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Interview with Joel Johnson

I’m pleased to post the following interview with one of the bloggers that I’ve admired for some time – Joel Johnson the editor of the incredibly popular Gawker Media blog, Gizmodo. At the time of posting this interview Gizmodo averages 153,334 unique visitors per day and ranks third on Truth Laid Bare’s traffic monitoring tracker. It is a leader in field of consumer electronics and gadgets and a blog that is widely regarded as one of the most successful money making blogs going around.

Joel recently got a big scoop and interviewed Bill Gates – so now I can say I interviewed a guy who interviewed Bill – which isn’t as impressive as written as it sounded in my head. Anyway – here is my chat with Joel.

ProBlogger – Thanks for your time Joel – Can you tell us a little about how and when you first discovered and got into blogging?

Joel – I first discovered blogging in the middle ’90s, when it was called ‘the web.’ I ran a website in the chronological weblog format in… 99? Maybe 2000. It was strikingly similar in format and tone to what I do on Gizmodo today, except that I paid money to write it, instead of being paid to keep it going.

ProBlogger – Do you have or have you had involvement in other blogs than Gizmodo?

Joel – I don’t currently write for any other blogs, although I am working on a not-for-profit idea with some friends of mine that should launch this year.

ProBlogger – Can you tell us a little about the beginnings of your journey with Gizmodo and the Gawker Media?

Joel – I approached Denton about starting what would eventually launch as Kotaku, are video game site. When the old editor jumped ship (onto another ship, conveniently) they asked me to come in and pinch hit, and I’ve never left.

ProBlogger – What is working for Gawker media like? What would you see the advantages and disadvantages of blogging as part of a network/being employed by others to blog as being in comparison to running your own personal blog projects?

Joel – It’s like working at home, with the occasional collective eating of sushi. It’s really not that much different than being self-employed. The advantages of being in a network are, for me, that I don’t have to worry if I’m going to have a job next month, and un-fun things like managing advertisers is delegated to someone much more effective at it than I. The downsides are obvious: at the end of the day, I don’t own Gizmodo or have the final say in the decisions made. In this case, though, it hasn’t been that big of a deal, but it could be for someone working for a Gawker-like network that wasn’t as open to suggestion as Gawker.

ProBlogger – What do you see as the potential for blogging? Why do you personally do it? What advantages and disadvantages do you see in it in comparison to other formats of websites.

Joel – In 2005, the first blogger will eat a cheese danish live on the web. By 2006 all cheese danish bakers will be forced by citizen journalism into a transparent manufacturing process, making their product incredible difficult to locate and eat. Blogging is the web+speed. It’s only a revolution because it took people 10 years to accept individuals on the web as a source of information, not because anything new is actually happening.

I do it because I love the speed of reporting on the web, I love the cheek-to-cheek interaction with the readers, and I love a paycheck. Its advantages are mainly lower quality (but only slightly) due to a lack of editorial process/oversight, but in general the format is built to capitalize on the strengths of the web. To me its the creation that has evolved to most perfectly fit its environment, so its really more a question of ‘why should we do a format *besides* a blog?’ At least when you’re talking about the leading edge of news stories.

ProBlogger – What is the main method of monetisation at Gizmodo? Do you see any conflicts/ethical dilemmas in the approach you take in blogging about products and earning an income from it?

Joel – We don’t talk about money details. But we sell ads, like just about everyone else. There’s no mystical formula. I don’t really see any conflicts about our particular niche of reporting. We rarely even accept products for review these days, just because it’s such a pain in the ass to deal with the whole process. Obviously, there is an established mechanism for that in consumer journalism and it’s there for a reason. If we took money to say good things about our sponsors then we’d have a problem, but it’s mostly just common sense stuff. It also helps that I, personally, have love/hate relationships with almost every company I work with, usually in proportionate amounts. I’m not sure if that keeps me from being too sycophantic or just nullifies everything I say.

Now that I read the question again I see that maybe that wasn’t what you were asking. How about I just answer, ‘no.’

