We tend not to think of our own time in terms of the history books, and we certainly don’t think about websites having their own chapters in them. But when the history of the early 21st century is written, Gawker—just as much Google, Amazon and Facebook—will stand tall as one of the most culturally significant websites of the adolescent web.
Gawker redefined journalism for the internet, for better and worse, by combining gossip, informed and intelligent opinion, outrage and snark with the old-world journalistic values of dogged reporting and holding elite feet to the fire.
But Gawker was never a two-sides-to-a-story publication. They never pretended to value objectivity in the way the sacred cows of journalism do/did, and they paved the way for the “news analysis”—that ubiquitous hybrid of of the opinion page and A1—that today makes up a significant chunk of the content you see in the Times, the Post and other lions of pre-web, Fairness Doctrine journalism. They gave everyone shit who deserved it, and some that probably didn’t. It was a scrappy operation of outsiders, many of whom are now insiders.
Some of the most interesting journalistic writers and editors working today cut their teeth there. Over the years, Gawker would launch the careers of Choire Sicha, Alex Pareene, A.J. Daulerio, Richard Lawson, Adrian Chen, Caity Weaver and…this could go on a long time. While often derided by critics as a trashy gossip site, they also broke a number of stories of lasting cultural impact, exposing abuses of workers by Amazon, hypocrisies of politicians, and the rumors of Louis CK (as a blind item) and Kevin Spacey’s sexual proclivities, years before they were legitimized by mainstream media. And let’s not forget the exhaustive investigation into whether your president’s hair is actually a $60,000 weave.
In 2016, venture capitalist, PayPal co-founder and, at least during the campaign, mega Trump supporter and donor, Peter Thiel, who had been outed as gay by the publication in 2007, destroyed Gawker Media by financing Hulk Hogan’s invasion of privacy suit against the site—a case that ultimately led to a staggering $140 million ruling and drove the company into bankruptcy and out of existence. Also named in the suit were Nick Denton, Gawker’s creator, and Daulerio. Ultimately, the company was sold for parts, with Univision buying several of the remaining properties, but the eponymous flagship site was never revived.
Channeling Paul Ryan, Thiel explained his financial backing of the suit as though he were fighting for the little guy: “If you’re a single-digit millionaire like Hulk Hogan, you have no effective access to our legal system.”
Now Gawker.com is up for auction, and Thiel is petitioning a U.S. bankruptcy court to force the bankruptcy plan administrator in charge of the site’s sale to allow him the right to bid on it. The purchase would include the site’s archives, which presumably Thiel would write out of existence.
That can’t happen, especially in the political and cultural hellscape we currently find ourselves in. And in the spirit of it not happening, more than a dozen Gawker alumni (remaining anonymous so as not to endanger their current jobs) have launched a Kickstarter, hoping to raise $500,000 or more to finance the purchase of the site, with an eye toward relaunching it with a membership-funded model. Denton is not involved, but, at the very least, putting the site back in former editors’ hands saves the archives.
For $10, you’ll get updates on the project. For $25, they’ll throw in a laptop sticker. From there, your donations will score you a membership, and, if you’re a First Amendment crusader with cash (or half a bitcoin) to spare, you can be named a “Crypto Patron Saint” of the site. We encourage you to give with both hands. As the anonymous ex-employees so humbly and accurately put it, “Gawker was willing to chase stories that other outlets considered too risky or salacious. But the truth is often inconvenient, and Gawker's work isn't done.”