It's clear that Gawker Media founder Nick Denton is every bit as shrewd as advertised.
It doesn't really matter just how much Denton received in the sale of his website mini-mall to The New York Times Co.-the rumored figure is $32 million with incentives and perks galore, although those terms are bound to be debated until a pissed-off Times reporter leaks the number to The New York Observer, the paper that broke the story-but that he out-foxed the shrinking Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in the deal. As popular blogs merge with traditional media outlets, Denton was smart to catch Times publisher Sulzberger in a black cloud of desperation, the former best bud of Judith Miller fearful that younger "ordinary" readers are increasingly defying their elders and abandoning the print edition of the Times.
That Denton didn't flinch when Sulzberger insisted that his own team operate Gawker Media proved that he's a born entrepreneur-something that Sulzberger (and people say that the third generation of Kennedy males waded in the shallow gene pool) wouldn't know much about-and though I don't know the man, here's hoping that he makes another bundle with his upcoming project in India. It's hard to imagine that Denton has a shortage of ego, but unlike other Internet personalities/businessmen, he found it easy to wave goodbye to his creation.
Compare that to Andrew Sullivan's recent announcement that come January his blog will be under the rubric of Time magazine, a marriage that's bound to end badly given the prickly and fickle Sullivan's inability to hew to any discernible week-to-week train of thought. My bet is that the nuptials are annulled by July; unfortunately, I couldn't find anyone to take some action on that wager, even for a lousy ten bucks.
Certainly there are benefits accruing to the Times online site-although I doubt 32 million of them-since Denton's Wonkette site shares the same Deaniac political views of Sulzberger, Gail Collins and Frank Rich, and Ana Marie Cox's shtick of before-noon cocktails and advocacy of abundant anal sex as a cover to write everyone's-gone-to-the-moon invective about Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld will cause titters at the Times headquarters every weekday. (How long Cox remains as Wonkette's top poodle is a good question, since it wouldn't appear that she's apt to cotton to the Times' insistence that blogging continue on weekends.) With Wonkette, Gawker and Defamer able to write what Times editorialists and reporters aren't yet allowed to, the farm team should be very popular at the parent company's cafeteria.
I'll continue to gag at the political commentary, but the probability that Deadspin's Will Leitch will graduate to the Times' sports pages as a columnist, replacing, one hopes, either Murray Chass or Selena Roberts is a pleasing one indeed.
Too bad the Observer's Tom Scocca won't be invited to the party. The weekly's lead media critic, recently described in Gawker as an "albino" (hey, as far as Jessica Coen's concerned, we're all Venezuelans now), wrote a blistering critique of Sulzberger last week that probably didn't sit well with the rock-climbing, country club Democrat.
Scocca bludgeoned the putative Times boss in the form of a "personal note," which opened, "Who are you kidding? This is a real question, I'm afraid. It's what people want to know: the people downstairs from you and the people outside-the rest of the press, the public, the readers. You do care what the readers think, or at least you said you do, with finger-wagging sincerity, on Nov. 10 on Charlie Rose."
[Scocca and I don't know each other well, but I enjoy his company at baseball games, where we put aside politics-he's a Sulzberger liberal-and talk about the media, his awful Orioles and mutual friends.]
Anyway, he continued: "The New York Times is not as trusted and respected as it was a year ago-or even seven weeks ago. Morale is not, as you told Charlie Rose, 'doing just great.' The thing is, it's hard to tell whether you believe what you're saying, or just want us to believe it. It's hard to decide which would be worse. You are the publisher of The New York Times. Your stock price is on the skids. Your newsroom is having its second meltdown in three years. Your great First Amendment showdown ended in a crushing legal defeat for the profession and a public-relations debacle for The Times."
One more snippet from Scocca's devastating and dead-on article: "[Y]ou didn't get your job because you were clever. You got it because you were born into the right family at the right time. Sorry for being so blunt about it. But to honestly accept that fact is a big part of doing your current job. You've still got a chance to avoid going down as the worst Times publisher since George F. Spinney got out 109 years ago."
Now, that's one wicked brushback pitch. Spinney, of course, was the publisher reigning at the Times just before Sulzberger Jr.'s great-grandfather Adolph Ochs bought the paper and re-jiggered it as a vehicle that delivered "All the news that's fit to print." We'll ignore Times columnist Arthur Krock's lapdog association with Joseph Kennedy, James Reston holding back stories at President Kennedy's request, Walter Duranty, the Times' denial of the Holocaust during World War II and the paper's insistence that certain reporters and editors fiddle with their bylines to disguise their Jewish heritage and concede that Ochs and his some of his predecessors did build a notable institution. I've mentioned it before, but post-boomer readers (those who actually glance at the Times instead of Gawker) would be shocked to know that the daily endorsed Republican Kenneth Keating over Bobby Kennedy during the U.S. Senate campaign of 1964.
Here's my own memo to Sulzberger: It's not easy to lose the support of a faithful Democrat like Scocca, a talented and smart young man who probably grew up believing that the Times was a sacred institution, ignoring the rampant hypocrisy of its wealthy owners' positions on estate taxes and public education. It's as if Gov. Mitt Romney abandoned the Republican party because of irreconcilable differences with George Bush.
But who knows: Maybe Sulzberger's courting of Nick Denton these past months, skeet shooting in the country and bantering good-naturedly about Tony Blair while hammering out a deal is a step towards restoring his reputation among the peers and family members he reports to. n
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