Gawker.com is closing today after 14 years of making the Internet smarter, snarkier and more brutally honest. But that approach also earned Gawker enemies, and those enemies brought the site down.
Gawker blurred the lines of journalism, ethics and celebrity gossip and became a must-read destination for a generation of educated, sarcastic and curious readers. It found humor to the end with a Friday story headlined, “The only thing that would make us feel better is if you sent us Trump’s tax returns” and a Monday morning “F– it” message.
Gawker did not discriminate when it came to embarrassing people, exposing public figures and mocking everyone. It gave a voice to the unemployed, decided what was OK to put in a salad, unmasked internet trolls and provided million of readers with a daily escape.
Univision won an auction last week to buy Gawker Media for $135 million and will retain the digital media conglomerate’s other assets while shutting down operations for the controversial namesake website.
Gawker once published, and then removed, a post about a married Conde Nast executive attempting to pay for a gay porn star in Chicago back in 2015. Tommy Craggs, former executive editor, and Max Read, the ex-editor-in-chief, quit their jobs because of they didn’t agree with the decision to remove the story.
There are at least two moments that owner Nick Denton has cause to regret: outingSilicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel as gay, and posting a Hulk Hogan sex tape. Thiel decided he wanted revenge and financed Hogan’s invasion-of-privacy lawsuit. Hogan was awarded $140 million and is essentially the reason why the site is going dark.
The site was often silly yet insightful, tracking TGI Friday’s endless appetizers and tricking Donald Trump into retweeting Mussolini. It gleefully invaded privacy, as in a 2010 anonymous account of a one-night stand with conservative Tea Party activist Christine O’Donnell.
Jimmy Kimmel was filling in for Larry King on CNN back 2007 when he got angry that the site added a “Gawker Stalker” map that updated in real time to its celebrity sightings section. The feature ended for fear it might put celebrities in danger.
Gawker didn’t always name names when making potentially damaging allegations, offering “blind items,” such as the 2012 story, “Which beloved comedian likes to force female comics to watch him jerk off?“
In 2008 Gawker published a creepy Scientology recruitment video featuring Tom Cruise that showed a side of the actor most fans didn’t know existed. This was shocking at the time, but Cruise is now synonymous with Scientology in the minds of many. The site made the bizarre mainstream.
Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford died of cancer earlier this year, so he isn’t around to see the end of the site that famously exposed him for smoking crack.
We can only hope another media organization steps up to fill Gawker’s shoes as a destination for these type of appalling-yet-important stories.
Gawker is survived by sister sites Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku, and Lifehacker. Univision’s news and digital chief Isaac Lee claims the sites will “keep their voice and their authenticity,” but it remains to be seen how accurate that statement will be when one of the sister sites takes on a prominent public figure. Gawker was truly one-of-a-kind and regardless of your opinion on the site, it’s impossible to ignore the long-term impact it had on the world of digital media.
Rest in peace, Gawker. You will be missed by some but remembered by everyone.