SEPTEMBER 4, 2009 5:35PM

Gawker steps up as GQ cowers

Rate: 11 Flag

OK, old media defenders. Let's hear you on the case of Condé Nast trying to keep its own journalism out of Russia.

Let's hear about how long track records of publication, big, expensive newsrooms and stables of press-freedom-safeguarding lawyers serve as foundations for the difficult work of investigative journalism, while bloggers and other new-media types are -- what was it? Ah, I remember -- "a bunch of pipsqueaks out there talking about what the real journalists do."

Condé Nast's GQ magazine hired veteran war reporter Scott Anderson to write about Russia. His piece, published in the U.S. September issue, is about a series of bombings in Chechnya that killed hundreds of people. Those attacks have been blamed on Chechen separatists, but Anderson quotes a former KGB agent at length, on the record, implicating then-Prime Minister, now President Vladimir Putin.

As David Folkenflik of NPR reports, the Russian government has been known to "turn up the heat" on journalists when it doesn't like what they write or say. The heat can take the form of defamation lawsuits or, even more punishingly, politicized audits that can, in the words of one expert, "paralyze a publication for months and send advertisers fleeing."

A top lawyer for Condé Nast, which publishes Russian editions of several of its magazines, including GQ, issued a memo saying the September U.S. edition of GQ should not be distributed in Russia, nor should the Anderson article be posted on the Web site or allowed to be shown to Russian officials anywhere. Condé Nast executives and lawyers refused to talk to Folkenflik, he reports.

It's a paradox of legacy media: The very things that make expensive journalism possible in the first place -- corporate and legal muscle -- began working against that journalism as soon as it saw daylight because the journalism threatened to damage the corporate and legal muscle.

Folkenflik quotes Jane Kirtley, an attorney and professor of ethics at the University of Minnesota journalism school, criticizing Condé Nast by saying, "It goes with the territory of a news organization to speak for those who can't speak —- and to bear the consequences."

Kirtley also points out that as a practical matter, trying to throw a blanket over the story won't work. "These stories will get out, they will get read in Russia," she says. "They're being somewhat naive to believe that by limiting this to their American edition that somehow they're preventing this from being read."

And that's where new media comes in.

Gawker grabbed a copy of the magazine, scanned in the story and crowdsourced a translation.

"In an act of publishing cowardice," Gabriel Snyder writes, "Condé Nast has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent Russians from reading a GQ article criticizing Vladimir Putin. As a public service, we're running it here and ask for your help in translating it."

As of 2 p.m. EDT Friday, about an hour and a half after Snyder's original posting, he updated to say that volunteers were at work translating the piece. Gawker's headline was in Russian, and a translation of the opening page of the print piece was already online.

So yes, Anderson's piece cost a lot of money. He likely commands top dollar and he had to travel to Russia and spend some time on the story. No one's pretending that sites like Gawker are currently able to produce much or even any of the kind of important journalism that Anderson practiced here. The problem of online journalism needing to come up with a business model is real.

But once the story was in print, who was doing the real work of journalism? The pipsqueaks!

Of course, if and when the new media types, the bloggers and citizen journalists and all the rest of that crowd, put together a workable business model and become able to do expensive, investigative journalism of the kind Anderson did for GQ, they'll be in danger of becoming beholden to the business side as well. Nothing about being online, rather than in print, would make a news organization less likely to want to protect its legal and business interests in the same way Condé Nast has done in this case.

But can the Case of the Cowering Corporation move us off of this idea that legacy publishers, with their big newsrooms, deep pockets and powerful lawyers, are necessary for important journalism to happen? All that's necessary is a desire to see it and some money to pay for it. Once someone has those things, it doesn't matter what form the published work takes, how big the newsroom is or what's been published in the past.

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I initially read about this on NPR.... At the time, they said there was no copy of the story they could find on the Internet, but it would be a matter of time. No kidding. Information cannot be contained. When will the MSM learn that?
??? whats up with this.. I thought I saw this on the cover/EP? but now no?
dude, nice post, but you're missing some of the bigger implications. putin involved in a falsely-attributed terrorist attack in his own country? which an intelligence source attributes to him?
the technical term for this is FALSE FLAG ATTACK.

oh and you're telling me the MSM doesnt wanna cover it and is cowering? I guess the MSM is not about revealing the underlying, hidden reality, about whats behind the curtain. I guess its more about the shadows dancing on the cave wall.
more in my blog on another FALSE FLAG ATTACK that the MSM will see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
hint: it has the initials
it makes your little putin thing look pretty amateurish & childlike in comparison....cuz see he doesnt have access to state-of-the-art technology for a false flag attack called
with the MSM wouldnt talk about unless the government told them to!!
because thats the modus operandii of the MSM....
rats, my erudite allusion sails over the head. dude, did they teach you anything in journalism school? its an allusion to plato's cave
I believe both of you are talking in code, and that includes this blog post.
So let me get this straight: GQ spent tens of thousands of dollars to send an expensive, experienced reporter to Russia for weeks, maybe months, then used its staff of editors, fact-checkers and others to publish the story. Then NPR (another "MSM" organization) paid its reporter, editors and others to report Conde Nast's bone-headed plan to keep the story away from the entire country of Russia. And finally, a blogger takes a couple of minutes to post a message asking other people to translate the article.

Ooooo, I'm so impressed with the blogger. What a triumph. That Pulitzer is on its way!

Seriously, how is this a tale of the blogger beating the MSM? Yes, Conde Nast clearly has its head up its arse if it thinks it can supress a story that it has already published. But anyone who thinks Gawker "was doing the real work of journalism" is simply delusional.

