Gawker CEO Nick Denton: ‘I Wish I Had Known How Litigious Hulk Hogan Was’
Last month, a jury awarded former wrestler Hulk Hogan $140 million in damages from the parent company of gossip site Gawker for posting video online of him having sex with a friend’s wife. Nick Denton, the website’s founder and CEO, who was slapped with a $10 million judgment himself, joined Fortune’s Leigh Gallagher on air on Thursday to discuss the company’s defeat in court and its recently filed appeal.
“Knowing what you know now, do you have any regrets? If you could do it all over again would you publish the video?” asked Gallagher, referring to the sex tape at the center of the court case.
“I kind of wish I had known how litigious Hulk Hogan was,” Denton replied. He mentioned wishing that he had known that Hogan, whose birth name is Terry Bollea, had once sued his ex-wife for failing to get a better car insurance policy on their son’s vehicle. (Nick Hogan, their son, had gotten into a costly collision in 2007.)
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“I wish I had known that,” Denton admitted. “On the other hand, I’m kind of glad I didn’t because if every publisher and every editor made editorial decisions based on who is scary and well-funded and litigious—who uses the court system to exercise power to edit what is out there about them—then the news would look very, very different than it does.”
“It would be more PR than it would be information,” he added.
Gallagher pressed Denton for an answer to whether, in hindsight, he would have run the video clip. He demurred.
“So, is that a no or a yes?” she asked.
“It is an avoid the question,” he responded.
Despite the equivocation, Denton reaffirmed his belief that Gawker will ultimately prevail in the courts. “I don’t think that we will lose on appeal,” he posited.
Denton provided more insight into his thoughts on the legal battle, explaining, “My problem with this Hulk Hogan trial—I think we should absolutely be held to account. I think it’s actually much more productive for the media—for words and pictures, for speech to regulate speech—to hold each other accountable, for our readers to hold us accountable, rather than a sometimes cumbersome court system.”
Denton addressed a number of other issues related to the case as well. Asked if the legal defeat could be ruinous for the company, Denton replied, “Many things in life happen.” He added, “If we had to pay $140 million, then I think there are very few media companies could afford that.”
Denton also touched on Gawker’s relationship with readers, and the acerbic, pugnacious reporting style for which it is known. “I think people still like sensational stories, interesting stories, as much as they ever did,” he remarked.
During the interview, Denton said that the flagship Gawker site’s shift in focus away from tabloid-style coverage of New York life and media gossip toward national news and politics had not negatively affected its ability to attract an audience. Quite the contrary, in fact.
“Traffic has actually gone up since November,” Denton cited. The blogging network has benefited from the 2016 elections, according to Denton, quipping, “We have Donald Trump to thank for that.”
Despite an edict that the newsroom become “10 to 15% nicer,” Gawker has not lost sight of its aims to cause a stir. “It’s important for us, that if we’re going to punch, to punch up,” Denton said.
Watch the rest of the one-on-one interview here.