It would be a perfect Gawker story if it weren’t, uh, technically about Gawker: millionaire purchases a beloved website that used to mock him mercilessly after it was driven into bankruptcy by a vengeful billionaire, only to put it under the stewardship of someone with both a history of terrible tweets and the lack of foresight required to do a quick search-and-delete, leading to what seems to be total institutional chaos.
Such is the fate of New Gawker — and that’s just the beginning of the story. In the wake of the website’s unceremonious death in August 2016, it was sold to Bryan Goldberg, an entrepreneur The New Yorker once described as “a giant six-year-old” and which Gawker itself once called a “clueless scamp.” On January 23, just one week after (new) Gawker.com’s first four employees were announced, the Daily Beast reported that the site’s only two reporters stepped down due to another staffer making offensive and wholly inappropriate comments in the workplace. Then, five months later, the site’s sole senior editor followed suit and quit just ahead of Gawker’s scheduled relaunch in fall 2019, per the New York Post.
It is an extreme understatement to say that Gawker 2.0 is having a rough start; this rough start has also been going on for quite some time. Today, we look back on what the site has undergone in the past few years.
August 16, 2016: Univision buys Gawker Media assets for $135 million.
After vengeful tech billionaire Peter Thiel funds the infamous Hulk Hogan lawsuit that bankrupts Gawker Media (RIP), Univision Communications buys some of the brand’s websites, including Deadspin, Jezebel, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Jalopnik, and Kotaku. However, part of the agreement permits Univision to exclude Gawker.com from its acquisition, if it so desires. (It does.) On August 18, Gawker reporter J.K. Trotter announces the upsetting news: Gawker.com is ending its operations.
August 22, 2016: RIP.
On a depressing Monday afternoon, Gawker founder Nick Denton publishes, “How Things Work,” the last blog post that Gawker will ever publish. That day, after a nearly-14-year-long run, Gawker shuts down. “It is the end of an era,” he writes. (With the exception of six articles that Univision executives voted to delete from the site, Gawker.com’s archive remains online.)
October 2, 2017: Rumors circulate that Gawker.com might come back.
In early October, The Wall Street Journal reports that the bankruptcy estate is quietly shopping around Gawker.com to potential buyers — news that is disturbing to old Gawker writers and fans, given the new owner will have the power to delete articles from the site. Therefore, it’s not that surprising when Peter Thiel, the very man who bankrupted Gawker, shows early interest in the corpse of the website. Thankfully, he drops his bid in late April 2018, but no one celebrates yet.
July 12, 2018: Zombie Gawker.
In a bankruptcy court auction, Bryan Goldberg, the founder of sports site Bleacher Report and women’s interest site Bustle, drops $1.35 million on Gawker.com, a website that relentlessly mocked him.
“Bryan Goldberg is not a smart man,” reads Gawker’s coverage about his decision to found a website for women. “He mocks himself far better than his critics ever could.”
January 16, 2019: Gawker’s first hires.
On a relatively slow news day, CNN’s Oliver Darcy breaks the news of zombie Gawker’s first four hires on Twitter: someone named Carson Griffith as editorial director, Ben Barna as senior editor, and Maya Kosoff and Anna Breslaw as staff writers. In “the spirit of Gawker,” Splinter (which is under Gizmodo Media) publishes a searing investigation into the “fake” website’s new employees, with an especially close look at Griffith’s old tweets, which are blatantly racist and classist.
“This nail salon is so hot i might pass out,” reads one of her tweets from June 2010. “I hope the asian are as good at throwing water on my face as they are at doing nails.”
January 23, 2019: And then the two staff writers quit.
Just one week after Darcy’s tweet, the Daily Beast reports that Kosoff and Breslaw have quit over — surprise! — concerns about Griffith, and frustrations that Goldberg wouldn’t listen to these concerns.
Per the report, the two reporters had met human resources at Goldberg’s Bustle Digital Group (BDG) to express their concerns about Griffith, who had made offensive comments in the workplace about everything from a businessman’s penis size to gender to people of color. In one specific instance that Kosoff recounted to HR, the writer told Griffith via Slack that she was meeting with a potential new staffer “who is a person of color and nonbinary (uses they/them pronouns).” In response, Griffith asked, “lol is [name redacted] a girl?” In another alleged instance, Griffith bemoaned that people of color only like to write serious stories pertaining to race.
So, Kosoff and Breslaw decided they’d rather not work for Griffith and BDG.
“We’re disappointed it ended this way, but we can’t continue to work under someone who is antithetical to our sensibility and journalistic ethics, or for an employer [CEO Bryan Goldberg] who refuses to listen to the women who work for him when it’s inconvenient,” they say in a joint statement.
March 21, 2019: Goldberg hires a (controversial) editor-in-chief who wants to make Gawker 2.0, but in a nice way.
The New York Post reports that Goldberg has finally hired someone to helm the new site: Dan Peres, previously of The Players’ Tribune and Details. Speaking of his plans for Gawker, Peres tells the Post that he “[doesn’t] believe edginess and journalistic ethics are mutually exclusive, and that he has “no intention of being mean just to get clicks.”
This must be a new outlook for Peres: In 2004, he came under fire for asking readers to guess if a photographed person was “Gay or Asian” in a piece published in Details. (In reference to the controversial story, Peres tells the Post that he “regretted it at the time” and still does.)
June 21, 2019: And then, the site’s sole senior editor exits.
Mere months ahead of Gawker’s planned relaunch, the New York Post reports that Barna has quit with plans to return to his previous place of employment, Interview magazine. Per the Post, Nate Hopper, formerly of Time magazine, has already stepped in as Barna’s replacement.
How much drama can one site become embroiled in, and before launching, to boot?
This post has been updated.