Gawker media decision’s this afternoon to remove a ’sleazy’ post/hit job on Conde Naste CFO executive David Geithner’s bid to hire a male escort has led to questions as to what constitutes ethical reporting, the right of media agencies to pursue ‘true’ news stories along with the question at what cost to the subject matter’s right to privacy?
Themes that interestingly have been recurring for Gawker media since recently finding itself saddled with a $100m lawsuit courtesy of Florida’s Hulk Hogan after purportedly violating Hulk’s right to privacy.
Catching wind of an escort’s bid to out Geithner, Gawker decided last night to run with a story exploring the very private life of the married executive, in essence becoming the escort’s de facto henchman and blackmail collaborator in dishing out the dirt on an individual whose closest ambit of public figure (whose tribulations ought to exact interest) is the fact that their brother was the former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Repeat former.
That plus the passing fact that Geithner happens to be Conde Naste’s chief financial officer, which also raises the question if this fact ought to have warranted reader’s curiosity (or morbid curiosity) and need to know basis? After all who doesn’t enjoy reading about the inner workings of the upper echelons of (and the dregs of) society and celebrity? It’s what tabloid media was made for.
While granting anonymity to the male escort (naturally) Gawker went to press and all the magic hits and clicks came as did the all the ad revenue. Very yummy.
But then something went wrong, became inconvenient, embarrassing. Gawker’s very own readership turned on the media outlet for publishing the sleaze story.
Opined one reader: ‘Yeah, no. You immoral assclowns obviously aren’t grown up enough to make these decisions by yourselves. This should be a motherfucking apology you scumbags.’
To boot other journalists criticized Gawker’s decision to run the hit piece, whilst other Gawker insiders/editors stood by their right to dole it out with Gawker founder Nick Denton coming out with a very widely read piece as to why the piece came down after all, ‘It simply wasn’t interesting enough.’
Wrote Nick Denton: ‘It is not enough for them simply to be true. They have to reveal something meaningful. They have to be true and interesting. These texts were interesting, but not enough, in my view.’
But how does media really make money and decide what to run?
From this tabloid writer’s point of view, it’s a story had we decided to run, we would have stayed with it. But then again, independent media alike or not (and yes we are too, but small fries…) Gawker Media are in a different position to most media entities, corporate or independent.
Gawker media are the bellwether of what most media entities look for in deciding in the morning (I admit it) before we choose to write that day’s stories, so yes we pay attention to what they choose to write, as much as most tabloid writers pay attention to what the dailymail chooses to run, what trends on reddit (Conde Naste owners and gawker’s sometime enemy), perhaps the independent, the mirror and a scattering of well produced indie media outlets ( you know who you are) along with what the corporate media is running.
But truth be told we’re all looking to see what’s trending on search engines, social media and whether if we choose to go against that grain whether it will lead to traffic and hopefully the alliance of readers.
The obligations of bellwether media outlets:
Now back to being a bellwether and no longer just the irreverent cocky media outlet that is often forced to run salacious stories, maybe run images (yes I ran plenty of Jennifer Lawrence nudes until her lawyer reached out to me) leak videos, stories but now forced to act and behave in a certain ethical and responsible fashion as demanded by one’s position and gravitas in the media world.
Yes Nick, you might still be an independent media entity but you are hardly the struggling outlet that needs to go gangbusters to catch attention and hits. You are one of the bellwethers and what your editorial staff choose to write and publish will be closely observed.
The moral dilemma:
Whether it was politically incorrect to out a gay escort (as opposed to a straight escort), whether the story itself was tasteless and morally repugnant, reeked of homophobic schism, whether the story abetted some creep’s blackmail desire to out an executive, is all besides the point.
The story got run, the chips fell, a marriage is probably over, a widely respected executive humiliated and now forced to face gloom and prejudice against him. All because one big media outlet with a lot of pull chose to forget their role in the media food chain and their responsibility as publishers.
The journey of being a venerable media entity:
It’s never an easy decision to retract a story that gets one plenty of tract, attention and ad revenue. It’s never an easy decision to take down a story that is sleazy, solicitous and dodgy, it’s what defines tabloid media today (whether you literary master degree holders believe it or not).
It’s never easy and it so often depends on one’s position in the food chain, one’s fear and aspirations for the future (yes Hulk Hogan will be reading about you Nick after this one) and whether one is willing to not only be a pioneer and the vanguard of good journalism (which Gawker media so often has) but also whether they are willing to also be a leader in the dialectics of culture, fair reporting not just news reporting as well as the occasional regard for the lives of the subject matter that media agencies are very capable of shattering for nothing more than shrill purposes.