Gawker, Gamergate, and a Lesson in How Not to Do Journalism - by Nilay Patel, Editor-In-Chief of The Verge

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<i>Gawker</i>, Gamergate, and a Lesson in How Not to Do Journalism - by Nilay Patel, Editor-In-Chief of <i>The Verge</i>

Yesterday, The Verge posted an interview with Jonah Peretti—CEO of Buzzfeed—and its Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, that was largely about their decision to publish the infamous “Golden Showers” Trump dossier. It’s an interesting window into Buzzfeed’s mindset, and mostly an uncontroversial article, save for one unrelated item buried over 1,600 words into the piece.

John Cook, former executive editor of Gawker Media, literally called bullshit on the “scooplet.”

Patel engaged him, and we were off to the races.

Then Joel Johnson, former editorial director at Gawker Media, joined in on the fun.

Patel came back from a meeting, and despite saying that he was “happy to correct” earlier, he basically told them to go pound sand.

Sam Biddle—formerly of Gawker, now of The Intercept—perfectly summarized how antithetical this decision was to journalism.

Ashley Feinberg—also part of the Gawker family—highlighted the greater evil that this decision enables.

Patel's insistence to not even include a reference to the dispute was rooted in an amorphous cocoon of “confidence” in their reporting.

So, to recap: an Editor-in-Chief (whose Twitter handle is @reckless) was refusing to even publish the fact that two named Gawker sources are going on the record to dispute his unnamed source's figure of Gawker's Gamergate-related losses by eighty fucking six percent…and it's not even the focus of the article. There are 2,964 words in this piece, and 21 of them (0.7%) are being questioned in public. To top it off, The Verge's version of events empowers one of the dumbest and most hostile movements in recent memory. Way to fight the good fight fellas.

*Mid-Piece Update*

This battle spilled over into the morning, as Cook followed up with Patel.

Shane Ryan, Paste's politics editor, pointed this drama out to me for our media section this morning, and I spent most of it raging into my keyboard about how stupid and obstinate this decision was by Patel. As I was going over my final edits, The Verge finally updated their piece, including this simple line after their $7 million figure:

(Some former Gawker executives dispute this figure, and place the loss at just over $1 milion.)


OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming, with the ending tweaked to reflect this update because Paste put the word “editor” in front of my name, and attempting to accurately depict reality is basically my job description. And yes, I did just subtweet Nilay Patel.

The Verge should still probably write a second piece explaining why they are standing behind this figure, since the difference is so massive and their obstinance made it a bigger story than it should be. Had Patel simply said “sure, we’ll update the piece,” then this piece and others like it wouldn’t exist. An explanation which stays true to the anonymity of their source, while acknowledging other reporters’ reporting would at least give readers of The Verge the feeling that Patel is looking out for every angle.

But by telling two senior sources going on the record that their word isn’t as valuable as an anonymous source and at best, they deserve one sentence acknowledging their statement (only after making a big deal about it for everyone to see), The Verge makes it look like they may have an agenda. What it could possibly be when it affects less than 1% of the piece is beyond me, but at the very least, it’s not a trustworthy look.

If you’re that confident in your reporting, what’s the big deal about writing a small blurb acknowledging something that isn’t even central to the story in the first place? A scooplet—if you will. If Cook and Johnson want a public fight and The Verge has the goods to prove them wrong, why not take it on? You don’t have to go all Buzzfeed and dump an entire document blowing your source’s cover, but if you have enough information to overrule two on-the-record senior sources (three apparently, with this morning’s update), then you have enough that you can safely share with the rest of us.

Jacob Weindling is Paste’s business and media editor, as well as a staff writer for politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.