Articles about "Gawker"

Epic concept.

Gawker bans ‘Internet slang’

“We want to sound like regular adult human beings, not Buzzfeed writers or Reddit commenters,” new Gawker Editor Max Read says in a memo to the publication’s writers. Words like “epic,” “pwn” and “derp” are no longer welcome on the site. Read also says the word “massive” is “never to appear on the website Gawker dot com.”

He also asks staffers not to use strikethrough for corrections, preferring they “change the wording and link from there to a comment noting the corrected text.” He singles out a correction by J.K. Trotter that was done in “the proper spirit and is funny to boot.”

Full memo: Read more


Highlights from Nick Denton’s online company meeting

Gawker Media honcho Nick Denton held a company meeting Tuesday on Kinja, Gawker’s commenting and publishing platform. He wrote: “As its makers, we should use the software ourselves: its virtues should be evident in internal as well as external communication.”

Some pretty good stuff from the meeting:

“You seem incapable of keeping editors for any length of time,” one person — perhaps not an employee since s/he is using the name of Tony Curtis’ character in “Sweet Smell of Success”states, following it with a question: “Is that intentional or regrettable?” (First Look Media announced yesterday that Gawker Editor John Cook is leaving to become editor-in-chief of The Intercept; Max Read will take over Gawker.)

Former editor A.J. Daulerio is “one of the best and most loyal colleagues,” Denton replied, saying few people thought Cook could match Daulerio’s traffic, “and yet now has 20 times the audience (see chart) it had during the supposed golden age of 2007,” Denton wrote. “It will continue to grow under Max Read, and his achievements will owe much to the coaching and example of his predecessors.”

Also, he knocked back Gawker reporter J.K. Trotter’s request to attend his upcoming wedding:

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FOIA lessons from Gawker Editor John Cook

Last January, Ann Coulter expressed her anger about The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal-News’ gun-permit map, which it assembled from public records. “I want them for Manhattan!” Coulter told Sean Hannity. “I want to know how many rich liberals with their bodyguards have gun permits.”

John Cook, then the investigations editor for Gawker, was able to oblige quickly when that news hook fell from the sky. “I’d had those records in a filing cabinet for a year or more,” he said in a phone call. Cook posted a list of names of New York City gun-permit holders he’d received from the New York Police Department in August 2010. The filing didn’t include addresses, though Cook noted those were already online.

So now if you want to see a picture of John Cook’s house, it, too, is online, thanks to an irate blogger. Cook posted the story in the late afternoon of Jan. 8, 2013, and “by the time I got home the voicemail on our phone was already full with people phoning in death threats,” he said. Threats came in to the Gawker office as well. “My wife was pissed off but we were never really concerned,” Cook said of the calls to his house.

Cook, posing with a pretend crack pipe at Gawker’s party for Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle’s Rob Ford book.

“It was tactically stupid for me to do it,” he said of publishing the names — not because of the blowback but because New York’s state government later tightened access to gun-permit holders’ names. “I had never really expected that they would actually kill that law but sure enough they did,” Cook said.

Two days after Cook published the gun-permit list, Gawker Media honcho Nick Denton announced he would be Gawker’s new editor.

Lesson 1: Be flexible

Cook has been filing public-records requests since he worked as a reporter for Brill’s Content in 2000 and 2001. (When he covered television for The Chicago Tribune from 2002-2005, he didn’t get to flex those muscles much, just the odd FCC request.) He’s got a folder on his computer with hundreds of open FOIA requests. When filing, he doesn’t use online forms “because Gawker would often get hassled by FOIA officers because they weren’t familiar with us.” He faxes requests from his computer, on Gawker letterhead.

Now that he’s running the New York-based publication, Cook said he tries to “instill that in my people: All you need is the thought, and you fire it off, and you forget about it.” Send off enough requests and eventually “you start getting them back two a week,” he said. “The downside of that is if they try to screw you or they deny it, it’s hard to remember and keep on them.”

“It is very much understood that that is part of my beat,” Gawker reporter J.K. Trotter said in a phone call, talking about records requests. Last summer, the former IvyGate editor sold Gawker a freelance story based on a FOIA request he made to the City University of New York to learn it was paying Gen. David Petraeus $200,000 to teach. Once CUNY, dazed by the bad publicity, announced it would pay Petraeus $1 instead, Cook made Trotter an offer.

