In the modern age of Internet journalism, it’s hard to ignore Gawker’s influence. The publishing giant had its fingers in all the cookie jars since its very conception – from video games with Kotaku to feminism with Jezebel to sports with Deadspin – even porn with Fleshbot. Under Gawker’s umbrella, those are just a few of the sites that each fortified themselves into a niche where they thrived, even to this day. However, there is one entity that constantly overshadowed all the others: their parent site, Gawker.com. Now, the always controversial Gawker.com is being shuttered.
When it launched in 2003, Gawker.com was not the first online news site; it wasn’t even the first blog or online publishing company, either. In many ways, Gawker Media was the first online media company that manipulated SEO practices and used controversy to their advantage, raking up millions of dollars in ad revenue in the process.
Gawker’s brash, raw voice showed us that the act of professionals behaving unprofessionally on the Internet had a massive audience. Sure, it is often split right down the middle – equal parts hate and love – but the audience has been there since the very beginning.
Despite having an audience, Gawker’s cockiness finally got the better of them, when on Dec. 19, 2007, they needlessly outted and antagonized billionaire Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, in an article entitled “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.” It didn’t occur immediately, but the decision to out a billionaire finally came back to bite them where it hurts.
Mr. Thiel’s patience paid off, as he knew it was only a matter of time before Gawker would repeat their actions. On Oct. 4, 2012, Gawker editor, AJ Daulerio, published a two minute excerpt of Terry Bollea’s leaked 30-minute sex tape – including 10 seconds of explicit sexual activity. Terry Bollea is better known by his ring name Hulk Hogan. Once more transcending into TMZ territory, Gawker found humor in publishing the private exploits of a celebrity – only this time they wouldn’t be laughing for long. Hulkamania wasn’t going to take this lying down.
Mr. Thiel helped fund Terry Bollea’s lawsuit against Gawker Media, which with his help, won a $140 million jury verdict for Bollea’s pain and suffering.
Gawker may have thought that being an online entity would make them invincible and that the Internet collective would always have their back and defend their actions, but that simply wouldn’t be the case. On June 10, 2016, Gawker Media announced it was filing for bankruptcy as a direct result of the Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit. On Aug. 22, 2016, founder Nick Denton published Gawker.com’s final post.
The dramatic closing chapter of one of the first sites to fully understand and manipulate the Internet for personal gain is a hallmark occasion for journalists feeling the pressure of the allegedly dying publishing mediums. No longer should established and inspiring journalists have to worry about their honest accomplishments being overthrown by the brash, wry, and apathetic actions of a media giant simply earning millions off of other people’s suffering. Gawker’s end, in a sense, is a rebirth for the media, as it serves as a reminder that we, as journalists, can and will be held accountable for our actions if we cross the line into Gawker territory.