More than two years after its launch, Gawker Media's discussion/publishing platform Kinja is still mystifying employees and creating tensions between the company's editorial staff and top executives.
One of the company's sites, Jezebel, published a post Monday criticizing its parent company for not taking enough action to prevent a flurry of comments filled with GIFs depicting rape scenes. With most top-level employees on retreat in Budapest this week, a source told BuzzFeed that Gawker Editorial Director Joel Johnson emailed Jezebel staffers after the post was published to say that he would need "two days to think of a real solution, but to not give him any more than that."
The problems continued this morning when a comment section on a Gawker post was shut off with the following notice: "Comments have been turned off on this post because some asshole keeps posting gore and porn GIFs and we don't have an adequate way to stop him. Sorry!"
Johnson also responded in the comments of the post: "[T]his is exactly the right thing to do when people aren't paying proper attention to a real problem," which falls in line with Kinja's vision of openness when it comes to reporting and sourcing stories via Gawker Media's platform. It's a vision that some editorial staffers seem to want to believe in but do not fully understand how to use to their greater advantage.
"Generally speaking it seems like there's a tension between Nick's [Denton] greater vision for the company and what the writers feel is best for the writers," said one staffer who wished to remain anonymous. "But that has always been true from what I understand and I think Nick thinks that's healthy for the company."
The same staffer continued: "I think people generally understand the broad vision for what they want Kinja to become but I'm not sure people necessarily really see how it's going to get there, but as a tool to change publishing or whatever, I don't know. I don't think anyone except a certain few people below Nick and Joel really view it like that."
Another Gawker Media editorial employee felt that Gawker staffers have not been fully informed about Kinja's future and that Denton is working toward an unexplained vision.
"They throw words around like 'collaborative' and it's like I think Nick has this vision of Pretty Reddit — a pure meritocracy buoyed by user votes, a place where the comments are part of the story, but a site that doesn't look like crap."
That employee continued, saying that they didn't hate using Kinja, but felt that it was impossible to actually use it for finding scoops and unearthing good content. "Nick Denton is doing the blog equivalent of trying to assemble a couture wardrobe by picking through a giant salvation army barn. There are so many comments, weeding through them to find the good ones is a needle/haystack task."
This is a concern that the first staffer mentioned as well: "It still has a long, long way to go to get to where Nick envisions it being and I think part of it is that it hasn't really brought in what's been promised? I mean you could probably count on one hand the number of real scoops that have come from burners or good blog posts by Kinja users."
A third Gawker Media staffer who wished to remain anonymous thought the goals for Kinja were pretty clear, but there were problems with the expectations and requirements that writers have with regard to Kinja. "So, we're told to chase uniques all the time, which means we have to find new stories and shit to post often, right? But if we have a story that's already really popular, we're expected to moderate the discussion for it and that just takes time and energy, away from our other goals potentially," the editorial employee told BuzzFeed.
J.K. Trotter, a reporter at Gawker, said that although he understood the frustration of his colleagues — "It's being constantly iterated, it suffers outages now and then, and enables some truly awful commenting behavior" — he really enjoys using Kinja because it lets him discuss his posts with his readers. A good version of Kinja, he says, would let him see what's happening over all Gawker Media properties. "It needs to have something like a consolidated feed," he said. "Like a homepage that isn't Gawker.com, or Jezebel.com, or Deadspin.com, where people who I follow on Kinja (there's a following function) show up or whatnot."
To Denton's credit, as confusing and messy as Kinja and the Jezebel situation is, this tension seems to play perfectly into the Gawker founder's wider concept for Kinja, as a place where writers and readers can mine for and create news, no matter how awkward and navel-gazing it gets.
BuzzFeed obtained an email to all Gawker Media staff written by community support manager Ernie Deeb indicating that all of Gawker Media's main sites are now being "flooded with streams of graphic images" and the site has turned off image uploads in replies:
As you may have noticed our main sites are being flooded with streams of graphic images. We're taking proper action to deal with this.
In the short term, image uploads will be disabled in replies. This should be live within the hour. Expect updates throughout the day."
As evidenced by a screenshot sent to BuzzFeed, over the last 24 hours, the users trolling the comment sections have turned to outing the location and real names of specific commenters on Gawker Media sites.
This will soon end however, as Jezebel plans to reintroduce a pending comment system where users will have to be approved before they can comment on posts.
Johnson explained in a comment this morning that most of the abusive accounts weren't actually anonymous "burner" accounts, but in fact, people who used throwaway Twitter accounts to make commenter accounts.
"They were logging in using throwaway Twitter accounts as verification," he said. "So while the overall comment/groupchat system had a flaw related to our desire to allow people to comment as freely as possible—and we clearly had the dial turned too far to "freely"—it wasn't specifically a Burner/IP-tracking issue."