Now, Trotter, says, he has about 100 open FOIAs. “I’ve learned a lot of patience,” he said. “Before, when I first started ramping up, it did not make sense to me why these things took so long. But now that I’ve filed a larger variety of requests, it’s much more apparent to me the diligence and pressure and the sort of agility that FOIA officers require to carry out all these weird requests.”

One case in point: A records request he made to Maryland Public Television for “Any and all records and/or correspondence” relating to Lauren Ashburn’s publication Daily Download, because MPT acted as a conduit for the funds Ashburn raised to launch the site. After a lawyer there told him filling the request could cost Gawker $1,000 or more (the site had offered to pay no more than $200), he agreed to pare it down to the correspondence of a dozen employees who were directly involved with the project. A month later he had documents that strongly suggested Howard Kurtz had lied about his compensation from Daily Download.

Lesson 2: Publish everything

When I asked Cook what he thought were the most Gawker-y kind of FOIAs, he said that since the “bones of the site is a New York media blog,” he loved “getting emails between reporters and flacks because you get to see how the sausage is made.”

(Gawker Media Editorial Director Joel Johnson told me in an email he didn’t think the company’s properties do “enough records digging in general, especially in the areas of finance and environmental shenanigans. It’s something on which I plan to turn up the heat.”)

I asked Cook why he thought such stories had the potential to pop online. “People get a kick out of seeing the original material,” he said. Before digital publishing, journalists were a necessary if sometimes arrogant intermediary between readers and public records: “It was all like, I’m allowed to have it because I’m a reporter, and I’m acting as a guardian of that info and determining what’s important for you, the reader, to know about.”

“I love Glenn Greenwald,” Cook continued, “but he’s basically keeping the same secrets the NSA was keeping” instead of “laying it all out there so people could look at it for themselves.”

I asked how Gawker would have handled Edward Snowden’s leaks, had he come to them instead of Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman.

“I would have read through everything,” he said. “I wouldn’t have put it up without reading it, but as quickly as practicable i would have put it all out there, and published every bit of it.”

Cook said the fact that The New York Times held James Risen and Eric Lichtblau’s story about the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping for more than a year when “there’s no indication that disclosure would have hurt anybody” is why he “would always err on the side of the data dump.”

Gawker’s release in 2012 of internal auditor files from Bain Capital followed that script: “We don’t pretend to be qualified to decode them in full, which is why we are posting them here for readers to help evaluate,” Cook wrote. The publication launched the package with a few easily digestible stories — e.g., “Mitt Romney Is the National Enquirer’s Banker” — “but at the end of the day the value was just putting it all out there,” Cook said.

Lesson 3: Be patient

Gawker’s legal department assists the site’s reporters when a body denies a records request. Cook also highly recommends the work of the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, which is helping him with a lawsuit over a request for documents that show which files former President Bush and Vice President Cheney have accessed from their presidential libraries (oral arguments are due to begin next month).

But a bigger problem, especially in the news business, is time. Cook tells reporters that requesting public documents “really doesn’t work for an active story.” You’ve got to send a lot of requests and hope that a few come back heavy.

For Cook, moving into a managerial role means he has less time to drive FOIA officers crazy (he is on the FBI’s list of “vexsome filers”). The U.S. Department of State denied Cook’s request for all of Hillary Clinton aide Philippe Reines’ correspondence with reporters (Reines was not a shrinking violet when it came to the press).

“They gave me a ‘no records,’ which is obviously bullshit,” Cook said. But “the time for the appeal has lapsed because I’m too busy to follow up on that stuff.”

Correction: A photo caption on an earlier version of this story referred to Robyn Doolittle as “Robyn Ford.” Read more


Mistake means New York Times series debuts early in Las Vegas Sun

Las Vegas Sun | Politico | Gawker |The New York Times

A star-crossed New York Times story is back on the Las Vegas Sun’s website Monday morning. The Sun published the story early, then said it pulled it. You can see it now with a timestamp of 3:22 p.m. on Sunday, and many notes to editors at New York Times News Service clients:

New York Times editor Carolyn Ryan may have inadvertently caused people to notice the goof by praising an imminent new series.


Then Ryan said she was headed home to watch “Homeland.” Less than an hour and a half later, BuzzFeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski found a summary of the series on the Las Vegas Sun’s site.

