Gawker Media laid off several staff members ahead of plans to rebrand the flagship Gawker.com as a politics media organization.
According to the New York Times, the company announced the changes in a memo distributed to employees on Tuesday. Gawker founder Nick Denton wrote that the website “will ride the circus of the 2016 campaign cycle, seizing the opportunity to reorient its editorial scope on political news, commentary and satire.”
“Is there any doubt,” he continued, “that the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, a contest between reality-defying fabulists and the last representatives of two exhausted political dynasties will provide rich new opportunities for sensation and satire?”
Yet whether or not Gawker employees were as excited about Denton’s political ambitions as Denton was remains to be seen — especially for those staff members who are no longer with the company.
According to The Awl, an unidentified Gawker insider said they were “finding out who got laid off by looking at the list of disabled Slack accounts. They’re doing it one by one instead of a group thing. Literally people getting DMed to come into a conf room. And then their Slack is killed.”
Then came the tweeted notifications of unemployment.
anyone know of any open podcast gigs?
— Taylor Berman (@tcberman) November 17, 2015
haha anybody hiring?
— jason (@nonlinearnotes) November 17, 2015
There is someone out there who needs a proven, dedicated weather reporter and doesn’t know it yet. Let’s talk. [email protected]
— Dennis Mersereau (@wxdam) November 17, 2015
The seven layoffs vaguely referenced by the New York Times were four full-timers at Gawker, two at Gizmodo and one at Jezebel. In addition, several subsites located at these and other Gawker offshoots using the Kinja content management system were also being shut down.
A full memo from Gawker Media Executive John Cook leaked online not long after the news broke.
As you might expect, since the summer, Lacey and I have given a lot of thought to how to begin to optimize and sharpen all the sites going forward into 2016. Today we are announcing some changes.
We’ve recently corrected a longstanding lack of permanent leadership at Gawker.com that has left the staff wondering what the future holds, and unsure of what is expected of them. While I’m grateful that, under Leah Beckmann’s leadership, Gawker continued to do important and conversation-driving work during its interregnum, I’m also relieved and excited that Alex Pareene is finally in place to start steering it in a new direction.
Pareene’s Gawker will focus intensely on politics, broadly considered, and the 2016 campaign. Never before has a political season promised to be so ripe for the kind of punishing satire and absurdist wit that Alex has perfected over his career—a spirit I saw in action up close when he was a Gawker blogger back in 2009, and also when he was a manager and editorial leader at First Look. The world sadly never got to see Racket, the satirical site Alex was cooking up over there, but Alex’s Gawker will take on some of that project’s character.
Alex will redirect the Gawker team to hump the campaign. Allie Jones and Sam Biddle will head out on the trail, Ashley Feinberg will obsessively monitor the dark and hilarious lunatic fringes on the right and left—will Hamilton Nolan will interview Bernie Sanders? Maybe! Gawker won’t just do horse-race coverage, of course—it will take a Daily Show approach to covering the ever-intensifying culture wars, documenting, satirizing, and reporting on the ways that political disputes are refracted in every aspect of our popular culture. Much of the site’s current editorial palette already fits into this scheme—Andy Cush’s reporting on the Oath Keepers in Ferguson, Keenan Trotter’s revelations about Bill O’Reilly’s domestic violence, and Allie Jones’ swift and sophisticated political jabs. Gawker’s biggest stories have always had a political component, from Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor to Roger Ailes’ paranoia and power to Josh Duggar’s rank hypocrisy. Pareene is doubling down on that tradition.
To that end, we will be redirecting resources to support Alex’s vision. Internally, Tom Scocca, while continuing his role as executive features editor, will return to Gawker in a formal way with a twice-weekly column. Pareene will also launch a weekly column himself. And we will be hiring: Today we are posting job announcements seeking a fast, hungry political reporter with a distinctive point of view and a strong voice, a senior editor to help push the staff to be smarter writers and thinkers, and a deputy editor to help Alex manage his team and run the page. If you have any good candidates, please send them his way.
The shift in focus will necessarily mean that certain kinds of stories that Gawker has trafficked in in the past will go by the wayside, and we can’t reshape the site’s focus without shifting personnel. Unfortunately, Jay Hathaway, Jason Parham, Kelly Conaboy, and Taylor Berman, all of whom have been valuable assets in previous iterations of Gawker, will be leaving.
Gawker isn’t the only site where changes are afoot. As I announced on Monday, Katie Drummond is coming on board at Gizmodo soon and will be announcing new hires soon as she gets to work sharpening its focus and extending its reach. At Jezebel, managing editor Erin Gloria Ryan is hanging up her hat after a total of more than four years helping run the site; we are losing her to Vocativ. Jia Tolentino, whose sharp eye as a writer and editor have enlivened the site, will step up to become Emma’s deputy editor, and Kate Dries will become managing editor; Natasha Vargas-Cooper will be leaving the site as well.
More generally, we have taken a hard look across the whole network at our strategy with subsites. In many ways, we let 1,000 flowers bloom, a strategy that resulted in some successes, like Adequate Man, but also bred confusion among the readers and a thicket of different editorial rabbit holes. To correct that, we made some hard choices: Today we are folding Gawker’s The Vane, Jezebel’s Millihelen and Kitchenette, Lifehacker’s Workshop and AfterHours, Jalopnik’s Flight Club, and Gizmodo’s Indefinitely Wild and Throb. Pursuant to Gawker’s new focus, Defamer, Morning After, and Valleywag will be permanently shuttered, clearing the path for Jezebel to become the primary voice for celebrity and pop culture coverage in the network.
At the same time, we are investing in the subsites that work and trying new things: Deadspin is getting two new staff writer positions for Adequate Man, and Jezebel will be hiring an editor to launch a new health, beauty, and self-care subsite. We’ll continue to evaluate which subsites are working, and which aren’t, and you can expect us to be more discriminating about them in the future.
Finally, I’ve said to a few of you before that one of the consequences of our status as an independent company is that every dollar we spend is a dollar we made. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all felt some measure of looseness with budgets over the past year as we rapidly expanded and moved into our new space. The fact of that matter is that we need to tighten up, and make sure that we’re strategic and focused in how we deploy our resources. The site leads will have detailed 2016 T&E and freelance budgets soon, which they will largely be free to spend autonomously—but which won’t be replenished if they spend it too quickly.
I started at this company in 2009 to write stories. I certainly never planned on being in a role where I was responsible for letting go of valued, longtime staff members. It sucks. But as Nick will mention in a memo today, for the first time in my six or so years at Gawker, the company is finally acknowledging what I think most of us in editorial have always known: That we are a media company. We thrive through stories–honest, conversational, hopefully brave stories. We build audiences around them, and communities through them, and generate enough revenue from the credibility we have with those audiences to go out and tell more stories. That has been a radical idea during much of my tenure here, but as of today, we are orienting the company’s mission around it. And if we are to rise to the challenge, we must ensure that all of the sites are laser-focused, loaded for bear, and optimally staffed to do the job. The steps we are taking today are in service of making sure that we live up to the role that we have, at long last, earned as the centerpiece of this company’s strategy for the future.
We will have an all-hands edit meeting tomorrow at 11:30 to talk this through.
In his own memo, Denton concluded that “in today’s crowded and confusing digital media world, you should focus on your strengths and have a clear message for your audience.” Only time (or at least the remainder of the 2016 election cycle) will tell Gawker readers whether or not the website’s strength is politics.
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