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Gawker Media was founded in 2002 by Denton, a Financial Times veteran, with the gadget blog Gizmodo. The company’s flagship blog, Gawker, was founded later that year as a New York media and gossip blog. The company quickly expanded into a network of subject-specific blogs, including the sports blog Deadspin, the gaming blog Kotaku, and the science fiction blog io9.
Gawker Media’s largest sites were Gizmodo and Lifehacker, with an estimated monthly global reach of over 6 million each as of May 2011, according to Quantcast. Gawker drew about 105 million unique monthly visitors across its network as of 2014. Jezebel and Kotaku receive the most comments. Gawker had about 120 full-time staffers across its blogs in 2014, with plans to expand to 150 by the end of the year.
Gawker Media is one of the most popular blog networks on the web and has been estimated as the most valuable. Gawker’s advertising revenue and audience consistently grew for several years beginning in 2007 after remaining stagnant for about two years. In 2010, its focus shifted from pageviews to unique visitors in an effort to emphasize new readers and original reporting. In 2013, Gawker expected to bring in about 10% of its revenue from e-commerce, through links in articles to items to purchase.
Gawker has launched local versions of its sites in Brazil, Hungary, and the United Kingdom, with plans to expand into India and China as well.
Gawker sites have been instrumental in defining writing for the web, orienting it toward profit, opinion, and celebrity. Gawker articles are often short, snarky, and focused on exposing hypocrisy or upending conventional wisdom, a formula that has become “the de facto voice of blogs today.”
During its early years, Gawker largely covered New York-oriented media gossip with the tone of an irreverent upstart, though in the mid-2000s it shifted toward a mass-appeal focus and included more celebrity photos, videos, and stories. Gawker Media has been mentioned as a modern-day successor to yellow journalism, and it has eschewed many traditional journalistic values.
Its bloggers have at various times had traffic-based financial incentives — something that has earned it criticism — and it has been willing to pay for exclusives. Denton has said Gawker’s blogs “may inadvertently commit journalism,” but it’s “not the institutional intention.”
Despite these statements, Gawker sites have broken a number of national stories, ranging from hacked Sarah Palin emails to an exclusive breakdown of an allegedly lost iPhone 4 prototype, which later lead to a Gawker editor’s computers being seized. In February 2011, a Gawker story led within hours to the resignation of New York Congressman Chris Lee.
Comments have been an important part of Gawker’s model, one that has been closely watched by media observers. In 2009, Gawker implemented a tiered commenting system that gave privilege to trusted commenters over new ones. After an initial dip, the shift led to an increase in the quality and quantity of comments. Gawker scrapped that model in 2012, replacing it with an algorithmic model for determining featured comments. Gawker also introduced a system that encouraged readers to send tips to the site and track others’ tips. It has devoted a unit within its sales department to developing the comments section as a marketing and branding platform.
In 2013, its Jalopnik blog debuted a new commenting and posting platform called Kinja, which allows more openness to reader content. Kinja was expanded to allow users to write their own headlines and introductions to stories, and to organize and filter comments. While Denton touts Kinja’s potential, some Gawker staffers have been skeptical of its practical utility.
The redesign was met with decidedly negative reviews, with some observers’ praise for the theoretical shift up against pans from many of the site’s readers. Denton himself eventually admitted the initial rollout of the redesign was deeply flawed, and a number of fixes and tweaks were rolled out in the following weeks. Numbers from Quantcast indicate Gawker Media’s readership has declined significantly since the redesign, although Denton has said estimates of the decline have been too large. April 2011 traffic numbers from comScore indicated that Gawker’s traffic had recovered somewhat since the redesign.
The San Francisco Chronicle is a daily newspaper owned by Hearst Corp. The Chronicle was founded in 1865 by the de Young family, which owned it until 2000, when it was bought for $660 million by Hearst, which owned the San Francisco Examiner and had run a joint operating agency between the two papers since 1965. Hearst…