A Kickstarter campaign to resurrect Gawker.com, the celebrity and media gossip site driven into bankruptcy by wrestler Hulk Hogan’s sex-tape lawsuit, expired on Tuesday, well short of its fundraising goal.
Members of The Gawker Foundation, a nonprofit created by former staffers, launched the campaign last month with the hopes of raising $500,000 to buy shuttered Gawker.com and relaunch the site.
But the coalition fell far short of the ambitious goal, with nearly 1,500 backers raising less than $90,000 as the campaign expired Tuesday.
Gawker.com, along with all Gawker Media brands, was put up for auction in June 2016 after Hogan won a $140 million invasion-of-privacy verdict against the company, sending it into bankruptcy. That August, Univision bought Gawker Media’s properties for $135 million, and Gawker.com was shut down.
Despite the fundraising failure, campaign organizers were “floored by the outpouring of support,” said James Del, a former vice president of programming at Gawker Media and a Gawker Foundation organizer.
“It was an ambitious goal, but nearly 1,500 people were willing to pay money for a site that hasn’t published in over a year,” Del wrote in an email to HuffPost on Tuesday. “That’s impressive, and though we won’t be able to compete at auction, we hope one of the other benevolent parties interested in the site is able to win. There’s clearly demand.”
Another former Gawker staffer, who spoke to HuffPost on the condition of anonymity, said the campaign’s failure was disappointing, but not surprising.
“Look: If the alumni all rallied behind it openly and loudly, I think the goal would’ve been hit,” the person wrote in an email.
The Gawker Foundation had outlined two goals for the fundraising campaign: preserve the site’s archives, and relaunch Gawker.com “under the stewardship of former editors, new writers, and an entirely membership-funded model.”
Plans are “underway” to preserve Gawker.com’s archives, according to Del, which hold articles that predate news sites like BuzzFeed, Vox, Mic and HuffPost.
“There are years and years of stories in there that chronicle some of the earliest years of media blogging in New York and beyond, and as we’ve seen over the past year, we have no idea how many posts in that archive will become newsworthy in the future,” Del said.
Gawker.com supporters decried the site’s demise in 2016 after a Florida jury found Gawker violated Hogan’s privacy by publishing a sex tape clip. Hogan’s lawsuit was filed in 2012 after Gawker refused to take down the tape, and ended with Hogan winning a $140 million judgement.
Forbes revealed that Hogan’s lawsuit was funded secretly by tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who held a grudge against Gawker after the site “outed” him in a 2007 article. Media pundits warned that Gawker’s bankruptcy marked a threat to the free press and a violation of free speech.
“Hulk Hogan conceded that Gawker’s story about him was true, yet he still won a vast judgment and, not incidentally, drove the Web site out of business,” Jeffrey Toobin wrote for The New Yorker. “The prospect of liability, perhaps existential in nature, for true stories presents a chilling risk for those who rely on the First Amendment.”
Interest in reviving the site took hold amid the recent #MeToo movement, given Gawker’s history of unearthing celebrity sexual harassment and assault allegations. The Kickstarter campaign said “Gawker was willing to chase stories that other outlets considered too risky or salacious,” including early accusations against Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Harvey Weinstein and President Donald Trump.
“All the things Gawker reported years ago on all the people who are just being taken down now ― those stories came long before any movement, long before the massive stories that publishers are now using as part of their ad campaigns,” the anonymous former staffer said.
In November, The Washington Post published a video that featured media columnist Margaret Sullivan discussing the vital role Gawker played in exposing sexual misconduct allegations against high-profile figures.
″Gawker was early on getting the complaints about Weinstein and the fact that this was an open secret,” Sullivan said. “They took an open secret and actually published it.”
She continued: “I think their absence is definitely noticed. I mean for one thing, the fact that they were brought down the way they were has sent a chill through the media system.”