Last week, Gawker editor John Cook launched a crowd-funded project to purchase an alleged videotape of Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking crack. They called it a “Crackstarter,” a play on Kickstarter, and aimed to raise $200,000 from viewers like you. As of this writing, more than $196,000 has been pledged.
It isn’t clear that Gawker will even be able to buy the video. Mr. Cook has been unable to get in touch with the video’s owner for over a week. (Mr. Cook did not return our request for comment). But one thing’s for sure: if Mr. Cook does manage to track down the owner and purchase the video, it will mean a big payday for Gawker. A post containing the video could draw record pageviews and advertising revenue.
Some might see this as Gawker taking advantage of their donors—who, after all, won’t get to share in the advertising revenue—but that’s not how the donors see it.
Dennis Raphael, a professor at York University in Toronto, made two $75 donations in the hope that the video’s release would force Mr. Ford to resign. “Around Toronto, there is little doubt that Mayor Rob is unfit for office and has a reputation for denying wrongdoing until [he’s] confronted with confirming evidence,” he said. As for Gawker’s possible payday? “Everybody is making money off of everything,” he said. “If some money can be made at the same time that public accountability can be supported, then so be it!”
Daphne Bonar, also of Toronto, donated $60 to the Crackstarter for similar reasons. “If the video is real, I want Rob Ford to be exposed as a liar who is unfit for public office,” she said. She did not mind that Gawker might make some money off of the whole endeavor. “That’s the business they’re in,” she said.
Steve Nardi, a Toronto resident who donated $105, is happy that Gawker is crowd-sourcing the project rather than paying for it on its own. “If [Gawker] had purchased the video outright, the Ford Nation [Mr. Ford’s supporters] would bang the drums about it being ‘checkbook journalism’ and attempt to cast doubt on the authenticity of the video.” The Crackstarter, on the other hand, shows that “the video is being acquired by the people of Toronto who are looking for the truth, sort of ‘democratic journalism.’” If Mr. Ford’s supporters are unhappy, he said, they will be able to “blame the people of Toronto rather than singling out one or two media outlets.”
For Ms. Bonar, the crowd-sourced nature of the Crackstarter is almost more important than the video itself. “Even if the video is never actually obtained, just the message that this sends and the sort of participatory democracy that it demonstrates, is a greater good,” she said.
It appears Gawker’s publicity stunt has transformed into an online platform for Toronto residents to come together and express their disdain for Mr. Ford. They may never share in Gawker’s pageview profits, but they’re not in it for the money. It’s not business, just politics.
UPDATE, 3:54 p.m. The Crackstarter has reached its goal of $200,000. Mr. Cook will appear on Canadian radio tomorrow to defend the ethics of paying for the video.