PUB 612 Journal RSS
Professor Kathy Sandler
29 April 2015
Assignment 2: Sojourners Magazine and Gawker Media
I chose to compare my case study, Gawker Media, to the one Tara wrote about Sojourners Magazine. This may seem unusual because both companies are very different; Gawker Media has blogs that cover a plethora of topics such as celebrity news, technology, and video games, while Sojourners exclusively covers social justice issues from a Christian perspective. However, their success strategies and the ways they use technology prove they are more similar than either company might think. Sojourners and Gawker Media, though different in mission, both look to tailor their services to appeal to as many readers as possible, while also being on the look-out for ways to extend reader accessibility.
One issue both Sojourners Magazine and Gawker Media addressed was trying to get more readers. Cynthia Martens, the Senior Director of Circulation and Distribution at Sojourners Magazine, realized that, after subscribers dipped because of the most recent recession, the magazine was basically giving content away by offering it for free on its website. They then decided to proceed with a paywall, following in the tradition of many publications such as Time, Vogue, and Scientific American, as Martens said in her interview. Sojourners went into this with the knowledge that the paywall model has worked for other publications, and Martens mentioned research she and her team did to make sure this would pay off. She noted that paywalls would bring in more ad space, more data on their readers (I am assuming that this is by looking at article views and such), and bringing in a different kind of reader to complement the existing subscribers. When the paywall went into effect and the price was set, Martens was surprised to see that about fifty percent of subscribers were still print readers, even though that subscription cost more. Print and digital ended up being just as popular, with digital earning a few more subscribers. By giving readers more options, Sojourners has started to grow its subscription base (McNeil-Collins). Even though this was not by much, it is still growth.
Gawker Media took a much different approach, mostly because the way Gawker Media measures readership is different. Its publications were founded as blogs and, therefore, do not have a subscription model. Their success does not equal subscribers; it equals website traffic and its online atmosphere. To expand its readership, Gawker Media added easier ways to connect with stories and authors on its platform, Kinja. Readers became able to follow authors, allowing easier access to articles a specific reader might enjoy better. The reading experience got a little more customized. Kinja also has a unique commenting system where only comments contributing to an actual conversation are posted, eliminating many Internet trolls and encouraging a think-tank atmosphere (Weening). Gawker Media wanted to gain readers by cultivating a more sophisticated and more accessible reputation, and it paid off since readership increased by twenty percent in 2014 (Shontell).
Both of these strategies have appeared to work for each media company, but they would not have worked if they switched tactics. The type of technology implemented should reflect the purpose of the organization and its model. Gawker Media’s blogs would take a serious hit if it implemented a paywall since they have never charged customers. It is based in free blogs. However, Sojourners could never afford to do that because it has cultivated a reputation as an intellectual social justice magazine and it needs money to fund Sojourner ministries. It has already set a precedent of charging for content through its magazine. Plus, the nature of the companies is much different. Gawker Media is a for-profit company that wants to make a profit, which means it just has to get readers. However, Sojourners is a nonprofit organization because its publication is considered ministry. Gawker is just for entertainment.
Sojourners and Gawker also sought to give customers what they wanted. Sojourners did this by acknowledging that many of its readers are now accessing the publication on a mobile device. The company decided that it was time to launch a mobile-friendly website. The platform that is used is Uberflip (McNeil-Collins). According to Uberflip’s website, this service is a “responsive content Hub” that centralizes all content such as blog posts, articles, tweets, video, etc. (“Uberflip at a Glance”). I am not sure I like it. All posts look the same and it is difficult to tell at first glance where each post is from (a Tweet, a blog post, etc.). The side menu allows a reader to filter the main page by medium, like “videos” or “social,” but I cannot help but wonder if a social justice publication should offer to filter items by issue rather than medium. It might appeal more to Sojourners’ readers. Also, Uberflip apparently comes with a lot of Uberflip branding which I found distracting.
When designing Kinja, Gawker Media also tried to keep readers’ opinions in mind. Kinja brought back the “endlessly scrolling blog format” that removed from a pre-Kinja update that fans requested back. The comment section they added was in response to people wanting an intelligent place to speak their mind, and they added anonymous “burner” accounts for when people wanted to do so anonymously, while also tightening the quality of comments that actually got posted. The comments section was in a direct response to what Gawker Media’s competitors were taking away and replacing with Facebook commenting systems (Weening). Gawker essentially took what readers liked in the past and added what the company thought they’d want in the future.
