Spanish-language broadcaster and digital publisher Univision is buying Gawker Media for $135 million, a deal that will end the digital publisher’s 14 year-run as an independent company.
“Gawker Media Group has agreed this evening to sell our business and popular brands to Univision, one of America’s largest media companies that is rapidly assembling the leading digital media group for millennial and multicultural audiences,” Gawker chief Nick Denton said in a statement. “I am pleased that our employees are protected and will continue their work under new ownership ― disentangled from the legal campaign against the company. We could not have picked an acquirer more devoted to vibrant journalism.”
A U.S. bankruptcy judge will need to sign off on the deal this week for it to be completed.
Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy in June after a Florida jury awarded Terry Bollea ― aka wrestler and reality TV star Hulk Hogan ― $140 million in an invasion of privacy lawsuit. Though the decision against Gawker could be overturned, or the payout significantly reduced, Denton was still compelled to sell the company, home to flagship site Gawker.com, as well as Gizmodo, Deadspin, Jezebel, Kotaku, Lifehacker and Jalopnik.
Ziff Davis, publisher of PCMag and other tech-focused outlets, made a $90 million “stalking horse” bid in June that set the floor for future bidders. Despite speculation that other media companies may have been in the mix, only Ziff Davis and Univision appear to have made bids for the entire company by Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
Univision, the nation’s largest Spanish-language network, has been on a buying spree over the past year to increase its presence in the digital space and target a millennial audience. The company bought a controlling stake in the Onion in January and a few months later acquired all of Fusion, a millennial-geared TV channel and website it co-launched with Disney in 2013. These moves follow Univision scooping up African-American news and culture site The Root last year.
Ziff Davis had said it would honor Gawker Media’s collective bargaining agreement, but it’s not yet clear if Univision will do so as well.
The deal marks the end of Denton’s ownership of Gawker Media. Denton sold a minority stake in the company for the first time in January, but otherwise kept it independent, even as some digital competitors were sold (The Huffington Post, Business Insider) or brought in large-scale investments from traditional media companies (BuzzFeed, Vox and Vice).
A former Financial Times reporter and early internet entrepreneur, Denton began his blog empire with Gizmodo in 2002. Gawker.com, launched the following year, quickly gained a reputation for dropping bombs on the stuffy New York media establishment in a personal, snarky tone later imitated throughout the industry.
Over the years, Gawker Media sites have broken numerous stories on the government, news media and tech world, and helped to amplify the sexual assault claims against Bill Cosby long ignored by most major media outlets. Gawker, at its best, revealed information in the public interest that journalists might have once swapped privately around bar stools.
But the site also pushed the boundaries of responsible journalism and notably took down a heavily criticized 2015 story about a publishing executive allegedly soliciting a prostitute. And Gawker couldn’t persuade jurors that its 2012 decision to publish a short video excerpt of a sex tape featuring Bollea was protected under the First Amendment. Gawker argued that it provided verifiable information in response to Bollea’s public boasts about his sex life and claims he hadn’t been intimate with Heather Clem, wife of friend and shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.
Hogan tweeted an apparent reference to his fight with Gawker shortly after news of the Univision deal broke.
Another major twist in the case came two months after the jury’s decision. Billionaire Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel was revealed to have secretly funded Bollea’s lawsuit, and others, in an attempt to bankrupt Gawker.
Thiel, who targeted the company in retaliation for a 2007 post revealing that he is gay, wrote in a Monday New York Times op-ed that he was proud of his actions. Thiel’s secret legal backing of Bollea, however, has alarmed many journalists and First Amendment advocates concerned that other billionaires could similarly finance other people’s lawsuits in attempts to silence media outlets they don’t like.
In the past, Denton has articulated Gawker’s guiding editorial mandate as a willingness to publish a story if it’s true and interesting ― and, importantly, believed to be on solid legal ground. “We have this catchphrase, ‘Whatever We Know, Whatever We Think,’ and we try to share that as much as we can,” he told HuffPost last year.
On Wednesday night, Denton lauded the company’s spirit and accomplishments before a gathering of Gawker staff and alumni, as well as Manhattan media types from outlets like The New York Times, New York magazine and Vanity Fair. He recalled the early days of blogging and the budding desire at the time to not let “too much stand between the thoughts and the page.”
“What you’re thinking, what you see, what you witness, you have an obligation to put it out there,” he said. “You have an obligation to tell the truth, and the whole truth, including even your preconceptions, to disclose everything. And I think I can say, for better, usually, occasionally for worse, we have said everything. Whatever has been on our minds, we have put out on the page, and I don’t think there’s any other group of writers, anywhere in the world, anywhere on the web, who can say that with as much conviction.”
CORRECTION: This piece originally stated Denton started his blog empire with Engadget. The first site was Gizmodo.