AUSTIN, Texas—Many people can say that they have learned business on the Internet from scratch. Gawker’s Nick Denton can only stand in building such an empire, and then lost it completely.
Denton company Gawker Media went bankrupt in dramatic fashion last year, after being hit with a $140 million judgment. A Florida jury found Gawker violated the privacy rights of Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, by publishing a clip of him having an affair with his best friend’s wife. The story changed even more last year when it was revealed that the lawsuit was secretly funded by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel.
Now Denton is ready to talk about the experience of running Gawker, seeing it destroyed by litigation, and figuring out what’s next. During a panel at the South by Southwest conference earlier today, attorney Jeff Goodby interviewed Denton about his thoughts on the media, lawsuits, and politics.
“Will you do it again?” was Goodby’s first question.
“Okay, I’ll do Gawker again,” Denton said. “You can nitpick and go through every story. Gawker Media published a million stories on 13 plus. I would not say every one of them was Pulitzer worthy.”
Gawker and related publications, such as the tech site Gizmodo and the defunct tech gossip site Valleywag, took it as their mission to expose what Denton saw as the story behind what he believed the mainstream media had done. missing The site was inspired by the early Internet blogging culture and by SXSW itself, according to Denton. It was a trial in free speech, which ended with the Hogan case.
“Does it bother you, that you went through all this?” Goodbye asked. “How do you feel about it now?”
“I feel like I want to make lemonade out of lemons,” Denton replied. “It is an experience that in some form or form many journalistic organizations, many people in many countries, will go through. People do not like full expression, that is not hindered. We are, all of us , simply an insult, and when we are given a chance, we want to take revenge on the insults. Journalists have a spearhead. Sometimes, the spearhead is broken.”
“Did you miss him?” asked Goodby, referring to Gawker.
“I think your spirit lives in many places,” Denton replied. Many former Gawker writers have moved on to other outlets, such as Sam Biddle, who now works at The Intercept.
“Even if you win, you lose”
The interview also delves into the still-surprising connections to the power of Denton’s accusers. The Gawker lawsuit ended with a $31 million settlement just days before the election. Since billionaire investor Peter Thiel is about the only Silicon Valley celebrity to endorse President Donald Trump, he now has perhaps more access to government power than anyone else in tech.
“Peter Thiel said it himself, a digital millionaire can’t really get justice in this country,” Denton said. “A double-digit millionaire can’t get … Maybe you need to be a billionaire to get justice. The legal process is convoluted and extremely expensive. And you don’t get your costs back. Even if you win, you lose . We’re running about a million dollars a month at one point, because of legal fees.”
Denton pointed out that Charles Harder, the attorney who led the case against Gawker, filed another lawsuit against the company as well, including one by the self-identified “creator of the email” Shiva Ayyadurai. Ayyadurai’s lawsuit was settled for $750,000 after Gawker filed suit. During the conference, Denton twice told the audience of a few hundred that if they want to make a direct contribution to protect free speech against legal attacks, the best thing they can do is to contribute to the recent media campaign. Most of Ayyadurai, blogger Techdirt Mike. Masnick.
Denton did not provide a comment or direct answer when asked about what might come next for him after running Gawker. When an audience member asked if Thiel would ever get his “comeuppance,” Denton reflected on the political moment.
“Thiel—not through the lawsuit against Gawker, but with his support for political disruption by Donald Trump—has become a national figure,” Denton said. “It’s the avatar of the union of a reactionary activist with a kind of celebrity, in Donald Trump.”
“It’s funny, it’s not like there are no poor populists,” Goodby quipped.
“Someone once said that Donald Trump is a poor man’s idea of a rich man,” Denton said. “Of course, that’s just the kind of snobby comment that encourages people to vote for Donald Trump and to call people like me.”