In an age of celebrity obsession and unprecedented access to the private lives of stars, the Hulk Hogan sex tape trial may prove that there are indeed limits to what’s acceptable to publish. Yesterday saw Gawker’s former editor-in-chief Albert James Daulerio metaphorically flipping the bird at the whole proceeding. When asked about publishing the 2012 leaked sex tape of Hogan, Daulerio responded that he had no regrets about running the story and that he found it amusing. His defense of sharing this intensely private video wasn’t based so much on Gawker’s First Amendment rights as it was on the pure enjoyment of Daulerio and his targeted readership. Something tells me this may not play out in Gawker’s favor in the long run.
"The $100 million lawsuit could be a game changer for celebrity digital media and its often invasive, unrelenting coverage of famous people’s private lives."
Gawker, which now places a heavy emphasis on political news, previously represented a new era version of yellow journalism. Sure there were some facts involved. But the stories the publication was breaking served no greater purpose than driving record page views. This was crystal clear during Daulerio’s testimony. In modern times, real and time-honored journalism is getting a bad rap. Readers want content that’s easy to digest, quick to read, and fun to share. While investigative journalism, of the type documented in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight, still holds a place in media, the reporting of yesterday is clearly at odds with the crazed listicle culture of today. Gossip sites rule while print media struggles to stay afloat. But a verdict in favor of Hogan could shift the culture and force all editors to think twice before pressing the publish button.
So far, this trial also represents a step back for millennials. Daulerio’s flippant comments and seeming complete disregard for journalistic standard confirm every stereotype about our generation. It’s one thing to create or manage your own news company because you feel your voice is unique and could challenge the status quo. It’s another to create your own business because you want to bypass all requirements of fairness, accuracy, and relevance. Daulerio may be the example that circumventing tradition isn’t always the answer. There are basic tenets of journalism that must be honored. When they aren’t, a trial like this presents itself.
While I don’t foresee the demise of shareable media any time soon, this trial will inevitably lead many publishers to exhibit some semblance of common sense and humanity. Fresh perspectives, interesting stories, and actual news will still drive page views. As a trained journalist and member of the new media publishing community, I feel I have a responsibility to drive readership while staying true to my voice and respecting the values of the industry. I embrace all types of articles from listicles to in-depth features, but you’ll never find an article ridiculing a sex tape here. Those types of stories may drive hits, but the moral defeat faced isn’t worth all the ad revenue in the world.
Though proceedings have just kicked off, it seems the outcome of this case is very clear. And regardless of what happens, the face of celebrity news is about to change forever.