[Update, June 6: For those of you still finding your way here from yesterday’s Deleted Scenes, I apologize for having not put out the welcome mat sooner. My comments on the whole thing can be found in today’s post. – Colin]
AN OPEN LETTER TO GAWKER FOUNDER NICK DENTON:
I’ve been a reader of Gawker and its sister sites for some time. For the last year or so, I’ve had commenter privileges which I’ve used on a number of sites, though my main read has been Deadspin. Normally I wouldn’t write about an editorial position — it is the editor’s privilege, after all — but the events of the last few days have prompted me to do so.
As you may be aware, A.J. Daulerio posted a piece on Sunday night stating that major changes to Deadspin’s commenting system were about to take place and that the readers could expect many commenters to lose their privileges starting almost immediately. No further explanation was offered — no reasons as to why this would happen, no explanation of new commenting rules, nothing — though Daulerio did claim that it was out of his hands, suggesting that the decision had come from higher up in Gawker Media. On Monday, all heck broke loose as many of the most respected (and, dare I say, funniest) commenters were summarily dispatched. Daulerio did post an article to the effect that everybody should stop whining about it and consider themselves lucky to have a site to read, but that was about it. As a result, most of the banned commenters headed off to a different site, one started by a bunch of people who met as Deadspin commenters, for the evening. Many of them haven’t come back and, if the comments on other sites are any indication, won’t.
I don’t think anyone would argue that the comments section was due for a clean-up — there were far too many off-topic and unfunny posts, far too many cheap jokes, and far too much repetition. Daulerio, in an interview on another site Tuesday [Andrew Bucholtz’ excellent Sporting Madness blog – ACM], admitted that his decision to direct successive comments ombuds to lighten up the standards for new commenters was a mistake, and the decision to adopt Facebook Connect, while understandable from a business standpoint, exacerbated the problem. That all could have been fixed without playing games with your readers. As you know, they’re not idiots. By and large, they’re adults and rather well-educated. A message explaining why the comments section needed to improve, and what standards would be enforced to see that it did improve, might have been met with some grumbling, but the vast majority of the regular commenters would have complied. Heck, another blogger [Bucholtz again – ACM] did a great job of analyzing possible reasons for the crackdown based on the available information, any of which would have been accepted by Deadspin’s readers and commenters. Unfortunately, Daulerio chose not to offer any explanation. He left everyone in the dark while hiding behind Gawker management — and then, in that same interview on Tuesday, admitted that the decision had, in fact, been his alone (despite having implicated Gawker management in his initial announcement) and was based on the offer of a small group of commenters to form a de facto lynch mob (what Daulerio calls his “comment ninjas”) to clean up the site as they saw fit. In short, he put his own ego, and that of a few commenters upset that they weren’t getting as much attention as they’d like, ahead of any sound business decisions. In the process, he managed to alienate some of your most loyal readers and many of the few people who actually added value to the site with their comments.
I think everyone is aware of Deadspin’s performance relative to the other Gawker sites. Ultimately it’s your site to do with as you see fit, but I can’t see the value in policies designed to drive away your most loyal readers. Sadly, that’s exactly what Daulerio and his team of anonymous “ninjas” have done.