I actually laughed out loud when I read King's final sentences: "All that's necessary is a desire to see it and some money to pay for it. Once someone has those things, it doesn't matter what form the published work takes, how big the newsroom is or what's been published in the past."

It reminded me of the cartoon of the scientists standing at a blackboard filled with complex equations, with the final step of their calculations labeled, "And then a miracle happens."

I would love to see this blog get back to the intent of its title: the future of journalism. There are a lot of problems to solve to get us from the old journalism model to the new one, but so far, I haven't seen King offer one single solution.
Essentially, you did.

You lay out all the work that Anderson, Folkenflik and their companies did, then set it aside with a simplistic "... once the story was in print ...." You paint the blogger as coming to the rescue, saving the principles of journalism.

What you're missing is that commenting on journalism, even supporting journalism (as Gawker did), *isn't journalism.* It's standing on the sidelines, cheering or booing or whatever. But someone's got to be out there carrying the ball and making things happen.

I whole-heartedly agree that the old model is broken, we need a new one, and a lot of media companies are clueless about where we're headed or how to get there. I'm not one of those old-media types who think bloggers are pipsqueaks. But please don't minimize the hard, expensive work that we reporters do and then glorify a commentator/supporter/blogger as the future of the industry.
One more thought (actually just a clarification on what I've been trying to say): What Conde Nast did was one of the dumbest things I've heard of in a long time, and I've been in the business for 25 years. But I fail to see why their stupidity proves your point that bloggers or new media types are the future of journalism.
Please tell me what is, then. I've read your post several times, and that's what I'm getting.
Well, King can correct me if I'm wrong, but *I* thought he was pointing out that the argument that legacy MSM hardcopy publishers make is that you have to be this big legacy MSM hardcopy publishing house to fund important reporters to do stories. And so they funded this guy to write a long article blowing the lid off "Chechen separatists" bombing places when it was really the KGB, but then couldn't publish it in Russia because . . . they are a big legacy MSM hardcopy publisher. So who *can* publish it? Those dirty, pajama-clad bloggers.

So perhaps a new media model of funding reporters hasn't been developed yet, but despite the arguments of all the legacy MSM hardcopy publishers, *their* model has serious holes in it, too. Or to put it another way, online "publishers" can do things no MSM hardcopy publisher can, and just need to figure out a business model to support reporters.

Anyway, that's what *I* got out of it.
But the bloggers aren't really publishing anything. They're copying the work of someone else. They're a high-tech version of a guy with a Xerox machine and a Russian friend.

We agree on the idiocy of any hardcopy publisher who says that just because they've done great work in the past they're the only ones who can do it in the future.

We also agree that bloggers can do great work, have done great work and will do great work.

We agree that we need a new business model to support that work.

What I'm still waiting for is some kind of insightful commentary about how that might happen, instead of bloggers taking potshots at hardcopy publishers and vice versa. I'm an old-media guy who's livelihood depends on someone coming up with that new model, which is why I read this blog. Please, I need something substantial, instead of just criticism.
I read King's post as providing not merely criticism, but an observation about a dynamic. Parsing the dynamics in the present media situation is an essential element in evolving solutions, so I wouldn't tonk him for offering that kind of perspective.

Regarding insightful commentary and the evolving of solutions - I haven't been in the industry a long as NYCphonebook in one continous run, but I have been a hardcopy magazine publisher, among other things, and I also am watching this transmogrification of an industry with rapt attention. But I don't expect every post of King's to offer suggestions about 'how that might happen.' This is a cultural as much as a business transformation, and there's going to be a whole lot of fomenting going on before the answers about new models of business and communication come clear to us all.

In this emergent process, I view blogs and columns like this one as an important part of dialog and food for thought, even if they don't offer a solution a day. This post about bloggers daring to tread where MSM fears to go is a thought-provoking tidbit of grist, as far as I'm concerned.
Great writeup, I am rather concerned about the “paradox of legacy media”, for example the huffington post is bring it all back and rather worryingly trying to centralize the decentralized and distributed editorial edict of non traditional media such as the Internet and web 2.0. All this could seep down and affect liberal movements as open courseware for Online PhD Degree Programs
Good article. As for Putin, it wouldn't surprise me if the former KGB guy had it right. He has been backing a push to re-evaluate Stalin's image and whitewash the deaths and/or imprisonment of perhaps ten milion Soviet citizens or more, through school books "explaining" that Stalin's motivation was rational.

As for journalism, it isn't nearly so pure as it postures itself to be.
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Wow, this is very commendable work by Gawker., and you are absolutely right that big journalism needs to step up and admit its weaknesses and that it may actually need new-media. As for me, I am new to Open Salon, and I hope you'll check out my blog. Articles cover culture, literature and fashion as well as New York events. Thanks.
Apparently GQ spent thousands of dollars to send an expensive reporter to Russia for weeks and then used its staff of editors to publish the story. Then another MSM organization, NPR, paid its reporter, editors and others to report Conde Nast's bone-headed plan to keep the story away from the entire country of Russia! Sounds like an expensive exercise in futility!
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Shades of CBS and The Insider. And it isn't just news organizations -- this is what happens to movies, music and car companies when the accountants and lawyers take over from people who actually make things.

Of course, this was all prophesied in 1977 by Paddy Chayefsky in the movie Network, and by David Halberstam in his book The Reckoning.
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Errr..surely the moral is that this points out THE viable business model? Instead of spending a lot of money to send an English-speaking reporter to Russia, get a Russian journalist to do it in Russian (if English is not an option), and use a translator to reach the rest of the world.
Cost-effective, and quicker.
What exactly is the big puzzle here?
With local offices, local advertisers and locally run websites for regional languages, an organization can function globally but without any of the trappings of legacy publishing.