Before its demise, Gawker Media, including Gawker.com and its subsidiary sites, like Jezebel, Gizmodo and Deadspin, were known for their stable of original voices, strong political views and willingness to expose stories other outlets wouldn’t touch.
The company wrote about Louis C.K. and Bill Cosby well before their media downfalls. But alongside being a voice for injustice, the site was also well known for running salacious stories about celebrities.
In 2016, Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel secretly bankrolled an enormous lawsuit against Gawker in support of pro wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose sex tape had appeared on the site in 2012. Thiel’s involvement wasn’t a complete surprise. He and the site shared a long, turbulent history.
Hogan was awarded $140 million in damages. Ultimately, Gawker Media was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and sell off its brands to Univision. Univision operates six of the media sites, save Gawker, whose name was seen as too notorious to keep.
The lawsuit was an alarming example of how those with money and intent can silence dissenting voices in media and journalism, in effect, altering the information landscape to suit their whims.
That was until yesterday, when a Kickstarter called SaveGawker.com was launched to relaunch the site as a nonprofit journalistic enterprise.
As the Kickstarter page notes, Gawker.com still exists and is up for auction. One of the bidders is Thiel, but over a dozen former editors of the site, including founding editor Elizabeth Spiers, are trying to stop him.
A statement on the site reads: “If you haven't heard, independent and local media outlets are struggling financially right now, and an army of trolls, bad actors and powerful people are hiding in the wings to snuff out any inconvenient stories and publications. This is the reality of media in 2017.”
The group hopes to raise $500,000, which will fund a nonprofit called the Gawker Foundation. The foundation will rely solely on reader-funded support and run without a pay wall or advertising. All past content will be archived on the site. All monies will go to supporting the the site, its editors and writers.
The group behind the Kickstarter campaign stated it will start a new foundation, even if they don’t win back control of the Gawker name.
Nonprofit journalism has gained momentum over the past few years as publications struggle to meet financial demands in the face of lower ad revenue and subscriptions. However, Gawker cites another motive for becoming a nonprofit foundation. Since no one person owns the site, it becomes much more difficult for an outside interest to target and take it down.
The move for sustainable journalism is surprising and hopeful.
As of Tuesday, the Kickstarter had raised over $52,000 with 27 days to go. The outcome of the experiment could signal a watershed moment for independent, reader-sustained media.