What’s next for Gawker Media founder Nick Denton?
Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media, has bid an emotional farewell to the company he setup 14 years ago after his empire built on the immediacy of the internet and fuelled by salacious gossip succumbed to the financial wrath of the rich and powerful.
After filing for bankruptcy and closing the Gawker.com site Denton reflected on the media company’s rise to prominence, its downfall and where he goes from here in an interview with the Financial Times.
As traditional media companies struggled to find their footing in the wake of the internet’s impact on the media landscape, Gawker positioned its sails to capitalise on the explosive growth of online.
For over a decade the digital media company frolicked in the salaciousness gossip driven landscape of the rich and famous, encouraging its writers to think of Gawker “as an island” separate from the rest of the media.
The company’s downfall can be traced back to 2007 when it revealed that Silicon Valley billionaire, Peter Thiel, was gay.
In 2012 the company published a sex-tape featuring former wrestler Hulk Hogan, who subsequently threatened to sue. Thiel capitalised on the opportunity to hit back at Gawker and ploughed $10m into helping Hogan fund the legal battering ram that eventually led to the company's submission. Gawker has since closed and Univision has snapped up the company’s remaining network of websites for $135m.
In the interview with the FT, Denton admitted that Gawker downfall was essentially “the end-product of having made a decision early on to give writers freedom and encouragement to say what was on their minds”.
He maintained that Thiel backed Hogan, not because he was ousted as gay, as the entrepreneur has claimed but because Gawker’s tech gossip site, Valleywag, was a thorn in Silicon Valley’s side.
Denton argued that Thiel’s animosity towards Gawker stemmed from stories about his funds and those on the tensions between him and rival Silicon Valley investor Michael Moritz.
“It was convenient for him to focus on the outing,” said Denton.
Gawker’s fellow digital media peers such as Business Insider, Vice Media and BuzzFeed would have been better positioned to hold off the Hogan lawsuit because they have either been acquired or received substantial investment from more established media companies.
In hindsight, Denton would not have done anything differently on that front though.
“We made our bet and the bet was on readers rather than investors. If you entertain and inform readers of your own conversation with them, then everything else will follow. That was the strategy. It worked pretty well for a long time.”
Despite the downfall of Gawker, Denton still appears drawn to the allure of operating beyond the confines of everyday society, crediting such thinking with driving the start-up culture. He highlighted Uber as an example to back-up his point, saying that its founders similarly had to shield their vision from external doubters.
Looking to the future Denton will have to start form the bottom, he won’t receive a penny from the sale of the company he founded.
“I assume I will be the professional litigant for a while,” he said.
When asked if he was finished with media he responded: “Since at least 2012, I’ve been rather more interested in internet comments, forums, discussions, collaborative journalism.”
“I might do some writing. I’d like to write about the information wars. The internet as truth machine. Too much truth and the backlash against that.”