Media Watch: New Yorker Profiles Gawker's Denton, Not Interested in Noble Failures

by Anne Thompson
October 11, 2010 10:02 AM
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The always fascinating Gawker Media czar Nick Denton has yielded a colorful New Yorker portrait by Ben McGrath. Denton gets the new journalism, and I love that he paints himself as a better alternative than the truly frightening new new journalism, the rising tide of content farms:
“I think of us as being a little like the friendly barbarians...You know, like, when the Roman Empire fell, there were the tribes that had come out of Mongolia, and each one that came was fleeing some other yet more barbarian group of barbarians. We’re the barbarians who can actually—probably—be hired to defend your gates."

No one has a better understanding than Denton of the behavior patterns of readers online, how to grab them and how to keep them coming back. (I treasure one Denton email praising my blog for letting out my "inner snark.") While journalistic accuracy is often a casualty, these days dramatic headlines about a race or competition, how to or top, best, or worst lists, something strange pr peculiar (especially about a celebrity), standbys exclusive breaking news, sex, drugs and scandal, or even the posing of a question, are the tricks of the online media trade:

Paying bonuses for traffic meant not only keeping statistics about what readers did and didn’t like but sharing that information with writers—a supreme journalistic taboo, as it could easily lead to pandering. Pandering was precisely Denton’s aim, and he took it one step further when he started publishing his traffic data alongside the stories themselves. It almost felt like a sociological experiment designed to prove the obvious: that readers are herd animals, that heat begets heat. A photograph of an unidentifiable mammalian carcass on a beach, cleverly dubbed the Montauk Monster, is viewed two million times: go figure. “I think people are sort of waking up to it now, how probably the biggest change in Internet media isn’t the immediacy of it, or the low costs, but the measurability,” Denton told me. “Which is actually terrifying if you’re a traditional journalist, and used to pushing what people ought to like, or what you think they ought to like.”

[Photo courtesy The New Yorker]

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