July 27, 2015

Leah Finnegan, Gawker’s features editor, announced on Monday she is leaving the site as Gawker Media offers buyouts and realigns itself around new editorial standards.

Finnegan, who joined Gawker last year from The New York Times, reportedly got into an argument with Gawker Media founder Nick Denton during a staff meeting convened to discuss his decision to remove a controversial post that had drawn significant pushback on social media. The removal of the post, which detailed an alleged attempted dalliance between a Condé Nast executive and a male escort, prompted the company’s executive editor and the editor-in-chief of Gawker to resign in protest.

At the core of the dispute between Finnegan and Denton was whether The New York Times made editorial decisions that were motivated by business-side concerns, such as removing a writer from a beat because his or her coverage was becoming uncomfortable for advertisers.

According to Capital New York’s Peter Sterne, the conversation got heated:

This sparked a shouting match between Denton and Gawker features editor Leah Finnegan, who previously worked as a staff editor at the Times.

“It doesn’t! I know that for a fact. It does not and it never will,” Finnegan said.

“I think at some level, yes they do. I know enough New York Times people to know that,” Denton said.

“Nick, I worked there for two and a half years. They canceled ads in favor of journalism.”

“Do you know how much money we lose all the time, because of cancellations in ads? I cannot, I cannot believe that you are actually saying this!”

“Make this into an advertising company then! Say what it really is! It’s not a place for journalism!”

After Finnegan made her announcement, her colleagues and supporters began tweeting out well-wishes:

Finnegan’s announcement was preceded by that of her colleague, William Arkin. The founder of Gawker Media’s national security site, Arkin this morning marked his departure with a note offering a critique of Gawker Media’s controversial Condé Nast story.

It remains to be seen how many Gawker Media staffers will accept the company buyout. In an email to Poynter this morning, Gawker Media President Heather Dietrick said she was still conferring with staffers and waiting to hear back on their decisions. According to a memo obtained by Capital New York, the buyout package includes two months of severance past July 31 and a continuation of benefits through September.

Gawker’s JK Trotter and Rich Juzwiak have both told Poynter they do not intend to take buyouts.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Natasha Vargas-Cooper is not accepting a buyout. She is not eligible for a buyout.

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

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