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Gawker to shut down after nearly 14 years

Gawker’s 14 years on the Internet will come to an end, the website announced Thursday.

The announcement closes a chapter in Gawker’s recent struggles following a long lawsuit by wrestler Terry Bollea, known as Hulk Hogan, which was funded in part by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel.

After a judge awarded Bollea $140 million in an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit, Gawker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and put its properties up for auction last month. On Tuesday, Univision won the auction to buy Gawker’s remaining assets for $135 million. Publisher Ziff Davis had placed a bid of $90 million for the assets in June.

Staffers learned about the decision Thursday afternoon, shortly before a bankruptcy court was expected to approve or deny Univision’s bid, according to Gawker’s statement.

Video by PBS NewsHour

Some staffers will be reassigned to other roles within the company’s remaining properties, the statement said. “Staffers will soon be assigned to other editorial roles, either at one of the other six sites or elsewhere within Univision,” it said, adding that “near-term plans for Gawker.com’s coverage, as well as the site’s archives, have not yet been finalized.”

Gawker’s legal battle with Bollea began after the site published a short clip from a video that showed him having sex in 2012 and Bollea sued the site for invasion of privacy.

In May, Gawker founder Nick Denton speculated that an outside funder was helping Bollea pay his legal fees after his lawyer removed a part of the suit that could have “allowed Gawker’s insurance company to help pay for its defense as well as damages,” The New York Times reported.

It was soon confirmed: Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and a Facebook investor, was paying $10 million of Bollea’s legal fees as he fought the site.

Thiel had appeared on Gawker before, in a 2007 post that outed him as gay. The post’s headline read, “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.”

Years later, Thiel insisted that his role in Bollea’s lawsuit was meant to stop a “singularly terrible bully,” even as critics raised concerns that the lawsuit could have larger implications for media properties and their vulnerability to wealthy plaintiffs.

Members of the media, including those who began their careers at Gawker, spoke out about the decision on Twitter.

Adrien Chen, a staff writer at The New Yorker, wrote that working at Gawker helped shape him as a writer and editor, pointing to some of the site’s work over the years:

In recent years, writers called out right-wing bigots, supported Occupy Wall Street and the Black Lives Matter movement, and agitated for a universal basic income in the same pugnacious style in which they talked about everything. It was the first digital news organization to unionize. The indirect cause of its downfall was targeting powerful figures in Silicon Valley, which largely views unions as outdated impediments to technological disruption. What happened to Gawker will have a chilling effect on interesting voices that take on these sorts of subjects.

READ MORE: What does the billionaire-funded Gawker suit mean for media?

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