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Summary:

Gawker wants to add more staff and boost its traffic so that it can try to catch up to its nemesis BuzzFeed, but its ambitious Kinja commenting and community-engagement platform is having some growing pains, according to editorial director Joel Johnson

Nick Denton
photo: Playboy / Marius Bugge

Most of the attention in the digital-media sphere may be focused on startups like Vox and FiveThirtyEight, or the allegedly billion-dollar acquisition talks involving both VICE Media and BuzzFeed, but some recent numbers out of Gawker Media show that Nick Denton’s empire is still a force to be reckoned with — and the company has some fairly ambitious plans to boost both its readership and its staff. Unfortunately for Gawker, the Kinja commenting platform that was supposed to help fuel some of that growth still needs work.

According to a video clip from an internal staff meeting in April that Capital New York got hold of, Gawker had about 60 million U.S. unique visitors a month across its various verticals — substantially more than the 47 million quoted on the site it uses to pitch advertisers — and more than 100 million global uniques.

In the video, editorial director Joel Johnson said he expected the company to boost its U.S. site traffic to 100 million by the end of the year — although he later amended that to 80 million. In order to help accomplish that goal, Johnson said Gawker plans to hire aggressively, and could end up doubling the size of its staff by the end of 2015 from the current 140 full and part-time employees (it also has 24 freelancers who are part of its recently-launched “recruits” system).

“What we’re saying now is: don’t worry about your editorial budget, find the right people and bring those people in, and we’ll make a place for them.”

Still trying to catch up to its nemesis BuzzFeed

Although Gawker’s traffic and readership continue to grow, the site has fallen well behind BuzzFeed — the site Denton has described as his nemesis, in part because BuzzFeed is relentlessly positive and Gawker is known for its love of gossip and a snarky attitude. BuzzFeed’s global traffic surpassed Gawker’s in November after it surged to 130 million, and according to a recent measurement from analytics site Quantcast, it is now up around 170 million unique visitors a month globally.

Kinja

In a memo he sent to employees in December, after BuzzFeed took the lead, Denton said he expected Gawker to catch up “once Kinja comes into its own next year.” The company has been pouring resources into its commenting and community platform since it launched, and Denton has said he sees Kinja as a crucial element of his vision — one that involves levelling the playing field between writers and readers by essentially turning every reader into a potential author. Both Denton and Johnson have said in the past that they were willing to forego a certain amount of traffic in return for boosting engagement.

In the site update he posted earlier this month, however, Johnson admitted that the platform has not been improving or evolving as quickly as the company had hoped (writer Paul Ford posted a critical review of Kinja recently — on Kinja, of course), and said that Gawker would be implementing a number of changes to try and make it more useful, and more stable:

“To be blunt, this is it for Kinja, in my opinion. Sink or swim. Our vision is good, our aim is true, but our implementation thus far has been patchy at best and just not good enough at worst. We’ve spent far too much time talking about big dreams and What Ifs —- so much so that we’ve distracted ourselves from taking the incremental steps we need to match our competition.”

As part of its expansion plans, Gawker recently hired New Inquiry co-founder and former editor-in-chief Rachel Rosenfelt to fill the newly-created position of executive producer, a job that will apparently involve recruitment and strategic direction. “It’s not a role that exists right now,” she told BuzzFeed. “They’re building a role around my talents. Part of it will be involving editorial, as well as recruiting.”

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Playboy / Marius Bugge

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