After nearly fourteen years of operation, Gawker.com will be shutting down next week. The decision to close Gawker comes days after Univision successfully bid $135 million for Gawker Media’s six other websites, and three months after the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel revealed his clandestine legal campaign against the company.
Following a day-long auction against the online publisher Ziff Davis, the media conglomerate Univision is buying Gawker Media’s assets—including Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku, and Lifehacker—for $135 million. However, the fate of the company’s flagship website, Gawker.com, remains unclear.
I’ve had lots of ideas in my time here at Gawker Media, all of them good. I’ve also had countless constructive and fruitful conversations with various editors about my ideas, and I know I’m better for it. However, these same editors have also made mistakes—egregious ones. Fortunately, the advent of the messaging app Slack has allowed for some of these good ideas (and the conversations surrounding them) to be easily found and preserved for posterity. It has also allowed me to pinpoint exactly where this company went wrong.
RJ Bell, the “Vegas oddsmaker” in charge of the sports betting website Pregame.com, and subject of a lengthy investigation by Ryan Goldberg on Gawker’s sister website Deadspin, has enlisted Charles J. Harder—the same lawyer who has threatened Gawker over Ashley Feinberg’s reporting on Donald Trump’s hair—to demand a retraction of the article. Meticulously reported over the course of a year, Goldberg’s piece exposed some of Bell and Pregame’s questionable business practices.
Gawker Media has filed for bankruptcy. The specific circumstances leading to that bankruptcy are unique and bizarre. The fact of a media company declaring itself bankrupt, however, is pretty much a commonplace. Under other conditions—even facing down a different, more conventionally motivated lawsuit—Gawker’s bankruptcy process might seem somewhat straightforward.
Perhaps the most embarrassing aspect of filing for bankruptcy is the well-meaning condolence note from a friend. “I’m so sorry,” more than one has written. That sympathy is often followed by fear for what Facebook director Peter Thiel’s revenge campaign—a billionaire secretly funding lawsuits against publishers, editors, and writers for stories that disrespected him and his friends—means for the functioning of a critical press.
Executives at Gawker Media told employees today that the company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel’s third-party funding of several lawsuits against the company. This plan will allow Gawker to continue functioning, but will require selling the company to another entity. The move came after the Hon. Pamela A.M. Campbell of Pinellas County, Florida denied Gawker’s request to stay the enforcement of a $50 million bond that would allow it to appeal the $140 million verdict that a 6-person jury awarded Hulk Hogan in March.
It was surprising to hear the news last week that right-wing billionaire investor Peter Thiel has been secretly trying to destroy Gawker Media through proxy lawsuits. It was dispiriting, and less surprising, to hear the conversation that followed the revelation. The discussion begins, in most cases, with the premise that Gawker is bad. Even those who are rightly alarmed at Thiel’s unprecedented attack on an institution that he regards as “terrible for the Valley” usually feel the need to preface that conclusion with some form of “I hate to defend Gawker, but...”
Why has Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel spent upwards of $10 million funding third-party lawsuits against Gawker? If you believe his interview with the New York Times, Thiel’s willingness to bankroll litigation brought by Hulk Hogan and other plaintiffs stems from several posts, including a 2007 item about Thiel dating men, that have, in his words, “ruined people’s lives for no reason.” But the record of Thiel’s past comments paints a much more complicated picture of his motivation to end Gawker for good.
On Monday evening, Forbes and the New York Times reported that Peter Thiel, the right-wing billionaire responsible for some of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies, has been secretly underwriting Hulk Hogan’s legal battle against Gawker Media. Last night, Thiel confirmed his involvement in the Hogan case—and others against Gawker—in an incredible interview with Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin:
On Monday, the New York Times reported that Gawker Media CEO Nick Denton had come to believe that a wealthy individual has been funding a steady stream of lawsuits, including three different ones filed by Hulk Hogan alone, against his company. Two journalists at Forbes magazine, Ryan Mac and Matt Drange, are lending credence to Denton’s theory. On Tuesday evening, the pair revealed that the powerful Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel has been secretly underwriting Hulk Hogan’s litigation against Gawker:
A quick announcement: Gawker Media’s anonymous SecureDrop portal, which went down for a few days as we moved the server into our new office, is up and running again. If you have information or stories to share with any of Gawker Media’s sites—and want to remain as anonymous as possible—SecureDrop is for you. Detailed instructions for using the portal, which relies on the anonymous Tor network, can be found here.
Yesterday, Gawker published a post about the CFO of Condé Nast attempting to pay a gay porn star for a night in a Chicago hotel. Today the managing partnership of Gawker Media voted, 4-2*, to remove the post. Executive editor Tommy Craggs, who helped edit the piece, and President Heather Dietrick, who reviewed and cleared it before publication in her capacity as Gawker Media’s chief legal counsel, were the only partners who dissented.
So here is an intriguing media rumor: Rupert Murdoch is angling to purchase Gawker Media. Yesterday, at least two media reporters approached at least two Gawker Media employees about a potential sale to Murdoch’s News Corp—or, more likely, 21st Century Fox. Apparently the rumor was first posted to Secret, the anonymous messaging smartphone app, though we couldn’t find a copy of the actual post. Efforts to determine the rumor’s origin came up empty.
You may have noticed this morning that things that looked large on this website yesterday are now looking small, and things that were at the top are now on the side, and some things have disappeared while other things have appeared. Welcome to the latest iteration of Gawker.