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Postcards and laundromat visits: The Texas Tribune audience team experiments with IRL distribution
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Jan. 12, 2015, 2:02 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   January 12, 2015

gawker_mediaEven though it’s very nearly a senior citizen in online news terms, you have to admire Gawker’s willingness to regularly rethink fundamental aspects of its structure. Significant redesigns and rethinkings come once a year or so, and they’re a good window into how some smart people are thinking about the state of online publishing at any given moment.

Today’s moves, announced by editor Max Read:

Starting today, is going to slow down. Don’t worry—as an editorial operation, we’ll still be producing as much writing as we did before (probably even more). We’re just going to put less of it on the front page.

Instead of publishing the majority of our stories directly to the front page, we’ll be publishing them on to a set of subject-focused sub-blogs (a.k.a. “verticals,” or, cutely, “diagonals”—I personally prefer to just borrow newspaper terminology wholesale and call them “sections”). Some of them—Valleywag, Defamer, Morning After—already exist. Others—focused on media, news, and politics—we’ve created.

The front page will update less frequently than it did before, and it will feel a bit more like the front page of a newspaper, with the best, most important, and most representative work from across the sections. At best that will mean exclusive stories, original reporting, strong arguments, funny jokes, breakout posts, and breaking news: The best and most popular of what Gawker is producing at any given moment.

One reason for the move: It’ll let big blowout stories live prominently on the front page for longer periods of time:

For those of you who visit directly but infrequently, the change should be a good thing. Instead of our former posting schedule pushing articles down the page faster than anyone could keep up, the stories we’re proudest of and happiest with will get their time to shine.

(Longtime Gawker watchers may remember how a previous redesign was intended to deal with the same problem. Here’s Felix Salmon in 2010: “The homepage story can sit there for as long as the editors want; new posts appear on the right-hand side, in a “latest headlines” box. Never again will Gizmodo have to simply stop publishing new blog entries, as it did when it broke the iPhone story, just to keep its biggest story at the top of the home page’s reverse-chronological flow.” But the fix then only let you pin individual stories at the top of the homepage — it didn’t stop the flow of additional pieces being posted just below them.)

This feels of a piece with Nick Denton’s recent declaration that the Battle for Traffic Mountain has been lost, to BuzzFeed et al., and that Gawker needed to start playing a different game:

Gawker Media was one of the pioneers of traffic measurement, putting dynamic pageview and audience data on the pages themselves. We were the first company, I believe, to pay substantial bonuses to writers who were individually or collectively drawing more audience. And we have reached the limit of that approach.

Stories that generate attention will be noted and rewarded, but only those that Tommy Craggs and his colleagues deem worthy of that attention. A layer of subjective editorial judgment will return. Newspaper traditionalists will no doubt see this as vindication.

Newspaper traditionalists will still have to squint a little to see much they like at Gawker — a good thing — but Gawker’s shift is another step in the reshaping of front pages. I think back to Atlantic Media’s Bob Cohn and his piece in 2012 on what homepages are good for:

The homepage is the single best way for editors to convey the sensibilities and values of their websites. Everything about the page — the design; the selection of stories and images; the treatment of features and widgets; the language and cadence of the headlines; the typeface; the frequency with which the page is updated; even the ads — is a statement about what matters to the publication…For these reasons, the homepage is, as the marketing team would put it, the ultimate brand statement…There’s one thing, though, that the homepage is not much good for: driving traffic.

More details on the move here, on one of the 491 Kinja blogs dedicated to Gawker inhouse chatter:

I’m even more excited about the possible effects this kind of sectioning-out could have on writers, who would no longer be limited by the constrictions of the front page and its wide audience. “Is this worth a front-page post?” is a damaging question to the freedom that leads to our best moments, and smaller sub-blogs give writers the opportunity to experiment and push.

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