Gawker.com to Shut Down Next Week


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Nick Denton, Gawker Media’s chief executive, was known for saying that journalists shared the most interesting stories not in their articles but with each other at the bar after work.

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Eve Edelheit/Tampa Bay Times, via Associated Press

For nearly 14 years, Nick Denton and Gawker.com have defined Gawker Media.

But over the last several months, a split of some kind between the company, its founder and its flagship site became inevitable: Gawker Media, under financial pressure from a $140 million legal judgment in an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit brought by Hulk Hogan, the former professional wrestler, also encountered a seemingly unbeatable adversary in the form of Peter Thiel, the billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur who was financing legal efforts against the company. Left with few options, Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy and put itself up for sale in June.

On Thursday, less than 48 hours after Univision’s $135 million bid won an auction for Gawker Media, the bond finally broke. Gawker.com will shut down next week, and Mr. Denton, whose sites pioneered a wry, conversational and brash form of web journalism that would influence publications across the internet, will leave the company.

“Sadly, neither I nor Gawker.com, the buccaneering flagship of the group I built with my colleagues, are coming along for this next stage,” Mr. Denton wrote in a note to the staff on Thursday afternoon shortly after a bankruptcy judge approved the company’s sale to Univision.

The fate of Gawker.com had been the subject of much speculation ever since the Hogan verdict. Still, it was an abrupt outcome after what had been a long period of uncertainty.

“It was a culmination of a year of dread,” said John Cook, the executive editor of Gawker Media. “Through a year of just utter constant trauma and assault, it was the thing that I was trying to prevent — it was the thing that we were all trying to keep from happening.”

Gawker.com’s archives will remain online, but after Monday it will not publish new material, Mr. Denton wrote in his note. As for Mr. Denton, he said he would “move on to other projects,” but provided few clues as to what those were except to say they would be “out of the news and gossip business.”

Before the bankruptcy hearing, Mr. Denton gathered the staff of Gawker.com in a windowless conference room at Gawker’s offices to tell them the site would stop publishing.

“I’m not going to say we lost, but Peter Thiel achieved his objective,” Mr. Denton said, according to a person at the meeting.

Founded in 2003 as one of Gawker Media’s first two blogs, Gawker.com initially covered news and gossip about New York media and society. The site was considered by many as an incubator of talent, and its journalists have gone on to work at places like The New Yorker and New York magazine.

Mr. Denton, a former financial journalist, was known for saying that journalists shared the most interesting stories they knew not in their articles but with each other at the bar after work. Gawker.com, perhaps more than any other site, reflected an attempt to change that. Its articles could be at turns witty and caustic, humorous and weighty. Mr. Denton often said that if something was interesting, it was news.

But the site also attracted criticism for publishing articles that detractors said were in bad taste. Last summer, an article about a married male media executive who sought to hire a gay escort was published and then removed. The article drew widespread condemnation, and its removal led to the resignation of two top editors. In the aftermath, Mr. Denton vowed to make Gawker nicer, and the site shifted its focus to politics.

Gawker Media’s portfolio of sites also includes the technology site Gizmodo; the sports site Deadspin; and Jezebel, a site aimed at women.

The news that Gawker.com was shutting down was met with an outpouring of both relief and grief on social media. A number of journalists and news organizations tweeted and published articles that read like eulogies. “The loss of @Gawker is huge & terrible,” Glenn Greenwald, the journalist, wrote on Twitter. “Most people disagreeing don’t read it.”

The site’s demise could also reignite the debate about press freedom and whether anyone with an agenda and deep enough pockets should be able to sink a news organization.

No layoffs were planned in connection with the shutdown, and journalists had been assured they would be offered jobs elsewhere at the company. But the shuttering of Gawker.com nevertheless represents a victory for Mr. Thiel, whose fight with the company began in 2007, when Valleywag, one of Gawker Media’s now-defunct blogs, published an article saying he was gay.

“Since cruelty and recklessness were intrinsic parts of Gawker’s business model, it seemed only a matter of time before they would try to pretend that journalism justified the very worst,” Mr. Thiel wrote in an Op-Ed for The New York Times published this week.

At Gawker Media’s offices, the mood on Thursday afternoon was sad but also angry and defeated. A goodbye party planned for two journalists was turning into a goodbye party for Gawker.

“I think that people are going to find that they miss Gawker, even the people who hated Gawker,” said Hamilton Nolan, a writer for Gawker who has worked there for eight years.

In his note, Mr. Denton said the company had been unable to find a buyer for the site. But while his words were somewhat wistful, he also provided a hint of optimism.

“Gawker.com,” he wrote, “may, like Spy Magazine in its day, have a second act.”

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