From the moment of Gawker Media’s inception, the common wisdom dictated that Denton was going to flip it. He had his chances, too, having shot down an overture from, you guessed it, Murdoch (News Corp. put out feelers after AOL bought Jason Calacanis’s Weblogs Inc.). The latest rumor comes from Felix Salmon, who thinks that the formerly morose Denton has become suspiciously, and publicly, upbeat about the company’s potential, and must be goosing up the sale price. (Denton’s response was to bet Salmon a “dinner at Masa, no limits, if we’re still independent in two years.”) All who know him personally concur that it’s practically impossible to imagine Denton idly watching someone else run Gawker. He doesn’t need the money: Apart from his Spring Street dream pad, his lifestyle is relatively modest. For his part, Denton insists, Gawker is “embryonic. This is at most a midsize media group that might, in twenty years, be something a bit more.”
What that “more” will be is anyone’s guess, of course. But he’s having too much fun in the meantime not to stay with it. His friends attest that he’s much sunnier than he was in the London and San Francisco years; even the breakup with a longtime boyfriend over the summer didn’t put him into the kind of gloomy funk for which he used to be known. “You got the warmer Nick,” says one old friend when I tell him I’ve known Denton for three years or so. “He loves to observe human behavior, and I think he has observed his own and just made a conscious decision to stop being an asshole.”
In New York, Denton has surrounded himself with a group of rather private people, most of whom are “serious” journalists (Motoko Rich, Peter Maass, Rebecca Mead) and know him from as far back as the Financial Times, if not Oxford. They provide quiet dinners and a refuge from the daily wallow in items like “Calvin Klein’s Boyfriend Is a Gay Pornstar and We’ve Got Pics! NSFW.” In return, they enjoy his intelligence and friendship and the occasional big gesture (Denton threw Maass’s engagement party).
Simon Kuper remembers visiting New York this June and being struck by the peaceful picture he saw on Gawker’s roof: While the gossip mill churned one floor below, Denton held a party for his friends with small children. He had arranged for sugary snacks and a paddling pool, and delighted shrieking and splashing filled the air. “It was idyllic and very family-oriented, and I was struck by the lack of ostentation,” he says.
Another old friend agrees, to a point, with the idea that Denton has softened. “Nick’s very generous,” she says, pausing. “Although, in a Nick kind of way. I mean, those little children are running on a roof.”