Phoenix-like, the website Gawker is about to return, bustling back from the dead after a new owner has revealed plans for its resurrection in early 2019.
Bustle Digital Group founder Bryan Goldberg bought Gawker (and its backlog of articles and stories) in an auction in July. He paid US$1.35 million for the remaining assets of Gawker Media (which was the name, the website and archives).
Gawker has been dormant for more than two years since it was sued into oblivion by right wing tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who funded a number of legal actions against the company. Most notoriously Thiel funded wrestler Hulk Hogan’s invasion of privacy action suit against Gawker, which resulted in a US$14o million judgment. That sent Gawker Media into bankruptcy which then sold six of its websites to Univision for US$135 million in 2016. Univision (which didn’t buy Gawker) is now struggling under huge debts and management instability and is trying to sell those sites, but has had few bites, according to US media reports.
So who is Bryan Goldberg, and what is his vision for Gawker‘s return? Variety reports that he revealed plans for the comeback in a memo to Bustle staff on Tuesday:
We won’t recreate Gawker exactly as it was, but we will build upon Gawker’s legacy and triumphs — and learn from its missteps. In so doing, we aim to create something new, vibrant, highly relevant, and worth visiting daily… [It will be] completely distinct from our other properties and sit within a separate corporate subsidiary.
Goldberg’s digital track record is solid, although his reputation is less so. He founded Bleacher Report, which damaged ESPN’s grasp on sports stories online and was later sold to Turner Broadcasting (owned by time Warner, now AT&T) for US$200 million. He then started Bustle and immediately antagonised women in the industry and rival sites with some very odd claims about the publication being unique (in a space that has been crowded with similar sites catering to women across the board for more than a decade).
Isn’t it time for a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips? What about a site that takes an introspective look at the celebrity world, while also having a lot of fun covering it? How about a site that offers career advice and book reviews, while also reporting on fashion trends and popular memes?
Anna Holmes, the founder of Jezebel (a then-stablemate site with Gawker), responded at the time:
You imply that marrying pop culture and fashion with feminism and politics is something new, innovative and uniquely YOURS, which completely glosses over — even erases — the hard work and vision of dozens of (female) editors and writers who have been doing this exact thing for years, myself included. … It’s intellectually dishonest, bad faith bullsh*t, and you know it. Furthermore, your posts imply that if these aforementioned editors and writers — or their publishers — just wanted it enough, they too would be able to bring in tens of millions in revenue. That’s really patronising.
A piece by Sam Biddle, titled “Who gave this asshole $6.5 million to launch a bro-tastic lady site?“, went viral for Valleywag (also a former stablemate of Gawker) and a year later he was deemed “the bro whisperer of Bustle“ by Amanda Hess in Slate. Hess notes that, despite relentless mockery, Goldberg had Bustle “climbing the the Quantcast ranks at an astonishing pace” one year after the site’s launch.
Goldberg has since acquired other popular sites including Elite Daily and The Zoe Report into what is now Bustle Digital Group.
The mockery has continued in Jezebel with recent coverage of Gawker‘s sale falling under headlines such as “Hey, remember how much Bustle founder Bryan Goldberg sucks?”.
It’s not entirely surprising that Goldberg decided to buy Gawker, given how frequently (and with increasing flair) the sites criticised him. Jezebel and the five other formerly Gawker Media sites (Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Kotaku, and Lifehacker) are now on the market as Univision tries to go back to its TV roots.
Goldberg’s comparatively humble remarks in his memo to existing staff perhaps tell us that he may have learned something from his patronising, blokey launch of Bustle five years ago.