Gawker was an American blog founded by Nick Denton and Elizabeth Spiers and based in New York City focusing on celebrities and the media industry. The blog promoted itself as "the source for daily Manhattan media news and gossip." According to third-party web analytics provider SimilarWeb, the site had over 23 million visits per month as of 2015. Founded in 2003, Gawker was the flagship blog for Denton's Gawker Media. Gawker Media also managed other blogs such as Jezebel, io9, Deadspin and Kotaku.
Type of site
|Owner||Bustle Digital Group|
|Current status||Defunct as of August 22, 2016|
Gawker came under scrutiny for posting videos, communications and other content that violated copyrights or the privacy of its owners, or was illegally obtained. In particular, Gawker's publication of a sex tape featuring Hulk Hogan resulted in a $140 million legal judgment against the company. On June 10, 2016, Gawker announced its bankruptcy filing as a direct result of the monetary judgment against the company related to the Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit. On August 18, 2016, Gawker Media announced that its flagship blog, gawker.com, would be ceasing operations the following week. Its other websites were unaffected, and continued to be run by Univision. Founder Nick Denton created the site's final post on August 22, 2016.
Gawker was founded by journalist Nick Denton in 2002, after he left the Financial Times. It was originally edited by Elizabeth Spiers. Gawker's official launch was in December 2002. When Spiers left Gawker, she was replaced by Choire Sicha, a former art dealer. Sicha was employed in this position until August 2004, at which point he was replaced by Jessica Coen, and he became editorial director of Gawker Media. Sicha left for the New York Observer six months after his promotion.
Later, in 2005, the editor position was split between two co-editors, and Coen was joined by guest editors from a variety of New York City-based blogs; Matt Haber was engaged as co-editor for several months, and Jesse Oxfeld joined for longer. In July 2006, Oxfeld's contract was not renewed, and Alex Balk was installed. Chris Mohney, formerly of Gridskipper, Gawker Media's travel blog, was hired for the newly created position of managing editor.
On September 28, 2006, Coen announced in a post on Gawker that she would be leaving the site to become deputy online editor at Vanity Fair. Balk shared responsibility for the Gawker site with co-editor Emily Gould. Associate editor Maggie Shnayerson also began writing for the site; she replaced Doree Shafrir, who left in September 2007 for the New York Observer.
In February 2007, Sicha returned from his position at the New York Observer, and replaced Mohney as the managing editor. On September 21, 2007, Gawker announced Balk's departure to edit Radar Magazine's website; he was replaced by Alex Pareene of Wonkette.
The literary journal n+1 published a long piece on the history and future of Gawker, concluding that, "You could say that as Gawker Media grew, from Gawker’s success, Gawker outlived the conditions for its existence".
In 2008, weekend editor Ian Spiegelman quit Gawker because Denton fired his friend Sheila McClear without cause. He made that clear in several comments on the site at the time, also denouncing what he said was its practice of hiring full-time employees as independent contractors in order to avoid paying taxes and employment benefits.
On October 3, 2008, Gawker announced that 19 staff members were being laid off in response to expected economic hardships in the coming months. Most came from sites with low ad revenue.
On November 12, 2008, the company announced selling the popular blog site Consumerist and the folding of Valleywag, with managing editor Owen Thomas being demoted to a columnist on Gawker, and the rest of the staff being laid off. Some members and staff writers complained that owner Nick Denton was looking to sell out all of the Gawker sites while they were still profitable.
In December 2009, Denton was nominated for "Media Entrepreneur of the Decade" by Adweek, and Gawker was named "Blog of the Decade" by the advertising trade. Brian Morrissey of Adweek said "Gawker remains the epitome of blogging: provocative, brash, and wildly entertaining".
In February 2010, Denton announced that Gawker was acquiring the "people directory" site CityFile.com, and was hiring that site's editor and publisher, Remy Stern, as the new editor-in-chief of Gawker. Gabriel Snyder, who had been editor-in-chief for the previous 18 months and had greatly increased the site's readership, released a memo saying he was being let go from the job.
In December 2011, A. J. Daulerio, former editor-in-chief of Gawker Media sports site Deadspin, replaced Remy Stern as editor-in-chief at Gawker. The company replaced several other editors, contributing editors, and authors; others left. Richard Lawson went to the Atlantic Wire, a blog of the magazine, The Atlantic Monthly.
In 2012, the website changed its focus away from editorial content and toward what its new editor-in-chief A. J. Daulerio called "traffic whoring" and "SEO bomb throws". In January 2013 Daulerio reportedly asked for more responsibility over other Gawker Media properties, but after a short time was pushed out by publisher Denton. Daulerio was replaced as editor-in-chief by longtime Gawker writer John Cook.
In March 2014, Max Read became the Gawker's editor-in-chief. In April 2014, using internet slang was banned per new writing style guidelines.
