Shakeup At Gawker Media: Jesse Oxfeld Out; Shuffle Across Blogs; Two Properties Up For Sale

Big news at Gawker Media: on the eve of the July 4th weekend: a cross-company shakeup which has seen editors shuffled and dismissed, hierarchies re-established, and two sites put up for sale.

Gawker co-editor Jesse Oxfeld is out, replaced by frequent guest-editor and TMFTML blogger Alex Balk. Gridskipper editor Chris Mohney, who landed the job by garnering attention as anona-blogger Gawkerist, will oversee Gawker in the newly-created top spot of Managing Editor. Gridskipper contributor (as well as HuffPo contributor) Joshua David Stein, will step in as Gridskipper editor. Also let go was Gizmodo news editor John Biggs, to be replaced by Brian Lam, a San Francisco -based Wired editor.

Gawker is also planning to sell two sites, Screenhead and news-aggregator Sploid, helmed by Dong Resin and Ken Layne respectively. Gakwer plans to keep the sites operational through July, and if they are not sold, will be shuttered.

Wonkette co-editor David Lat, who announced his decision to leave Wonkette late last month to join Dealbreaker's Elizabeth Spiers in creating a law-based blog, will be replaced by guest editors until a new editor is found. Alex Pareene will remain at Wonkette.

Gawker Media founder Nick Denton, in a blog post to be posted on his personal blog tomorrow, said this:

Even successful sites can settle into comfortable habits. Over time, on the same beat, all journalists get into a routine, or too close to sources, or lose their nose for a story. Bloggers are far from immune. We want always to be open to new editorial talent, even if that means making painful changes.

He also cited the challenges of attracting advertisers and operational costs as challenges facing the company. (Denton's full blog post is available after the jump.)

Oxfeld gave this statment to ETP (and also to FishbowlNY):

I've had an amazing year in this job, and I couldn't have asked for a better experience. I was brought in a year ago explicitly to bring Gawker back to its original inside-media mission, and i think I did that -- while also helping deliver, over the last four months, the site's best four traffic months ever. My understanding is it will now be moving in a slightly different direction, and -- as I continue to read it regularly, as I have since it launched -- I look forward to seeing where the able team of jessica and alex take it. At the moment, I'm enjoying a lovely weekend on the Jersey Shore and the pleasant reality that I won't have to work tomorrow, and I eagerly look forward to the possibility of having a real job -- and, God willing, maybe even a 401(k) -- again.

During his tenure at Gawker, Oxfeld was named one of the "Forward 50" — the nation's fifty most influential jews — by NY Jewish paper The Forward (along with co-blogger Jessica Coen), and was invited to deliver this year's "Blue Pencil Lecture" at the Columbia Spectator.

The shakeup was first reported by, here and here.

Full memo from Gawker Media Managing Editor Lockhart Steele after the jump, as well as full blog post to be posted by Nick Denton tomorrow at his website.

