I used to read Gawker. Well, some of Gawker Media, anyway. When I was a little nublet in the videogame world, I read Kotaku. It was the yin to IGN’s yang—the modern blog-style to the contemporary tech journalism. It was fine for what it was, and it served its purpose until I started to care about real journalism. I read Jezebel and its explicit counterpart occasionally in high school. I still read Gizmodo when I come across it. It’s a casual counterpart to Engadget with the occasional story leaks. That seems to be Gawker’s thing, really—leaks.
In October 2012, Gawker Media aided in the leak of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan’s private sex tape by publishing a clip of it on their website. In November last year, Hogan sued Gawker for defamation, and Gawker claimed defence in the first amendment. But last week, Hogan won the lawsuit against the publication for $115 million.
Because of the first amendment, there is only one thing that journalists are not legally allowed to print, and that is something that is libelous—written defamation. You can legally print things that are off the record, but there is an ethical risk. Ethics don’t matter in terms of libel 99 per cent of the time—all that matters is if what you said is false or otherwise untrue. Hogan found the one per cent.
Gawker’s defence wasn’t just that publishing the clip and its supplementary written, scene-by-scene detailing of the 31-minute sex tape was constitutional according to the first amendment, but that publishing the sex tape was newsworthy.
Just like taking certain ethical risks, newsworthiness is subjective. As a blog-style publication, I can understand how Gawker could think a sex tape is newsworthy. It gets the clicks. It’s got the headline. But Gawker Media is the digital equivalent of a tabloid print channel, all under a guise of pseudo professionalism. And for them to say that Hulk Hogan’s private life—that is, someone whose private life has no impact on either the readers (we’re not talking about the damn Prime Minister) nor the greater public (eg. whom journalism is for)—is even remotely “newsworthy” shows a fundamental flaw in the publisher’s definition.
The question isn’t just “is it new and interesting,” as Gawker seems to think it is. The question that defines news is “is it new, is it interesting, and is it worth it?”
I’ll bet they’re re-thinking the latter right now.