In a lengthy comment underneath Gawker Media’s unionization announcement, former Gawker Media editorial director Joel Johnson Thursday sounded off on the company, spilling business-side knowledge and critiquing founder Nick Denton.
The 16-paragraph comment came shortly after Gawker Media’s editorial employees voted to unionize and be represented by the Writers Guild of America, East. Johnson, who lost his job as editorial director in a leadership shuffle late last year, commented broadly on the company’s technical capabilities in addition to its leadership and strategy.
In his remarks, Johnson gave an estimate of the annual revenue of Gawker Media ($35 to $45 million) adding a caveat that his information about the company is somewhat dated. He also offered this assessment of Denton’s character while discussing perceived shortcomings of the company’s community platform, Kinja:
Why didn’t Kinja work? For the same reason that most attempts to grow and mature Gawker Media have never worked: For someone who trades in bravado, Nick Denton is, perversely, a coward.
As evidence for that statement, he says Denton is “fundamentally pessimistic about trusting other people” and created “a ceaseless paranoia that encourages and rewards employees who gossip to him.”
Denton has himself acknowledged that Kinja has presented challenges for the company. In a December memo to staff announcing a new direction for the company, Denton said the community platform became an “obsession” that sometimes put the cart before the horse:
We embarked on the Kinja expansion before we’d recruited the management; each major hire was reactive, each to fix a problem created by the last. Hire engineers. Now manage engineers. Oh no, we need product people. Lean, what’s that? I had to learn fast. It wasn’t quite that bad; but not that far off.
In a reply posted on Kinja, Denton responded to several of Johnson’s comments, expounding on the company’s revenue trends, the development of Kinja and his personal critique:
To be a little more granular, display advertising is pretty flat so far this year, but lead-generation and other “commerce” revenue is running 60% up, and the second half looks generally stronger, especially with the new Splash unit getting a positive response from clients. This year we are on track to generate some $160m for retail partners, though Ryan hopes for even more, of which our cut is roughly a tenth.
Software product development is incredibly difficult, as you know. Even Evan Williams’ Medium, the publishing and community platform that we have all envied, has struggled lately. 99 out of 100 tech projects fail. The jury is still out on Kinja.
On Johnson’s personal criticism:
I am sorry that things ended badly between us, and that I didn’t reach out to you earlier this year. I miss talking with you about product and political ideas. I hope, in the interests of the colleagues we both care about, that we can focus on the matters we both care about.
Note: This post has been updated to include Denton’s response.