Both companies also want to offer interactive experiences to their customers, and this issue is a little more underdeveloped for both. Gawker Media made some strides in this when it created Kinja with a blogging option for readers. Instead of being passive readers, they got a new commenting system, as mentioned above, and a free blogging platform. They can essentially contribute to conversations and create their own. Ariel Viera, the Gawker Media employee I interviewed, said that a Gawker app is looking like it is on the horizon, which would allow readers to have a greater access to Gawker Media’s blogs outside of its desktop and mobile sites (Weening). Viera did not have details about the possible app, but the possibilities of an app can include more interactive content.
Martens also mentioned wanting to create more “responsive” material, specifically through Sojourners Magazine’s digital editions (McNeil-Collins). This, like the Gawker app, is also shrouded in some mystery. A route Sojourners can take is to create enhanced digital edition of its issues, rather than just the PDF versions it has now. It can include video that complements its content and other interesting features. Sojourners could also go the app route. I would recommend the latter just because the former sounds like it would take more time. Every time an issue is released, a new, enhanced version would have to be made and that would become another process tacked onto production. Even if its workflow it more automated, it would still be more effort than creating the app. The initial development would be lengthy and probably expensive. However, after it is developed, Sojourners would just have to upload content. Enhanced digital editions would have to be developed month after month. An app would just be created once.
From comparing and contrasting these companies it becomes clear that keeping a company’s mission and purpose in mind is essential to making any decision, including technological ones. Companies should be able to conduct company-tailored research, like Martens was doing, when choosing a technology, while also keeping readers’ needs in mind and anticipating their future needs, such as wanting to create more interactive content. In order to remain relevant and read, media companies have to be open to new innovations and contemplating on how they fit into a company’s current brand.
McNeil-Collins, Tara. "Sojourners Magazine: Paywall Case Study." PUB 612 Assignment 1
(n.d.): n. pag. Web.
Shontell, Alyson. "Gawker Media Generated $45 Million in Net Revenue Last Year And It's
Raising a $15 Million Round Of Debt." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.
"Uberflip at a Glance." Uberflip. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.
Weening, Catherine. “Gawker Media Case Study.” PUB 612 Assignment 1 (n.d.) n. pag. Web.
Professor Kathy Sandler
1 April 2015
Gawker Media Case Study
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ariel Viera, who works for Support at Gawker Media, meaning that he works with editors, the ad team, and users to help solve any technical bugs with Gawker Media’s blogs, which are Gawker, Kotaku, io9, Jezebel, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Lifehacker, Cink, Deadspin, and “a bunch of other subblogs” (Viera). Viera said that though Gawker uses several technologies in their work, the main one is Kinja, a platform where they both create and deliver their content. As seen by their use of Kinja as a platform, Gawker Media is dedicated to making their content accessible to the public by making reading, discovering, and commenting easier than ever.
For those not familiar with the platform, it is described on the Kinja Support Center website as a platform that “empowers you [the reader] to discuss the news you most care about by providing a consistent reading and discussion experience throughout the entire platform, including Gawker Media sites. You now have the power to curate conversation using the same tools our editors use!” Kinja, essentially, allows more accessibility to both writers and readers and allows them to recommend posts to promote them, customizing their reading experience. Gawker Media founder Nick Denton described Kinja as a “leveling of the playing field” and that it can turn “every reader into a potential author” (Ingram). Kinja wants to offer a greater level of accessibility between the writer and the blog, the reader and the blog, and the writer and the reader.
Viera noted that Kinja is beneficial to writers of Gawker Media’s blogs and helps them be more independent writers. Because the Kinja platform is so accessible, it allows writers to post “on the fly” with “minimal red tape,” meaning that the stories are often “edgier” since they can post right away (Viera). This also means that writers are able to post more since they do not have to wait for a series of approvals from the blog itself, whether it be from Jezebel, Gawker, io9, etc. Kinja allows writers to freely express themselves. Readers can also “star” stories and comments to help recommend and promote posts (“Welcome to the New Jezebel”), which of course also benefits the writers.
Kinja also benefits the reader, particularly in the act of reading. Gawker Media brought back the “endlessly scrolling blog format” that was missed by many in a past redesign. This was done to make the reading experience easier. Also, since writers can bypass red tape when posting and updating their work, readers have access to more pieces, including more up-do-date ones, with Kinja. Pieces are also more honest since writers get to avoid red tape, bringing a more genuine experience to the reader. Readers help promote stories they like with the “star” feature, and they can follow their favorite writers (“Welcome to the New Jezebel”). This platform makes reading Gawker Media’s posts easier and more enjoyable.
