Deadline reports that Gawker Media, after filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy early yesterday, is begging the court for a halt to several lawsuits currently pending and causing financial stress. Following a jury award of $140.1 million to Hulk Hogan in regards to a video post since deemed “un-newsworthy,” Gawker and founder Nick Denton continue to face a slew of cases against them that threaten any opportunity of recuperating losses. Denton has thrown several key reasons at the court for silencing his objectors, including: an inability to reasonably reorganize or sell, an inability to effectively maneuver daily operations, a “chilling effect” on employees, a high chance of personal bankruptcy and – did I mention – they are having a hell of a time selling this sinking ship (as of this post, a potential sale has been discussed to global media company Ziff Davis).
The filing issued to a U.S. Bankruptcy Court, reads:
“It is Mr. Denton’s commitment to free press that has propelled his Company – once described as a ‘stenographer for celebrities’ – into a place where honest news and commentary thrive.”
Gawker, as a news source, rides a fine line.
While their articles have posed interesting opinions and scalding condemnations, they can also verge on tawdry gossip and slander – po-tay-to, po-tah-to. The lawsuits being filed aginst Denton and Co. are not entirely without merit, and put into question what exactly counts as news. This entire ordeal is rooted in the material Gawker has produced and distributed to its hungry masses.
As a media entity, Gawker has grown 24% each year since 2012 (according to further court filings) and has generated $49.9 million in revenue since its origin in 2002. What these facts tell us is revealing. Gawker Media opened for business at the same time news media in the United States hit their stride as 24/7 speculation machines; the rat race to grab a story, run with it, and get as many views as possible. As media progressed into social media, that rat race became about click ratios and likes and shares and retweets and reposts and, well, whatever made you the most popular news source (a far cry from the most reliable).
This is not to say that Gawker completely gave in to the new rules of the game, but that the pressure and opportunity became more prevalent to subdue ethics, especially if it meant keeping profit high and employees at their desks. Gawker Media did this very well – happy writers, of-the-moment material, that aforementioned 24% annual growth rate (that really is, just, wow).
With everything going for it, including very well respected branches Deadspin, Jezebel, Kokatu – where did it all go wrong?
With a video of an oaf having sex with a friend’s wife. With multiple accusations of defamation. With irresponsible output. Gawker had the potential to be a brazen middle finger to traditional media, providing a biting and unique perspective on those moments that so often get wrapped in a bright and shiny PR wrapper.
Instead, the future looks like another internet outlet auctioned off to a multi-billion dollar giant where, surely, their voices will be muted to a dull roar. This, all for the temptation to pull attention and revenue with a tawdry clip that, I must agree, is not newsworthy. This instance is too scrambled to undo. However, lessons learned remind us that in this age where it is so easy to bow to the need for attention all news outlets feel, there is still a responsibility to ensure what is being printed or posted is “worthy.”
That temptation now almost seems like a necessity to publish whatever it takes to keep audiences invested, and revenue on the books. And yet: is showing video footage of an extramarital affair, or proving a CEO is homosexual, or any other form of gossip what should be considered valid, ethical news? Hardly. Let this moment where Gawker Media finds itself slipping invariably toward irrelevance be a wake-up call to all outlets that the “word about town” is not a headline. There is still something to be said for research, facts, understanding, and common sense in determining what is news and what is better left in the trash heap.
Do the current state of affairs facing Gawker Media equal up to the offense? Is there still a responsibility by media outlets to publish opinions and reports based in ethics?
Excerpts sourced from “Gawker Asks Bankruptcy Court To Halt Hulk Hogan’s Privacy Suit,” written by David Lieberman for Deadline.