Well, there goes Gawker again. The day before yesterday, the digital scandal rag published an article “outing” the male CFO of Conde Nast (owner of Wired Magazine, Ars Technica, etc.) for hiring a male escort. The escort, unhappily enough, attempted to blackmail the financial officer to use his political connections on his behalf in a legal case (after Ted Cruz was apparently unable to help him), and this ended up resulting in the Gawker article.
In the wake of the controversy over the post, Nick Denton announced that Gawker was pulling the article. Denton writes:
We are proud of running stories that others shy away from, often to preserve relationships or access. But the line has moved. And Gawker has an influence and audience that demands greater editorial restraint.
Gawker is no longer the insolent blog that began in 2003. It does important and interesting journalism about politicians, celebrities and other major public figures. This story about the former Treasury Secretary’s brother does not rise to the level that our flagship site should be publishing.
Gawker staffer J.F. Trotter reported that the decision to remove it came after a 4-2 vote of Gawker’s management. Gawker’s unionized editorial staff, meanwhile, are upset that their non-editorial management can elect to pull an article over their objections. Former Gawker journalist Adam Weinstein (who was fired last month) has posted a lengthy essay explaining that Gawker “is short of grown-ups in the room” and is no longer the organization he originally went to work for.
Wow, what a mess. It’s certainly not surprising, in light of the ongoing lawsuit over Gawker publishing excerpts from a Hulk Hogan sex tape, that Gawker would be a little gunshy. It seems to me, though, that the appropriate time to have been gunshy over an article “outing” the financial officer of a major publishing corporation—a person who is not a public personality, to note—would have been before actually publishing the article. The information is out there now, and you can’t unring a bell.
Once again, I find myself returning to an essay, “Channel Markers,” written by a good friend back in 2006, in which he discussed the ephemeral nature of digital blogging and explained why taking something controversial down just isn’t a good idea. People can still find the original via Google and other caches, and if they can’t, the version of the original they remember is likely to be worse than the one you actually posted.
The best thing — the only thing — you can do is post a correction. "I said this in my last essay. I was wrong. I didn’t mean for it to go where it went. I’m sorry." If you want to absolutely make certain you acknowledge the areas you were wrong, add html
strikethroughsto highlight the areas you were mistaken in. If you need to add a correction to the essay itself, put it at the bottom next to a clearly marked edit marker.
We all make mistakes. Sometimes, you have to own your mistakes, in order to keep your credibility.
Of course, when you’re talking about Gawker, any mention of “credibility” needs to have an asterisk and the footnote “relatively speaking” attached. And it is arguable that continuing to have the information out there would do more harm than good in a few weeks after all this has blown over—though on the other hand, the person’s name will still be indelibly linked to the scandal by Google simply because of all the other articles that have since reported on the pulled article. (At least I didn’t mention his name in this one.)
In the end, this is one of the biggest problems endemic to the new digital media: you can publish something so quickly you haven’t had time to consider whether doing so was actually a good idea. If you publish in haste, you’ll probably end up retracting at leisure.