Readers are also able to express themselves more on the Kinja platform by being able to, as Viera said, “express their opinions freely on any article. Embracing commenting is something we’re unique for, [since] many other media websites have either phased out commenting entirely or have decided to use Facebook’s commenting system instead (which in turn has deterred intelligent conversation)” (Viera). Buzzfeed, which in a Gawker post was referenced as Gawker‘s rival (Finnegan), currently has a combination of both Facebook comments and their own comments. However, the non-Facebook comments are below the Facebook comments, and most of them are simply “reactions,” which is what Buzzfeed calls their tags, such as “OMG,” “LOL,” and “FAIL” (Neyman). The actual conversations take place in the Facebook section which, as Viera pointed out, do not always foster intelligent conversations since people can post whatever they want. Unlike Facebook, Kinja allows Gawker Media to monitor comments. While Facebook comments are automatically posted, Kinja comments that are contributing to a conversation rise to the top, while comments seen as offensive or just Internet “trolling” are put into a “pending queue” (Cook). Moreover, readers can curate comments themselves by starring comments (“Welcome to the New Jezebel”). Gawker Media is using Kinja to create a more conversational feel so that ideas can be exchanged and debated, rather than bogged down by people who may not have even read the article they are commenting on.
Also, Facebook comments force readers to share their actual name, while Kinja allows readers to create “burner” accounts, which means a user can create a username not tied to any information; they’re just given a key to sign in. This way, a reader can post an anonymous tip or scoop, creating a symbiotic relationship between reader and writer. This anonymity elsewhere might lead to spam in the comments, but those comments would just end up in the pending queue (“Welcome to Kinja”). By using Kinja, Gawker Media is trying to appeal to as many readers and writers as possible.
Kinja also allows readers to become writers in their own way. With an account, Kinja users automatically get access to their own blog; the username is also the URL so that the blog would be username.kinja.com. In addition to posting what they want, readers-turned-bloggers have the ability to republish posts from Gawker Media blogs, which is good for the blogs’ writers, and Gawker Media blogs are able to republish stories from these personal blogs. Any posts republished include a byline and credit. Gawker Media sells no ads on these personal blogs, meaning that they are not trying to make money off a reader’s work (“Welcome to the New Jezebel”). The blogging feature does what the commenting system does: encourage the exchange of ideas.
As for problems integrating and using Kinja, the issues Viera mentions mostly have to do with how to move forward without disrupting writers or readers.
[O]ur biggest challenge right now is how we can make an overhaul of our platform while maintaining the ease of use for our editors and commenters. We want to keep the conversation alive on our articles, and promote even deeper discourse, but we also want to provide an interactive news experience. We're currently in the process of integrating new technologies, with a potential Kinja app in the horizon, and how we overcome those challenges remains to be seen (Viera).
Transitioning to newer updates of Kinja could not mean halting posts, comments, and views, and that is not the best option for Kinja. Stopping any of those activities can lead to a loss in readership. Viera also mentioned the tension between wanting to create an open environment while also wanting a deep discourse, as seen by Kinja’s “pending queue.” At the same time, Gawker Media wants to use Kinja to bring an “interactive’ experience to readers, which starts with Kinja’s commenting system and is currently heading towards creating a Kinja app, where all of Gawker Media’s blogs can be accessed, as well as any blogs created by readers themselves. However, the future of past and future Kinja initiatives is yet to be seen.
Though Kinja strives towards more reader interactivity, based on what I heard from Viera and read from my own research, Gawker Media is already ahead of the game. While comment sections for many evoke a sense of wariness due to their notorious places in cultural criticism, Gawker Media is determined to rebuild, rebrand, and reutilize that part of the web-surfing experience. They even want to go one step forward by providing a place for readers to write themselves, while also not wanting to forget their original purpose: to publish. Though Gawker Media’s blogs are all very different, they share a common goal of wanting to create a think tank-like atmosphere, while also being open to everyone.
Coen, Jessica. "Welcome to Kinja, Our New Commenting System." Jezebel. Gawker Media, 27 June 2012. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.
Coen, Jessica. "Welcome to the New Jezebel." Jezebel. Gawker Media, 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
Cook, John. "Welcome to the New Gawker." Gawker. Gawker Media, 22 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.
Finnegan, Leah. "This Is What One Woman Learned from Reading BuzzFeed for a Day." Gawker. Gawker Media, 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
Ingram, Matthew. "Gawker Media Looks to Boost Traffic and Wants to Double Staff, but Its Kinja Community Platform Still Needs Work." Gigaom. N.p., 23 June 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
Neyman, Anna. "37 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Netflix." BuzzFeed. N.p., 1 Apr. 2015. Web. 1 Apr. 2015
Viera, Ariel. Personal interview. 13 March 2015.
"What Is Kinja?" Kinja. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
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