Gawker Writers Say It’s a ‘Dark Day’ for Editorial Freedom
For more than a decade, Gawker has prided itself on exercising—and at times, flaunting—its editorial freedom. Today, Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy and put itself up for sale following a vicious legal battle funded by a Silicon Valley magnate. Now staffers fear they’re going to see that freedom disappear.
“It’s definitely a dark day,” one writer told WIRED. “The biggest thing is losing the financial independence that let us write whatever we want without any fear of corporate overlords trying to quash us.”
Gawker Media, founded in 2002 by chief executive Nick Denton, started as a celebrity and media gossip site but quickly grew into an online media empire spanning everything from cars and sports to feminism and Silicon Valley. Known for its irreverent tone, Gawker often published pieces that angered or embarrassed people in important positions. These included two fateful posts: one that announced billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel was gay, and another that excerpted a Hulk Hogan sex tape. The latter resulted in a $140 million judgement against Gawker for invasion of privacy. Last month, Thiel revealed he had bankrolled Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker. Now Gawker is bankrupt.
‘The Opposite of What We Do’
That news came down to staffers today a quarter past noon, when Denton and Heather Dietrick, the company’s president and chief legal counsel, called an all-hands meeting at Gawker’s Manhattan office in the Flatiron District. The pair told the 200 or so assembled staffers that the company had filed for Chapter 11, after which the editorial and ad sales teams split into smaller meetings. Gawker Media editor-in-chief John Cook led the meeting for the editorial team.
“They emphasized that we’re going to keep doing what we do,” the writer told WIRED.
A sale wouldn’t likely happen until Labor Day, another writer said they were told, meaning “nothing’s going to change for a while.”
Still, at least some change is likely to come. Tech publisher Ziff Davis, which owns such online properties as IGN, Geek.com, and AskMen.com, has already agreed to purchase Gawker, though the sale depends on the outcome of a court-supervised bankruptcy auction expected to take place at the end of July.
“I don’t think anyone really knows enough about Ziff Davis to feel one way or the other,” the writer said.
Other bidders may still offer a higher price for the company. When Gawker does sell, the writer said, the staff was told that Gawker’s board would be “very adamant about not letting anyone buy us that we hate basically.”
Even with his billions, Thiel will not silence our writers. Our sites will thrive — under new ownership — and we’ll win in court.
— Nick Denton (@nicknotned) June 10, 2016
“The board still has say or influence over who gets us, and they’re definitely not going to let us go to someone who stands for the opposite of what we do,” the writer said. Currently, a seven-person managing board runs Gawker, including Denton and Dietrick.
At least for now, most staffers have gone back to work—“on a scale of anxious to scared to hopeful,” the writer put it—while the company slogs through the legal limbo of bankruptcy.
“Whoever buys us knows what they’re getting into,” the writer said. “So it will hopefully be someone who appreciates the importance of editorial freedom.”
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