ProBlogger – What has been the best and worst things about your blogging experience?

Joel – The quiet respect I get from my peers for my commitment to quality cock humor. The hardest thing? Probably a cock. Worst? Running out of cock jokes.

ProBlogger � Do you know any non cock jokes? Or are you just a niche cock joke kind of guy?

Joel – Someone once told me one about a mushroom print, but that may be a cock joke, too. I find niches to be the best places for cock jokes, as a rule.

ProBlogger – Ok…. What advice would you give someone just starting out with blogging that would like to earn an income from it?

Joel – Make a plan and work towards that plan. I got lucky but most people that succeed at least know what they want to do with their sites. If your goal is to make money, then focus on a successful ad revenue plan and sally forth. Really, though, it all boils down to content, and I guess if I had any advice there for a blog it would be to set a schedule and stick to it, even if you think what you’re writing that day sucks (and it probably does). If you don’t update with a schedule, your blog stops being a news source and starts being your fancy home page of links. That’s fine, but it’s not a good way to start a business.

ProBlogger – What is your favourite blogging tool or service?

Joel – I’m really not up-to-date with all the blogging stuff. I was a pretty die-hard MovableType person for the last couple of years, but I’m sure there are plenty of other great systems out there that get the job done.

ProBlogger – What are your favourite 5 blogs (daily reads)?

Joel – I have no idea.

ProBlogger – What are your hopes and dreams for your blogging? Where would you like to see it take you?

Joel – I hope it continues to pay my rent and lets me write about stuff I like.

ProBlogger – What do you think will be the main changes/advances/challenges to blogging in the next 18 months.

Joel – I think people will stop carrying blogs as a revolutionary concept and just start paying attention to good blogs. At least I hope.

ProBlogger – What was it like interviewing Bill Gates? What impact did the interview have upon Gizmodo readership levels?

Gizmodo-1Joel – It was a bit surreal, of course, but in general it was pretty normal. If there’s anything I took away from that talk it was that Bill Gates, for all the things we disagree about, is still a fellow nerd who loves technology. When his corporate stormtroopers throw me and my children in a moldy jail, that will be the thought that keeps us warm.

Readership: It helped. Our traffic numbers are public. You can take a look if you like. The long term effect of something like that, though, is difficult to track.

NB: see graph right (click to enlarge) for the bump in traffic over the month of January for Gizmodo. Considering that January is traditionally quiet post Christmas these stats are pretty decent.

ProBlogger – What keeps you blogging? Do you ever get sick of it?

Joel – Money helps. Also, the feedback from readers. When we write something that people actually get psyched enough to write us back about it makes me really happy. Sometimes I even write them back, but usually just to ask for more money.

And sure, I get tired of it, but that’s why god made coffee and credit card bills. Usually, I just remind myself that I could be working any other job if I wanted, which leads to the fact that I get to talk to people about the same things I’d be talking to them about if I didn’t run Gizmodo, and then I realize that I love the job.

ProBlogger – A lot of people make a big deal about the competition between Gizmodo and Engadget � Jason Calacanis has recently written a couple of posts on how competition can actually strengthen a blogging niche � he writes �Coke needs Pepsi baby� – do you see any truth in this with regards to Engadget starting up and its impact upon Gizmodo?

Joel – While I’d like to take sole credit for the 4-5x jump in readership we’ve had in the last year, I think there’s no question that we owe some of that to the competition. Honestly, I wish the competition wasn’t so pronounced, but what can you do? People like to see drama.

Thanks very much to Joel for taking the time out to answer my questions. I’d now invite readers to respond – you can ask a question or two if you’d like or share what Joel said that resonates with you or not – no guarantees that Joel will answer them all (or any of them) but feel free to have your say. Stay tuned for more interviews like this one with more Pro Bloggers.

335X50 Problogger

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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  1. [...] when youre talking about the leading edge of news stories. See the full interview here: Interview with Joel Johnson

    Posted: 8/2/2005 in: Blogs
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