“The fact that we’re here is a freakin’ miracle,” Gawker CEO Nick Denton said last night, addressing a crowd from the base of an enormous set of stairs. You could be forgiven for not being quite sure where “here” was. Gawker’s enormous new offices? The year 2016? A week away from sale at auction?
Gawker filed for bankruptcy last month, and Denton was recounting, to an audience that knew the story very well because most of them were characters in it, how the experimental, one-man tech blog he launched in 2002 had become Gawker Media: enormously influential, widely read, consistently profitable, and, now, brought to its knees by a professional wrestler, a Florida judge, and a Facebook billionaire.
Earlier this year, a Florida jury levied an enormous $140 million judgment against the company over a 2012 post that excerpted a video showing Hulk Hogan having sex with a friend’s wife. The lawsuit was later revealed to have been funded by the Facebook billionaire Peter Thiel — the subject of a 2007 Gawker story titled “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.” Gawker has appealed the verdict, but Florida law requires that a bond be posted during the appeals process; in order to gather the money to post that bond, Gawker was forced to declare bankruptcy and sell its assets. That the gathering happened at all was a small triumph. Gawker had to go request permission from its creditors to host the party on a meager $1,000 budget. Next week, the company’s assets will go up for auction, and the famously independent blogging collective will end up with a corporate parent.
The feeling of last night’s party, held to mark the end of Gawker’s independence, was, unlike the product that Gawker and its sister blogs put out, understated. Not quite funereal, but not at all celebratory: a wistful, sad, and sometimes angry wake. Denton, executive editor John Cook, and Gawker’s president and general counsel Heather Dietrick each made brief remarks, ranging in tone from mournful to strident, all celebrating Gawker’s 14-year history of brave, if sometimes reckless, truth telling.
Plastered around the area surrounding Gawker’s Union Square offices were “Guilty” posters featuring Nick Denton’s face, casting the CEO as ringleader of a lawless organization that has long carried out journalistic malpractice. During Denton’s remarks, a woman named Emily Youcis, denied entrance to the party, situated herself near the door and heckled the CEO. She later accosted Denton as he exited the building; Youcis’s footage is posted on the YouTube channel of Got News, an organization founded by right-wing activist Chuck Johnson. (Gawker Media sports site Deadspin once relayed a rumor that Johnson had taken a shit on the floor of his college dorm. Johnson sued and was laughed out of court.)
Undeterred by the odd wheat-paste campaign and the possibility of Gamergate pranksters, Gawker personalities young and old reunited to remember the company that all but invented modern digital-media practices. Nearly every one of Gawker’s editors was in attendance. Elizabeth Spiers, Gawker’s first editor and later the editor of the New York Observer, stood near Denton as he spoke; in the audience was her successor, Choire Sicha, founder of the Awl; across from Spiers was Sicha’s successor, Jessica Coen, now editor-in-chief at Vocativ.
One particular absence stuck out: A.J. Daulerio. Daulerio, who edited Gawker in 2012, was personally named in the Hogan suit; the Florida jury found him liable for $100,000 in damages, even though he demonstrated that he’s already $30,000 in debt. Now, he, too, will have to file for bankruptcy.
Daulerio, who edited Deadspin prior to taking over Gawker, is beloved at the company, and it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that, in his absence, his name carried the weight of a martyr. “That Roger Ailes is walking away from a 30-year career of sexual abuse with $40 million, and A.J. Daulerio is trying to figure out how to file for bankruptcy, is enraging and absurd to me,” executive editor John Cook told the crowd. “I can’t think of anyone who has sacrificed more than A.J. Daulerio for the good work this company has done.”
Hanging over all of the proceedings was the threat of further litigation. The same lawyer Thiel paid to represent Hogan is representing two other defendants suing Gawker, as well as former writer Sam Biddle and John Cook, “the menschiest man that Roger Ailes tried to tag as an anti-Semite,” Denton joked.
“The sacrifices that have been made are not limited to the people who have been sued,” Cook noted, bringing up the frequent harassment faced by writers for the women’s site Jezebel, and the video-game site Kotaku. “I have lost friends that are in this room tonight because of Peter Thiel’s decades-long campaign against this company.”
“I’m incredibly proud of how the team has stuck together through this tricky time,” Denton said. “We’ve shown, with our backs against the wall, the kind of character and determination and verve and style, and I think we can absolutely be proud of it.” He pointedly toasted Gawker’s coders, its ad sellers, its hard-working lawyers (“who have contended with a tech billionaire’s well-funded, well-organized, clever scheme”) and, of course, the writers.
It seemed that Gawker had indeed spent less than $1,000 on refreshments. Less than two hours after the event started, the alcohol was gone. People began to filter out; some of the veterans of Gawker’s earliest eras were planning to meet up at Tom & Jerry’s, their old Soho haunt. More recent employees milled about, one by one making their way to the off-limits third floor. Someone had procured more beer, and the party could continue upstairs.