After multiple fits and starts, Gawker.com appears to finally be dead. The once-influential gossip blog that upended celebrity reporting when Nick Denton launched it in 2003 has been shuttered by its current owner, Bustle Digital Group (BDG). Gawker editor Leah Finnegan, who was a veteran of the old Gawker when BDG chief executive officer Bryan Goldberg talked her into returning to helm the site ahead of its July 2021 relaunch, broke the news Wednesday on Twitter.
“Well, after an incredible 1.5 years, BDG has decided it is done with Gawker 2.0,” Finnegan wrote to her 26,000-plus Twitter followers. “Can’t say enough about how proud I am of the site and all the brilliant people who worked to create it, and what a staggering shame this is. I had an absolute blast, and I love you.”
The road to Gawker 2.0 was not a smooth one. Goldberg, known for buying distressed digital media assets at fire sale prices, purchased Gawker out of bankruptcy in 2016 for $1.35 million. (Denton’s Gawker Media was forced to sell its assets and file for bankruptcy after a $140 million judgment in an invasion of privacy suit filed by Hulk Hogan and financed by tech billionaire Peter Thiel.) Goldberg’s plan to relaunch Gawker.com in 2019 hit a snag when multiple writers and editors quit after their complaints about Goldberg’s choice for editorial director went unaddressed. Goldberg in turn fired the remaining staff and scuttled the relaunch.
In the intervening years, he apparently labored to find people who would work at the new Gawker. Finnegan had previously worked at The Huffington Post and The New York Times and was the executive editor of BDG’s The Outline. She famously clashed with Denton when she was writing for the site in 2015, mere months before the devastating legal judgment against Gawker for posting a sex tape of Hogan with a friend’s wife.
In its heyday Gawker pioneered a brand of web reporting that combined disdain for authority and cultural sacred cows with shoe-leather reporting that produced scoops that were fun — and titillating. But social media has rendered all but the most entrenched gossip rags obsolete.
By the time Finnegan was named editor of the new Gawker, she had shed the scorched-earth brand of journalism that had defined her previous tenure. The new Gawker was more thoughtful, while retaining its sense of irreverence, and it was certainly less mean. But it also proved to be less of a must-read. In part, this is a function of a social-media fueled content deluge that has left so much digital media straining for relevance.
The deep contraction has wrought a wave of layoffs as digital-native, legacy brands, tech giants and major media companies are all cutting staff, reducing spending or both. There have been layoffs at Paramount Global, Warner Bros. Discovery (including CNN and HBO), NBCUniversal, Vox Media and BuzzFeed. The Washington Post recently discontinued its Sunday magazine and laid off its staff. And bloated tech giants including Google, Meta and Amazon have unveiled thousands of layoffs.
Goldberg’s BDG has been shuttering titles and trimming staff since early in the pandemic. In 2020, the company shut down The Outline, the well-regarded culture site founded by tech journalist Josh Topolsky in 2015. Last year, BMG shuttered tech site Input and also laid off employees at pop culture site Mic.
Goldberg sent an internal memo Wednesday confirming companywide layoffs that would amount to 8 percent of personnel. He cited a “surprisingly difficult” first quarter this year and the need to “better position the company for the direction we see the industry moving.”
He praised Finnegan and the Gawker staff for publishing “a lot of brilliant pieces in these nearly two years. But in this new reality, we have to prioritize our better monetized sites. It’s a business decision, and one that, reluctantly, must be made.”
The Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), which represents many of BDG’s writers, and which has been attempting to negotiate new contracts for its members there, released a blistering statement accusing the company of deliberately slow-walking contract negotiations and demanding that BDG negotiate with the union over severance for laid-off workers.
“The WGAE is appalled by BDG’s decision to lay off nearly 40 of our unit members. This is the third round of layoffs over the last six months that have effectively led to halving the original unit from 200 workers to just above 100 workers,” the statement said. “Today’s latest round of layoffs, and the closure of Gawker, came after more than two years of attempting to bargain a first contract with BDG, and on the heels of more recent bargaining dates being outright canceled by the company.”