalism.  But it has to go hand in hand with trust from me in our editors to make judgment calls.  And in this particular instance, the judgment call was wrong, and I had it reversed.

Denton on the types of stories Gawker will continue to publish: We will continue to publish stories [Hulk Hogan story] like that.  …I'm proud that we defend stories and we publish stories that many other media organizations will not touch, not because they're bad stories, but because they're fearful of the consequences.  …Somebody who is a public figure, who talks about their life, their personal life, who is interviewed by journalists, they don't get to say - to us, at least - they don't get to say, oh, you can't ask questions about my personal life.  You can't ask this particular question.  A lot of the time, journalists go along with the P.R. campaigns of celebrities.  We don't, and we won't.

Denton on the changes Gawker Media plans to make: “I think we could calibrate a bit.  The company is no longer the fly-by-night blog shop that it was.  We're moving into new headquarters tomorrow on Fifth Avenue, north of 14th Street.  The company has more than 100 million global readers per month.  It is one of the four successful online media companies to emerge from the last few years.

Denton on advertiser pressure not affecting the editorial structure: …we have never, and we will never take down a story because - of an advertiser's pressure.  We are committed to running stories, the real story, and the story behind the story, precisely because that's what attracts our audience.  That's what people come to us for.  And the advertisers who come to us, they come for that audience.  The editorial independence of the company is not just a principle.  It's the core of our mission.  It's the core of the company.  And it's the core of our business.

Denton on offering staff a chance to leave and how many he believes will go: This weekend, yes, we're offering both the staff members on Gawker.com and senior editorial management a chance to leave if they don't like the future direction of the company, as I have indicated. … I don't know [how many staff member will leave].  I think probably fewer than one might think, given the amount of discontent expressed last week.  When it comes down to it, people have to make up their minds:  Do I want to work at Gawker Media or do I want to work at some other company?  And we are committed to producing the kind of journalism that I think the boldest and freest writers of the Web want to write.  And so I believe that most people will actually want to stay.” 

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

Today, big changes are coming to Gawker Media.  It's the no-holds-barred news and gossip site that owns blogs like Jezebel, Deadspin, Gizmodo, and its flagship, Gawker.

There's been nothing short of a revolt at Gawker this week.  I have never seen anything like this before, with yelling and finger-pointing at staff meetings, and now the possibility of more resignations.  So, let me back up and tell you what happened.  The site posted a shocking story earlier this month about a married media executive who is related to a former Obama administration official.  And it talked about how he was allegedly attempting to hire a gay escort.  The escort apparently blackmailed him.

Now, this whole story, it went online, and the negative feedback was immediate and overwhelming, with critics using terms like vile and repugnant to describe the story. And, as you can tell, we're not naming the person.  We're not even going to show the blog post.  I just - it's just not appropriate.  But you can see here some of the reaction to it.  The next day, Gawker founder, Nick Denton, chose to pull the post, delete it, over the strong objections of the entire editorial staff.

So, this week, his two top editors resigned.  And more writers might jump ship in the coming days.  This has even gotten the Taiwanese 3-D animation treatment.  It depicts the boundaries between church and state, news, and advertising being crushed in this case. As you may know, Gawker is already facing a $100 million lawsuit from the wrestler, Hulk Hogan.  And the company is trying to make the transition from the blog world, where really anything goes, to a more mature media business.  That's fundamentally what this is about.

So, if Gawker is not a snarky, no-hold-barred gossip site anymore, what is it? Nick Denton is here to tell us.  He's the founder and CEO of Gawker Media. Nick, welcome back to the show.

NICK DENTON, FOUNDER, GAWKER MEDIA:  Good to see you, Brian.

STELTER:  This blog post went up on a Thursday night.  Did you read it ahead of time?

DENTON:  No, I didn't.

STELTER:  Did you know about it?

DENTON:  I did know about it.  I knew that the team at Gawker and Tommy Craggs were working on a story.

STELTER:  How could you have not insisted on reading it before it was published on your Web site?

DENTON:  I have to say, I expected that it would take more time; that it would actually go some time on the Friday.  I was surprised.

STELTER:  So, you thought you would have time to read it?  You would thought you would be involved?

DENTON:  I thought that there would be more time for the editorial team to discuss it before moving forward with the story.  But I didn't see the point of the story as it was described to me.  I made that clear.  And when I actually saw the story later on, it was very, very clear, not just from the universal reaction, which was condemnation from our peers.

STELTER:  Right.

DENTON:  But anybody with any kind of humanity could see that this was not a story that was worth doing.

STELTER:  So, you decided to take it down.  There were reports there was a vote among your business leaders, and that most of them supported you. Why was it put up to a vote?

DENTON:  This was my decision.  I ordered the post taken down.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER:  So, it wasn't a vote?

DENTON:  The colleagues, my executives supported me in my decision, but it was my decision.  I am the founder of the company.  I was the editor of Gawker.com.  I am the guardian of the editorial ethos of the company.  This was counter to what I want us to be doing.  And, therefore, I had it taken down.

STELTER:  But Gawker sort of has this reputation as being a place where anything goes.  If it's true, you publish it. We talked about this a few weeks ago.  Here is - here is actually part of the interview about Hulk Hogan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER:  Knowing what you know now, knowing all of the legal costs already, would you have still published the video?

DENTON:  I am glad that decisions that are taken on publishing are taken at the time.  And I'm glad that we only really look at whether the story is both true and interesting.  This story was true and interesting.  And we'd absolutely publish it again in a heartbeat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER:  This was a sex tape involving Hulk Hogan.  Now he's suing.  And we can get into that lawsuit. But what you said is, all we really look at is whether the story is both true and interesting. Is that still the rubric for Gawker, or is it more complicated now?

