Turning Gawker On Itself

denton1 Turning Gawker On ItselfIt had been such a good week for Nick Denton.

Writers and editors from his network of sites had flown in from around the country and been put up on Gawker’s dime, in preparation for the 2011 relaunch of the site that launched the blogger age. After team dinners and other partying, the bloggers streamed into Gawker’s Elizabeth Street offices for presentations on Freedom of Information Act requests and the use of high-quality photos and video, all key to Gawker’s rethink, expected in the first week of the new year. Mr. Denton, the company’s founder, had laid out his case for the new scoop-based approach in an impressive 3,000-word “manifesto for 2011,” which was still reverberating around the web.

To cap it all off on Friday night, Mr. Denton hosted the company holiday party at Double Crown, a restaurant on the Bowery with Southeast Asian fare by way of the British Empire. Unlike Gawker blowouts in the past, the guest list was strictly limited to current staff and significant others. The Observer was allowed in on two conditions: that we observe some set rules on attribution, and that we leave after two hours, before anyone got too drunk. Mr. Denton, tall and gray, cut through the crowd in a blood-reddish gingham shirt, dark pants and pointy black shoes. There was Secret Santa.

With his CTO, Tom Plunkett, Mr. Denton surveyed the scene at Double Crown. He thought: Great party. Fantastic year for stories and audience. Exciting new layout. Then, Mr. Denton recalled to The Observer, he and Mr. Plunkett turned and said to each other almost simultaneously: Something will go wrong.

The next afternoon, the Twitter account of Gizmodo, a Denton tech site, sent out a very strange tweet. And Mr. Denton’s good week came to an end.

Check out The Year’s Most Scandalous Media Shakeups. >>

BY THE TIME it was over, a group of unknown hackers operating under the name Gnosis hit Gawker with the biggest security breach of a media site ever. They published the source code of Gawker’s proprietary content management system, making it worthless, and unleashed details on 1.3 million commenter accounts, including 188,279 decrypted passwords. That meant that people who had commented on stories on Gawker sites, thinking their opinions were anonymous, weren’t.