Gawker's new editorial supremo has replaced the traffic chart that used to greet visitors to the Fourth Floor, the library-like space in the company's headquarters on Elizabeth Street. In place of the jagged Quantcast blues of traffic hits, increasingly for stories that we weren't proud of, is now a hand-crafted blog.
It's called Politburo, and it's put together by Executive Editor Tommy Craggs and colleagues from his central management team. It contains stories that were popular, not among the people, but among the shadowy members of Craggs' cabinet, his politburo. The blog launches with a round-up of the best posts of the last year.
Writes Craggs: I'm putting it here partly as a way of telegraphing my tastes to the many staffers who know me only as the editor of an often impenetrably abstruse sports-and-dicks website. Pranks, scoops, FOIA, good long reads, great short reads, helpful primers: Use this as a rough guide to the sort of things I'd like to see on the sites in 2015.
So far, traffic is holding up nicely. That's the theory: do good stories and the traffic will come anyway. Unique growth is a by-product of good journalism, but a dangerous target to follow blindly.
Yes, that's a change for us. Gawker Media was one of the pioneers of traffic measurement, putting dynamic pageview and audience data on the pages themselves. We were the first company, I believe, to pay substantial bonuses to writers who were individually or collectively drawing more audience. And we have reached the limit of that approach.
Stories that generate attention will be noted and rewarded, but only those that Tommy Craggs and his colleagues deem worthy of that attention. A layer of subjective editorial judgment will return. Newspaper traditionalists will no doubt see this as vindication.
And maybe it is also a recognition that we can never play the viral traffic game as shamelessly as Buzzfeed. We care too much about our reputation among other writers, and too little about the concerns of venture capital and corporate investors.
Yes, Gawker Media is as our critics on the right have observed, a nest of communists. Not me, I moved to this country for unfettered capitalism, and Europe followed me here. But I'm enough still of a journalist to recognize that the very best of them are often on the Left.
It's reassuring that Craggs and colleagues' blog is called the Politburo, the body with the real power in a communist state. There are two kinds of left-wing journalist, just as there are two kinds of left-wingers, generally: the anarchists drawn into internecine ideological disputes; and the pragmatists.
Tommy Craggs is a pragmatist. He used a picture of Lenin to illustrate his story guide. After all, the only real question for any organization is that posed by the first Soviet leader in his most famous book: What is to be done?