Gawker's Top Editors Quit Over Deleted Post

Jul 20, 2015
Originally published on July 20, 2015 1:19 pm

Gawker's two top editors are resigning over the removal of a story about the personal life of a media executive by the gossip website's management.

Tommy Craggs, Gawker Media's executive editor, and Max Read, the website's editor in chief, told staff members the story's removal last week "represented an indefensible breach of the notoriously strong firewall between Gawker's business interests and the independence of its editorial staff."

At issue is a post published July 16 about a media executive who Gawker said sought a nighttime encounter with a gay porn star. The porn star, the site reported, tried to extort the executive, who is married to a woman.

The story was widely criticized because, as some people pointed out, the media executive is a private individual not a public figure. Then on July 17, Gawker's Managing Partnership voted 4-2 to remove the post. Craggs and Heather Dietrick, Gawker's president who serves as the company's chief legal counsel, dissented.

Craggs, in his memo Monday to Gawker's editorial staff, said the vote was a "surprise to me," and that he learned of it via Gchat with Dietrick.

Read, in his memo to the managing partnership, said:

"I am able to do this job to the extent that I can believe that the people in charge are able, when faced with difficult decisions, to back up their stated commitments to transparency, fearlessness, and editorial independence. In the wake of Friday's decision and Tommy's resignation I can no longer sustain that belief. I find myself forced to resign, effective immediately."

At the time of the post's removal, Nick Denton, Gawker's founder and CEO, explained the decision this way:

"The story involves extortion, illegality and reckless behavior, sufficient justification at least in tabloid news terms. The account was true and well-reported. It concerns a senior business executive at one of the most powerful media companies on the planet.

"In the early days of the internet, that would have been enough. ... But the media environment has changed, our readers have changed, and I have changed. ... Gawker is no longer the insolent blog that began in 2003. It does important and interesting journalism about politicians, celebrities and other major public figures. ... . This story ... does not rise to the level that our flagship site should be publishing.

"The point of this story was not in my view sufficient to offset the embarrassment to the subject and his family. Accordingly, I have had the post taken down. It is the first time we have removed a significant news story for any reason other than factual error or legal settlement."

In response, Gawker's editorial staff, who recently voted to unionize, called the removal an "unprecedented breach of the firewall."

"Disagreements about editorial judgment are matters to be resolved by editorial employees," they said.

But Monday, following the resignations of Craggs and Read, Denton wrote to his staff again, saying the decision to take the post down was his alone "and the majority supported me in that decision." Here's more:

"This is the company I built. I was ashamed to have my name and Gawker's associated with a story on the private life of a closeted gay man who some felt had done nothing to warrant the attention. We believe we were within our legal right to publish, but it defied the 2015 editorial mandate to do stories that inspire pride, and made impossible the jobs of those most committed to defending such journalism."

The unwelcome attention on Gawker is not new. Most recently, the website was sued by pro-wrestler Hulk Hogan over its decision to publish a sex tape featuring him.

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