Why Is Gawker Shutting Down?

It’s the end of Gawker as we know it. The troubled online news frontrunner announced plans to shut down next week after a protracted legal battle left the publication drained.

“After nearly fourteen years of operation, Gawker.com will be shutting down next week. The decision to close Gawker comes days after Univision successfully bid $135 million for Gawker Media’s six other websites, and four months after the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel revealed his clandestine legal campaign against the company.”

In its farewell statement, Gawker linked to another piece recounting the battle that Thiel has waged against the company in court. After revealing that the public figure was gay in 2007, an acrimonious relationship was born between the two entities. Many would argue that that story resulted in the shut down of Gawker today.

According to Forbes, tens of millions of dollars of Thiel’s money were poured in various lawsuits — some of which may not yet be public — that eventually sucked Gawker dry. These efforts were often shrouded in secrecy, with the business magazine suggesting that even the law firm behind them wasn’t aware of Thiel’s involvement until a story was published revealing the fact in their May issue.

While such lawsuits were numerous, the final blow to Gawker came from former WWE superstar Hulk Hogan when the website published a sex tape of the former wrestler and his friend’s wife. To exacerbate the situation, they refused to take it down when Hogan ordered them to do so.

Gawker was suspicious that there was someone financing the case against them. Not only did Hogan seem to have unlimited come after them, it didn’t seem to add up with what happening in his personal life. Furthermore, multiple calls for a settlement were denied.

After being revealed as the money behind the lawsuits against Gawker, Thiel published a widely read New York Times opinion piece reassuring the rest of the media that this wasn’t the beginning of the end. In contrast to the ideologically tinted conflict that some other publications painted, the billionaire himself argued that he’s simply trying to protect privacy.

“It is ridiculous to claim that journalism requires indiscriminate access to private people’s sex lives… A free press is vital for public debate. Since sensitive information can sometimes be publicly relevant, exercising judgment is always part of the journalist’s profession. It’s not for me to draw the line, but journalists should condemn those who willfully cross it.”

Critics see a much less rosy picture of Thiel vs. Gawker Media. Some of them claim that the technocrat is actually attacking media critical of Silicon Valley itself. His previous comments about the news organization do seem to indicate a certain disdain for it: In 2009, he compared Gawker-owned site Valleywag to al-Qaeda.

“I think they should be described as terrorists, not as writers or reporters. I don’t understand the psychology of people who would kill themselves and blow up buildings, and I don’t understand people who would spend their lives being angry; it just seems unhealthy.”

Circumstances leading to Gawker’s shut down aside, the future of the massive archive that the site leaves behind is still up in the air. Former readers will have to wait for new owner Univision’s next move for those and the remaining parts of Gawker Media.

Are you shocked to see Gawker shut down?

[Photo by John Pendygraft/Getty Images]