So, like everyone else, I’ve had a huge bowl of popcorn in my lap the last couple of days as Gawker Media lit a match and decided to self-immolate. And I’ve been reading as everyone gleefully rips apart the editorial staff, which have sunk to sophomoric levels of whining I didn’t previously think possible. However, I have to admit: I kinda stand with the staff. I expect I’ll get a lot of shit for it, but here’s a comment I wrote on another Clashtalk post. Quoted below for ease of access.
“Does she not realize that their paychecks come from revenue?”
Her paychecks come from revenue, but the media has a long history of not letting editorial be bullied or controlled by the advertising/sales/marketing department.
Advertising is a necessary evil of a free press, but good editorial departments strive to maintain independence and autonomy even though advertising is annoyingly necessary.
Is Gawker Media’s editorial staff taking this martyrdom too far? Yes. Mostly because none (or few) of them have actually worked in a dead-trees newsroom or have hard news journalistic experience. But is their argument — and their horror — about an editorial decision being superseded by marketing a valid one? Most definitely yes.
Content of the story in question notwithstanding, Denton’s decision to yank the piece is amazingly appalling, and it sets a dangerous precedent.
I’m a journalist. I think Jordan Sargent’s story was a piece of shit that never should have made it out of a budget meeting. It violated so many basic journalistic prerequisites: it wasn’t newsworthy (an editor with a good news sense would have known that), it only had one source (who is extremely questionable), and the reporter made too many concessions to that source (yes, protecting sources is a thing, and a valid one, but come on, this was not that). However, as shitty as this story was from concept to execution, once it was up, it should not have been taken down.
We make mistakes. Sometimes our mistakes require a brief correction on an inside page of a newspaper, or at the bottom of the page in an online story. Sometimes they require (as this one did, and should have gotten) some major crow-eating, of the level of people being fired and apologies being issued. One thing journalists never do is attempt to erase their mistakes. If our job is to serve as the voice of the public and to hold people, corporations, governments, public figures, etc. accountable, then we are equally, if not more so, obligated to be held accountable, as well. Part of that means our mistakes live, and remain in the public, with a correction and an acknowledgement. But they don’t get erased, because our job is not to erase history, it’s to preserve it, even the fuck ups.
And besides, what has that erasure accomplished? Exactly nothing. Sargent’s story has already been archived; one can readily see the original post just by googling it. The main plot points of it are available in every rehashing of the story and subsequent events that have been disseminated by dozens of media outlets since.
Erasing the story hasn’t made it go away. Erasing the story hasn’t undone the damage done to Geithner’s family. Erasing the story hasn’t changed any consequences other than damaging Gawker Media’s credibility. Now while some people may argue that GM had little credibility to begin with, it still had some. And this action, like it or not, could have repercussions with more legitimate media outlets in the future.
One last thing — and this point is even harder to make or defend in light of how utterly sycophantic Gawker Media’s editorial staff is being, but, here goes. It is not the responsibility of the editorial staff at large to apologize for the content of that clusterfuck of a post. Do you apologize when your coworker or boss makes a mistake?