Nick Denton: Master of deception

by Mathew on October 4, 2008 · 7 comments

Maybe it just makes for a great headline. Or maybe Nick Denton’s powers of deception are so advanced, like Steve Jobs’ legendary “reality-distortion field,” that he can get people to focus on what he’s holding in one hand, and ignore what’s in the other. How else to explain why so many people focused on Gawker Media’s 19 layoffs, while downplaying the fact that Gawker is hiring 10 new staffers at the same time? (Joe Weisenthal at PaidContent was the only one to get hiring into the headline).

For the math-challenged, that’s actually 9 layoffs, not 19 — and at the end of the day, it’s not 14-per-cent reduction in staff either (yes, Peter Kafka at Silicon Alley Insider reported on the new hires, but he still had a headline about 19 layoffs). This is classic Denton. As he himself admitted in his lengthy memo — which in typical fashion he encouraged his own employees to leak — he has done this several times before: battening down the hatches for a downturn, cutting staff and/or pay levels and selling underperforming titles, moaning about a decline while making money hand over fist.

As I said the last time he did something like that, I think he is doing exactly what a smart publisher (on or offline) should do, which is to focus your energies and spending where it can do the most good, and cut back or sell the rest. A blog network is inevitably going to have some higher performers and some lower, and spending on them equally doesn’t make sense. But that’s not as catchy as big news of layoffs, and it doesn’t serve Denton’s purposes as well — since I think he also likes to talk about how gloomy things are so that his competition will cut back and/or lose their nerve.

Ashkan Karbashfrooshan of HipMojo thinks Denton just overhired and needed an excuse to cut some fat. In any case, at least Denton’s memo was a lot easier to understand than the one Jeremy Wright of b5media sent around describing the new pay structure. And meanwhile, Chez over at Deux Ex Malcontent mentions that one of those Denton let go was Jezebel writer Moe Tkacik — whom he had only recently convinced to stay rather than joining Radar magazine (which appears to be a home for former Gawker writers, including former editor Choire Sicha).

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