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Gawker Shake-Up: Denton Fires Snyder, Buys Cityfile

Gabriel Snyder out, Remy Stern in with Nick Denton empire's first acquisition

Gawker Media made a pair of notable moves on President’s Day.

Nick Denton’s bloggy empire – sometimes the target of media companies looking to buy properties — made the first acquisition of its own: Cityfile, the city guide with an enviable database of boldface names founded by Remy Stern, a former editor at Radar.

Denton wouldn’t disclose the sale price, only to say it was "significant." The Cityfile site will become a "channel" on Gawker.com similar to the way Gawker's own Valleywag and Defamer were folded into the flagship last year.

As part of the deal, Denton (right) is replacing Gabriel Snyder, Gawker’s editor, with Stern (below, left).

Snyder had served in that role for a year-and-a-half. During that time, according to Quantcast estimates, Gawker.com's traffic has roughly doubled. (Cityfile's traffic, by contrast, is relatively small, at least by Gawker standards.)

On Friday, Snyder even boasted about Gawker's record January traffic in a post on the site.

Which is perhaps one reason why he sounded blindsided by the move.

“For reasons which I'm not too clear on, but I'm sure Nick Denton will explain momentarily, I am being replaced as editor-in-chief of Gawker,” Snyder wrote in an exit memo. “Honesty is Gawker's only virtue, so it seems inappropriate to engage in the usual corporate euphemisms of ‘wanting to explore new new opportunities’ or ‘take a larger role in the company’ or ‘spend more time with my family’ (though eighteen-hour days and seven-day work weeks do take their toll on personal relationships), so I'll put this as plainly as we'd report any other masthead ouster: I am being canned.”

In an e-mail, Denton wrote the sale had been in the works for "about two months, though we'd raised the possibility more than a year ago."

I asked Denton what his expectation for an editor-in-chief is, in terms of traffic, scoops or otherwise.

"I'd like to get Gawker US uniques to 5m," Denton wrote. "And that requires a series of huge scoops. But once we're there, I'm sure we won't pause for long before the next ambition."

I also asked Denton if there's another purchase in the works. "One other we've been looking at seriously," he wrote. (It appears Denton's memo is also effectively working as a solitication notice for other sites looking to "sell out" — he said he's already received "three propositions" in the hours since it was posted on Gawker.)

Snyder was not immediately available for comment. But here is his memo, followed by Denton's:

From: Gabriel Snyder
Date: February 15, 2010 3:47:23 PM EST
Subject: Farewell

For reasons which I'm not too clear on, but I'm sure Nick Denton will explain momentarily, I am being replaced as editor-in-chief of Gawker.

Honesty is Gawker's only virtue, so it seems inappropriate to engage in the usual corporate euphemisms of "wanting to explore new new opportunities" or "take a larger role in the company" or "spend more time with my family" (though eighteen-hour days and seven-day work weeks do take their toll on personal relationships), so I'll put this as plainly as we'd report any other masthead ouster: I am being canned.

Building this website into what it is today — a big operation with 11 writers, a regular source of national news and a challenger to the mainstream media organizations that it once mocked — has been the best job of my career. Transitioning from print to online meant adopting an entirley new biorhythm. Transitioning from writer to editor has meant learning to bask in the reflected glory of the talented staff who contribute every day. I love Gawker and adore the crew that makes it happen.

You deserve all the credit; my role has been to push you to be yourselves: Alex Pareene's incisive political commentary, John Cook's dogged reporting and clear-headed analysis, Brian Moylan's ability to enunciate conversation-starting ideas, Richard Lawson's ability to produce dazzling copy at superhuman speeds, Ryan Tate's cliche-free coverage of Silicon Valley, Hamilton Nolan's workhorse ethic and humor, Doree Shafrir's gimlet-eyed appraisals of the culture and society around her. Waking up each morning to the work of Adrian Chen, Maureen O'Connor and Ravi Somaiya is a pleasure. Watching Foster Kamer dance on the stage each weekend is a joy. You, without a doubt, make up the strongest staff Gawker's ever had, and make the site the best it's ever been.

