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Gawker.com Shutting Down As Univision Buys Associated Sites


The news and gossip website Gawker.com is shutting down. After an auction forced by its bankruptcy filing, Gawker Media's family of websites, including Jezebel and Deadspin, has found a new home at Univision Communications. But the flagship website will not continue. Now, this all stems from a lawsuit filed by the former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan. NPR's David Folkenflik has covered Gawker for years.

He joins us now from New York. And David, how did we get to this point?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, so the proximate cause of death, as you say, is Terry Bollea, who we think of as Hulk Hogan. He sued Gawker in a court in Florida for posting an excerpt of a videotape of him having sex with the wife of a man who, at the time, was one of his close friends. The actual cause of its demise is the Silicon Valley investor and billionaire Peter Thiel.

He was outraged by a post almost a decade ago in which Gawker revealed that he was gay. He wasn't ready for his sexual orientation to be made public. He vowed retribution, and he's gotten it.

CORNISH: Now, people probably know Univision as the owner of the nation's dominant Spanish language TV network. What's its interest in Gawker Media?

FOLKENFLIK: So Univision's facing the same issue a lot of TV broadcasters has. It's dominant in Spanish language, as you say, but its viewership is aging and aging badly. Younger Latinos tend to consume their content and news and entertainment in English like their millennial peers. So Univision's been building up a roster of digital sites, including Fusion as a digital site and an English-language cable channel to appeal to younger viewers.

It bought The Root, which appeals to African-American readers in particular and recently acquired earlier this year a controlling stake in The Onion and its sister site ClickHole for, you know, for content that's both cultural and particularly satire in entertainment. This is seen as a way to build that audience in Gawker's family of sites - Jalopnik about cars, other sites about women's issues, about gadgets, Silicon Valley and the like.

CORNISH: So why would it want Gawker Media but, like, not its namesake - right? - not Gawker itself?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Peter Thiel financed this lawsuit against Gawker because of what had happened to him. He got Hulk Hogan, but he was financing other lawsuits as well. And he was making the case publicly that seemed to attach to Gawker and that is that not only was it a fearless site, but it was a vicious one and that the brand had become toxic for advertisers afraid of Thiel's continued retribution but also of the lingering taint that attached to the Gawker name.

CORNISH: Gawker.com is shutting down. Its founder, Nick Denton, is not going to be a part of its next chapter. What kind of legacy does he leave?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's first think about it financially. He built up what became sort of a mid-level digital-only property, and you got to say it's, in a sense, a success other than the bankruptcy. He was able to make millions of dollars a year off it. They built up tens of millions of, you know, unique visitors every month to Gawker and also, you know, over 100 million a month to its family of properties.

And to meet success in that mid-level area is an important thing. You know, what it was built on was his insight, particularly for Gawker.com and the idea that the most interesting conversations that journalists tended to have would be between the journalists over a drink and not what they put in print or on the air or online.

And so he blurred the line to the point of erasure between private and public as he talked about prominent figures and celebrities. And people thought, hey, so we're getting rid of this haze of publicity, everything insulated from reality and fact and, you know, manicured to the nth degree. We're really getting at the truth.

But it often got at, you know, real viciousness in a sense that there had been no connection anymore to the humanity of are we taking into account why we're reporting what we're reporting? Are we merely holding people to account or are we just stripping them bare in public? And I think that's the dual legacy that Gawker's left with.

CORNISH: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik in New York. David, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.