Gawker Executive Editor and Editor-in-Chief Both Resign After Gay Porn Story Fiasco

“All I got at the end of the day was a workshopped email from Denton, asking me to stay on and help him unf–k the very thing he’d colluded with the partners to f–k up,” Tommy Craggs writes to staff

Gawker’s executive editor Tommy Craggs and editor-in-chief Max Read resigned Monday after the site took down a controversial story about a Condé Nast executive’s intended weekend romp with a gay porn star.

In memos sent to staff and management, Craggs and Read said an unprecedented breach of the firewall between Gawker’s business and editorial side had occurred, and they could no longer operate at the company.

“On Friday a post was deleted from Gawker over the strenuous objections of Tommy and myself, as well as the entire staff of executive editors,” Read wrote in a memo to Gawker’s partnership group. “That this post was deleted at all is an absolute surrender of Gawker’s claim to ‘radical transparency'; that non-editorial business executives were given a vote in the decision to remove it is an unacceptable and unprecedented breach of the editorial firewall, and turns Gawker’s claim to be the world’s largest independent media company into, essentially, a joke.”

In a separate memo to staff, Craggs noted his shock that there was even a vote on whether to take down a story about a Condé Nast executive’s risqué communications with a gay porn star.

“That there would even be a vote on this was a surprise to me,” he wrote. “Until Friday, the partnership had operated according to a loose consensus,” Read wrote in a memo to staff (full memo below).

“Nothing had ever come to a formal vote,” he added, and then referenced an earlier conflict involving advertising president Andrew Gorenstein and longtime Valleywag blog writer Sam Biddle over last year’s “gamergate” controversy, when a sarcastic pro-bullying tweet by Biddle sparked a backlash that led to a viral campaign against Gawker advertisers. “The only time anyone had even hinted that the partners might intrude on a departmental prerogative was when Andrew Gorenstein wondered openly in a partnership meeting why Sam Biddle hadn’t been fired.”

Craggs also discussed his conversation with site founder Nick Denton, who’s long been considered one of digital media’s original renegades.

“All I got at the end of the day was a workshopped email from Denton, asking me to stay on and help him unfuck the very thing he’d colluded with the partners to fuck up,” he wrote.

Craggs also shared a group text message thread he and the managing partners of Gawker Media held Sunday, where he accused them of selling out the site’s writers: “By the way, Andrew, Keenan [Trotter] is a male. You all should get to know the writers you just sold out.”

According to Craggs, Gawker COO Scott Kidder responded by suggesting that Denton had the final call: “My vote was supporting Nick is making a tough call as Founder and Editorial Ethos of the Company. It wouldn’t cross my mind to autonomously suggest taking down a post — in fact, I can’t remember a situation where any Partner has — this was Nick’s suggestion and call.”

Erin Pettigrew, Chief Strategy Officer, echoed his statement: “As Scott clarified and Nick is expected to — Nick made the recommendation and the decision to take down the post. He is the final standard bearer of editorial-decision making in the organization. When I heard he felt this was an important decision for him to make for the company’s future, I lent him support.”

The controversial story, posted Thursday night, unleashed a strong backlash on social media, particularly among other journalists. Most critics found it an exploitative and salacious gossip piece about the private life of the Conde Nast executive with zero news value.

There’s no word on who will replace Craggs or Read.

Craggs’ memo follows:

I want to give you some sense of what happened within Gawker Media on Friday, and what has happened since, as a means of explaining why I have to resign as executive editor.

On Friday, I told my fellow managing partners–Nick Denton, founder and CEO; Heather Dietrick, president; Andrew Gorenstein, president of advertising and partnerships; Scott Kidder, chief operating officer; and Erin Pettigrew, chief strategy officer–I would have to resign if they voted to remove a story I’d edited and approved. The article, about the Condé Nast CFO’s futile effort to secure a remote assignation with a pricey escort, had become radioactive. Advertisers such as Discover and BFGoodrich were either putting holds on their campaigns or pulling out entirely.

(This isn’t the place to debate the merits of that story, other than to say that I stand by the post. Whatever faults it might have belong to me, and all the public opprobrium being directed at Jordan Sargent, a terrific reporter, should come my way instead.)

That there would even be a vote on this was a surprise to me. Until Friday, the partnership had operated according to a loose consensus. Nothing had ever come to a formal vote, and the only time anyone had even hinted that the partners might intrude on a departmental prerogative was when Andrew Gorenstein wondered openly in a partnership meeting why Sam Biddle hadn’t been fired.

