Jalopnik Completely Sells Out with “Branded Content”
That’s Really Awesome Ray

Jalopnik hasn’t announced it yet on their site but in an email published by Business Insider, Gawker Media chief Nick Denton revealed that his company’s sites will be moving towards “branded content”. Jalopnik editor-in-chief Ray Wert is getting a promotion to sales to head up Gawker’s new “content department”, where he will work with advertisers on sponsored posts and identifying, mentoring and cultivating clients’ (i.e. advertisers’) online advocates. Jalopnik editor Matt Hardigree will be heading up Gawker’s automotive site going forward.

First, let me congratulate Matt. I’ve enjoyed his writing. I also like Ray and he’s a car guy for sure but Wert and I have had our differences. I think Jalopnik’s actions getting Jeff Glucker fired at Autoblog for what just about everyone writing about cars considers to have been a minor ethical lapse were hypocritical in light of other Gawker and Jalopnik actions. Gawker has brazenly violated copyrights, a terrible sin for a publisher to do. Jalopnik promotes the Forza racing game as part of what Wert calls an “editorial tie-up” with that game’s producers. That tie up has meant considerable positive coverage of the game at Jalopnik. In exchange, Turn 10, the Forza franchise’s publishers, part of Microsoft, has published a series of Jalopnik branded packs of cars for download.

With an agreement like that already affecting Jalopnik’s content, it’s not surprising that Denton and Wert are focusing on branded content, sponsored posts, and social media brand advocates. The language in Denton’s email makes it pretty clear that Wert is getting a promotion. That’s probably the first time in publishing history that someone moving from editor-in-chief into sales has been considered a promotion. That’s rather telling. Print newspapers may be dying but not all parts of their business model are obsolete. Keeping advertising sales and editorial content separate means that the readers who make those advertising sales possible can trust the content. That firewall between advertising and content now appears, at least at Jalopnik and the other Gawker sites, to have gone the way of Linotype.

Nick Denton’s email below (sourced from Business Insider):

Forwarded message ———-
From: Nick Denton
Date: Thu, May 10, 2012 at 3:10 PM
Subject: New business initiatives at Gawker — and the managers who are going to run them
To: All Staf

We’ve been doing this nearly ten years. I’m not nearly ready to retire yet — or cash in. But we need to recognize there’s a new generation of management at Gawker Media. Today I’m going to talk about Ray Wert, Erin Pettigrew and Scott Kidder.


We are creating a new content department within sales to be headed by Ray. It will encompass the existing creative services team and several additional functions: primarily branded content, marketing communications and events. Ray is the first editor to move to sales. (Ray’s deputy Matt Hardigree will take over Jalopnik.)
We all know the conventional wisdom: the days of the banner advertisement are numbered. In two years, our primary offering to marketers will be our discussion platform. Expanding on our existing sponsored post program, Ray’s team will recruit and identify a client’s spokespeople and advocates, advise them on web etiquette and language, and help make their most persuasive case.
Ever since the Cluetrain Manifesto, marketers have tried to adopt a more human and conversational tone in their communications with customers. The web may finally be ready to deliver on that promise.
The second main growth area for Gawker Media is content-driven commerce, ranging from affiliate marketing to in-page transactions. A historical tidbit: the original business model for Gizmodo was affiliate fees from purchases of gadgets through Amazon. We didn’t have the scale then to make that work. We do now. In December we made $70,000 from Amazon. Without really trying. No seriously, it was an accident.
E-commerce has been in limbo between sales and operations departments — and has accordingly never received full attention. We will rectify that. Erin will continue to work on the direct business, managing sales strategy, marketing and operations. But in addition she will take responsibility for business development, revenue partnerships and e-commerce integration.
In particular, we will be looking for revenue growth from affiliate partnerships and mobile. But Erin’s mandate will be to optimize our entire revenue mix.
Joining Erin and Scott (about whom more in a future email), Ray will be on the operating committee. You know those Monday morning meetings in the red room or the glass conference room upstairs? Yeah, well that’s the operating committee. Fancy name, eh? It’s as close as we have to a management group.
Beyond the boost to three egos, these changes carry with them a few implications. First, we expect that the banner ad business will be supplanted by our content services and content-driven commerce. Second, unlike most companies during this bubble, we are planning for an independent existence for the next decade and beyond. And we don’t need to hire big names from outside to get us there; we grow our talent in-house.
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One Response to Jalopnik Completely Sells Out with “Branded Content”
That’s Really Awesome Ray

  1. Marty Densch says:

    I like Jalopnik and probably won’t like it any less with this move but Ronnie brings up a good point regarding the firewall that exists (or should exist) in publishing.

    True journalism also maintains a firewall between the editorial side and the news side, not just advertising. A good newspaper, even just your small, hometown paper, rigidly observes those firewalls. A few magazines do, too, though not many. No car mag that I’ve ever read observes those demarcations and neither do the car blogs. They may keep some separation between content and advertising but rarely, if ever, between reporting and editorializing.

    That’s why I’ve held that there is no such thing as automotive journalism*. It’s writing, often very good or even excellent writing but it’s not true journalism.
    *Automotive News might be an exception.

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