Dear TorStar: Gawker Deserves the Credit.

TheStar vs Gawker

Don’t blame the Toronto Star. Well, don’t blame just the Toronto Star.

They absolutely deserved Gawker’s arrows on this one, accepting with open arms every inch of credit after Toronto’s daily newspaper piggy backed the American gossip website, opened the can after editor John Cook loosened it, and added their self-proclaimed legitimacy to a video that was brought sacrificially to the Canadian forefront by a website that had no reason to do us such a favour.

But it’s not the first time Gawker has been ripped off. It’s not the first time the Internet has been ripped off by a dead tree. Every day, opinions and insight are shared by millions with a modem and YouTube attracts a wider audience than TV could if it had Santa’s one-night super speed and 10 times the programming.

Gawker broke the Rob Ford story. The Toronto Star was allowed to participate. They credited themselves and they credited their journalism for breaking the story. They even called their coverage ‘exclusive’.

Word has it Armageddon and Deep Impact both had the ‘exclusive’ asteroid movie of 1998, too.

Truth is, Gawker routinely does the mainstream media’s work and gets treated like an unpaid intern.

Remember the Manti Te’o story? How many news networks leeched onto Gawker’s unraveling of that situation, only to mention a ‘sports blog’ in a throwaway credit? Answer: every single one I saw.

Newsrooms treat Gawker like Francis Ford Coppola treated Joseph Conrad. Sure, you got your movie from the work he put into Heart of Darkness, but there’s no need to put his name in the film’s credits, right?

But isn’t an adaptation exactly that? It’s an addition to someone else’s work, but at least Coppola waited half a century before regurgitating Conrad’s words.

In traditional journalism’s mind, its version is the only one that counts. It’s not true, but that’s what it’s forced to tell itself. Dwindling revenue and downsizing often have that effect.

But in this case, Gawker has earned the right to be more than pissed off, because ‘cracking’ the Ford case (pun completely intended) took guts, brains, and then some more guts. John Cook put his name on the line and Gawker took a beating, especially when it decided to hold a Kickstarter campaign to raise $200,000 to buy the video evidence in question from the drug dealer who let them in on the secret.

(You’d be right to criticize Gawker for the campaign, if you felt they were masquerading as journalists, because journalists shouldn’t be advocates. That’s often the complaint aimed at new media types, that they’re sensationalizing or playing for sympathy for the sake of clicks and quick ad dollars. It’s true, but then what would you call the Star‘s coverage in this case? They – and every media outlet that waited on Gawker’s emerging developments with a hook in their cheek – were activists, not journalists, too.)

If this whole story was Argo, Gawker would be Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, risking his life and harbouring several enemies of the state in Tehran. The Toronto Star would be Ben Affleck… no, not even his character Tony Mendez, but the director who arrived just in time for the Oscars and confetti.

But again, it’s not just the Star. In fact, I’m shocked they did such a thing and I’m shocked their publisher did such a thing. His prematurely victorious and self-congratulating address to the city didn’t even mention Gawker, which is almost like taking credit at a party for potato salad you bought at Safeway.

But this is The Star. It’s a damn good paper, which is why they were chosen to see the video over the Sun or whatever other rag sits rotting in rain on Toronto doorsteps. The Star didn’t need to do this and they can actually afford to toss around some good will, which makes it even more disappointing that they’ve yet to do so.

But ironically, for all the hoopla about how the Internet is destroying responsible journalism, it’s sites like Gawker that actually do give credit where it’s due.

They’re the ones actually linking to stories from other sources, they’re the ones with their heads down while others are sleeping, and they’re the ones who are proud of their outsider status.

It’s sites like Gawker that engage people in a way uptight and arrogant newsmen from the fedora age are still trying to define.

Sure, they’re cruel and gossipy and often just downright mean, but they eat that reputation so the rest of us don’t have to.

To the Star and every other mainstream news org that’s benefitted from the groundwork John Cook and his team put in, I say this:

Give Gawker the first star and be thankful you were allowed to skate with Sidney Crosby.