On That Gawker Story

Gawker took hits from seemingly all corners of the Internet for publishing text messages purportedly exchanged between a male escort and a Conde Nast executive.

I see there’s a new implosion over at Gawker over the fallout from the media exec/gay porn star piece that ran, ignited a massive controversy and was later withdrawn by the site. As you know, two top editors have resigned, with a nice meal in their bellies. And from what I can tell the entire operation is in an uproar now with the editorial staff at war with management over the decision to pull the piece.

Fights with reporters and publishers over editorial decisions is something embedded deep in the DNA of modern journalism. But here is the part I truly do not understand. Whatever the process that was at work, I am bewildered that apparently the entire editorial staff thinks this was a legitimate story and that it was a mistake to withdraw it.

I cannot understand that.

There is a legitimate debate over whether the private indiscretions of public figures, which don’t involve illegality or directly touch on their public duties or work, are legitimate subjects of press scrutiny. But to take a person who by any definition is a private person (a fact that is not changed by professional achievement or a famous brother) and expose an apparently closeted sexual orientation and (unconsummated) infidelity, how do you justify that?

One of the initial statements about the story said something to the effect that the damage to the subject and his family outweighed the news value of the piece.

But what news value?

This is half a rhetorical question but more than half not. This part is bewildering to me. I genuinely do not grasp what even the notional news value or relevance of this article was. And that doesn’t even get into the fact that the publication of the piece, I think, made the publication morally, though not legally, complicit in blackmail.

So yeah, I totally get the concerns on process. Business people shouldn’t have a say on pulling a piece. Ever. On a decision this big it comes down to the editors and the owner and/or publisher (often the same person). But what seems to me to be the totally open and shut error of publishing the piece in the first place and the correctness of pulling it (though lot of good it does after the fact, in this case) makes it very hard for me to see that as the big deal here.

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