> Editors,
> We're making a series of changes today across Gawker Media. This
> email is my attempt to explain what's happened.
> This afternoon, I notified Dong at Screenhead, and Ken and Scott at
> Sploid, about our intention to put these two sites up for sale
> immediately, with the intention of spinning them off to new owners.
> We're hoping to keep both sites operational through July to
> transition the titles. If we're unable to do so, the sites will be
> shuttered.
> Separately, Jesse Oxfeld at Gawker, John Biggs at Gizmodo, and David
> Lat at Wonkette are moving on from Gawker Media.
> To replace them, we're bringing in new talent from inside and outside
> the company. Gridskipper's Chris Mohney will become's
> managing editor, a new position of site leadership, while Alex Balk
> of TMFTML (and frequent guest-editing) fame is joining the site full-
> time as an editor alongside Jessica.
> Brian Lam, a Wired editor based in San Francisco, is leaving the
> magazine to join Gizmodo as its new site lead. At Gridskipper, in the
> position vacated by Chris' move to Gawker, we've hired Joshua David
> Stein, a contributor to the site who also writes for Flavorpill and
> Topic Magazine. The Wonkette position opened by David's departure
> will be filled by guest editors in the short term, with a full-time
> hire expected in July.
> Today's cross-site shakeup is unlike anything we've done before at
> this company. Why did we do it?
> More than anything, I think the moves are driven by our belief that
> Gawker needs to remain in a state of constant revolution. Resting on
> our laurels, and getting lazy, becomes easier as the company matures.
> Yet, so many of our titles are still in their infancy in terms of
> what their potential audience size, impact, and editorial could be.
> Look at our biggest traffic sites -- Gizmodo, Gawker, Fleshbot,
> Defamer, Kotaku, Deadspin, Lifehacker, just for starters. Each
> amazing in its own way. And each capable of being two, five, ten
> times bigger than it is now -- not just in traffic, but in influence,
> buzz, and significance. I'm also excited by the buzz around some of
> our newer titles, like Consumerist, and some ideas we have for new
> sites.
> We've spent the first half of this year developing the Ganja
> publishing platform that Lifehacker and Consumerist are now operating
> on. The goal of the Ganja project is simple: to further empower you
> to create the best sites you can. Over the next year, the platform
> should help us evolve our editorial product in myriad ways. Cleaner
> layouts. Bigger photos. More video. The ability to incorporate
> content from other sites, and readers, directly. Greater
> interactivity. But all backed by our desire to continue investing in
> our editorial -- in our editors, photographers, videographers -- that
> form the core of all Gawker sites.
> As our editorial ambitions expand, we've come to recognize even more
> the importance of a strong site lead. Nick and I can and do make
> regular suggestions from above about site content. But we've found
> that it's not in anyone's interest, ours or yours, for us to try and
> force change. Our sites run best when change is driven from the
> bottom up, not from the top down.
> Regarding Screenhead and Sploid: both sites have been among our
> favorites, and the bloggers behind them true pros. But if we're to
> keep our focus, we need discipline to invest more in our hits,
> cultivate our smaller sites with rising buzz, and develop new titles,
> like our forthcoming music title. And, yes, part ways with a site
> when it's not working out for us.
> Nick has written a blog post that he's going to post on his personal
> blog on Monday explaining more of his big picture thinking on the
> changes. It's attached at the end of this email.
> I'm around all weekend, by phone (917-XXX-XXXX) more often than IM,
> to discuss these changes if you're so inclined. Otherwise, expect to
> hear from me next week for some more on the thinking behind our
> decision.
> Lock
> * * *
> Forthcoming on Nick's blog:
> We've never liked crowds, nor believed in their wisdom. Gawker
> launched and expanded in the middle of the web bust; as, four years
> later, web 2.0 enthusiasm reaches dizzying new levels, it's time for
> another perversely countercyclical move. We're retrenching: disposing
> of two of our 15 sites, Sploid and Screenhead, and reshuffling staff
> on four more, Gawker, Gizmodo, Wonkette and Gridskipper.
> Why?
> First, advertising is a fickle thing. Particularly the entertainment
> advertising upon which so many websites depend. A change in the
> advertising industry's conventional wisdom, cutbacks by the studios:
> it wouldn't take much to prick the current exuberance. Better to
> sober up now, before the end of the party.
> Second, operational costs are increasing. For editorial talent, we
> now pay within the range of mainstream media. Technology expenses are
> growing even faster. The open-source publishing systems, upon which
> most weblogs depend, cannot handle larger and more sophisticated
> sites. The expansion of internet media is inflating costs for
> services such as ad-serving.
> Third, it's easy enough to start a site; increasingly tough to
> attract attention. Readers tend to give new Gawker sites an initial
> look at the very least, and we do cross-promote. But each site
> ultimately stands alone, and succeeds on the uniqueness of its
> proposition and the quality of the items. There are no sure things.
> Fourth, it's hard to turn around a site. They're either hits or
> flops, generally, and the die is cast within the first few months.
> We've only once ever revived a flailing site, Kotaku, on videogames,
> which had a wobbly start, but now scores more than 5m pageviews each
> month. Like a TV network, we have to back our hits, and clear out our
> schedules of the less popular shows.
> Finally, even successful sites can settle into comfortable habits.
> Over time, on the same beat, all journalists get into a routine, or
> too close to sources, or lose their nose for a story. Bloggers are
> far from immune. We want always to be open to new editorial talent,
> even if that means making painful changes.
> So, the domain names, archives and graphics of Sploid and Screenhead,
> which together attract 1.5m pageviews a month, are for sale. They're
> two of our favorite names. The writers, Ken Layne and Scott Ross on
> Sploid, and Dong Resin on Screenhead, are among the blogging greats.
> The categories of news and humor ought to be traffic magnets. The
> Gawker formula, of geeky obsessiveness, wasn't appropriate to these
> titles. Some other owner may make better use of them. For more
> information on the bidding process, please contact Gaby Darbyshire --
> In other changes, Gawker's Jesse Oxfeld, Gizmodo's John Biggs and
> Wonkette's David Lat are leaving the company.
> Brian Lam, currently at Wired Magazine, will helm Gizmodo, the gadget
> site.
> In an internal reshuffle, Gridskipper's Chris Mohney will become
> managing editor of Gawker itself. He and Jessica Coen will be joined
> by Alex Balk, who's best known for the TMFTML blog, and has often
> guested on Gawker.
> Gridskipper's new editor is Joshua David Stein, who's written for
> Topic Magazine and Flavorpill, as well as contributing to our travel
> site from Paris.
> Alex Pareene will continue as editor of Wonkette. We are still
> evaluating candidates for the second slot on the Washington, D.C.
> site. Applications and ideas to Lockhart Steele --