Gawker's Nick Denton promises 'second act' for gossip site

Gawker CEO: Unhappy employees can take buyout
Gawker CEO: Unhappy employees can take buyout

Nick Denton says "Gawker's growing up."

The founder and self-described "guardian of the editorial ethos" of Gawker sought to turn the page after it published a controversial article that led to the most embarrassing 10-day period in the site's history.

"The company is no longer the fly-by-night blog shop that it was," Denton said on CNN's "Reliable Sources."

Denton sent a memo to staffers on Sunday that said it's time for the "beginning of Gawker's second act."

He is offering buyouts to those who, in his words, "don't like the future direction of the company." Denton predicted that most staffers would stay, but said he doesn't know for sure.

Related: Gawker loses two top editors over deleted article

Last week, executive editor Tommy Craggs and another top editor resigned amid a revolt at the company -- triggered by a story that Gawker published on July 16 and deleted the next day.

The story recounted how a married media executive, the brother of a former Obama administration official, allegedly arranged to meet a gay escort. The escort apparently leaked their correspondence to Gawker.

Denton knew the story was in the works but did not read it ahead of time. He ordered it to be taken down, despite objections from Craggs and other editors, and he now says he feels "ashamed" that it was ever published.

"Anybody with any kind of humanity could see that this was not a story that was worth doing," Denton said on CNN.

Craggs did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday afternoon. Earlier, Craggs declined an interview request by saying, tongue presumably in cheek, "Wouldn't want to interrupt Nick's victory lap."

For his part, Denton is trying to change the Gawker narrative, moving past the meltdown and toward a kinder tone for his flagship website, known for its snarky, no-holds-barred attitude.

No longer must a story just be "true and interesting" to warrant publication by Gawker. Denton said it must now pass an ethical balancing test, and "interest should be worth the hurt inflicted."

While Denton's recalibration has seemed sudden to some, he appears to have been thinking about adjustments to Gawker's tone for some time.

In January, when a Gawker writer mocked the name of Zoe Saldana's newborn baby with the headline "Zoe Saldana Gives Birth to Hipster Scum," Denton weighed in via the site's comments, arguing that the post was too mean.

Denton has always encouraged a uniquely transparent environment at Gawker, and he said that will continue with a "dialogue about the editorial code" starting in August.

Gawker Media started with a single blog, but it now has upwards of 300 employees, more than 100 of whom are writers and editors on sites like Jezebel, Deadspin and Gizmodo.

On Monday, employees will move from a downtown Manhattan loft space into new headquarters along Fifth Avenue, conveniently symbolizing the company's maturation.

Last week, a day after the twin resignations, things turned downright chaotic when Denton and the company's other leaders met with Gawker's remaining editors and writers; some staffers yelled and accused the bosses of lying.

Denton seemed to respond in Sunday's memo: "In this new era, civility will prevail in internal discussions. The yelling is over."

He also said that he and Gawker Media president Heather Dietrick hope to name "interim editorial management" in the coming week.

Gawker posted about $6 million in profit last year thanks to advertising sales and other business ventures.

While no doubt some of Gawker's advertisers shuddered at the sight of the media executive story, Denton said on CNN that "we have never, and we will never, take down a story because of an advertiser's pressure."

Denton's moves have the whole digital media world talking. After the memo was published on Sunday, journalism professor and entrepreneur Jeff Jarvis summed it up in a four-word tweet: "Gawker seeks its soul."

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