Gawker media staffers were left befuddled by yesterday’s announcement that owner Nick Denton had purchased little-read New York power-player website Cityfile.com, and had ousted Gawker.com Editor-in-Chief Gabriel Snyder, replacing him with Cityfile founder and writer Remy Stern. It was the first straight-out acquisition by Denton, who has sold or spun off blogs but never bought a website. “It came out of nowhere,” one staffer said, noting that there are a few things about the deal that don’t appear to make sense. First, Cityfile’s traffic is low: about 150,000 readers a month, according to Quantcast. That puts it in an entirely different scale from the rest of Denton’s websites, some of which pull in numbers in the millions each month. More than one Gawker Media editor said there was a sense among the staff that they had never really understood Cityfile. And Cityfile’s blog, Dailyfile, simply isn’t a participant in what Tina Brown likes to call “the conversation.”
What Denton appears to be after is Cityfile’s roster of 2,144 (so far) profiles of New York’s most prominent and newsworthy people. “You know how driven we are by audience response,” Denton told Intel over IM. “Readers adore what I call ‘instant reference.’ It’s something like the old Gawker ‘Field Guides,’ say a profile of someone in the headlines, an article halfway between news and reference.” Though Cityfile hasn’t much expanded its list since it debuted in July 2008, Denton says that will change with the acquisition. “At Gawker, Remy will have the resources to create new profiles on the fly — and update them more regularly,” Denton said. “At Cityfile, he had a great concept — but not enough support.”
Some other New York online media types in Denton’s circle may have had some influence in this decision. Gawker’s VP of Sales, Chris Batty, was an original investor in Cityfile, and Denton adviser and longtime colleague Lockhart Steele is also close with Stern. Denton additionally pointed to a long-brewing convergence of staff between Gawker and its late, former nemesis Radar magazine — where Stern served as a wingman to editor Maer Roshan. “There was a rivalry — and some pie-throwing. But that was probably because Gawker and Radar had more in common than they wanted to admit,” Denton explained. “Each was the other’s future. Radar served up the exclusives I always envied. Gawker was actually comfortable on the web, in the medium Radar should have made its own. We were like Siamese twins trying to scratch out each other’s eyes.” Gawker writer John Cook is also a Radar alum.
The second element of the purchase was the one that startled Gawker Media staffers the most: the ousting of well-liked Gawker.com E-i-C Gabriel Snyder in favor of Stern, who has never managed a massive website of that order. As Denton himself noted in his memo announcing the change, during Snyder’s eighteen-month tenure, Gawker.com doubled its traffic. “Nick’s lack of loyalty to those who build his sites and make him even richer is troubling, for those inside and outside the company,” said one Gawker Media editor. Another fretted about a consistent sentiment among the staff that even the strongest team members could be fired at any time. Snyder himself said in his farewell memo that he didn’t understand the reasons for his firing, but a staffer suggested that Stern’s top job was a condition of his sale of Cityfile to Denton. (Denton himself wouldn’t comment on “the mechanics of the deal.”)
Another Gawker media staffer saw a certain appeal in the combined one-two punch of the elite-obsessed Stern and Cityfile: “Denton has always had two competing internal tendencies. One is to make a ton of money via traffic. The other is to be a power player. Real Housewives recaps do not make you a power player.” But being the go-to resource for the chronicles of New York’s other power players just might.