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Joel Johnson named Gawker Media’s editorial director

Joel Johnson, who founded Consumerist and has edited Gawker Media properties Gizmodo and Kotaku, will be Gawker Media’s editorial director. Gawker Media honcho Nick Denton told staffers the news in the office Wednesday. Denton sent a quick memo:

A quick bulletin for those out of the office. Joel Johnson — former editor of Gizmodo and Kotaku — is coming back to the editorial department. He’ll be the editorial director, the position that has been unfilled since Lockhart Steele and Noah Robischon. Joel starts in the new year. More details to come!

Tweeted Gawker Editor John Cook:

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Readers will ‘eventually choose the juicy truth over a heartwarming hoax,’ says Nick Denton

In an email to staffers Tuesday, Gawker Media honcho Nick Denton said it was “bad news” that BuzzFeed beat Gawker in traffic in November. Upworthy, which he describes as “even smarmier than Buzzfeed,” is “nipping at our heels,” Denton writes.

But Gawker sites had 106 million unique visitors last month, he writes, and its Kinja platform will likely even the race. While Gawker is “not completely averse to crowd-pleasing,” Denton writes, Deadspin’s Manti Teo story shows “the crowd will eventually choose the juicy truth over a heartwarming hoax.”

Full memo: Read more

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A viral stamp (Depositphotos)

Is viral content the next bubble?

The Wire | PandoDaily | The Wall Street Journal

The website Viral Nova emulates sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, and was in October “already nearly half the size of the sites that inspired it,” Alex Litel writes. Its success suggests specializing in viral content “can be reverse engineered fairly quickly by anyone with a careful eye for emulation — which is to say everyone on the Internet.”

Viral Nova publishes articles with headlines like “This Puppy Taught Me More In 1 Minute Than Anyone Else Has Done In A Lifetime” and “Yes, This Is A Boy Chained Up Like A Dog. And The Reason Why Is Even More Heartbreaking.” Read more


Gawker’s Scocca, Toronto Star’s Cruickshank talk on air

On the Media | Gawker

Gawker features editor Tom Scocca and Toronto Star Publisher John Cruickshank appeared on WNYC’s
“On The Media” to talk about the Rob Ford story and a heated e-mail back and forth between the two, which Gawker published Nov. 4.

“In retrospect, we shouldn’t have put ‘Star Exclusive’ [on the Star's report about the video, which followed Gawker's] and I apologize for that,” Cruickshank said on air, adding that Gawker breaking the Rob Ford story was “incredibly helpful.”

Cruickshank later wrote a column extolling what Scocca called “the Star’s lone heroism,” which also rankled its competitors to the south. The only development in the Ford story between Gawker’s May 16 story and the Star’s the next day was that Gawker decided to publish, Scocca said. Read more

Rob Ford

How the Toronto Star is telling the Rob Ford story

Just before 10:30 on Thursday morning, staff at the Toronto Star gathered around a large screen in the center of the newsroom and watched the story they’d told since May get told again. This time, though, it was Toronto Chief of Police Bill Blair doing the telling.

Police had recovered video files of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking a crack pipe.

“The video files depict images that are consistent with what has previously been reported,” Blair said.

Kevin Donovan, the head of the Star’s investigative team, and reporter Robyn Doolittle saw the cell phone video themselves back in May. They and many others at the Star have reported about it since, chiseling away around the edges of something they’d seen but didn’t physically have.

Ford repeatedly said there was no video. He didn’t smoke crack. The Star was out to get him.

Inside the Toronto Star Newsroom yesterday. Image by Robyn Doolittle, Toronto Star

Doolittle watched the news conference from a TV near the investigative team’s desks. She’d just that morning gotten 250 pages of court documents detailing the police department’s investigation into Toronto’s mayor. On their own, they felt explosive. Then came the news conference.

Doolittle, just 29, feels like she’s beginning her journalism career, she told Poynter in a phone call.

Still, Thursday morning will be hard to top.

The video first surfaces

On Easter morning this year, Doolittle lay in bed, awake and thinking about actually getting up, when her phone rang.

“Robyn speaking,” she answered.

“Robyn Doolittle?” the voice on the other end asked.


“Robyn Doolittle from the Star?”


“I need to meet with you.”

Doolittle moved to the city hall beat from the police beat in 2010. In the fall of 2011, she started noticing domestic incidents happening at the mayor’s home. After a month’s reporting, she wrote a story about a series of 911 calls from that location. On Tuesday, March 26, Doolittle and Donovan wrote a story detailing the mayor’s drunken behavior at the Toronto Garrison Ball, where he was asked to leave.

