Today The Digital Lab was honored to have the one and only Nick Denton, founder of online media powerhouse Gawker Media, in our Lab headquarters in New York City. During his visit, he discussed everything from the changing dynamics of journalism and the implications of the iPad to the generational divide in gossip consumption and the story behind the story of the lost next gen iPhone. Nick, who grew Gawker Media in under a decade from a single blog into an online empire featuring preeminent content destinations such as Gawker.com, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Deadspin and Kotaku, was interviewed by our very own BBDO EVP of Digital Strategy Chad Stoller in front of a packed house of BBDO executives and staffers. The result was an always compelling, often times humorous and thoroughly enlightening dialogue. Below are some of the highlights:
Breaking the story of the next gen iPhone (and the back story of the poor sob who lost it in a bar) – Nick admitted that he “couldn’t have made up a better story” than the one his Gizmodo blog broke earlier this week revealing an actual prototype of the next generation iPhone that was accidentally left behind at a bar by an Apple employee. Nick conceded that the story generated a huge jump in traffic on Gizmodo. And while the incredible back story of a hapless Apple employee leading to the premature reveal of a new phone from a company notorious for its secrecy has taken on a life of its own, he explained the reality was that most of Gizmodo’s core audience was focused on the features of the phone itself once they visited the site.
“Conversational Journalism” – Nick explained that the skills and talents of journalism honed in the traditional media world often do not translate well to the online world of blog-based journalism. That is because traditional journalists have never really had a need to be concerned about feedback from their audience. In the online world, however, where audience commentary is instantaneous, the writers on Gizmodo’s properties have to be as equally concerned with generating and engaging with the audience for their stories as well as writing the stories themselves, leading to the dynamic of “conversational journalism, “ a term coined by Nick.
Incentivizing journalists based on traffic – In line with the unique characteristics of online journalism, Nick admitted that he incentivizes his Gawker Media writers based on how much online traffic they bring to their stories. This, he explained, creates a new model of journalism where his writers also act as “hustlers” and do what is needed to promote their brands and satisfy their audiences as opposed to courting corporate PR professionals. As a result, Nick conceded that Jason Chen, the writer who broke the iPhone story through his personal connections, will have a very good month in many ways.
Generational divide in the gossip world – Nick declared that there were two worlds that made up the gossip-media following audience: the old school 60-something year old establishment “page six” crowd and the under 40-year old contingent that could care less about “page six” but instead wants to know everything about what’s relevant to their lifestyles, like the latest dating exploits of President Obama’s speechwriter Jon Favreau, for instance. Nick confirmed that Gawker.com definitely catered to the latter group.
The iPad could be a flop – Nick stirred the room with his claim that the iPad, Apple’s newest super tablet, could very well be a commercial flop. Although he admitted that the device definitely has appeal, he felt that its selection of applications fell way short of what they needed to be. He also compared the magazine publishing industry looking to the iPad as its savior as being similar to a terminally ill patient looking forward to a breakthrough treatment that simply won’t work. To top it off, he also hinted that the opening week sales for the device fell well short of what Steve Jobs had hoped for.
And those highlights were just for starters. We were all very fortunate to have Nick come down from his lofty perch on top of a $300 million plus online media empire to share his views with the Digital Lab gang today. He definitely brought the goods, inciting provocative thoughts and offering critical ideas, reaching far and wide.
Be sure to stay tuned for the exclusive video recap of Nick Denton’s Digital Lab interview, to appear right here on Digital Lab TV in the not too distant future.