“If I had my druthers, I’d write about AI, and supercomputers, and fusion energy. I don’t really care about who’s fucking whom,” new Valleywag editor Dan Lyons tells me, signaling a tone shift for the tech tabloid. “Even when I did the fake Steve stuff, I had a rule that I never wanted to write about Steve’s family or his wife. It was just about the workplace.”
Max Read, editor-in-chief of Valleywag parent company Gawker, tells me “nothing’s set in stone” when it comes to the future of Silicon Valley’s burn book, but that Lyons will have a long leash. “It’s always had a significant amount of editorial independence, so that won’t change,” says Read.
But rather than a group effort like how Valleywag was run this last year with editors Nitasha Tiku and Sam Biddle at the helm, and writer Kevin Montgomery joining in June, “it’ll just be Lyons for now,” says Read. However, Read says the former Fake Steve Jobs turned HubSpot content marketer Lyons will be “working more closely with Tommy Craggs (our executive editor) and especially John Cook (our new investigations editor) than his predecessors did.”
The reboot comes after a rocky few months for Gawker and Valleywag, marked by widespread layoffs and restructuring that a source close to the company described as a bloodbath.
Biddle was moved over to Gawker’s general site. [Correction: Biddle says he voluntarily switched beats.] Tiku, Valleywag’s bastion of solid reporting, was poached by The Verge. And recent hire Montgomery is “out” just six months after coming aboard. Lyons will take the wheel at the beginning of January.
Until then, when asked on Twitter if Valleywag was on hiatus, Montgomery vaguely stated “Yeah it’s being spun-off right now. Relaunching next year.”
A source says former Gawker editorial director Joel Johnson was interested in slicing off Valleywag as its own website still owned by Gawker, rather than keeping it as a valleywag.gawker.com sub-site. That’s probably what Montgomery was tweeting about. But Johnson was fired by Gawker owner Nick Denton before he stepped down from his role as president, and Read now says “Valleywag will remain attached to Gawker’s domain, and shared to its front page.”
Still, Johnson’s exit adds a lot of question marks. Lyons explains that when he was mapping out the future of Valleywag, “a lot of those talks were with Joel Johnson and now he’s gone so I don’t even know. The guy who hired me is gone. I don’t really know what to expect. It’s going to be iterating and evolving as we go.”
With any luck, Valleywag reborn will focus on holding tech companies accountable for dastardly deeds and discrimination, rather than the continuing its “Look At All These Rich People!” slant. The latter saw it stumble into gaffes like trying to shame Marissa Mayer for winning a charity auction to score a playhouse for her kid.
When I expressed my negative opinion on Valleywag’s class war-mongering and the Mayer charity story to Lyons, he replied “I know what you mean.” A more generalist approach could be in the cards. “I missed being a journalist and I missed writing about tech. I wanted a platform where I could write about tech everyday and make a living,” Lyons tells me.
That could be a shock to people who liked the unapologetic snark of the old ‘wag. Lyons seems interested in a gentler voice. “I’ve had a couple [stories] at Daily Beast and Newsweek where I thought, ‘Should I write this story or should I not? It’s going to piss people off, and people I don’t want to piss off.’”
There are plenty of wrongs to be righted in the Valley, though, especially if Valleywag is concerned with more than just stoking outrage for quick-hit page views. But Lyons isn’t coming from quite as jaded a perspective as his predecessors. “I still find basic technology very interesting aside from all the soap opera stuff.”