Nick Denton says Gawker closure was result of giving writers 'freedom to say what they wanted'

Nick Denton, founder of Gawker, talks with his legal team before Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, testifies in court, in St Petersburg, Florida, United States on March 8, 2016.  Picture: Reuters/John Pendygraft/Pool/File Photo

Gawker founder Nick Denton has the said the website’s closure was the “end-product” of his early decision to give its writers the “freedom and encouragement to say what was on their minds”.

American news and gossip site Gawker went bankrupt after losing a lawsuit to wrestler Hulk Hogan, real name Terry Bollea, in March, having posted a sex tape featuring the star in 2012.

Hogan was awarded $115m (£79m) in damages. His case was funded by billionaire Peter Thiel who is said to have targeted Gawker for outing him as gay in an article published in 2007.

Speaking to the Financial Times, where he once worked reporting on banking and the early days of the internet, Denton said he thought Thiel had actually targeted Gawker over its Silicon Valley coverage.

In particular stories that appeared in Valleywag, a Gawker associated website.

“The only time he’s actually talked at length about Valleywag was when he said it was bad for the Valley. He said it was a terrorist organisation,” Denton told the newspaper.

“What started him off were business stories — stories about his funds, stories about tensions between him and Michael Moritz [a rival Silicon Valley investor].

“It was convenient for him to focus on the outing.”

Denton filed for personal bankruptcy after selling Gawker Media’s network of websites – which include GawkerDeadspinLifehackerGizmodoKotaku, Jalopnik, and Jezebel – to media company Univision for $135m (£101m).

Only Gawker was closed, shutting down on 22 August some 13 years after it was founded. Denton is said to be appealing the Hogan ruling.

The Briton, who moved to Silicon Valley in 1997 where he set up two tech companies before selling them for millions of dollars, also revealed he had turned down outside investment in order to preserve Gawker’s independence.

He claimed Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp approached him looking to buy the website in around 2004, but said: “I was so committed to making an independent media company that I didn’t even look at it.

“It’s the only digital media company that ever got this big without putting in outside money.”

Rival youth-focused news organisations such as Vice and Buzzfeed have all accepted outside investments.

Denton, 50, added: “We made our bet and the bet was on readers rather than investors.

“If you entertain and inform readers of your own conversation with them, then everything else will follow. That was the strategy. It worked pretty well for a long time.”

Asked if he was angry about the end of Gawker, Denton told the FT he was stoic about it all. “Everyone keeps expecting me to get angry,” he said. “I find it hard to get angry.”

But he added of Thiel: “People are scared of him, and they should be.”

Picture: Reuters

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