Gawker Media sale – the end of an era

The writing has been on the wall for the company for months since its legal battle with wrestler Hulk Hogan and serial Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel, pushed Gawker into bankruptcy.

It was largely  a matter of who would buy the company and how much they would pay for it. 

Gawker logo ()

The company’s founder and editor in chief, British entrepreneur Nick Denton said: “I am pleased that our employees are protected and will continue their work under new ownership – disentangled from the legal campaign against the company. We could not have picked an acquirer more devoted to vibrant journalism.”

It is a sad end for a media company that, over the decade of its existence, has shaped much of the online media world we know today. 

Denton started Gawker as a snarky gossip site focused on New York in 2003. He was among the first of a new generation of media entrepreneurs who used blogging software to create content that was fast, informal, edgy and sometimes confrontational. Legacy media companies, with their complex and technologically inferior content management systems, struggled to compete.

Gawker certainly chimed with a young and tech savvy New York (and indeed global) audience and within months Denton had followed up with a gadget site Gizmodo, car site Jalopnik, and games blog Kotaku.  

Not everything the company did was instantly successful. Valleywag which attempted to transplant Gawker’s edgy, irreverent gossipy approach to Silicon Valley, was one of the several sites (The Consumerist, Gridskipper and Wonkette to name three) Denton either shuttered or sold – he has never been afraid of taking the axe to projects that haven’t fulfilled his ambitions for them.

Nevertheless Gawker Media matured into a 21st century publishing empire and in many ways pioneered editorial concepts, such as live video, video unboxing of gadgets, snarky editorial, listicles, that are taken for granted today. Jonah Peretti of Buzzfeed, and Shane Smith of Vice Media, among others, have been influenced by much of the company’s approach.

And in troubling times for some media companies Gawker has always generated significant revenues. 

End of an era

The sale of Gawker also marks the end of an era in that the company was the last major player to emerge from the blogging boom to remain independent. Jason Calacanis, whose Weblogs Inc was the company’s rival in the early days, was sold to aol in 2005. That media company also snapped up The Huffington Post a few years later, and also owns another graduate of the blogging era in the influential tech site TechCrunch. Along the way many other blog networks and sites have either been bought, or more likely run out of steam and disappeared.

It will be fascinating to to see what the new owners Univision, who also snapped up another of the class of 2005 in satirical site The Onion – make of Gawker now.

Ultimately though Denton must be distraught at the loss of his business in such a sad and dramatic way. Nevertheless he can comfort himself in a small way by knowing that his team, and the fans of his sites are now running much of online media now.

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