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Gawker Media to lay off 14 percent of editorial staff

Attributing the decision to the threat of an advertising recession, publisher Nick Denton has opted to cut back on editorial staff and suspend next year's bonus program.

The financial crisis strikes again: Successful New York-based blog network Gawker Media will be laying off 19 of its 133 editorial staffers, according to an internal e-mail from publisher Nick Denton. The company will be additionally suspending its bonus payments to writers and editors, but will be increasing their base pay and making some strategic hires at the company's most successful blogs.

"With the savings, we are increasing base pay and hiring 10 new people on the most commercially successful Gawker sites," Denton wrote in the e-mail. "But I know that's scant consolation for the colleagues we're losing and for those of you who have been enjoying the bonus windfalls from breakout stories."

The bonus system at Gawker, a network of snarky and witty gossip- and culture-focused blogs that Denton founded in 2002, has provoked controversy and banter throughout the new-media world: the company pays most writers at a base rate but then adds a bonus for every thousand page views a single post pulls in. The bonuses will continue to the end of 2008, but have been suspended for the first quarter of 2009 at the least.

Equally controversial has been some of the blogs' own content, which countless pundits have criticized for being puerile, mean, and occasionally invasive. But in New York, where Gawker Media has been arguably the most successful new-media start-up story of the past decade, the layoffs can only be described as unfortunate and sad: its writers and business staff are valued members of the blogging community and Gawker Media's downtown offices have become a popular hangout and party space.

Gawker Media is still, for all intents and purposes, doing well. Advertising revenue and traffic are both up. Laying off staffers is a preventive measure, Denton said. "The credit crisis is clearly going to affect every sector of the economy," he wrote. "Advertising buys typically plunge after the Christmas shopping season, and 2009 is obviously going to be exceptionally difficult. We have to prepare for the worst, now, rather than when the worst comes upon us."

The cuts have hit the Gawker-owned Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag hard: editor Owen Thomas wrote that he has laid off 60 percent of his editorial staff, bringing its total number of bloggers down to only two.

The new hires will flesh out the teams at some of the company's more profitable blogs--feminist-focused Jezebel, sports blog Deadspin, gaming title Kotaku, and the most recent addition to the company's network, sci-fi blog io9. And former W magazine staffer Gabriel Snyder will take the helm at flagship title Gawker, which Denton himself has been editing since a handful of resignations last year.

Denton has been notoriously frugal with his blog network, this spring selling off three of the company's less profitable blogs; in 2006, Gawker Media went as far as shutting down two blogs that had not lived up to expectations.

This post was last updated at 11:21 a.m. PDT.