Venture: Gawker To Relaunch In 2019
One of the most popular and controversial Manhattan-based celebrity gossip news blogs will be making a comeback next year. Gawker, which has been in hiatus since 2016 after being sued into bankruptcy by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, will be under the new leadership of Bryan Goldberg, founder and CEO of Bustle Digital Group, who bought Gawker’s assets for a total $1.35 million in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court auction.
The new iteration of Gawker will be led by its new chief publisher, Amanda Hale, who was recently the chief revenue officer of culture news website, The Outline, and according to Goldberg, the new Gawker website will be built on, “Gawker’s legacy and triumphs—and learn from its missteps”. As soon as it will be released, the relaunched Gawker is going to be assisted by Goldberg’s Bustle as the latter will provide Gawker with its resources, technology, and business platform.
Amanda Hale’s hiring as the chief publisher is sure to align the new version of Gawker as a news blog that now has a brand-new direction in terms of improving its brand amongst the public, compared to the original iteration. A Bustle spokesperson noted that Hale will organize Gawker’s brand strategy, enhancing its sales and marketing departments and that Gawker’s archives will have a permanent home since the original Gawker’s bankruptcy.
Most of the original Gawker’s assets had been bought for $135 million by Univision, which has announced its intention to sell those assets, along with The Onion’s assets, two months ago. Gawker’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2016 was due to the news blog having to pay $140 million in damages to former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan after it posted his sex tape and Hogan’s lawsuit was also financed by the aforementioned Peter Thiel, who was revealed by Gawker as a gay man in 2007.
After the bankruptcy and subsequent asset acquisition, Univision renamed Gawker’s parent company, Gawker Media, to Gizmodo Media Group. Although it continues to have the likes of Jezebel, Lifehacker, and Gizmodo on its books, Univision decided to put Gawker back in the bankruptcy estate because it was “too risky a gamble to keep it running.”
As Gawker is currently hiring more writers and editors for the site’s relaunch, Goldberg has also made plans to invest in the new iteration. Goldberg stated that he will plan to invest at least $5 million on Gawker during the first year, mostly on editorial costs, while Bustle’s parent company, BDG Media, had already closed a $30 million financing round.
Peter Thiel, the billionaire who was responsible for the original Gawker’s dormancy, had also expressed his interest in purchasing Gawker’s assets after Univision decided to put those assets up for sale. The PayPal co-founder and his investment firm, Thiel Capital, had reached an agreement with the firm handling Gawker’s remaining assets to withdraw Thiel’s bid to purchase Gawker, especially since to avoid a legal fight over his backing of the litigation that led to Gawker to become bankrupt.
Shortly before its hiatus, Gawker had its first outside investment as Columbus Nova Technology Partners, the U.S. arm of Russian conglomerate Renova Group, bought a minority stake in the company in January 2016. Then-CEO and founder of Gawker, Nick Denton, said at the time that the investment from Columbus Nova, which is owned and founded by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, was driven by “a need for funding for growth initiatives”, as well as preparing for the upcoming lawsuit implemented by Hulk Hogan.
Denton had also personally stated he would never sell the site nor will he let Gawker be open for venture capital funding, however in 2014, Gawker Media raised $15 million in a fundraising round led by Young Capital Group. The $15 million was less than 10 percent of Gawker’s then-valuation of $245 million based on its 2014 net revenue of $45 million, which is remarkable since Denton only owned 50 percent of Gawker Media and that the only people on Gawker’s board then were just him and CTO Tom Plunkett.
Gawker’s profile had been prominent as one of the publications that specialize in celebrity gossip and media news, but due to rising political drama in 2015 caused by the 2016 presidential election, the blogging site reorganized itself as a website that specializes in political news. The move led to seven full-time editorial staffers being laid off, as well as a handful of part-time contributors, in a move that also had Gawker removing any sub-blogs that were unrelated to news and politics.
Since Gawker had developed a reputation for exposing celebrity scandals and leaks in the past, Denton believed that the Hulk Hogan lawsuit against Gawker was “against free expression” since the site had to be silent in anticipation of the lawsuit’s outcome, which he had hoped Gawker would prevail over no matter how many rounds the site had to overcome. Gawker had also been under scrutiny for its treatment of female employees after an editorial from a former staff member who criticized Gawker for not recognizing the achievements of female writers and editors, as well as having them see executive positions passed over them just because they were women.
The Hulk Hogan lawsuit in 2016 will serve as a stark reminder for the reestablished Gawker to take heed as it would have to be careful in exposing gossip and leaks that can damage the person’s reputation and also hurt the site’s fresh start as a new brand. Bryan Goldberg’s leadership of the newly relaunched Gawker Media emphasizes on creating new content but with the same successful strategies that made the original Gawker famous in the media industry since it was founded in 2003 without reverting to the same mistakes that led its hiatus in 2016.