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Gawker Deathwatch: The Salted Peanut Theory

It’s not exactly Godzilla vs. Megalon, (more like Davis vs. Crawford), but if you take a run over to Valleywag you can see Nick Denton [swing a handbag] at Jason Calacanis, former enfant terrible of the blog media set. In a post today he suggests that Calacanis’ recent departure from AOL had more to do with sinking traffic numbers at the Netscape portal he was charged with saving than fallout from their recent shitcanning of Calacanis’ “mentor” Jonathan Miller. Calacanis took time out from watching The Price is Right to respond in the comments that Denton was engaging in “hit and run” blogging, explains the meaning of the numbers Denton bandies about, and then challenges Denton to write about the fact that he tries to get his indentured editors to publicly out people. Meow! Please, ladies, can’t we all just get along?

The only interesting thing about the post is the fact that the owner of the company made it, and that it indicates a serious case of pea green envy over the fact that Calacanis was able to cash out on the blog bubble when the going was good. Denton has had to fill in for Nick Douglas, former editor of Valleywag, who Denton shitcanned (there’s that word again…) a few days ago. Acting just like a real media company, Gawker released a benign “Nick, who we love more than our mothers, has moved on” notice, but [the real story], as disclosed by Andrew Ross Sorkin at the NYT suggests that Douglas was cut because of comments he made in an interview on the 10 Zen Monkeys blog in which he claimed — with typical youthful brio — that Valleywag was trying to drum up publicity by getting Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. to sue them. Surely Gawker Media isn’t afraid of a little public controversy? Could it be that they don’t want to piss off Murdoch because they hope that he might buy them? It would make sense. Murdoch’s been on a tear buying up new media properties and, after all these years out in the cold hard world of independent media, Gawker might be looking longingly at the comforts of a Big Media payday. If it’s not too late, that is. This graph of traffic rankings tells a story:

After 3 years out in the world, the traffic at Gawker, the flagship site of Gawker Media has plateaued, overtaken by competitors Perezhilton.com and TMZ.com. Perezhilton, best known for outing gay celebrities and beaver shots of Lindsay Lohan, has had exponential growth due, no doubt, to the fact that it is utterly shameless in its exploitation of celebrity obsession. Compared to that, snarky Gawker and its demographically identical sibling Defamer look tame. TMZ on the other hand is part of AOL Time Warner and enjoys the reach inherent in being part of one of the biggest portals on the net. So that’s the bind Denton finds his gossip sites in — allowing for Calacanis’ claim that they’re trying to match their rivals in the skeevy public outing area — they don’t seem to want to sink to the level of gutter site, and can’t enjoy the benefits of being part of a larger enterprise. Unless they get bought by News Corp. or another big name.

Which doesn’t seem likely. Surely any potential suitors are aware of the Yahoo-Gawker syndication deal that recently [went belly up]. And though the techie sites in the Gawker stable (you know, the ones that don’t drip with venom, but actually provide a service) are doing well, they seem better matched to a second-string media operation like Cnet. Not very attractive, but what’s a poor bounder to do?

BTW, if you want to know why I call this The Salted Peanut Theory just run out and rent a copy of All About Eve.

UPDATE 11/21: Calacanis linked to this and some of the folks on his site have commented that Alexa stats are unreliable. I know they have limits (IE biased, undercount popular sites reached through AOL, etc.). Still, they’re probably a pretty good read on trends over time. As the consultants say, “a directional indicator”. Others have said that the traffic stats of Defamer should be combined with Gawker.com to get a better read. According to Gawker’s [own numbers], the demos of those sites are very similar and no doubt share a lot of audience, so combining their reach stats would mean double counting a lot of people. It’s all about “directional indicators”.

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