Eighteen months ago, when I first sat down with Nick to discuss taking over the Gawker helm from him, I saw a huge opportunity to build a site from its roots as an intimate discussion among Manhattan's power elite and build it into a national news brand (an aspiration that seems to come up every time there's a masthead shakeup around here).

Attaining those goals have been the biggest accomplishment of my career. As I saw it, Facebook, Twitter and smaller blogs had slowly encroached on the role Gawker once served. Among the most difficult, though most rewarding to the site, efforts was to take the site from a bankers' hours schedule to publishing 24 hours around the clock, weekends included. I believed the site could be grown beyond its traditional audience by focusing on news from the nation's four cultural capitals (New York, D.C., L.A. and San Francisco) — which became even more clear when I was given the task of integrating former standalone sites Defamer and Valleywag into the flagship. Oh, and then there have been the stories. It's become common to see national newspapers and broadcasts cite Gawker on vast array of stories: the U.S. Kabul embassy security dudes behaving badly, the Hipster Grifter saga, leading the entire media for a weekend on the Balloon Boy fiasco, those pictures of Katie Couric dancing, pillorying Harold Ford through simple questions, Annie Leibovitz's financial meltdown, the Late Night Wars, Facebook privacy, Anna Wintour … more than I can count. I was determined to compete with the biggest news sites on the internet. And today, I am glad to say it does.

But the history of Gawker Media careers shows that they tend to burn bright and fast. So it shouldn't have come as a much of a surprise when our mercurial owner told me he's hatched other plans for Gawker. He offered me a new, temporary position as an assistant managing editor of Gawker Media as a holding job, which I have declined. I can't see how I'd be in a position to succeed at the role going into it with one foot literally out the door. I'll be editing the site until Friday. After that, please stay in touch (gs@gabrielsnyder.com). And needless to say, as of now I am on the market and will be beating the media bushes for my next opportunity.

I will miss you all.

Best,

Gabriel

And Denton's:

From: Nick Denton
Date: February 15, 2010 3:48:03 PM EST
Subject: Gawker Media acquiring Cityfile

For the first few years of Gawker Media, the business press had one abiding preoccupation: when are you going to sell out? Today we're giving the M&A gossips something else to talk about. The company is making its first acquisition: Cityfile, the New York news site founded by Remy Stern. The price is not being disclosed.

Cityfile will be the New York and media industry channel on Gawker, alongside Valleywag and Defamer, our tech and entertainment sub-sites. Cityfile's 2,000-plus profiles of New York notables will be the centerpiece of our new topic and people pages. And Remy Stern, a former writer on several Gawker sites and editor at the now-legendary Radar magazine, will take over as editor-in-chief of Gawker. He starts on February 22nd.

We had hoped to persuade Gabriel Snyder to stay in a management role. But he's moving on. With help from an awesomely strong team of writers and the new Gawker.tv operation, Gabriel doubled Gawker's audience during his tenure (http://bit.ly/c6BXk8.) To anyone out there looking to build up an online property: snap him up quickly.

Does this mean Gawker is going on an acquisition spree?

Well, it's a question of scale. Each of the Gawker titles does already have more than 1m US visitors a month — making them usually the largest or second largest blog title in their category. Nevertheless the threshold of advertising success does continue to rise and we're increasingly competing online with TV and newspaper groups.

Moreover, we've long actively managed our portfolio of properties, selling Consumerist to Consumers Union last year, for instance — or closing down unsuccessful properties. To achieve critical mass in entertainment and tech, we have indeed looked at a few opportunities in the last few months. If online media is consolidating, we'd rather be a consolidator than consolidatee. And revenue growth of 22% in 2009 provides the resources. (Deal ideas? Contact Gaby Darbyshire.)

Don't get too excited, however. The successful launches of Jezebel and io9 confirmed our belief that it's usually more effective to build than buy. Lifted by the iPad launch and the late-night TV wars, our nine sites — all launched inhouse — drew a US audience of more than 14m in January. Our best editorial investment continues to be the recruitment of great writers and producers on our own sites — and the pursuit of hot stories.

Nick