Gawker Media, Potential-for-Anarchy Edition

So Gawker, this morning, launched a deceptively simple new feature on its homepage: a text box near its logo, populated with the words: “Got a tip for us?”

And with that seemingly minor design change, Gawker has ushered in a system that affords Gawker users—the readers and commenters of Gawker itself, plus those of the eight other blogs of Gawker media—even more control over the sites’ content than they used to enjoy. Gawker Open Forums, as the new feature is called, will allow users to submit news tips, internal memos, photos, videos, etc. to the entire readership of Gawker blogs—and then to talk about the submissions amongst themselves—creating, essentially, a back-channel discussion that is both user-generated and, via Gawker’s already-in-place system of starred commenters, user-moderated.

The system is something of a grand experiment that will likely straddle the line between user engagement and editorial anarchy. Open Forums, Nieman Lab’s Zach Seward reports, “could transform tag pages, typically little more than archives of old posts, into commenter free-for-alls and transparent tip lines.”

Readers are now greeted with a text box as large as the blog’s logo, inviting them to share news, videos, links, and trivialities. Tagging a message with #tips on Gawker, for instance, automatically sends it to the “tips” tag page, where anyone can follow the stream of submissions and Gawker writers will keep an eye out for news to promote on the front page. Same for #mac on Gizmodo, #snapjudgment on Jezebel, #DUAN on Deadspin, or any other tag. (If DUAN means nothing to you, then welcome to the impassioned world of loyal blog commenters. It’s short for Deadspin Up All Night.)

One implication of the transparency of the new system: Gawker writers and editors will essentially have to compete with their audience for tips posted to their sites—a fairly revolutionary change. As Nick Denton, publisher of Gawker Media, wrote in an e-mail sent to Gawker staffers last night: “we’ve always insisted that tips and letters to the editor are sent in by email and mediated by our editors; that discussions stay on topics that we determine; and that our writers are the only ones who can initiate stories on the site. No longer.”

So…engagement? Anarchy? A combo of the two? “I’m expecting chaos,” Denton admitted, in an online chat with Seward late yesterday. “But as the front pages of our sites become ever more professional, it’s even more important to allow anarchy to bubble up from below. The goal is to blur the line between our editors and commenter-contributors.”

[via Nieman Lab]

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.