Deadliest Klatsch: Nick Denton Gives Gawker’s Drive-By Peanut Gallery a Promotion

Journalists, commenters ... what’s the diff?

MR. DENTON’S SUDDEN POPULISM is especially surprising given Gawker’s snarky DNA. (“Who put ecstasy in his Coke?” wondered Mr. Johnson.) But the former Financial Times journalist claims that he got into the business to build a blogging platform that would replicate real-life reporter bull sessions; the editorial was merely an afterthought.

“Remember that Gawker was a hobby,” he said.

Gawker Media has been working on Kinja since CTO Tom Plunkett joined the company in 2005, though the development was “put on ice” during the recession, Mr. Denton said. Several Gawker insiders put its price tag at $1 million, but Mr. Denton said it had cost “much more,” accounting for infrastructure. And if, as he hopes, Gawker executive director of content Ray Wert manages to cement branded Kinja discussion threads as the advertising unit of the future, the company will climb out of the lowly ranks of content providers and join the Reddits and Facebooks of the world as a bona fide tech player.

For longtime readers, this has meant a somewhat rocky transition. Some have complained that the site’s writerly wit has been an unintended casualty of the change in focus. In recent months, Neetzan Zimmerman, Gawker’s so-called traffic troll, has been charged with keeping the site moving with weird news and would-be viral videos, freeing up veteran writers to work on more ambitious pieces, as well as some that are decidedly unambitious. For instance, since Kinja rolled out, Gawker has published three posts debating the finer points of over-air conditioning.

“How do YOU keep warm in the cold office?” Hamilton Nolan asked his commenter comrades. They responded in earnest (“I’m lucky. I have my own thermostat.”). Well, except for Gawker-editor-turned-Awl-proprietor Choire Sicha and Forbes media writer Jeff Bercovici.

The Observer asked Mr. Nolan if “privileging the idiots,” which is how one writer described the new system, ever got tedious.

“It’s not annoying if there are smart commenters, but it is annoying if there’s nothing but dumb commenters,” Mr. Nolan wrote in an email message. “And a lot of the smart commenters were chased off by our various redesigns. Hopefully they come back.”