That Easter Sunday at noon, Doolittle met with a young man in a park in the west end of Toronto. It had been five days since the Garrison Ball story ran. The source told her about a video that showed the mayor smoking crack. If the Star wanted it, it would cost $100,000, he said. He also showed Doolittle a photo. In it, Toronto’s mayor posed with three young men. One of them had just recently been killed. The mayor poses with people all the time, Doolittle knew. But when he did, he was always in a suit. In the photo, he was in sweats. And it was night. She knew this was different.

Doolittle and Donovan prepared to meet with the same source she’d met in the park, who would take them to see the video. The Star has a policy against paying sources, but to see it, they had to enter into discussions, and they hoped they could convince the source to give it to the paper for free. The meeting was cancelled twice before it finally happened.

That day, Donovan watched video after video of Toronto’s mayor, getting as familiar with Ford’s face as possible.

Before they left, Donovan and Doolittle discussed what could possibly happen, and they agreed they wouldn’t get into a different car to be taken to another location. But, they did. And, as instructed, they left their cell phones, notebooks and bags behind.

“I think for any good journalist, the fear of failure overrides any safety concerns,” Donovan told Poynter by phone.

The car stopped in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Etobicoke, and there, in the back of the car, the two watched the video. The quality was crystal clear, Doolittle said. It was well-lit, with a white wall in the background, during the day. And there was Rob Ford, rambling and bobbing in his chair. He made racist and homophobic comments. And then he took a pull out of a glass crack pipe.

“In the video, what appears to be afternoon sunlight is streaming through partially closed window blinds, lighting Ford’s face,” Doolittle and Donovan reported on May 16. “The video ends with the ringing of a cellphone (it is not clear if it is the cellphone that is being used to video the scene). The ring tone, which is a song, startles the mayor, whose slitted eyes open a bit, and he is heard to say, ‘That phone better not be on.’”

Enter Gawker

On the evening of May 16, another person who saw the video, Gawker Editor John Cook, wrote about it:

“Rob Ford, Toronto’s conservative mayor, is a wild lunatic given to making bizarre racist pronouncements and randomly slapping refrigerator magnets on cars. One reason for this is that he smokes crack cocaine. I know this because I watched him do it, on a videotape. He was fucking hiiiiigh. It’s for sale if you’ve got six figures.”

For two hours, staff at the Star scrambled to catch up and let the public know they’d seen it, too, and they had more to tell.

Yes, they were scooped, Doolittle said. But it also got the story out there. Donovan agreed.

“Had they not done it, we could have gotten the story, but it would have been a long time,” he said.

Gawker’s report actually buttressed their own, Doolittle said. While there were those who accused the Star of going after Ford, and Ford was certainly among them, Gawker had no reason to go after him. Unless there was something there.

“It was a good day,” Doolittle said. “There are things that are much bigger than being scooped.”

The story spreads

The day after Gawker broke the story of the Ford crack video, it launched a crowdfunding campaign, called Rob Ford Crackstarter, to raise $200,000 and buy the video. And Gawker did raise that money, but when it was ready to buy, was told the video was gone. Gaker donated money raised to several organizations in Canada, including the Somali Canadian Association of Etobicoke, the neighborhood at the center of much of the story.

And they kept on reporting, telling stories about the man who owned the video, the arrest of Ford’s close friend and about learning that Gawker’s Cook was watched by Toronto police while in Toronto to see the video.

Toronto’s other major papers reported on Ford, as well.

On May 26, The Globe and Mail published a story looking at a history of drug use and drug dealing by the Ford family, including the mayor’s brother, Doug Ford, a member of city council.

The Star’s reporters kept at it, too, often staking out the mayor’s home with other media. They reported on May 27 that two of Ford’s spokesmen resigned, on May 30 that Ford knew where the video was, on June 5 about the location of the drug house where Ford was photographed, and on June 13 that police launched a raid into the same neighborhood. On Aug. 10, Ford appears drunk in a video at a Taste of Danforth event. On Sept. 25, his popularity was climbing, according to a new poll. And on Oct. 1, a man close to the mayor, who was investigated for trying to get the crack video, was arrested.

The Star, and other outlets following the story, kept at it. But that persistence is a quality the public doesn’t get, the Star’s Public Editor Kathy English said in a phone interview with Poynter.

“I don’t think the public understands that journalists try to do everything they can to get the story.”

Journalism on trial

During all this, Ford pushed back. And on his weekly Sunday radio show, he played into negative public perceptions about the media.