In June 2015, Gawker editorial staff voted to unionize. Employees joined the Writers Guild of America. Approximately three-fourths of employees eligible to vote voted in favor of the decision. Gawker staff announced the vote on May 28, 2015.
On August 18, 2016, Gawker announced that it would be shutting down following the company's acquisition by Univision Communications. Its other six websites were unaffected and continue to operate under Univision.
On January 16, 2019, it was announced Carson Griffith, Ben Barna, Maya Kosoff and Anna Breslaw were joining the staff of the new Gawker. However, on January 23, 2019, Kosoff and Breslaw announced they were quitting the site over offensive workplace comments made by Griffith. "We’re disappointed it ended this way, but we can’t continue to work under someone who is antithetical to our sensibility and journalistic ethics, or for an employer [CEO Bryan Goldberg] who refuses to listen to the women who work for him when it’s inconvenient," Kosoff and Breslaw said in a statement.
In March 2019, Dan Peres was announced as the site's editor-in-chief. However, in August 2019, Peres, Griffith and the rest of the staff tasked with relaunching the site were laid off. "We are postponing the Gawker relaunch," a BDG spokesperson said. "For now, we are focusing company resources and efforts on our most recent acquisitions, Mic, The Outline, Nylon and Inverse."
Editor In Chief
|Editor-In-Chief||Editor From||Editor To|
Gawker usually published more than 20 posts daily during the week, sometimes reaching 30 posts a day, with limited publishing on the weekends. The site also published content from its sister sites. Gawker's content consisted of celebrity and media industry gossip, critiques of mainstream news outlets, and New York-centric stories. The stories generally came from anonymous tips from media employees, found mistakes and faux pas in news stories caught by readers and other blogs, and original reporting.
On July 3, 2006, when publisher Nick Denton replaced Jesse Oxfeld with Alex Balk, Oxfeld claimed it was an attempt to make the blog more mainstream and less media-focused, ending a tradition of heavy media coverage at Gawker.
Controversies (Nick Denton era, 2003–2016)
Hulk Hogan sex tape
On October 4, 2012, Daulerio posted a short clip of Hulk Hogan and Heather Clem, the estranged wife of Todd Alan Clem, having sex. Hogan sent Gawker a cease-and-desist order to take the video down, but Denton refused. Denton cited the First Amendment and argued that the accompanying commentary had news value. Judge Pamela Campbell issued an injunction ordering Gawker to take down the clip. In April 2013, Gawker wrote, "A judge told us to take down our Hulk Hogan sex tape post. We won't." It also stated that "we are refusing to comply" with the order of the circuit court judge.
Hogan filed a lawsuit against Gawker and Denton for violating his privacy, asking for $100 million in damages; the trial was slated for July 2015. The cost of the lawsuit was partly funded by Peter Thiel, whom Gawker had previously outed in 2007. In January 2016, Gawker Media received its first outside investment by selling a minority stake to Columbus Nova Technology Partners. Denton stated that the deal was reached in part to bolster its financial position in response to the Hogan case.
In March 2016, Hulk Hogan was awarded $140 million in damages by a Florida jury in an invasion of privacy case over Gawker's publication of a sex tape: on March 18, Hogan was awarded $55 million for economic harm and $60 million for emotional distress; on March 21, 2016, the jury awarded Hogan a further $25 million in punitive damages. On November 2, Gawker reached a $31 million settlement with Hogan.
Outing of Peter Thiel as gay
In 2007, Gawker published an article by Owen Thomas outing Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel as gay. This together with a series of articles about his friends and others that he said "ruined people’s lives for no reason" motivated Thiel to fund lawsuits against Gawker by people complaining that their privacy had been invaded, including Hulk Hogan.
Condé Nast executive prostitution claims
On July 16, 2015, Gawker reporter Jordan Sargent posted a story about a gay porn star's alleged text correspondence with a married executive from a competing media company, Condé Nast. The article claimed Condé Nast CFO David Geithner had planned to go to Chicago to meet a male escort, and pay him $2,500 for sex. The article also claimed that after the escort requested Geithner settle the escort's housing dispute, he cancelled the meetup, and the escort went to Gawker to publicize the alleged incident. The post sparked heavy criticism for outing the executive, both within and outside Gawker. Denton removed the story the next day, after Gawker Media's managing partnership voted 4–2 to remove the post—marking the first time the website had "removed a significant news story for any reason other than factual error or legal settlement." On July 20, 2015, Gawker Media executive editor Tommy Craggs and Gawker.com editor-in-chief Max Read posted their resignations from the company, citing the lack of transparency by and independence from the company's management over the post's removal, rather than the concerns over the post's issues and received criticism, as the cause. Denton offered staff who disagreed with the actions a buyout option, which was accepted by staff including features editor Leah Finnegan and senior editor and writer Caity Weaver. Denton defended the story's writer, Sargent, who remained in his job.
