P078: Fifty Shades of Gawker

Excuse me while I plug this tweet:

I’ve written and tweeted and monologued extensively about those those three companies and part of the reason that they interest me is their apparent refusal to be categorized as either “good” or “evil.” In a world where 5-star ratings have become the de facto standard for communicating quality, it’s hard to label a company like Uber that can both bring a critical service to a historically underserved population while offloading all of the risk onto its contracted workforce and kind of being dicks about it, tbh. When everything has to be either awesome or terrible, companies that are both are difficult to pin down. For those who try to make mindful, ethical decisions about commercial and cultural consumption, just keeping score can be exhausting.

The latest example: Gawker outed a private citizen, removed the post, saw two senior editors leave in protest and had some sort of disastrous all-hands meeting as a result. The obligatory Vox explainer is pretty good but the key takeaway is that Gawker, a company that intentionally lives in a gray area, went over the proverbial line and is swinging wildly back and forth on either side of “the line” as it tries to stabilize itself. And all this from an entity that might get sued into non-existence because they published Hulk Hogan’s sex tape (really).

And yes, that sounds horrible, but Gawker contains multitudes. There are some topics that only Gawker is willing to cover well; its reporting around Reddit, Bill Cosby is strong, to name a just two. Its, uh, unconventional journalistic practices have occasionally led to scoops with wide-ranging industry effects. It is the primordial soup from which all manner of interesting things might emerge. If nothing else, Gawker is interesting.

And that interestingness, that spectacle, that willingness to go beyond the pale seems to be a key component for modern companies, especially those that adhere closely to the model of disruptive innovation. As market incentives drive companies to reach new consumers in novel and disruptive ways, it should be no surprise that these companies would have equally disruptive cultures. Is that good? Bad? Who am I to say? But it is definitely interesting.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron