“Facebook makes me despise many of my friends and Twitter makes me hate the rest of the world,” Gawker founder Nick Denton said.
The publishing pioneer, who connected with fellow bloggers at South by Southwest in the early days of web publishing, returned to the festival Sunday to reflect on the demise of his company and what lies ahead for the internet in the years after Donald Trump’s presidential election. The future isn’t Facebook or Twitter, where fake news and trolls abound. Instead, it’s rooted in Reddit—or at least something like Reddit, Denton said.
Denton, whose Gawker Media Group portfolio included sites like Gizmodo, Jezebel, and Kotaku in addition to the namesake, was a champion of commenting platforms. Many people read Gawker and its sibling sites for the comments alone. Gawker Media Group was sold to Univision and rebranded as Gizmodo Media Group after Denton and the company were sued into bankruptcy by Hulk Hogan.
“[Reddit] involves the community and involves the readers,” Denton said in a Sunday conversation on-stage at SXSW with advertising executive Jeff Goodby. “You may not like many subbreddits, but there’s a vitality to it and there’s a model for what [media] could be.”
Denton also believes in news institutions like the New York Times, he said. Until recently, he found ways to stay under the Times paywall cap, which lets you read 10 free articles per month per device. He’s now paying for a subscription, though he said the social news curation service Nuzzel is his “main news experience.” The only problem is it’s full of nothing but Trump news.
Life after Gawker
Denton spoke calmly about the demise of his flagship site and the involvement of billionare tech investor Peter Thiel, who helped fund the lawsuit against him. He wouldn’t say whether or not he would publish Hogan’s sex tape again, but did say it failed in its attempt at social commentary.
“If you’re going to expose somebody to mockery, there should be a point to it,” he said. “It’s very easy for us to blame a media outlet or a Facebook algorithm or somebody else instead of our habits. It was a little too sophisticated a point to be making in a couple lines. Maybe [the post] required a little more essay and a little less video for that to have worked as a point. The meta point is worth making, but I don’t know if that form was the right one.”
A post about a celebrity led to Gawker’s downfall, but there are other stories that are far more detrimental to a journalistic enterprise. Giving a product a negative review, for example, could lead to a significant loss of ad revenue.
“An honest review of the Samsung Galaxy Note is a dangerous proposition,” Denton said. “There will be no drama, you just won’t see any advertising from Samsung for the next two years. That’ll be the salaries of 10 or 20 journalists that go up in smoke.”
Fake news, trolls, and harassment proliferate on social networks and across forums. America feels like a nation of people who don’t understand themselves, let alone each other. News organizations struggle to publish quality journalism and make money at the same time. The internet played a huge role in this crisis, but despite it all, Denton thinks the web can be the solution to the problems it created.
“On Google Hangouts chats or iMessage you can exchange quotes, links, stories, media,” he said. “That’s a delightful, engaging media experience. The next phase of media is going to come out of the idea of authentic, chill conversation about things that matter.”
“Even if we’re full of despair over what the internet has become, it’s good to remind yourself when you’re falling down some Wikipedia hole or having a great conversation with somebody online—it’s an amazing thing,“ he added. ”In the habits that we enjoy, there are the seeds for the future. That’s where the good internet will rise up again.”
Perhaps Denton will be around to help build it.