July 31, 2017

Despite its edgy media criticism, its dishy stories and its pledge to publish journalism that “get(s) under your skin,” Splinter is not the new Gawker.

So says Editor-in-Chief Dodai Stewart, who oversaw a sweeping rebrand of the news and opinion site earlier this month that did away with Splinter’s old name, Fusion, to mixed reactions.

“Splinter is the new Splinter,” Stewart said. “… Obviously, we have some former Gawker writers, and we’re housed in Gizmodo Media Group. But I think that this thing was built and conceived in a totally different way.”

In a Q-and-A with Poynter, Stewart described the site’s rebrand as a way to make Fusion’s identity more distinct from the Univision-owned cable channel that shared its name. And she cited several stories — including one that revealed how the criminal justice system failed a Black, transgender teen — that exemplify the kind of hard-hitting journalism about underrepresented communities she aims to publish.

Below is an edited and condensed version of the conversation with Stewart.

When I was reading through your post announcing the rebrand, I picked up the Gawker ethos of afflicting the comfortable. Was that intentional? Is Splinter the new Gawker, or are you aiming for something else entirely?

Splinter is the new Splinter. Splinter is not the new Gawker. Obviously, we have some former Gawker writers, and we’re housed in Gizmodo Media Group. But I think that this thing was built and conceived in a totally different way. I’m looking forward and not back.

In Fusion’s early days, Gawker did a post that revealed the site had trouble reaching many readers. Have you guys been able to grow your audience? If so, by how much?

Obviously, yes, we’ve grown since we’ve launched. And, we’re finding great success now that we’re on Kinja. We have really, really strong video viewership.

What does Splinter think it can do in video that other people can’t? What distinguishes you guys in that area?

We understand that there are audiences for the text pieces, people who are into long reads who want the deeply reported coverage we bring. We also understand that there are audiences who like short, newspegged clips. And there are audiences who like the slow-turn video that’s deeply produced and looks really beautiful.

What we have is a really nice range. The way that we are conceiving stories has to do with being super inclusive. It says in my statement that we are about amplifying underrepresented voices, and it’s not just a line. We had deep Standing Rock coverage last year, and our video coverage of that won a Webby award. We had video reporters on the ground, reporters on the ground, an indigenous correspondent.

What prompted the rebrand in the first place?

It provides clarity between the news site and the cable network. Especially since the cable network will start producing content that comes from all over — not just related to the site formerly known as Fusion.

Splinter is the new site, and Fusion is a network, and they have an AV Club show, they have all kinds of different television shows that are not related to what Fusion was doing online as a news site.

Did you and the staff seek out this whole rebranding process?

I, as the editor in chief, wasn’t seeking it. But it’s something we talked about within the organization on and off for awhile.

What advantages does that brand clarity give to both parties — both Splinter and the network?

I just think that having your distinct color and look and logos is very solidifying. I think, also, the site has a lot of unique strengths that are our own.

You hear sometimes about how different editors, when they’re creating new publications, have other publications in mind that they’re trying to draw some inspiration from. When you were going over this rebrand, did you have any outlets or publications in mind?

Honestly, no. Because there is no other publication like this. I have never worked at a place like this where the inclusivity has been baked in from the beginning and where the entire purpose is to include underrepresented voices. I think that’s part of what’s so exciting about having the new name. It really does feel like this mission is unique to us. Our cabinet members are unlike some other publications in the sense that they’re diverse.

Did you say that instead of a masthead, you have cabinet members?

As the editor in chief, I call the other top editors my cabinet — the news editor, the managing editor, the politics editor and the features editor.

Earlier, you mentioned a D.C. operation. When did that start?

We hired Emma Roller, and we brought on Libby Watson, and we’re hopefully adding one more reporter in D.C. So that’s in the process of being built out. They’re under the guidance of Alex Pareene, who’s here in New York, but we hope that they will be doing D.C.-centric stories. We may have some D.C.-centric events. It’s a work in progress.

Can you talk about the decision to double down on politics coverage?

This has always been part of the mission. In 2016, Fusion had a huge focus on politics. We have a heavier focus on politics now, and I think it might be obvious why. We have an administration where all of a sudden every issue that we have been passionate about for the last two years is under siege. So it’s more important than ever.

I wanted to ask you about collaborations across the entire Gizmodo Media Group network. You guys have a whole bunch of sister publications that were formerly part of Gawker Media Group. Do you envision running any content from those sites on Splinter?

We should be an entry point. If you come for politics coverage and then something about outer space catches your eye, that’s wonderful. If you come for something about immigration and then something about cars catches your eye, and you end up on Jalopnik, that’s the dream.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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