“No matter what you say, I found out, to the media, you’re never going to make them happy. You can give them 10 bars of gold and they’re going to want — why don’t I give 15 bars of gold? Well, you know what, folks, that’s the media that we have, unfortunately,” the Star reported him saying on May 26.

On the show, Doug Ford said “80 per cent of journalists are ‘nasty son-of-a-guns.’ Rob Ford interjected: ‘Bunch of maggots.’ After a brief pause, he added, ‘Sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.’”

Two complaints filed with the Ontario Press Council, (you can read them both here and here,) lead to the Star, and later the Globe and Mail, to appear before the council in October. The council found no fault with the standards the Star followed: “the press council wrote that the story was in the public interest, that the reporters were thorough in analyzing the video that appeared to show the mayor smoking crack and making homophobic and racial slurs, and that Ford was given adequate opportunity to respond to the allegations before the story was published,” the Star reported. The Globe and Mail’s story was also cleared.

On Thursday, English began her column with a message to people who doubted the Star: “To anyone who somehow believed the Toronto Star would ever, ever ‘make up’ its explosive story about Mayor Rob Ford and the ‘crack cocaine’ video, I am trying to resist the urge to say ‘I told you so.’ Can’t though because indeed, I did tell you so.”

Since reporting started six months ago, English has gotten many calls from people who didn’t approve of the Star’s coverage of Ford, or supported him anyway, or didn’t support him but thought the paper was taking things too far.

Since Thursday, she’s also gotten calls from people who believed in the Star’s reporting, including a message on Friday from one woman, who has been a subscriber since the 1960s.

She always believed in the Star, the woman said, because how could anyone make these things up. “It’s just not possible.”

Investigating the mayor

Go to the Star’s site now and you can catch up pretty quickly on issues facing the mayor and the circle of people around him.

The Star’s approach to coverage has been what digital editor John Ferri calls “the story so far.” They wanted readers coming to the site to see “that it was detailed, that it was comprehensive, and that it was fair and balanced,” Ferri said in a phone call.

“It’s a pretty complicated story,” he said. “There’s a lot of different players.”

The Star takes readers into the story through several different layers, including a landing page for all things Ford that shows how the story developed.

Editors at the Star set a high bar for what they’d run, Donovan said, knowing that quoting anonymous sources would cast further public doubt on what the Star knew they knew. And they knew they needed people to be on the record, as much as possible.

“So we decided we would have to really take the high road,” he said.

They went after the story bit by bit, Doolittle said.

And they used people from across the newsroom including, at some point, every member of the eight-person investigative team, Donovan said, as well as another 10 or so reporters.

Ford’s still mayor

Yes, as was reported, there’s a video. But as of Monday, Toronto still had a mayor. Ferri’s interested to see public polling on the perception of the mayor now that the police department has confirmed what the Star’s reported. Before Thursday, it looked like Ford was going to tough things out. He’s a retail politician, Ferri said, very good at coming across as the underdog, and many people identify with him.

“There will be people who will still see him as the underdog in this.”

Ford interacts with a member of the media on his property Thursday. (AP Photo/Nathan Denette)

On his Sunday radio show, Ford apologized for public drunkenness and said that he would “ride the storm out.” He also called for the public release of the video.

Meanwhile, the staff at the Star continue their work, reporting on Monday about various reactions to the whole saga and what it would take for Toronto’s mayor to actually leave. On Friday, Doolittle told Poynter that she’d heard Toronto’s mayor was digging in and not going anywhere.

She, Donovan and the Star are planning to do the same.

Reporters waiting outside for a statement from Ford. Photo by Robyn Doolittle.
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In an interview with Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Gawker Editor John Cook talked about the purported Rob Ford crack tape, which his publication tried to purchase via crowdfunding. Unable to buy the tape, the site split the money between four Canadian charities. “What do you think of media ethics?” Simon Houpt asked Cook.

I think of media ethics the same way I think of plumber ethics: I think that, as a human being, I’m bound by certain ethical precepts I try to live my life by, but I do not think as a profession that reporters and editors need to think of themselves as bound by an additional, secondary set of ethical restrictions – the way that, say, lawyers or doctors think of themselves as bound by an additional set of conditions. I think it’s more instructive to think of reporters the way people think of tradesman and women. I think it’s a trade rather than a profession – it’s certainly starting to pay more like a trade than a profession. And I think the idea of building up a superstructure of journalism ethics is part of a process of trying to exclude the hoi polloi from the process of reporting and commenting on the news.

Simon Houpt, The Globe and Mail