An amusing Gawker post on Flip.com—Conde Nast's flailing Internet site for young girls—contained some startling information.
The post, which ran on March 19th, suggested that Conde Nast executives were upset over the website's performance given the amount of funding that had gone into it. A source told Gawker that he had overheard the executives bemoaning Flip in the elevator at 4 Times Square.
The post seemed suspicious when I first read it. Conde Nast executives actually have conversations in the elevator? Aren't they too busy plotting to destroy each other? And have even Conde Nast executives heard of Flip.com?
I spoke with Doree Shafrir, the editor responsible for the post.
"Whatever," she told me. "It came to our tipline and we put it up."
Managing Editor Choire Sicha was similarly dismissive. "I'll print anything. Do you hear me, anything! You want to tell me you heard S.I. Newhouse threatening to skullfuck David Remnick with Anna Wintour's rod if there weren't more cartoons about cats in The New Yorker and I will run that shit faster than Angelina Jolie can adopt another baby. Which would also be a good rumor to send in if you feel like it."
Gawker's anonymously-sourced posts sometimes appear less thorough and balanced than they should. This is by no means unique to Gawker. Bloggers have a tendency to spend most of their time scrutinizing the stories they actually write themselves, as opposed to the cut-and-paste tips that make for an easy, quota-meeting item. That doesn't mean they can be careless about other posts. Editors need to ask about every story: Have we provided the relevant context for the reader? Is there a perspective missing from this story? Can we have it up before someone else does?
This criticism be should not make Gawker shy from putting similar features on the front page—indeed, I'd like to see more of them. A media/gossip blog must enlighten and entertain and spread dubious rumors. But when Gawker attempts these posts, its reporters and editors must do more than provide the basics. Without appropriate context, Gawker may find itself in the position of posing more questions than it answers. For instance, why the fuck did Conde Nast think Flip.com would ever work?
Over the duration of my term as ombudsman, I hope to bring you, the reader, a better understanding of what Gawker editors do. (Mostly it's guzzling amphetamines, fretting about being fired, and making fun of Atoosa Rubenstein's arm hair, but if I tell you that too early I'm cheating myself out of a job). As your representative, I'll help you see how your blog gets made and, hopefully, teach both the readers and editors some valuable lessons in the process.
Byron "Dan" Worthington III is Gawker's ombudsman and a noted crank with a lot of free time on his hands. He will write a sporadic column responding to the reader complaints that the editors usually send right to the trash file. This is his first column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please use the word "Ombudsman" in the subject line or the e-mail will probably be deleted by anxious editors before he can read it.
Related: Ombudsman: Anecdotes in Context