The Hulk Hogan Gawker lawsuit has come to a close, and unless you’ve been going dark for the last few days, then you’re aware at this point that the former professional wrestling and reality television star won $115 million against the celebrity gossip blog.
While some have been characterizing Hogan’s win as a blow to journalism — typically other gossip- and tabloid-oriented blogs in the Gawker vein — it is actually a good thing for the future of the press, especially if it stands on appeal.
The website’s founder, Nick Denton, believes that it won’t, but most legal experts at this point are calling this “wishful thinking.”
The facts of the case: the Hulk Hogan Gawker leak featured Hogan having sex with the wife of his best friend, radio personality “Bubba the Love Sponge” (real name: Todd Alan Clem).
Clem apparently gave his now ex-wife Heather his full blessing in taking the Hulkster to bed, and all evidence indicates that Hogan had no idea he was being filmed.
Some reports have Clem telling his wife “If we ever need to retire, here (the video) is our ticket.”
Hogan (real name: Terry Bollea) brought lawsuit against Clem in October 2012 for violating his privacy. That lawsuit was settled out-of-court, and Clem issued a public apology to Bollea a few weeks later.
The gossip blog, on the other hand, was not so fortunate.
When they released a short clip of the Hulk Hogan Gawker tape on their site, they became a target for litigation, especially since they had never tried to contact Hogan for permission or comment.
The video, essentially, could not be considered newsworthy because it was privately taken without the knowledge of all parties, and there was a clear reasonable expectation of privacy until relinquished.
Hogan never relinquished his expectation, so as is often the case with Gawker, what they were doing was not journalism but privacy invasion.
That’s at least how the Florida jury that awarded Bollea $115 million saw it. Considering that Gawker has advertised a net worth of $250 million — per Forbes — they will likely have to pay the Hulkster every penny of the judgment once the appeal inevitably fails.
That is close to half the company’s net worth gone over night. Such action cannot happen to a company without serious repercussions, considering the people they employ and the overhead it takes to organize and run the site.
It’s possible many of Gawker‘s holdings could be shut down as a result. And as noted above, that is an entirely good thing for journalism.
Because, for starters, the “journalism” word has been badly misused amid the rise of the Internet and new media. Most of what Gawker does is passive “reporting” on stories that other news outlets have already created or reported on themselves.
They bring no unique vision to the table with regard to journalistic integrity and neutrality. As Forbes contributor Alfred Konuwa writes in the column linked above, they have earned a fortune “gleefully embarrassing public figures while dancing in the graves of their legacies.”
That’s not journalism. That’s paparazzi stuff, and not even very good paparazzi stuff at that.
The Hulk Hogan Gawker tape came to them because it was leaked. It did not emerge through some sophisticated sting effort on the part of the site’s contributors.
They received the video, deemed it “newsworthy” in their journalistic ignorance, and the Florida jury made this loud and clear.
Unfortunately, for far too long, Gawker writers have been allowed to call themselves “journalists” with no one there to check them.
The reality is that you cannot be a journalist while showing your bias on every issue, having no sense of awareness on journalistic ethics, and by passively “reporting” on things that land in your lap without subjecting them to the scrutiny of “newsworthy” analysis.
If the Hulk Hogan Gawker judgment has done anything for true journalism, it has strengthened it by stating very clearly where the lines of acceptance are as well as the importance of vetting a source before blasting it out to the world for the sake of page views.
Will the site survive the Hulk Hogan Gawker judgment? The jury is still out on that; but if it does, founder Nick Denton and his contributors may want to invest in a few journalism courses at a local university before publishing another word.
[Image via Flickr Creative Commons/Simon Q]