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Gawker Media said Tuesday the company is moving from its funky loft space near Soho in New York City to a luxurious new office in the Flatiron district, and plans to take up the mantle of the “guardian of independent media” — now that competitors like BuzzFeed have taken investment money or partnered with existing media conglomerates. And despite its problems, founder Nick Denton says he also remains committed to the company’s troubled Kinja commenting/blogging platform.
In an IM conversation about some of the recent developments at Gawker, Denton admitted that his enthusiasm for the vision behind Kinja and its potential got the better of him in the past, and that the platform hasn’t matured as quickly as he would have liked. But it is on the right path, he said, and it will eventually become the revolutionary force he sees it as — it will just take more work.
I got ahead of myself last year, talking about Kinja — it was premature. The brutal reality is that software doesn’t get built on a media schedule. I do think it will come to pass. It’s not wrong. It will just take longer.
Media and software don’t always mix well
Denton said the development of Kinja over the past two years has taught him a lot about how difficult software design is when attempted on a large scale, and the virtues of things like “agile” development — and that many of the skills required for software development are skills that journalists and media organizations often lack.
I have had to learn about the product process, multi-disciplinary product teams, the “lean” religion. It’s a whole world unto itself. And it requires management changes too. From management, product people need clarity and patience — qualities in short supply in media companies.
When Gawker launched Kinja in 2012, Denton told me in an interview that it was the realization of a vision he had had long before he even started Gawker — of a world in which readers or audience members and writers are on a level playing field, and information flows in both directions. Kinja would short-circuit the traditional balance of power between journalist and reader, he said, and journalism (and theoretically advertising as well) would be better off as a result.
One of the key features of the platform is that anyone who posts a comment is essentially also given a Kinja blog where their comments appear — but where they can also post their own thoughts, cross-post articles from Gawker or do whatever they wish. And that gives readers the potential to become content creators or even journalists in their own right, Denton said, and earn a place alongside the salaried writers who are paid to write for Gawker’s various verticals.
Reinventing blogging is not easy
Kinja isn’t quite in Moby Dick territory yet, but the platform has been the company’s nemesis to some extent since its launch. Even as the network of blogs has grown internationally and added new revenue-generating features like e-commerce, Kinja has been erratic and balky — and Gawker being what it is, those issues have exploded into public view on more than one occasion.
Editor-in-chief Joel Johnson admitted in an all-hands meeting in June that Kinja was not where it needed to be, and described it as “sink or swim time.” More recently, the Gawker site Jezebel complained about being unable to handle the volume of abusive comments that were being posted using the platform’s untraceable “burner” accounts — designed for anonymous tipsters — and wrote a post calling out Gawker management. Johnson responded that they were right to do so and implemented a short-term fix.
Denton said that he has been humbled to some extent by the challenge of reinventing comments and blogging all at once, but he is convinced that Gawker is on the right track and that Kinja will become as disruptive as he hoped it would be when it first launched. “My only consolation,” the Gawker founder said, “is that if it’s this hard for me, it will be even harder for the others to follow.”
Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Playboy / Marius Bugge