For the last twelve hours or so, the internet has been railing against Gawker for publishing a post that allegedly outed a non-public figure, a man married to a woman, for trying to hire a male escort. This is, of course, a dumb and wrong post for Gawker to publish. Full stop. There's no hypocrisy to unveil, no Republican moral double-back-flips to disprove in this story. Some guy has a social life that other people might describe as screwed-up. Who cares? Where's the story?
Gawker publisher Nick Denton just wrote a dumb post explaining he is taking the controversial post down because stories "have to reveal something meaningful. They have to be true and interesting. These texts were interesting, but not enough, in my view." This is not what you want a publisher to say. You want a publisher to withdraw a post because it's morally wrong, not because it's not interesting enough. Denton's post doesn't indicate that he's learned any kind of lesson from this.
The best commentary on this whole sad affair was written by former Gawker writer Adam Weinstein at his blog. Weinstein (who, to be fair, was recently fired from Gawker and so is maybe not the most impartial human being) explains what his experience at Gawker was like and he identifies what he believes to be the problem with this whole story:
A quick caveat: This is an editing problem, not a writing problem. The story author, Jordan Sargent, is young and smart and talented and energetic, as are virtually all of the content producers I meet today – at Gawker, at the New York Times, at even the handful of sites I have major issues with. We all need editors to push us to report better, to write better, to exercise better judgment. As former Gawkerer Richard Lawson explained here and here last night, our bloggy world doesn’t incentivize that kind of editorial oversight. But that oversight is what makes the difference between good writers and writers who are also good but make very bad calls, and have to live with those calls, and also have to live with your smarmy abusive online threats. (Stop the abuse. Don’t answer childishness with more childishness.)
You really should read the whole post, but you should also bear in mind that every reporter who leaves a paper believes that the time they worked at the paper was the end of a golden age. I'm sure dozens of other former Gawker writers (and hundreds of former Gakwer readers) would identify the site's golden age as 2008, or 2007, or 2004, or 2014. From the moment of inception, every publication is dying in the mind of some reader or contributor or another (The Seattle Review of Books was so cool when it started two weeks ago, but it really went downhill when that idiot Paul Constant published that dumb review of the Ayn Rand biography.) This argument doesn't interest me as much as the question of editing.
The thing about good editing is it's invisible. There's less and less editing these days as publications in the business of — ugh — producing "content" need to make merciless cuts in order to preserve the bottom line. But when editors disappear, or when editors are overworked to the point where they can't do their jobs effectively anymore, incidents like this Gawker story start happening. Books are published every day that a few decades ago would have been considered not ready for publication. (Read To Kill a Mockingbird and then read Go Set a Watchman and you'll likely learn a vital lesson about the importance of editing. Same with Hemingway's posthumously published works.)
Because it's hard to make a case for editors, editing is dying. Media outlets atrophy and die when editors disappear. Books fumble their perceived cultural importance when editors are stripped of their role in the publication process. More and more every day, you can find proof of why good editors are so necessary to good writing. That proof, sadly, is only visible when editors are absent.