Gawker.com, the once mighty flagship of Gawker Media, was sold Thursday to Bustle Media chief Bryan Goldberg in a bankruptcy court auction, a person familiar with the matter confirmed to TheWrap.
The auction was held behind closed doors at the New York offices of the firm Ropes & Gray. Reuters reported that Goldberg paid $1.35 million for the site. The opening bids began at $1.3 million. A rep for Goldberg did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Goldberg, a millennial media entrepreneur, is also the founder of Bleacher Report and has been mocked by the company he now owns. Reporter Hamilton Nolan — who publicly warned any future owner of Gawker to tread lightly — called Goldberg “not a smart man” and someone who “mocks himself far better than his critics ever could” back in 2013.
One of the biggest early questions he will have to address is what he will do with the site’s archives, which span more than 14 years.
Once a powerhouse generating hundreds of millions of pageviews per month, Gawker Media was forced into bankruptcy after coming out on the losing end of a lawsuit brought by ex-pro wrestler Terry Bollea (a.k.a. Hulk Hogan) and his billionaire backer Peter Thiel.
Gawker’s sister sites, including the tech site Gizmodo and sports-oriented Deadspin, were sold off to Univision in August 2016 for $135 million. Univision announced this week that it plans to sell off the sites along with the satirical The Onion, in which it holds a controlling stake.
The legal fight began in 2012 after Gawker published a sex tape of Bollea and Heather Clem — the wife of his then-best friend, Florida radio personality “Bubba the Love Sponge.” After years of litigation, a jury in Florida ordered Gawker to pay up $115 million in damages to Bollea in March 2016. The site ultimately filed for bankruptcy and, when it was all said and done, closed up shop and settled with Bollea for $31 million.
For his part, Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who was an early investor in Facebook, held a grudge against Gawker after they outed him as gay in 2007. He became secretly involved in the Bollea lawsuit as a mechanism for shuttering the website once and for all. His backing allowed Bollea to finance the years-long litigation and turn down numerous lucrative settlement offers. In his zeal to destroy the company, Thiel even considered a number of illegal actions, according to a recent book about the trial.
After the dust settled, Gawker Media’s other properties, websites like Deadspin, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Jezebel and Jalopnik, were sold to Univision in August 2016 for $135 million. The company passed on buying Gawker.com, which instead ended up in limbo under the care of William Holden, a management consultant.
The price raised eyebrows at the time and signaled a Univision’s significant ambition to reach younger audiences in digital. After layoffs and buyouts and a scuttled IPO, the company ultimately conceded that the purchase was a mistake and it would seek to unload the websites.
“It is important for Univision to exit a business which does not enhance our core mission, and instead refocus on our strengths,” said Univision CEO Vince Sadusky in an internal memo on Tuesday.
In its 14 years, the Gawker Media openly courted controversy — and not just for sex tape coverage. The website took heat for their “Gawker Stalker” feature, which identified the real-time locations of celebrities. There was also this piece (that Gawker later took down), which outed a senior executive at Condé Nast. Gawker also instigated bruising fights with Reddit over whether the site’s most notorious trolls were entitled to the anonymity they were being afforded.