Corporate frontmen with deeper pockets and more blood lust than the Kremlin oust Gawker’s Nick Denton — the ultimate outsider till the end.
Forget for a minute that Gawker CEO and founder Nick Denton is kind of a douchebag.
Take away the fact that the ill-advised posting of blurry footage of Hulk Hogan pumping and grinding a morning drive DJ’s wife and the ensuing lawsuit bled Denton into filing for Chapter 11 protection on Friday.
Overlook the notion that Denton has had a target on his back from the corporate tech elite for constantly skewering them. It is, after all, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel (PayPal co-founder/Facebook board member), who assembled and backed the legal team for Terry Bollea (Hulkster’s real name) — ostensibly forcing Denton out of the game.
Denton’s brands which include Deadspin, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Kotaku, Jalopnik and Jezebel — founded in 2003 — were a model for how unique voices and independent investigative journalism could survive in the age of fractions of a penny per hundreds of clicks — without corporate interference.
In just over a decade, Denton’s companies changed the speed of how news could be produced and digested. Articles featuring .gifs, videos, A/B-tested headlines and infographics are a direct product of his blog sites’ bloodlines. The measuring and transparency of audience approval or appreciation are his company’s hallmarks.
And if all this resembles journalism’s demise, think again.
Following in W.R. Hearst’s footsteps, Denton knew how to get eyes (sensationalist stories or at least ones like this) and keep them. He got people addicted with fun and smarm and sensationalism but once they were in, hit them with the actual news.
Denton leveraged the click bait with some mighty fine content: from sports journalism’s best investigative piece this decade in the uncovering of Manti Te’o’s sordid fake dead girlfriend tale to the highly metaphorical and viral in every sense of the word rat on rat subway violence to how fucking crazy Amazon is.
“I’m pretty sure we have a revolution coming,” Denton told the NYT in June, 2015. “It’s not 100 percent guaranteed, but the existing corporate structure is looking pretty hollow.”
Gawker, like Denton, also drew establishment ire because it remained independent. ESPN tried but couldn’t quite keep up and last year shuttered Bill Simmons’ Grantland which was, in all ways, Deadspin-lite.
And Vice, which still pretends to do hard-hitting investigations with its monotone Canadian megalomaniac frontman Shane Smith as figurehead, took $250 million from Disney for a 10-percent stake last year and is currently girding for a buyout from the mouse for a reported $5 billion.
So that left Denton and his shareholders as the lone independent voices in mainstream journalism.
In an effort to avoid paying Bollea a $140 million judgement awarded by a Florida judge, Gawker Media was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In the filing, Gawker reported having less than $100 million in assets and more than $100 million in liabilities. Ziff Davis will reportedly pay $90 and $100 million for Gawker’s The group owns PC Magazine, IGN and AskMen, among other pedestrian and/or dying brands.
Gawker will appeal the Bollea judgment but is required to put $50 million in escrow as the appeals process plays out.
While Denton may have flown too high to the sun, his companies did make money and raise awareness and evolve the medium. Silicon Valley was always chapped that the Hampstead UK-born Denton was never one of them, nor did he want to be one.
No other publisher will take a stab at the corporate elite like Denton did. No other news outlet will report on Mark Zuckerberg’s doomsday bunker with such zeal.
And for that, he will be greatly missed.