Why Gawker Media Wins, Even When it Loses

Last Updated Apr 27, 2010 4:02 PM EDT

Most firms prefer to avoid to criminal investigations, legal fees, search warrants and bad publicity. But for Gawker Media, the online blogging empire founded by Nick Denton, these issues are just another juicy story to be packaged and sold. By turning the tale of its legal woes into a tabloid saga, Gawker makes the most of its misfortune.

The story began last Monday when Gawker's technology blog, Gizmodo, published a sneak peek at a lost prototype of the next generation iPhone. On its own merits, that story would have been big, but not huge. Revelations included such banal details as: the volume button is now, gasp, two buttons!

But Gawker cleverly turned a gadget scoop into a multi-day melodrama by making everything part of the story, from Apple's (APPL) legal demands that they return the prototype to profiling the poor programmer who lost the phone, and likely his job, to the $5000 Gizmodo paid to acquire the lost -- some say stolen -- iPhone.

Each fresh revelation kept the story building, until it turned into a major media event, capturing a weeks' worth of attention. The weekend passed quietly and the story finally seemed to be dying down. But just as a fresh news cycle was ready to begin, Gizmodo broke the news of a police raid on the home office of their editor Jason Chen. Of course, the raid had taken place Friday, but Gawker craftily waited a few days before bringing the story back to life.

Gawker also tweaked the angle on the story. New details included the search warrant from California's Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team, a special technology task force, and a letter from their own lawyer invoking journalism shield laws to protest the seizure of Chen's property. These revelations prompted a fresh wave of speculation about Apple's connection to the REACT taskforce and the simmering tension between the two companies.

As Gizmodo wrote, this ceased to be about the iPhone a long time ago. But rest assured that no matter what happens in the future, Gawker will find a way to make it part of the story, and to keep the attention squarely focused on itself.

Image of Gizmodo's Iphone Shirt from Flickr User Mager Leagues

  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.