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Gawker hit the $200,000 goal for its Crackstarter campaign. Now what?

Posted by Carly Carioli  May 27, 2013 09:46 PM

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Image via Gawker's IndieGoGo page

Around 4 pm on Memorial Day, Gawker's "Crackstarter" campaign on Indiegogo reached its $200,000 goal -- thus triggering a signal decision in the history of checkbook journalism: whether the site will go through with its promise to pay a Canadian drug dealer for video of what it says is a public official breaking the law.

For those of you living under a boulder, Toronto mayor Rob Ford has become the internet's latest reality show. Last week, Gawker and the Toronto Sun reported the existence of a cellphone video that, Gawker alleges, shows Ford smoking crack with several men -- one of whom, it emerged this weekend, was later shot dead. The video's owners reportedly have ties to the Toronto drug trade and, through an intermediary, demanded $200k for the cellphone video; the Star viewed the video but refused to pay the asking price. Gawker launched an online campaign to crowd-fund the purchase price. In the interim, the Globe and Mail published an insane story you have to read which alleges that the mayor's brother, Doug Ford, now a Toronto city councilor, is a former drug dealer, and their sister used to run with druggie white supremacists.

Rob Ford has denied he smokes crack and called BS on the video. Thereby essentially ensuring that Gawker would hit its fundraising goal, even as Gawker began backtracking and warning that it might not be able to buy the video even if donors gave them the money.

So when the money finally came in on Monday, there was a distinct lack of celebrating on the Gawker twitterz. The mood among the top editors was more like: Um, what now?

Here's Gawker editor John Cook, a few minutes after the goal was reached:

Former editor A.J. Daulerio chimed in:


And managing editor Tom Scocca said, simply:


One could interpret those exclamations as expressions of surprise and perhaps amazement that this crazy idea had, in fact, produced nearly a quarter of a million dollars. As for the plan going forward?

Would it be easier for Gawker if they couldn't locate the video? (The site has said it will donate the money to a Canadian drug-related charity if the video can't be found.) Maybe: the stunt value of raising the money has in many ways been its own reward, and Toronto's mainstream media appear to have taken up the heavy-lifting of reporting on Ford and his clan. While Gawker's Cook has defended the decision to pay drug dealers for the video, there's been plenty of outrage at the decision as well.

Before Gawker hit its goal, MIT Center for Civic Media director Ethan Zuckerman predicted that Rob Ford would resign before the video was purchased. But he also unpacked some of what coiuld be at stake if the site were to actually follow through on its promise to buy the video:

Not only has Gawkerís editorial board made the decision that itís ethically permissible to pay for the Rob Ford video Ė so have 2,896 donors, whoíve given their own money to see the mayor inhale. Itís a reasonable guess that few are Rob Ford supporters. This crowdfunding campaign lets Ford opponents vote with their pocketbooks to increase the chances Ford will be forced to resign.

I predict Ford will resign before Gawker purchases and runs the video. But the implications of the campaign are still worth considering. When asked about the ethics of paying drug dealers for the video, Gawker can point to thousands of supporters who didnít have ethical qualms about paying for the footage. And much as civic crowdfunding raises questions about whether only rich neighborhoods will fund new parks and civic infrastructure, crowdfunding to pay for videos is a trend that seems likely to favor high-visibility politicians with wealthy opponents over lower-attention scandals. Had the city of Bell, California needed to crowdfund evidence to indict city manager Robert Rizzo, itís unlikely the poor, majority-Spanish speaking community would have ousted corrupt leaders.

Point being, the Gawker staff has a pretty big call to make on Tuesday morning. How big? Office Space-reference big:

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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