Learnings from Gawker

Nick Denton who has been on the forefront of blogging and online publishing for the past decade is shaking things up again. He’s redesigning the Gawker websites (Gizmodo, Deadspin, Gawker, Defamer, etc.) to be able to better showcase top stories, making video more prominent, and making articles easier to scan. It’s also interesting to hear what he’s learned over the years. His main point – scoops and exclusives dictate the winners. He writes in a statement he released on Gawker:

One law of media competition applies as strongly to web properties as it did to their predecessors: scoops drive audience growth. Gawker Media experienced that rule, painfully, as Harvey Levin’s TMZ eclipsed our overly bloggy Hollywood site, Defamer. TMZ’s growth was built upon three gigantic stories: Mel Gibson’s meltdown; Michael Richards’ racist outburst; and Michael Jackson’s death.

He goes on to argue that simply reposting stories that are elsewhere on the web is a broken strategy:

For that, let’s look at the biggest exclusive of all — early shots of the iPhone 4 — which made Gizmodo into a household name. That episode more than any other demonstrated the bankruptcy of the classic blog column. In order to keep video of the iPhone prototype at the top of the reverse chronological flow, Gizmodo actually stopped publishing for several hours. How ridiculous!

Another interesting move they are making is moving to more video. In the past, he explained, is that video is twice as hard to produce without twice the payoff. Also, they felt that this was the differentiated skill of TV networks/ However, it’s now changed for them as making videos are easier and they are finding that TV companies are just as entrenched in legacy formats and methods with video as they have been for text. As he says, “Gawker bloggers, once they’re as familiar with iMovie as with cut-and-paste, can beat them.”

The new site looks more like ESPN Sportscenter and PTI than a typical blog like Techcrunch.  And that’s the point.  Put the big story front and center and the rest to the side.  It remains to be seen though that whether catering to the scoop and the new non-familiar user will alienate the daily reader, which is their bread and butter.   Personally, I like the move.  Even if it doesn’t work, I admire companies that are trying new tactics and innovating.  Denton’s been right in the past and if anyone knows online publishing and readership behaviors it’s him – so I’d guess that this is the correct move.

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