After Gawker’s recent report about the specifics of Condé Nast CFO David Geithner’s sex life raised questions (and incited anger) about the site’s journalistic ethics, Gawker Media’s managing partnership decided — in an extremely rare move — to remove the post. Now, two of its highest-ranking editorial staffers have resigned over the decision.
Gawker has announced that Gawker.com Editor-in-Chief Max Read and Gawker Media Executive Editor Tommy Craggs are leaving the company. In parting notes to editorial staff and the executive team, they argue that pulling the piece was an egregious move. Craggs and Read accuse the site’s managing partners of pandering to an oversensitive media climate and prioritizing their fears about advertiser support over editorial independence.
Following the post’s removal Friday afternoon, Gawker founder and chief executive Nick Denton had written that, despite the fact that “the account was true and well-reported… the media environment has changed, our readers have changed, and [he has] changed.” Although some writers and editors at the website were “appalled” by the piece’s existence, according to Denton, the recently unionized editorial staff presented a united front in a post responding to its removal:
Our opinions on the post are not unanimous but we are united in objecting to editorial decisions being made by a majority of non-editorial managers. Disagreements about editorial judgment are matters to be resolved by editorial employees. We condemn the takedown in the strongest possible terms.
Craggs’ and Read’s notes reiterate this position. In his letter of resignation, written to the editorial staff and published alongside the news of his departure, Craggs begins:
I want to give you some sense of what happened within Gawker Media on Friday, and what has happened since, as a means of explaining why I have to resign as executive editor.
Craggs states that he had told Denton and assorted other high-ranking staff members that, if they ultimately decided to take down the piece — a piece whose publication he’d overseen — he’d have to resign. He says that he stood behind that piece, and that “whatever faults it might have belong to [Craggs], and all the public opprobrium being directed at Jordan Sargent, a terrific reporter, should come [his] way instead.”
Despite having sent what he calls “pleading” emails about the story, Craggs claims that he was kept ill-informed of the goings-on within the company regarding the aftermath of its publication, and regarding the imminent vote on what to do with it, and was only let in on the discussion via a “sneering email.” He writes:
That is to say, none of the partners in a company that prides itself on its frankness had the decency or intellectual wherewithal to make the case to the executive editor of Gawker Media for undermining (if not immolating) his job, forsaking Gawker’s too-often-stated, too-little-tested principles, and doing the most extreme and self-destructive thing a shop like ours could ever do. All I got at the end of the day was a workshopped email from Denton, asking me to stay on and help him unfuck the very thing he’d colluded with the partners to fuck up.
The vote, Craggs claims, ultimately happened while he was on a flight. He accuses the company of, essentially, being smothered by what he sees as a need to please advertisers through maintaining a palatable brand. This is a mistake, Craggs argues, because:
The essence of Gawker has always been what happens when we get out of those [brand] meetings and go back to writing and editing the stories you do that no one else can do. You writers are this company. You are funny. You are smart. You are vital.
Gawker has also published both Read’s memo to the managing staff and his letter to the editorial team. In the former, he reiterates much of what Craggs stated, with equal flair for drama, saying that the decision to take down the post was “an absolute surrender of Gawker’s claim to ‘radical transparency'” — and asserting that this imposition of managerial/marketing concerns on the editorial firewall turns the company’s boast of being the world’s largest independent media company into “a joke.”
Read strikes a more bittersweet note in addressing the editorial staff:
If there is a reason to stay at Gawker, it is all of you. I mean this both sentimentally and practically. Sentimentally in the sense that I cannot imagine working with a sharper, smarter, funnier, weirder, finer group of humans than the ones I have been lucky enough to inherit, hire, and poach here.
Read the full post on Gawker for much, much more detail on this developing drama.