In December, following the company's all-hands meeting, I sent an email to Nick Denton (Founder and CEO), Heather Dietrick (President), Scott Kidder (VP, Operations), Tommy Craggs (Executive Editor), and Lacey Donohue (Executive Managing Editor) about the responsibility the company has to diversity.
Last Friday, I met with Tommy to discuss what a more-inclusive Gawker Media should look like as the company continues to grow. After our discussion he suggested—perhaps in the true spirit of Gawker's commitment to transparency—that I publicly post my email.
I'm fortunate to work in an environment that allows its employees to speak up without fear of punishment. And I'm thrilled for what we have planned this year (more on that in the coming months). It's my hope that we will continue down this path for years to come.
December 11, 2014
To Nick, Tommy, Lacey, Heather, and Scott:
Yesterday, in reading Nick's memo, I was disheartened that there was no mention of the company's plan for diversity hiring and sustainability. I'd hoped to raise the issue at the all-hands meeting, but time ran out.
So, here's the thing: For Gawker Media to compete, evolve, and grow, our commitment to create a self-operating ecosystem must involve a commitment to diversity throughout all departments of the company, but especially in edit. It is an ambitious and important endeavor — and will no doubt be essential to our survival as a leading independent media entity — so it is crucial we understand growth in terms of racial, sexual, and gender diversity.
To forge ahead, Gawker Media must commit to publishing and hiring more Latina voices, queer voices, black voices, and marginalized voices across its core sites. This mission — along with Kinja and enhancing the overall user experience — is equally important to our development as a company. It is, as Nick put it, maybe the only way to "host the most lively and informative conversation on the web."
The current iteration of the internet proves that we must make this a priority. The overindexing of white maleness is an obvious problem across many of the core sites. But a quick survey of the web and you will see a very clear interest in conversations around race, gender, sexuality and in feminist perspectives. Companies like Vox, the New York Times, Vogue, BuzzFeed, and Medium have joined the discussion: intellectualizing terms like "basic", reporting on the unrest in Ferguson, scrutinizing Uber's business model, covering our (apparently new, but not really new) cultural obsession with butts, and weighing in on domestic abuse in professional sports. But Gawker Media has proven to be smarter and sharper than our competitors in almost every case.
Emma Carmichael and Max Read, for example, have taken steps to expand the reach of their respective sites. That I was Max's second or third hire is a testament to that. His hiring of Leah Finnegan, Aleks Chan, Jordan Sargent, Allie Jones, Dayna Evans, and Kelly Conaboy is a testament to that. Similarly, what Emma has done so far with Jezebel — quickly bringing on Jia Tolentino, Clover Hope, and Julianne Escobedo Shepherd; allowing Kara Brown the freedom to discuss Beyonce with the same rigor the site does women's rights — is a testament to that. But this is not enough. As a company, we must be even more committed to the inclusion of othered voices.
Subjects like Gamergate, police brutality, celebrity scandals, or the lack of women in tech benefit greatly when filtered through writers like Greg Howard, Ashley Feinberg, Kyle Wagner, Caity Weaver, and Nitasha Tiku (Nitasha's loss makes our commitment to editorial diversity more important than ever). And, ultimately, our readers are better for it.
Consider what Shani Hilton and her team are doing at BuzzFeed. Shani's continued mission to diversify BuzzFeed's newsroom is perhaps the true success of the company. Sure, they have investors and an edit staff of 200, but her push to bring on writers and editors like Saeed Jones, Adam Serwer, Tracy Clayton, Albert Samaha, Ashley Ford, and Joel Anderson, among others, is what will ultimately sustain the company's relevance — beyond the lists and quizzes.
This is not to say we should mimic our competitors. But Shani's hiring initiative uproots a common and widespread problem in media: its profusion of white voices. BuzzFeed is not perfect, but they have shown how to be a company that competes while including a multiplicity of voices in the conversation. And BuzzFeed's decision to do so has proven wholly good for its brand and overall image.
I have been at Gawker seven months now. An early and an ongoing objective of mine has been to expand the site's editorial voice. But, as we enter 2015, it is vital that we continue — with a dogged relentlessness — to engage the interest around progressive voices and the absence of them on Gawker, Kotaku, LifeHacker, Deadspin, and each core title. It is our duty.
I'm beyond excited for the future of this company and consider myself fortunate to be part of an enterprise that prides itself on truth and fearlessness. Under the leadership of Tommy and Lacey I'm confident editorial will move in the right direction. Our current efforts have been tremendous — my intention here is not to discredit the progress we have made this year — but we must continue to ACTIVELY seek out brave voices to hire and publish. To use Nick's words: This is the only way Gawker Media truly becomes the very best version of itself.
Though Gawker Media has grown immensely during the last decade, it remains a product of early web publishing in many regards: a world largely accessible to, and engaged by, white men. But what we once were, and who we are presently, is not who we have to be moving forward.
ps — please excuse any grammar errors; it was from the heart.