Now that Gawker Media’s controversial privacy-infringement lawsuit with former wrestler Hulk Hogan is over—and the company has gone through bankruptcy and sold off its assets—is there anything founder Nick Denton regrets about the whole episode?
During a panel discussion as part of the South by Southwest Festival’s interactive program, Denton admitted that the Hogan story—which was about a sex tape that the wrestler made with a friend’s ex-wife, and included a short clip from the tape—didn’t have an obvious point to it, apart from embarrassing Hogan. That was a mistake, he said.
“Was it the greatest story?” he said. “No it clearly wasn’t the greatest story. In hindsight, as an editor, if you are going to expose someone to mockery there needs to be a point to it.”
Denton went on to say that part of the idea behind the piece was to “put up a mirror to the public,” but that “it was a little too sophisticated a point to be making in a couple lines.”
In hindsight, Denton said, it could have been done with more words and less video: “The meta point is worth making, but I don’t know if that form was the right one.”
Ultimately, the outcome of that mistake was a lawsuit by Hogan—financed by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel—which resulted in a $140 million judgement handed down against Gawker by a Florida court. The company filed for bankruptcy, and its assets were bought by Univision for $135 million.
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Denton has said he is not planning to get back into the media business. (He is being paid $17,000 a month by Univision as part of a non-compete agreement.) But Denton said he is thinking about a new venture that lies somewhere in the grey area between comments, public forums, and messaging.
“The space between private and public is very interesting, somewhere between messaging and public forums,” Denton said, adding he feels that people present a more “interesting and constructive” aspect of themselves when they are speaking in private or semi-private discussions. “Facebook makes me despise most of my friends and Twitter makes me hate the rest of the world.”
The future of media, Denton said, may look more like a Reddit-style community than it does any of the social networks that currently exist. It is going to come out of “the idea of an authentic, chill conversation about things that matter,” he said.
“Reddit involves the community and involves the readers,” Denton said. “You may not like many sub-reddits, but there’s a vitality to it and there’s a model for what media could be.”
The Gawker founder also said that he fundamentally believes that there is more good on the Internet than there is bad.
“Even if we’re full of despair over what the internet has become, it’s good to remind yourself [that] it’s an amazing thing,” Denton said. “In the habits that we enjoy, there are the seeds for the future. That’s where the good internet will rise up again.”
Denton also talked about Donald Trump and how his administration has painted the liberal media as “the opposition.” In a sense, this is true, Denton argued.
“The fact is, most of the liberal media is working to halt Trump,” he said. “They’re getting leaks from sympathetic bureaucrats in the federal bureaucracy, and they are acting as the opposition. Trump does not believe in liberal democracy and his voters do not believe in liberal democracy, and that makes the liberal press part of the opposition. You can’t deny that any more.”