Why Nick Denton is wrong

I'm confusedWhen I first read Nick Denton’s apologetic for moving away from the blog format for his Gawker empire, I thought I’d misread the whole thing. I spend a great deal of time convincing traditional media companies to embrace the blog model, so it’s more than a little surprising to read that one of the pioneers of blogging wants to do the opposite.

Denton is a smart fellow, but I think he’s made a decision that will ultimately cost him, for in turning his whole online bloggy magazine consortium into one, giant traditional media display, he’s assumed the role of disrupted instead of disruptor.

In his post announcing the decision — with the cleverly spun headline “Why Gawker is moving beyond the blog” (beyond the blog?) — Denton lists seven reasons for the move, but it’s really all about featuring what Gawker feels is important and monetizing that. In so doing, he’s making an unspoken confession that traditional media has it right, while the real time stream and flow made available online is wrong. His sites will keep the stream evident, “but subordinate” and moved to a sidebar with largely headlines and links.

This is a mistake on many levels, that I’ll get to in a minute, but first, here are his reasons.

  1. The power of the scoop, rediscovered…One law of media competition applies as strongly to web properties as it did to their predecessors: scoops drive audience growth…
  2. Aggregate or die… Our strength as an aggregator remains editorial curation; but we’re limited even in that by the blog format. The more short items we run, the more rapidly our high-value scoops are pushed off the page…
  3. Demonstrate a rounded personality…An undifferentiated blog column is such a poor showcase of our talents. We would laugh at any marketer that scrambled its message with such a random assortment of content, dozens of points to a page…
  4. The web is a visual medium…I used to think that our expertise was text; that TV companies would have an unmatchable advantage when it came to web video. But what is increasingly evident is that traditional media companies are encumbered by old formats in video as much as they are in written journalism. Gawker bloggers, once they’re as familiar with iMovie as with cut-and-paste, can beat them…
  5. The growth of video advertising…A growing proportion of web advertising too is built around video. Already, some 30-50% of agency RFPs indicate that the client has video assets, typically a 15-second spot…
  6. Appointment programming…The editorial calendar will remain for event and seasonal programming such as CES and holiday shopping. But many topics are less time-sensitive and they will be moved to a programming grid which owes more to TV than to magazines. For instance, Lifehacker’s personal finance coverage is popular with both readers and advertisers; like much of our more helpful content it is often lost in the blog flow. From next year, it will be showcased at a regular time, say Fridays at 3pm, a personal finance hour…
  7. Gawker is a branding vehicle…Gawker Media has already put distance between our properties and those of the commodity ad networks. We booted them out from our titles five years ago; they were cheapening the sites and devaluing the brand benefits to our directly sold campaigns. Today, a large proportion of our sales depend on those “roadblocks” which offer a marketer an exclusive presence on a front page for the day. These are branding opportunities which the ad networks cannot easily match.

Did you catch the assumptions? Scoops drive growth? Scrambling their “message?” Gawker bloggers can beat TV companies? Helpful content gets lost? Most of the reasons Denton cites relate not to news but to what the company feels is editorially important to display to everybody. It assumes that people come to their site once a day and need immediate guidance as to what’s important or what should be seen or viewed, as if they need and want such guidance.

This is the same process traditional media has followed forever in crafting a finished product out of the stream that is news. The New York Times commented that this is the same thing the newspaper industry discovered over a century ago.

… if you pick up a New York Times newspaper today you will see only 6 main story headlines, all carefully chosen and placed on the page.

This change happened at The Times—and simultaneously to other newspapers—over a number of decades as designers and editors figured out that readers didn’t want more news, but instead wanted a more concise culling of news.

And what have readers done to this model? They’ve rejected it, but Nick thinks this is the way to go.

It’s actually quite a colonialist insult, because it questions the competence of the audience to figure things out on their own, and it puts the real time digital stream of news and information into the same category of headlines on a printed page.This is exactly what Denton is doing with this move, and it doesn’t suit the advances technology has given us in the last two decades. Moreover, the 6 headlines referenced by the Times do nothing to help people find anything through search. Google alerts, for example, LIKES lots of new updates to ongoing issues, which the blog format does exceedingly well. This is one of the problems we have with clients who don’t fully understand the concept of Continuous News. The blog format was created by the Web, for the Web, and the back end handshake is what’s so critical for digital news ventures. No amount of re-organizing the front page is going to help with that.

In response to the Times commentary, Dave Winer noted via Twitter, “Fine, but Gawker isn’t a blog, it’s a professionally edited news site.” A professionally edited news site, indeed. That’s what Nick Denton wants to be considered, and in so doing, he’s not advanced anything.

He’s taken a giant step backwards.

UPDATE: Here are more of my thoughts on the subject.

Comments

  1. I have been paying attention to the proliferation of the blog format on the internet versus the demise of print newspapers.

    Recently I was pushing for such a format in one of our online sections but on our homepage we would still have the splash stories and highlighted stuff.

    Imagine my surprise when Gawker changed their format to what we are already are. It seems like a step backwards.

    And I would agree with you that curating content is important in monetisation: I have witnessed it.

    But one thing that got me scratching my head was: how has readers rejected the idea of the said model that is alive in print right now, of curating content. The said model exists in the online medium as well and they seem to be doing ok.

  2. Tony, the public has rejected everything associated with the traditional press as demonstrated in Gallup’s press trust data. We’re not going to win that back playing the same old tune. The blog format moves traditional media into the streams and flows of real time news, which at least stands a chance. We make money by putting ad messages into that same stream. The blog was made of, by and for the Web, and those clients of mine who’ve moved that way have seen BIG jumps in traffic. ‘Nuff said.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Gawker and Twitter are just showing the vibrancy and resilience of the format.” Terry Heaton didn’t like the change, arguing that it’s a statement that Denton doesn’t trust his readers enough to find […]

  2. […] Terry Heaton’s PoMo Blog « Why Nick Denton is wrong […]

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