According to The Daily Beast, "a source familiar with the situation said Gawker ultimately paid the subject of the offending article a tidy undisclosed sum in order to avoid another lawsuit." Gawker Media President and General Counsel Heather Dietrick declined to confirm or deny there was a settlement.
On June 10, 2016, Gawker Media and its associated subsidiaries Gawker Sales, Gawker Entertainment, Gawker Technology and Blogwire filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Southern District of New York, following the loss of the Hogan lawsuit. CNBC also reported that Gawker Media would be put up for auction following the bankruptcy filing.
On August 18, 2016, Gawker Media announced that its flagship blog, gawker.com, would be ceasing operations the following week. Univision continues to operate Gawker Media's six other websites - Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku and Lifehacker. On August 22, 2016, Nick Denton wrote the final article for Gawker, titled "How Things Work".
On March 14, 2006, Gawker.com launched Gawker Stalker Maps, a mashup of the site's Gawker Stalker feature and Google Maps. After this Gawker Stalker, originally a weekly roundup of celebrity sightings in New York City submitted by Gawker readers, was frequently updated, and the sightings are displayed on a map. The feature sparked criticism from celebrities and publicists for encouraging stalking. Actor and director George Clooney's representative Stan Rosenfeld described Gawker Stalker as "a dangerous thing". Jessica Coen has said that the map is harmless, that Gawker readers are "for the most part, a very educated, well-meaning bunch", and that "if there is someone really intending to do a celebrity harm, there are much better ways to go about doing that than looking at the Gawker Stalker". On April 6, 2007, Emily Gould appeared on an edition of Larry King Live hosted by talk show host Jimmy Kimmel during a panel discussion titled "Paparazzi: Do they go too far?" and was asked about the Gawker Stalker. Kimmel accused the site of potentially assisting real stalkers, adding that Gould and her website could ultimately be responsible for someone's death. Kimmel continued to claim a lack of veracity in Gawker's published stories, and the potential for libel it presents. At the end of the exchange Gould said that she didn't "think it was OK" for websites to publish false information, after which Kimmel said she should "check your website then." Gawker Stalker was redirected to the list of Gawker stories tagged with "Stalker" and the map is no longer posted online.
Tom Cruise video
On January 15, 2008, Gawker mirrored the Scientology video featuring Tom Cruise from the recently removed posting on YouTube. They soon posted a copyright infringement notice written by lawyers for Scientology. By July 2009, the video had not been removed and no lawsuit was filed.
Sarah Palin email leak
On September 17, 2008, in reporting that pranksters associated with 4chan had hacked the personal e-mail account of Alaska Governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Gawker published screenshots of the emails, photos, and address list obtained by the hackers. While accessing personal e-mail accounts without authorization constitutes a federal crime, current DOJ interpretation of this statute following the decision in Theofel v. Farey-Jones is that perpetrators may be prosecuted only for reading "unopened" emails. FBI Spokesman Eric Gonzalez in Anchorage, Alaska, confirmed that an investigation was underway.
On October 28, 2010, Gawker posted an anonymous post entitled, "I Had a One-Night Stand with Christine O'Donnell", discussing an alleged romantic encounter with the Republican nominee for the United States Senate in Delaware. However, according to the writer, O'Donnell only slept naked with the anonymous writer and did not have sex with him. The National Organization for Women condemned the piece as "slut-shaming". NOW's president, Terry O'Neill, stated, "It operates as public sexual harassment. And like all sexual harassment, it targets not only O'Donnell, but all women contemplating stepping into the public sphere." Salon's Justin Elliott criticized the ad hominem nature of the article, tweeting "Today, we are all Christine O'Donnell." Gawker.com reportedly paid in the "low four figures" for the story. Denton defended it, praising its "brilliant packaging".
Chris Lee Craigslist emails
In February 2011, Gawker posted an email exchange between United States Congressman Chris Lee and a woman he had met through a personal ad on Craigslist. The emails included the married Lee describing himself as a divorced lobbyist and a photo of him posing shirtless. Lee resigned his Congressional seat within hours of Gawker's story.
2010 data breach incident
On December 11, 2010, Gawker and Gizmodo were hacked by a group named Gnosis. The hackers gained root access to the Linux-based servers, access to the source code, access to Gawker's custom CMS, databases (including writer and user passwords), Google Apps, and real-time chat logs from Gawker's Campfire instance, in addition to the Twitter accounts of Nick Denton and Gizmodo. The hacker group stated that they went after Gawker for their "outright arrogance" and for a previous feud between Gawker and 4chan. Gawker asked all its users to change their passwords and posted an advisory notice as well.
2012 Michael Brutsch unmasking
On October 12, 2012, Adrian Chen posted an article identifying Reddit moderator Violentacrez as Michael Brutsch. In the days prior to publication of the story, Reddit's main politics channel, r/politics, and a number of other forums on the site banned Gawker links from their page; at one point, Gawker was banned from all of Reddit.
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