The Future of Something: Nick Denton, Bonnie Fuller, and Others Hold Forth at I Want Media Panel

All that inky meat “shaken loose” from magazine and newspaper layoffs might seem like tasty bait for blog companies, according to Gawker chief Nick Denton. But he doesn’t want ’em. “It’s very, very tempting right now to say, ‘Ok, let’s go out and let’s hire 50 of the best people from newspapers and magazines,” he told the crowd gathered this afternoon, June 3, at NYU’s Arther L. Carter Journalism Institute in Cooper Square. But, “they don’t adjust well to working online.”

Mr. Denton was speaking at I Want Media’s The Future of Media: 2009 panel, an Internet Week event which also included Jack Dorsey, cofounder and chairman of the most-hyped social media juggernaut Twitter; Bonnie Fuller, queen of celebrity gossip tabloids as creator of Us Weekly and founder of Bonnie Fuller Media; Alan Murray, deputy managing editor and executive editor online at The Wall Street Journal; and Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and accused “newspaper killer.” (Mr. Newmark called himself the “Forrest Gump of the Internet,” at the panel.)

The Journal‘s Mr. Murray said he isn’t about to welcome those wary writers with open laptops either. What’s so wrong with them? “A little bit of attitude, a little bit of personality,” he said, and “the ability to get into a conversation with your readers.” Of The Journal‘s top-notch investigative journalists, he said, “I guarantee you none of them would be good bloggers.”

What about those Condé Nast Portfolio alums? Eh. “Can you seriously imagine, these luncheon people, with their car service?… Can you seriously imagine them adjusting to the Internet?” Mr. Denton scoffed.

As for traditional media like newspapers making enough money to churn out issues? “They have nothing that people are going to pay [for],” Mr. Denton said. And online pay walls? Forget ’em.

“We are egomaniacs,” Mr. Denton said, referring to writers. “We like to get out in the public eye.” When journalists are put behind a paywall, which The Times experimented with, they aren’t happy. “They fall out of the public discussion,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal, of course, has a paywall. Lots of people are coming in and “sampling” content, about 16 million of them, Mr. Murray said. But “more than a million” people pay for the paper’s online subscription.
A common mistake, he said, was The Times‘ former paywall model. “They put their popular columnists and put them behind a paywall and that was a disaster,” Mr. Murray said. “The mistake that they make is saying that the most popular content is the most valuable content.”
Media organizations have to figure out what content might be valuable enough to put behind a paywall without purging readers altogether, he said. “We are not all going to make our living off of advertising,” Mr. Murray said.

“That is just so not true,” Mr. Denton interjected.

He explained that organizations like The Journal won’t be able to cover the “petty Albany scandal” or other local politics stories and get sufficient advertising. But, according to Mr. Denton, gadget industry coverage, video games, and entertainment gossip will bring in the bucks to keep media organizations afloat. Also, eyeballs (also known as page clicks), which come to Gawker for “Ivy League gossip or hipster gossip, stories like the Hipster Grifter or a Harvard murder, something like that, will do better for us than, say, some random Britney story,” Mr. Denton claimed.

Ms. Fuller said that people will pay to have more personal contact with writers. “People crave to get close to the people that they admire. Thomas Freidman is a celebrity, Maureen Dowd, David Carr—he’s a celebrity to people who read him and follow him,” she said, gesturing to The Times‘ media columnist, who was in the audience at the panel. Mr. Newmark recited his usual advice for media: Keep fact-checking, because readers will pay for that. “Trust is the new black,” he said.

Mr. Denton asked Mr. Dorsey whether Twitter was considering paywalls within their service. “It’s certainly being tested,” Mr. Dorsey replied (a bit like what the Brooklyn Museum is doing with their 1stfans Twitter feed), who said he gets a “flavoring” of news stories on Twitter trends pages, and then usually goes on the to read more information.

Ms. Miller said Twitter is a good service for people who want to make themselves stars on the Internet. “They don’t have to get on a reality show, they can have their own reality show on Twitter,” she said.

When Mr. Murray was asked about The Wall Street Journal‘s recently released social media guidelines, and insisted it was “a revision of a memo that has come out every ten years since the beginning of time and the big message is ‘Don’t be stupid.'” Journalists shouldn’t tweet about going to an abortion rights rally, and if you write about that topic, for example. “If you’re Bob Woodward and you’re about to go meet Deep Throat at the garage, you probably shouldn’t tweet about it beforehand.”

“We’ve got 50 people on Twitter, I do tweets a dozen times a day,” he continued. “I don’t think people are that profoundly interested in my personal life, whether I’m eating a ham sandwich or where I’m eating lunch,” but his personal life does make it onto the feed, he said. He and other Journal writers just need to be careful, he explained.

The memo was “just one of those exercises that happens in big corporations.”

Mr. Denton insists that online publishing is still a good business. When asked if he would ever consider selling Gawker Media, which has been a rumor among some media gossips, he said, “I think as soon as you start to think about it, bad things happen.” The Future of Something: Nick Denton, Bonnie Fuller, and Others Hold Forth at I Want Media Panel