Pando

Gawker, Intercepted

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on July 28, 2015

From The Future of Journalism Desk

If you listen very, very carefully you can just make it out.

A barely perceptible buzz -- like someone has taken a radio, tuned between stations, and shoved it inside a pillow. Get close enough, focus hard enough, and you can just barely hear it: The reaction amongst new media experts to Lloyd Grove’s scoop that Nick Denton has asked Pierre Omidyar to invest in Gawker.

This happens a lot with stories involving Omidyar: For older east coasters, no matter how many foreign coups he funds, how many of America’s secrets he owns, or how cosy he gets with the state department, Pierre Omidyar will always be the Pez dispenser guy. The younger crowd knows him, of course, as the Savior Of Journalism -- the crazy old hippy billionaire who hired Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, John Cook, Laura Poitras and Jay Rosen, and might be nutty enough to keep hiring journalists when no one else will.

That ended in disaster, but there’s still a self-preservation kill switch that kicks in whenever young bloggers stray too close to asking difficult questions about Omidyar. Ignorance at one end, cowardice at the other -- culminating in that same sound whenever Omidyar makes headlines: a low, stupid ssssssssssffffffssssssssss.

And so, not for the first time, it falls to me -- twenty-five hundred miles away from Fifth Avenue -- to explain what the hell is going on with Gawker and First Look.

The major bullet point: For all of Denton’s denials, Gawker and First Look were always going to end up working together. The only question was how.

For a while, I assumed Denton would just continue with his stealth acquihire of the company: Alex Pareene and John Cook have already returned to Gawker from First Look, joined by Ken Silverstein and Natasha Vargas-Cooper (the latter having quit a site that exposes government surveillance of our emails for Jezebel where she gleefully exposed the personal emails of Sony’s Amy Pascal). The big fish -- Greenwald himself -- has been well baited too: Back in January, Denton revealed that he and his husband had travelled to Brazil to have dinner with Greenwald and David Miranda. Denton also published a partial transcript of their conversation -- "A discussion on the value of the insult" in which both men agreed that Vox is terrible…

“[T]hey have fucked up so much because of the arrogant mindset of entitlement some of them have adopted about who they are and what they are doing...”  

WROTE GLENN GREENWALD.

If Denton stayed the course, Pierre would arrive in the office one morning and realize that his entire staff was now working at Gawker. Which would have been both easy and awkward, given than the two companies now share an office. (“Hey, why are you guys all sitting over there? Why is no one logged in to Asana?”)

The biggest thing preventing that outcome is Greenwald’s ego: He knows (whether it’s true or not) that he deserves a bigger audience than he has at the Intercept, but Gawker -- a sleazy gossip blog -- will be a hard sell to his fans. How to make the switch without looking like the Intercept has failed, and without telegraphing to the world that his principles are available to the highest bidder?

Recently a different scenario has started to look more likely: A financial arrangement between Omidyar and Denton in which Omidyar makes an investment in Gawker and Gawker takes over the editorial operations of the Intercept and other First Look properties. A month ago, I posted the following on Pando’s internal Slack chatroom:

Paul Carr [19:27]

I’m *telling* you, the intercept will be taken over by gawker.

Paul Carr [19:27]

especially if they lose this lawsuit

Paul Carr [19:27]

Omidyar will bail out gawker by agreeing to invest. as part of it, gawker will take over the running of the intercept

Paul Carr [19:28]

denton has already said he will have to raise money if this suit continues much longer

Paul Carr [19:28]

pierre is the perfect investor. an idealistic idiot

Paul Carr [19:28]

(or at least that’s how denton will see him)

Sarah Lacy was first to respond, pointing out that “that would be suicide socially for Pierre.”

And she was right. For the same reason Greenwald couldn’t make the leap, as recently as June, Omidyar wouldn’t have been able to face his wealthy tech friends, let alone his pals at the Department of State, if he’d got into bed with a sleaze merchant like Nick Denton.

But by God, how great would it be if he could be rid of First Look once and for all? If he could wash his hands of the whole sorry mess and never have to have another conversation about -- or with -- Glenn Fucking Greenwald. He might even be invited back to the White House! What a horrible catch-22.

And then, as we know, everything changed at Gawker. Nick Denton -- after one too many conversations with advertisers, not to mention potential investors like Pierre -- suddenly discovered that Gawker was utterly dreadful and needed to be relaunched as a kinder, gentler beast. Something he could be proud of, he says, which of course is just another way of saying “something which investors aren’t repulsed by.”

Around the same time, First Look ever so subtly began preparing readers for a merger: They joined the legal “Motion To Intervene” demanding that press be allowed to watch the Hulk Hogan sex tape in court, and Greenwald himself tweeted in support of Denton’s moves to overhaul Gawker while being ever so careful not to attack the brand itself.

What happens next -- and how it happens -- will largely depend on how the Hulk Hogan lawsuit plays out. Which is to say, how much Denton needs Pierre’s cash vs simply continuing to slowly take over his company.

Either way, an eventual merger of First Look and Gawker will be presented as another step towards the de-toxification of Gawker, allowing Greenwald to position himself as part of the solution, not the problem. It’ll clean Omidyar’s hands of his failed journalistic experiment, putting him back in the role of investor, not publisher. And it’ll give Denton an influx of cash to either cover the cost of the Hogan lawsuit (if he loses) or to cash out some Gawker stock (if he wins).

Best of all, it’ll give Manhattan-based bloggers plausible deniability when they take a job at the New Gawker. “Oh, I’d never have worked at Old Gawker but it’s really Glenn Greenwald’s thing now -- you know -- Edward Snowden and Pierre Omidyssssssssssffffffssssssssss……….

Can anyone else hear that?