I’d learned of the vote via gchat with Heather Dietrick, who throughout the day was my only conduit to the partners, Nick Denton included. The only reply to my pleading emails about yanking the story was a sneering note from Gorenstein. That is to say, none of the partners in a company that prides itself on its frankness had the decency or intellectual wherewithal to make the case to the executive editor of Gawker Media for undermining (if not immolating) his job, forsaking Gawker’s too-often-stated, too-little-tested principles, and doing the most extreme and self-destructive thing a shop like ours could ever do.

All I got at the end of the day was a workshopped email from Denton, asking me to stay on and help him unfuck the very thing he’d colluded with the partners to fuck up.

No one told me the vote was actually happening, by the way. It just … happened, while I was on a plane to California. No one in editorial was informed that Nick had reached what he now calls the point of last resort; no one had explained what other resorts had been tried and had failed in the less than 24 hours between publication and takedown. The final count was 4-2 (with Heather’s nay joining mine, despite initial reports otherwise), and the message was immediately broadcast to the company and to its readers that the responsibility Nick had vested in the executive editor is in fact meaningless, that true power over editorial resides in the whims of the four cringing members of the managing partnership’s Fear and Money Caucus.

Will they ever explain themselves to you? I don’t know. This is from the partnership’s text message thread on Sunday [all is sic]:

Gorenstein: Im getting emails from Keenan at gawker re post vote

Gorenstein: In not dealing with her

Me: Yeah, God forbid you explain yourself

Gorenstein: I’m 1 of 5

Nick Denton: We will all need to be at the office tomorrow morning to talk with Edit. I propose a meeting before at 9am among the Managing Partners. And you can all expect to be asked why you voted as you did at the all-hands.

Gorenstein (still replying to me): Don’t give me that bullshit

Me: I won’t be attending

Me: I would encourage you to meet with all of edit, but knowing you people I doubt you will

Nick Denton: I encourage everybody to do so, also.

Me: So that’s what it sounds like when Nick has my back.

Me: By the way, Andrew, Keenan is a male. You all should get to know the writers you just sold out.

Me: They may not be around for long.

Then Nick accused me of being “self-indulgent” for making it “all about the writers being sold out” and for not being sufficiently attuned to the damage the brand would suffer.

But of course it is all about you, the writers. The impulse that led to Thursday’s story is the impulse upon which Nick himself built Gawker’s brand, the impulse against which Gorenstein sells his ads. The undoing of it began the moment Nick himself put the once inviolable sanctity of Gawker Media’s editorial to a vote

One of the least rewarding parts of this job has been subjecting Max Read to a series of meetings that resulted in the creation of the company’s “brand book,” articulating for advertisers what it is that makes Gawker matter. As it happens, initial copy for the brand book–which you can read here (or here)–was approved on Thursday just hours before Gawker’s Condé Nast post went up.

The brand book was a preposterous exercise. The essence of Gawker has always been what happens when we get out of those meetings and go back to writing and editing the stories you do that no one else can do. You writers are this company. You are funny. You are smart. You are vital. You are honest and righteous and pissed-off and stupid, so galactically stupid, and you commit hilarious blunders and you perform great, honking prodigies of journalism that make me proud to have sat in a room with you. Often you do all these things in the same day. You are this company. Nick forgot that, and I hope he one day remembers it. You are, you will always be, the best argument for a company that no longer deserves you.

I love you all.

–Tommy

And Read’s letter to management:

To the partnership group:

On Friday a post was deleted from Gawker over the strenuous objections of Tommy and myself, as well as the entire staff of executive editors. That this post was deleted at all is an absolute surrender of Gawker’s claim to “radical transparency”; that non-editorial business executives were given a vote in the decision to remove it is an unacceptable and unprecedented breach of the editorial firewall, and turns Gawker’s claim to be the world’s largest independent media company into, essentially, a joke.

I am able to do this job to the extent that I can believe that the people in charge are able, when faced with difficult decisions, to back up their stated commitments to transparency, fearlessness, and editorial independence. In the wake of Friday’s decision and Tommy’s resignation I can no longer sustain that belief. I find myself forced to resign, effective immediately.

This was not an easy decision. I hope the partnership group recognizes the degree to which it has betrayed the trust of editorial, and takes steps to materially reinforce its independence.

Best wishes,
Max