Gawker's last hurrah before impending sale

NEW YORK • Since its beginning in 2002, the Gawker gossip blog has taken delight in deflating the egos of New York's cultural elite among other targets.

So it made sense that it commemorated its own bankruptcy proceedings and impending sale last Wednesday night in Manhattan with a party.

At 7pm, a couple of hundred writer types were milling around the party in its offices, where there was a makeshift bar, with boxes of pepperoni pies stacked on top of it.

"I'm looking around realising how few people I know," said David Haskell, deputy editor of New York magazine.

"It's like, did I miss it?" Actually, no. That's just how it feels when you find yourself at a reunion of a media company that has become a revolving door for young writers and editors.

Most of them served their apprenticeships under Gawker founder and chief executive, Nick Denton, before moving out of his sphere.

The party, which at times had the feeling of a giddy wake, drew in past and present journalists from its flagship site, as well as those from the offshoots Gizmodo (Gawker for gadgets), Jalopnik (Gawker for car culture), Jezebel (the Gawker "ladyblog"), Deadspin (Gawker for sports), Lifehacker (Gawker for productivity tips) and Kotaku (Gawker for video games).

Many returned, having gone on to substantial success.

Elizabeth Spiers, who established much of the Gawker editorial voice as the namesake site's founding editor, was there. Since her time with Denton, she served as the editor of The New York Observer and founded her own research and analytics firm.

Also in attendance was Irin Carmon, a Jezebel alumna who is now a correspondent for MSNBC and co-author of the recent critically acclaimed book Notorious R.B.G.: The Life And Times Of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

She likened the evening (and Gawker's current troubles) to the Seinfeld finale. "Where they all go to jail after everyone from their past lives shows up to testify against them?"

But gimlet-eyed humour was not the prevailing sentiment of the evening. Instead, Gawker veterans past and present largely framed the last few years as a David-versus- Goliath struggle between a scrappy group of renegades and a gaggle of 1-percenters intent on bringing them down.

One of its wealthy enemies is Terry Bollea, better known as WWE titan Hulk Hogan. He successfully sued the site and was awarded US$140 million (S$188.3 million) in judgments after it posted a one- minute-40-second clip of a sex tape of him and Heather Clem, who was the wife of shock radio host Bubba the Love Sponge.

Jurists at the trial in St Petersburg, Florida, seemed perplexed by Gawker's take-no-prisoners brand of journalism.

Another is Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor of Facebook who, in 2007, was the subject of a post on Valleywag Gawker's former site on Silicon Valley, titled Peter Thiel Is Totally Gay, People. Thiel subsequently helped bankroll Bollea's suit against Denton's company.

In a speech, founder Denton, 49, a London-born, Oxford-educated one-time financial journalist who started Gawker in his Manhattan apartment, said: "To all the writers who were here in the early years, I'm sorry. We were very cheap...

"I'm incredibly proud of how they stuck together during this tricky time," he said, going on to note the punishing economics of the media business and the growing power of Facebook.

Many discussed the court- supervised auction of Gawker scheduled to take place next week. Media publisher Ziff Davis has made an offer of US$90 million.

In the early years, Denton was a hard man to read, seemingly emotionless, with a seeming indifference to humanity.

But at the party, it was hard to see him as the gossipy Julian Assange- like character he had once been. He had tears in his eyes as he made the rounds and he seemed, finally and completely, human.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Gawker's last hurrah before impending sale'. Print Edition | Subscribe