A controversial end to a controversial company.
Gawker Media threw itself a farewell party Wednesday night in New York City, and the tone was about what you would expect from a company that regularly crossed ethical lines while pursuing aggressive but influential journalism.
The company is known for a scrappy family of websites—including Gawker, Gizmodo, Valleywag, and Deadspin—but also for a muckraking reporting style that produced a barrage of lawsuits, including one that resulted in a $140 million verdict in favor of former wrestler Hulk Hogan.
Gawker Media is currently in bankruptcy and its assets, including the websites, will be sold at auction next week. The restructuring will allow the sites to continue operating safe from the legal hammer of Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire who, it emerged, has secretly been bankrolling some of the lawsuits, including the one filed by Hogan.
If Gawker and its founder, Nick Denton, had any regrets about the company’s style of journalism, they didn’t express it Wednesday night.
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Instead, Denton praised his staff and writers and the “say anything” culture of blogging Gawker helped to define. Clutching a glass of red wine and looking weary, Denton also warned about the growing power of Facebook over journalism, and threats to media outlets in the U.S. and around the world.
The Oxford-educated Gawker founder, who once worked as a financial journalist, also praised writers Sam Biddle and A.J. Daulerio, who are the target of ongoing lawsuits and will not benefit from the shield of the company’s bankruptcy. (The praise for Daulerio was perhaps generous in light of the writer’s ill-advised comments during the Hogan trial that likely led the jury to increase the verdict amount.)
Gawker editor John Cook was more direct and defiant. He cussed out “wealthy billionaires” like Thiel and media moguls, including Roger Ailes, who is leaving Fox News with a $40 million severance package despite a spate of sexual misconduct allegations.
Cook also praised the company’s writers, including the women who write for Gawker’s Jezebel site for withstanding “vicious campaigns” of online hate and harassment. And in a curious analogy, Cook likened the “sacrifice” made by Gawker writers to that of the Khans—the Gold Star parents who spoke at the DNC—though he qualified the remark by saying the writers’ sacrifice was not on the same level.
The audience of about 200 people lapped it up. Composed of mostly millennial former Gawker staffers, the crowd roared approval at Cook’s comments, and also gave a long and loud ovation to Denton.
Perhaps fittingly, no one acknowledged any moral or journalistic shortcomings on the part of Gawker Media, or second-guessed any of its most controversial decisions, including one last year to publish a universally condemned piece (since taken down) about a gay escort who attempted to blackmail a little-known media executive.
The party was a decidedly low-budget affair with warm wine and a few boxes of pizza that quickly ran out. It took place despite a court motion by Gawker’s creditors that objected to a $1,000 expense for the farewell—an objection rejected by the bankruptcy judge, who archly noted the legal proceedings challenging the party cost as much as the festivity itself.
Bids for Gawker’s assets must be filed by Monday. The leading candidate is currently media firm Ziff Davis, though others are expected to file too. The results of the auction should be known by next week.