Embattled gossip site Gawker will shut down next week

Gawker+founder+Nick+Denton+walks+out+of+the+courthouse+March+18+in+St.+Petersburg+Florida.+%28Eve+Edelheit%2FZuma+Press%29

ZUMAPRESS.COM/TNS

Gawker founder Nick Denton walks out of the courthouse March 18 in St. Petersburg Florida. (Eve Edelheit/Zuma Press)

By Ryan Faughnder and Stephen Battaglio | Los Angeles Times

Gawker, the embattled gossip website, is shutting down next week after 14 years in operation, the company said Thursday.

The surprise announcement comes just two days after broadcaster Univision Holdings Inc. submitted the winning bid to buy Gawker Media in bankruptcy court for $135 million.

A post on Gawker’s website said outgoing Chief Executive Nick Denton informed staffers of the impending closure Thursday, “just hours before a bankruptcy court in Manhattan will decide whether to approve Univision’s bid for Gawker Media’s other assets. The near-term plans for Gawker.com’s coverage, as well as the site’s archives, have not yet been finalized.”

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An Univision executive confirmed that the company has no plans to operate Gawker.com. It’s likely that the company believed the brand name could not be rehabilitated because of the Hulk Hogan law suit.

Hulk Hogan, aka Terry Bollea, sits in court. (Scott Keeler/Zuma Press/TNS)
Hulk Hogan, aka Terry Bollea, sits in court. (Scott Keeler/Zuma Press/TNS)

The future business prospects for Gawker.com appeared to be bleak. The site has steered away from media and celebrity gossip and focused on political stories. But traffic has dipped as a result, and that trend would have likely continued once the presidential election ends.

Other Gawker Media sites, such as the tech-oriented Gizmado and Kotaku, which is aimed at gamers, have seen strong growth.

The staffers at the site have been told they will remain employed to work on other sites owned by Univision, which has been assembling a stable of digital properties aimed at millennials.

Gawker started in 2003 as a blog focused on New York City media that shaped gossip and water cooler conversation in newsrooms and publishing houses. As it rose in prominence, Gawker began writing on broader issues, popularizing a snarky tone that came to define a certain style of blogging.

It mixed irreverent posts with serious journalism.

Gawker Media’s other properties include the female-oriented Jezebel, the sports site Deadspin and Jalopnik, which is aimed at auto enthusiasts.

Denton’s company was forced into bankruptcy this spring after a Florida jury awarded $140 million to Terry Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan, who had sued Gawker for invasion of privacy.

In October 2012, Gawker posted a two-minute excerpt of a sex tape featuring Bollea and a friend’s wife without his permission.

Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley investor and co-founder of the online payment service PayPal, helped finance Bollea’s case. Thiel provided the support because he believed Gawker invaded his privacy when it revealed in a 2007 blog post that he is gay.

“I had begun coming out to people I knew, and I planned to continue on my own terms,” Thiel wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece published Monday. “Instead, Gawker violated my privacy and cashed in on it.”

Gawker maintained it had a 1st Amendment right to present the tape excerpt on the Web because Bollea had publicly discussed his sex life in the past, making it a “matter of public concern.”

Gawker has appealed the verdict, but the court finalized the $130 million judgment and allowed Bollea to immediately seek payment. That led the company to file for bankruptcy.

While Gawker has seen a decline in traffic this year, visits to its other sites have remained steady.

Gizmodo and gaming site Kotaku showed significant growth year-over-year in July.

“They seem to have retained their audience,” Jonathan Taplin, a USC Annenberg professor and former media investment banker, told The Times this week. “What Gawker has is a financial problem, not an audience problem.”

Digiday reported that Gawker Media took in revenue of $48.7 million in 2015.

In the weeks leading up to the bankruptcy auction, there had been speculation that dozens of media companies were interested in Gawker Media. But Univision and Ziff Davis were the only bidders.

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