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).

  • http://www.spot.us digidave

    Fact is: I think Gawker media has a high turn-over rate – I think that's Denton's secret.

    Hire new blogger – starry-eyed and eager.
    Work them to death
    Fire them – let them fend for themselves having trained them in how to do gossip.
    Hire new blogger.
    Rinse and repeat.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I think you're quite right, Dave, that does seem to be the model. And what the heck — it seems to be working too -)

  • http://www.alleyinsider.com PKafka

    Hey Mathew. We're crossing lots of streams today! Re: My headline – Nick fired 19 people. The fact that he hired 10 more doesn't change the fact that he canned 19.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    That's totally true, Peter — I'm not saying your headline was wrong. I just thought it was odd that everyone focused on the firing rather than the hiring.

  • http://www.alleyinsider.com PKafka

    But that's not odd. Nick still laid off 19 people! It'd be one thing if he was moving people from title to another – something I thought he'd be doing. But the three people at Valleywag, the tk people at Defamer, etc, etc are out of work.

  • http://carrieanddanielle.com Daniel Gibbons

    The Jeremy Wright memo is just begging for a Valleywag “100-word version” treatment. Something like: “for every post you write, we currently lose money; we've figured out that if we pay you less we might make money.”

  • http://carrieanddanielle.com Daniel Gibbons

    The Jeremy Wright memo is just begging for a Valleywag “100-word version” treatment. Something like: “for every post you write, we currently lose money; we've figured out that if we pay you less we might make money.”

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