Elizabeth Spiers, who is leaving her job as editor-in-chief of Mediabistro on November 1, is working on her first novel. Prior to joining Mediabistro a year ago, Spiers was a contributing writer at New York magazine and, in 2002, she founded the media gossip Web site, Gawker.com. Spiers has also worked as an equity analyst and a dot-com marketing director.
Liz Cox Barrett: On Monday, Gawker (your former blog) reported that one of its posts led to the firing of a Conde Nast researcher — the researcher emailed an internal Conde Nast memo to someone at Gawker, who published the (rather mundane) memo. Wrote Gawker: “We’re shocked. We’re disappointed. We’re a little mad at our ourselves …”
Two days later, Gawker rival fishbowlny (which you co-edit for at least a few more hours) had it’s own look-we-got-someone-canned! moment, reporting that it caused the firing of one of its insider sources — a CNN employee — after it blogged about internal CNN matters, including the details of a closed company meeting (to which this employee gave fishbowlny access). Fishbowlny’s Rachel Sklar wrote: “I deeply regret this result, and am surprised at it considering that I was never contacted regarding any of my coverage and Thomsen never received any sort of warning regarding the Fishbowl coverage … For the record, there was no malice intended toward CNN, just the desire to report on an influential newsgathering organization.”
First, why are these dismissals surprising to anyone? And what does this all mean — other than, possibly, even better jobs for the fired persons? What does it say about blogs and big media companies and the balance of power? Are major media companies afraid of blogs, mystified by blogs, or what?
Elizabeth Spiers: First, I think the two dismissals are apples-and-oranges, though they look superficially similar, and I understand why you’d compare them. In the first case, “leaking” seems to imply intent, and I don’t think Krucoff intended that the email he forwarded (an innocuous notice about Conde Nast servers being down) to explain his online absence to be used as a “tip.”
The second email Gawker posted from Krucoff, explaining that he got fired, was sent to 11 people, privately (I was one of them). I assume that private emails are implicitly off-the-record because I don’t think good reporters have to burn sources to get stories, but everyone has their own policy about that sort of thing.
That said, big companies layer themselves in bureaucratic restrictions primarily for liability reasons, and not allowing employees to use company equipment for personal use is pretty typical of those sort of restrictions. Any personal email Krucoff sends from his Conde Nast machine, regardless of the nature and regardless of whether or not it’s going to Gawker, is ostensible grounds for termination. I don’t think it’s realistic to assume that employees will never do anything personal between the hours of 9 and 5, but I understand why the rules are in place and I can’t really blame the companies. I don’t think it has anything to do with Conde Nast being “afraid of blogs” (I don’t think they are), but understandably, they’re not particularly keen to have internal information leaked to the public outlets (mainstream press or blogs) and if they think they’ve identified the leaker, I understand why they’d fire that person. That said, I think they missed the target in this case. I know Krucoff pretty well and I don’t think he’s been leaking things to Gawker at all. Ironically, he loved Conde Nast, and was hugely defensive of it to the Gawker staffers after he started working there.
In Rachel’s friend’s case, he told her about the fishbowl-related posters in the lobby and the security staff there let Rachel in. (She told them exactly what she was there for, and if they had a problem with it, they certainly could have stopped it there.) I don’t think Rachel or her friend had any idea what they were doing was off-limits or top secret in any way. That, granted, may be naive, but it was good faith naivete.