Want to feel old, at least in Internet years? Gawker has been shut down…for nearly five years now. Barack Obama was still president back then. “Work From Home” was just a hot summer jam, not a way of life. Peter Thiel was still spending his money suing news outlets out of existence, not backing the Trump campaign. The website that helped define the tone of 2000s online media has been just a static page ever since.
But now — really, this time — that seems ready to change. In his Monday New York Times column, Ben Smith dropped this little nugget:
[Heather Havrilesky] told me she will be taking Ask Polly from New York Magazine [to Substack in order] to “regain some of the indie spirit and sense of freedom that drew me to want to write online in the first place.”
(Speaking of that spirit: Bustle Digital Group confirmed to me that it’s reviving the legendary blog Gawker under a former Gawker writer, Leah Finnegan.)
Not that there was any reason to doubt Ben’s reporting, but Finnegan piped up last night with a confirmation.
the rumors are true.. https://t.co/Askz7wy1zN
— Leah Finnegan (@leahfinnegan) April 11, 2021
While its sister sites shuffled through owners and staff revolts over the past half-decade, Gawker was viewed as a poisoned asset — the result of both its late-in-life legal problems and its reputation in more staid quarters as a violator of journalistic norms. (I always liked Hamilton Nolan’s take: “Most journalism jobs exist on a continuum between audience and freedom. If you want a lot of people to pay attention to you, you work at a place where the individual writer’s voice is completely subsumed into the institutional voice. If you want complete freedom to write whatever the hell you want, you write on your personal Tumblr, where the whole world will ignore you. Gawker was one of the few places ever to exist that offered both a large, steady audience and almost complete freedom.”)
The URL and brand were sold at auction in 2018 for $1.35 million. The winner was Bryan Goldberg’s Bustle Digital Media, a company more known for SEO skills than authorial anarchy.
A few months later, a relaunch under new management was announced…
Some news… The first hires for the new Gawker have been announced:
— @CarsonGriffith will be editorial director
— @sufferings will be senior editor
— @mekosoff and @annabreslaw will be staff writers
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) January 16, 2019
…until it collapsed within weeks, after Gawker manqué Splinter (itself now R.I.P. and reborn under a new name) uncovered some questionable tweets by New Gawker’s editorial director. The Daily Beast followed up with more critical reporting about her. (She later sued The Daily Beast over the story; as of December, that suit was still pending. The screenshots of tweets in Splinter’s original story are now gone, replaced by: “This image was removed due to legal reasons.”) In any event, New Gawker’s reporters quit in protest, other staffers were laid off, and back to square one it went.
Who knows what this version of Gawker will look like — but having Finnegan, a former Gawker features editor, leading the way would seem to reduce the chance of dissonance with readers’ memories of its first iteration. And as the former executive editor of The Outline (another R.I.P.), she has experience working within Bustle Digital Group. But no matter what, it’ll probably be worth watching, as Gawker has been since day one.
She’s great and I hope it works. But Bryan and I have talked about Gawker before and I told him the first thing he’s not gonna like is that the Gawker team will want to unionize. And he will push back on it. And not want to fight his VCs. And he has no incentive to fight them.
— Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) April 11, 2021
But he will not like union efforts. I’m not sure he understands why they’re integral to the way Gawker thinks about power. If Leah does what she’s capable of doing, he’s going to have a lot of uncomfortable phone calls with powerful people.
— Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) April 11, 2021
Gawker’s original audience is now old. Maybe they can start doing gentle parenting humor like McSweeney’s did https://t.co/DzxUxUC4d0
— Ruth Graham (@publicroad) April 12, 2021
Gawker had something right that you give a bunch of writers as long a leash and as little intervention as possible, and sell the ads. Prob would have killed with member subscriptions; now Defector is one of the biggest indie subscription sites https://t.co/PksMgiDow2
— Kyle Chayka (@chaykak) April 12, 2021
I am unduly excited by this @leahfinnegan situation https://t.co/Lj5ssMUCMG
— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) April 12, 2021
I think Bryan really would like to re-capture the cultural cachet that Gawker had. I see this as more of a prestige play than a traffic one.
But you can’t have classic Gawker unless you let the writers basically run the site themselves.
— Peter Sterne🌹 (@petersterne) April 12, 2021
The catch is that “Gawker” worked as a brand that attracted a certain type of talent – it’s not like there’s a box of recipes Choire hid somewhere to start back up like nothing changed.
— Dan Gibson 🌵 (@DanGibson520) April 12, 2021
Just hoping Bustle doesn’t ruin it.
— House of 1000 Fabrics (@thousandfabrics) April 12, 2021
It’s interesting that we are at the point where the former Gawker Media blogs are now hiring employees that worked at them in their heyday in order to revive them.
— Alex Weprin (@alexweprin) April 12, 2021
Gawker is great and necessary and we all miss it, but The Outline was really the best site going when it was around. So I’m pretty amped.
— Jason Diamond (@imjasondiamond) April 12, 2021
— John Ganz (@lionel_trolling) April 12, 2021
Thinking of all the former gawker writers screaming at Nick and the rest of leadership for pulling a story and thinking about how it will be so much better at BDG lmao
— Robert “Bob” Zombie (@alexmason) April 12, 2021
So the new Gawker will only last four hours? Sounds about right.
— Orb (@InfiniteOrb) April 12, 2021
Re the @benyt Gawker reboot news: Be careful. My theory is that this whole accursed timeline is a branch from a rupture that occurred on 8/22/16 when Gawker shut down. Who knows what will happen if we restart it?
— Mark Coatney (@mcoatney) April 12, 2021
Ooooh, the many, many times my partner has said, “That sounds like a Gawker piece. But there’s no Gawker. We need Gawker.” https://t.co/Ji886H4VJ9
— Lauren Krouse (@laurkrouse) April 12, 2021
It’s worth remembering that Gawker was a bad website. They were unjustly taken down by a vindictive billionaire ghoul, yes, but also: it was a skeevy, combative website that tried to play dumb while actively hurting peoplehttps://t.co/VmhahKThtk
— David Lebo (@leboism) April 12, 2021
i still sometimes robotically type gawker dot com into my browser yay https://t.co/WAGpz6rJb8
— Kevin O’Donnell (@KOD) April 12, 2021
Gawker stalker: The news-and-gossip site that helped define the modern content web is coming back to life