In the wake of overwhelming criticism on social media, Nick Denton, the founder and chief executive of Gawker, has removed a controversial article that outed an executive who was allegedly being extorted by a male escort and gay porn star.
On Friday afternoon, Denton published a blog post titled "Taking a post down," where the Gawker founder expressed "regret" in publishing the story in question, stressing that although "the account was true and well-reported" ... "the media environment has changed, our readers have changed, and I have changed."
"Not only is criticism of yesterday’s piece from readers intense, but much of what they’ve said has resonated," Denton continued. "Some of our own writers, proud to work at one of the only independent media companies, are equally appalled."
The now-removed Gawker story claimed that a magazine executive, who The Advocate has chosen not to name, tried to hire a gay porn star for sex at a cost of $2,500. The story contained screenshots of text messages and photos that allegedly identify the man, who is married to a woman and has children.
Jordan Sargent, the Gawker writer, reached out to the executive in question, who answered by calling the threat of publishing the story "a shakedown." Gawker published the story anyway, and gave anonymity to the porn star.
Denton explained that the Gawker newsroom was more divided than usual over the decision to publish this story, and it was a "close call." His post goes on to make clear that it was a "close call" that he regrets.
He also notes that this is the first news story the site has removed of its own volition, rather than as a result of a legal settlement or factual inaccuracies. "The point of this story was not in my view sufficient to offset the embarrassment to the subject and his family," Denton wrote.
The post has officially been removed, and the headline replaced with text indicating as much. The text in the body now reads: "This post has been removed. This post by Gawker CEO Nick Denton has more details."
Pointing to the site's founding ethos of "We put truths on the Internet," Denton claims that this is a story the blog would have pursued as far back as 2003. But in today's rapidly shifting media environment, "I can’t defend yesterday’s story as I can our coverage of Bill O’Reilly, Hillary Clinton or Hulk Hogan," Denton concedes. "This story about the former [Obama administration official's] brother does not rise to the level that our flagship site should be publishing."
Indeed, Denton addressed the many critics who, in the wake of the story's publication, argued that its subject was not a newsworthy public figure. Future stories on the site will need to meet a new standard, Denton explains: "It is not enough for them simply to be true. They have to reveal something meaningful. They have to be true and interesting."
Denton's statement does pledge that Gawker will continue pursuing the type of stories that their competitiors are "too timid" to chase. He continues:
"Every story is a judgment call. As we go forward, we will hew to our mission of reporting and publishing important stories that our competitors are too timid, or self-consciously upright, to pursue. There will always be stories that critics attack as inappropriate or unjustified; and we will no doubt again offend the sensibilities of some industries or interest groups."
While he acknowledges that Gawker cannot turn back the clock and undo the embarassment to the executive, Denton claims that this experience will help set a precedent for Gawker Media, in its future handling of sensitive stories. It will, Denton writes, "establish a clear standard" moving forward.