By Kyle Austin
If you’re a communications or PR pro working with companies in the consumer electronics industry you’re undoubtedly familiar with Gizmodo, the leading global blog when it comes to gadgets, gizmos and cutting-edge consumer electronics. According to Technorati’s popularity index it is the third most popular blog on the Web – trailing only Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch and Arianna Huffington’s Huffington Post. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Wilson Rothman, Gizmodo’s features editor, who works closely with Gizmodo editor Brian Lam in outlining the strategic editorial strategy for the blog. Here’s part 1 of a 3 part series that outlines the highlights of our wide-ranging discussion on Gizmodo, the blogosphere, competing blogs and the sensationalist style of most online publications.
RaceTalk: Wilson thanks for taking some time to chat with us. First off, I’m interested in hearing the back story which led to you joining Gawker and Gizmodo. I know you were writing for TIME.com, TIME magazine and the New York Times before that. How did your move to Gizmodo transpire?
WR: I had the “Gadget of the Week” column on Time.com for 4 years between 2002 and 2006. I had also done the Holiday Buyer’s Guide for TIME along with the back of the book tech pages for the magazine for numerous years.
It was always hard to get people at TIME excited about the technology stories that I was excited about. Part of it was mainstream news judgment. However, there was also an overwhelming excitement at TIME about technology (right when I was getting there) when Walter Isaacson was managing editor – that faded over time. As the leadership changed, priorities changed and covering technology for technology’s sake wasn’t exciting anymore. It was all I could do to hang on. TIME has been famously bad with online projects. Of course we’re all meant to think that the most valued text is put down on paper and mailed to people’s houses. It never even occurred to me (while I worked there) that a solely online publication was something that I wanted to do. However, at the same time I realized that my readers were disappearing. They were going somewhere and it was up to me to find out where they were going. Right as I was trying to figure out what my relationship with TIME would be moving forward (end of 2006 & early 2007), I got a call from Brian Lam and Noah Robischon at Gawker. Noah was the Gizmodo editor at the time, but he was also involved in a lot of the same publications that I was involved in.
We have similar histories. He left Time.com right when I started there, so it was cool to meet up with him again. It was kind of like looking at where I saw myself in three years. He was as strongly wedded to print as I was at one point; and now he was telling me that he was going purely online to Gizmodo and he wanted me to join him. I was very happy to go from the place where I was banging my hand on the table saying “We have to cover technology people,” to being invited to a team that was already covering it with super enthusiasm.
Gizmodo was conceived in 04’, but its most recent iteration with Brian running operations, really got going about that time – in the middle of 06’. Brian is the one that made it a viable contender.
Gizmodo was founded by Peter Rojas, who left to go to Engadget, and it imploded. John Biggs wrote it for a while and then Joel Johnson wrote it for awhile. Joel is a real esoteric guy and he’s funny and smart – but he didn’t care about mainstream news enough. Brian is sharp and wants to cover everything. Brian knows what he is doing – let’s put it that way. Just because you’re good at covering tech doesn’t mean that you know how to run a publication. Brian knows how to run a publication.
RaceTalk: So I read recently that you have 7.8 million unique visitors a month?
WR: I mean on a daily basis it is something like a million users (not all unique).
RaceTalk: Incrementally how much has that gone up over the last couple years?
WR: We’ve tripled since Brian started and doubled since I started. I mean its crazy the graph just goes up, up and up.
RaceTalk: Now I know you said that Engadget is a competitor of Gizmodo. However, given that you also told me that Nick Denton lets each Gawker blog run as an individual enterprise; do you view Valleywag as a competitor as well?
WR: Valleywag likes to write an Apple story here and there because if you put Apple in a headline you’re going to do better. It’s a known fact that the media in general (and I’m not just talking about technology media, I’m talking about everybody) wants to write an Apple story. They don’t care about anything else going on in technology but when Apple is doing something they want to get on board. Do we resent that? I don’t even know if it is resentment, it is pity in some cases. If you were really interested in technology you would know that this is really part of the larger story. Which is why Gizmodo gives the Zune so much airtime or the other interesting initiatives from Microsoft that are competing products and innovations to Apple – because it’s all part of the struggle to get better technology on the table.
Anyway back to Valleywag. Yes, everyone likes to tell an Apple story, but Valleywag has some reasoning for what they post. Frankly, when you are a gossip rag that is covering Silicon Valley – talking about Steve Jobs’ health and who’s coming and leaving Apple – that’s your beat.
RaceTalk: I’ve obviously read that TechCrunch and Arrington have a hate for Denton and especially Valleywag. Do you see TechCrunch as a direct competitor for Gizmodo as well?
WR: TechCrunch has shown nothing but respect for Gizmodo and vice-versa. I mean honestly we don’t get involved in the politics that happen at that level. I mean we don’t. We’re so damn busy to be political. We put out 60 posts a day. We’re too busy covering things and growing our coverage. We’re not growing in terms of spreading into new areas but we’re trying to get more thoughtful about what we cover. I was brought on in-part to get us up to speed on news. In addition, to add a third dimension of analysis to what we are writing. People now look to us for more then just the blotter. You know what I mean?
RaceTalk: Yes, I’ve certainly picked up that Denton and Huffington have pledged that there needs to be more analysis in addition to just posting the link and writing a quick blurb – More breaking your own news.
WR: Well look at it this way, and know that Noah is far more influential in editorial day-to-day operations then Nick Denton is. He’s now the editorial director of all Gawker sites and as I mentioned he came from Gizmodo – so obviously he has a special place in his heart for the blog. You take him, who’s from a magazine background, Brian who comes from Wired and then you take me. We are not bloggers by nature. We see the blog as a way to tell a bigger, richer story.
Then we also have people that are just ace bloggers. You know Jason Chen is amazing. He posts 12 stories a day. Then you have a guy like Matthew Cannon who can post 12 stories a day and then turns around a feature. I don’t know. I mean youth has something to do with it and not having a wife and baby. I can’t keep up.