What happened to Gawker?

In June 2016, Gawker announced a bankruptcy filing related to a lawsuit instigated by retired professional wrestler Hulk Hogan. Two months later, Gawker Media announced its flagship blog would cease operations. After publishing a video of Hulk Hogan having sex with his best friend’s wife without permission set the company on a path to bankruptcy. Hogan sued in a Florida court and as a result, Gawker was forced to pay out $140 million in damages. Hogan lawsuit was founded in secret by billionaire Peter Thiel.

Background

Gawker was an American celebrity and media gossip blog founded by Elizabeth Spiers and Nick Denton in 2002.

During its peak in 2015, the website had over 23 million monthly visitors as one of the flagship products of parent company Gawker Media Group.

In June 2016, Gawker announced a bankruptcy filing related to a lawsuit instigated by retired professional wrestler Hulk Hogan. Two months later, Gawker Media announced its flagship blog would cease operations. 

Let’s take a look at the rather interesting story of Gawker’s demise.

Hulk Hogan sex tape

Gawker’s fateful decision to publish a video of Hulk Hogan having sex with his best friend’s wife without permission set the company on a path to bankruptcy.

Hogan sued in a Florida court and as a result, Gawker was forced to pay out $140 million in damages. The company did not have the money to meet this commitment, so it was forced to declare immediate bankruptcy.

Perhaps more interesting is that Hogan’s lawsuit was funded in secret by Peter Thiel – a tech billionaire with a long-held grudge against Gawker for accusing him of being homosexual.

Although Thiel played the biggest role in bringing the company to its knees, Gawker had a history of similar incidents with a CNN anchor, Fox News reporter, and New York media executive, among others. 

As a result, the assertion from Hogan’s lawyers that Gawker was an organization without a moral compass was an easy argument to make.

Univision acquisition

Gawker Media Group was acquired by Univision for $135 million in September 2016

Some staff were relocated to other ventures in the group, including Gizmodo, Lifehacker, and feminist site Jezebel. Ultimately, the Gawker brand was damaged beyond repair because of its sensationalist style and flagrant violation of privacy.

As a result, Univision saw the reinstatement of the Gawker blog as too risky an investment. What’s more, any controversial story could destroy the lucrative relationship Univision enjoyed with its advertisers.

Gawker.com purchase

In mid-2018, Gawker.com was purchased by Bustle and Elite Daily owner Bryan Goldberg.

Like Thiel, Goldberg had also been the subject of criticism from Gawker over the years but saw the notoriety of the brand as a potential strength.

Several attempts were made in the ensuing years to re-launch the Gawker website, but each has failed for various reasons.

As recently as April 2021, Bustle Media Group announced a Gawker relaunch with former Gawker writer Leah Finnegan instated as editor-in-chief.

Key takeaways:

  • Gawker was an American celebrity and media gossip blog founded in 2002 by Elizabeth Spiers and Nick Denton. In 2015 it boasted 23 million monthly visitors but was shut down the following year after a lawsuit.
  • Gawker’s demise was set in motion when it decided to publicly share an incriminating video of former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan. The company was unable to raise the $140 million in damages awarded to Hogan and filed for bankruptcy.
  • Gawker was acquired by Univision who continued to run Gawker Media Group’s associated brands. However, Univision believed Gawker.com was too risky to revive in lieu of its relationship with advertisers. Gawker.com was then sold to Bryan Goldberg who has made several aborted attempts to relaunch the site.

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Published by

Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"