DENTON:  I think the difference between Tommy Craggs, the executive editor who resigned on principle over this matter, the difference between him and me, is that, for Tommy and for some of the more hard-line editorial staff, truth itself is the only necessary defense, and the belief is that nothing should ever be taken down if it is true.  As I said in that quote, I believe that it's not necessary - it's necessary for something more than just simply truth to be operative in a story.  And truth and the interests, interest to our peers, interest to our audience, is essential.

STELTER:  Would you publish that tape now, now that - now that it seems like Gawker is changing its editorial philosophy?

DENTON:  The Hogan story is an entirely different story.

STELTER:  OK.

DENTON:  The Hogan story, this is a story about a public figure, a massive global celebrity who talks incessantly about his sex life.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER:  And we learned, by the way, this week he was dropped by the WWE for racist remarks.  That would seem to put him on the ropes a little bit, maybe helps your case?

DENTON:  I think it shows something of his motivation; that maybe explains why he's been so forceful in fighting this particular case.  But the facts of our dispute with Hulk Hogan are clear.  The law is clear.  And we look forward to the chance of defending this story in the courts.  We will continue to publish stories like that.  And we will continue...

STELTER:  Well, that's what people are wondering.

DENTON:  And we will continue to defend stories like that.  And I'm proud that we defend stories and we publish stories that many other media organizations will not touch, not because they're bad stories, but because they're fearful of the consequences.

STELTER:  Would you out a private person again, the way this blog post did?

DENTON:  We would absolutely out a public figure.  We - I have personally been involved in stories about Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER:  That was before he spoke publicly about being gay.

DENTON:  That's right, about two years before he spoke publicly about being gay, and stories about Anderson Cooper.

STELTER:  Again, before he spoke publicly about it.  And so you're OK with that?  You're OK with publishing those kinds of stories?

DENTON:  Somebody who is a public figure, who talks about their life, their personal life, who is interviewed by journalists, they don't get to say - to us, at least - they don't get to say, oh, you can't ask questions about my personal life.  You can't ask this particular question.  A lot of the time, journalists go along with the P.R. campaigns of celebrities.  We don't, and we won't.

STELTER:  Well, so what is going to change then?  It does seem like you have decided Gawker needs to be a bit friendlier.

DENTON:  I think we could calibrate a bit.  The company is no longer the fly-by-night blog shop that it was.  We're moving into new headquarters tomorrow on Fifth Avenue, north of 14th Street.  The company has more than 100 million global readers per month.  It is one of the four successful online media companies to emerge from the last few years.

STELTER:  And it's got a lot of advertisers.  Aren't you thinking more about advertising and making sure that they're comfortable with the site?  And doesn't that affect the editorial structure?

DENTON:  We will never, and we have never, and we will never take down a story because of an advertiser - of an advertiser's pressure.  We are committed to running stories, the real story, and the story behind the story, precisely because that's what attracts our audience.  That's what people come to us for.  And the advertisers who come to us, they come for that audience.  The editorial independence of the company is not just a principle.  It's the core of our mission.  It's the core of the company.  And it's the core of our business.

STELTER:  You say that, but your two top editors resigned.  I asked them to come on the program today, and they declined.  But they resigned because of you meddling, they should say, with the newsroom.

DENTON:  Both Max Read and Tommy Craggs are men of considerable principle, and sometimes inflexible principle. They resigned over this particular issue.  I don't think it was really a story worth resigning over.  I don't think this was the particular hill to die on.

STELTER:  Are you saying they are too extreme - they were too extreme about this?

DENTON:  I value their passion and their commitment to independent - independent journalism.  But it has to go hand in hand with trust from me in our editors to make judgment calls.  And in this particular instance, the judgment call was wrong, and I had it reversed.

STELTER:  People who don't want to stay and work for the new Gawker, the slightly kinder, gentler Gawker, are you offering them buyouts?  Are you inviting them to leave?

DENTON:  This weekend, yes, we're offering both the staff members on Gawker.com and senior editorial management a chance to leave if they don't like the future direction of the company, as I have indicated.

STELTER:  How many are you expecting to leave?

DENTON:  I don't know.

STELTER:  Well, any, you think?

DENTON:  I don't know.  I think probably fewer than one might think, given the amount of discontent expressed last week.  When it comes down to it, people have to make up their minds:  Do I want to work at Gawker Media or do I want to work at some other company?  And we are committed to producing the kind of journalism that I think the boldest and freest writers of the Web want to write.  And so I believe that most people will actually want to stay.

STELTER:  You expect most of the staff to stay.  But the door is open now.  That's an unprecedented move, isn't it, Nick?

DENTON:  I don't think that a company can be held hostage and a company's ethos...

STELTER:  Held hostage?

DENTON: ...a company's ethos can be driven by the determination of some writers to go in a different direction.  At some point, we all have to decide, are we in this together or not, all in or out?  And I think it's just - it's fair - no antagonism.  There doesn't need to be any kind of bad feeling here.  It's a very generous buyout offer.  But if people want to pursue their own course that's different than the course that I want to pursue, they should be free to do so.  And they shouldn't suffer such bad financial consequences for following a matter of principle.

STELTER:  So, bottom line, Gawker growing up, you're saying?

DENTON:  Yes.

STELTER:  Nick, thanks for being here.

DENTON:  Good to see you.

STELTER:  Good talking with you.

END INTERVIEW

 


Topics: Brian Stelter • CNN • Reliable Sources
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