Univision might be acquiring Gawker Media for $135 million, but that doesn’t mean that it will end up owning the website that gave the company its name.
On Wednesday, a day after the Spanish language conglomerate emerged with the winning bid for Gawker Media’s assets, the fate of the flagship site, Gawker.com, remained uncertain.
The acquisition officially included all seven Gawker Media sites — including Jezebel, Deadspin and Gizmodo, among others — but staffers at Gawker.com have been informed that their sitemight be left behind.
The deal has left Univision with the option to disentangle itself from a site that has been the subject of several lawsuits, including the one brought by former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan that drove Gawker Media into bankruptcy.
Univision could opt to send Gawker.com back to the site’s bankrupt LLC. It could also “mothball” the site, essentially acquiring the assets but leaving it dormant. Univision has until the closing of the deal in September to make its decision.
But neither scenario will necessarily result in layoffs. In a meeting on Tuesday, Gawker Media executive editor John Cook assured anxious Gawker.com staffers that they will have a job at the company, be it at one of the other six sites or elsewhere at Univision, according to an employee who was present at the meeting.
But the employee said no one is bullish about Gawker.com’s future.
“I think we’re all pretty pessimistic about the site existing,” the employee told CNNMoney.
The uncertainty surrounding Gawker.com has cast a pall over an acquisition that was otherwise greeted positively by Gawker Media employees.
Hamilton Nolan, the longest-serving writer at Gawker.com, said that Univision “seemed like the best choice out of the options we had,” and he expressed happiness that the company agreed to pick up the union contract that Gawker Media employees successfully negotiated this year.
But Nolan also challenged Isaac Lee, Univision’s chief news, digital and entertainment officer, to validate his reputation as a defender of “fearless journalism.”
“We’ve heard a lot about Isaac Lee’s commitment to fearless journalism. He has a reputation for a guy who very much buys into the idea of fearless journalism,” Nolan said. “I hope he demonstrates that by keeping Gawker.com open.”
“I don’t think there’s any better way for Isaac Lee and Univision to show that they believe in that than not allowing a vindictive billionaire to eradicate our site off the face of the earth,” Nolan added, referring to PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
Thiel revealed in May that he provided financial support to Hogan’s invasion of privacy lawsuit, which wasprompted by Gawker.com’s 2012 publication of footage showing the wrestler having sex with his friend’s wife.
Hogan was awarded $140.1 million by a Florida jury in March. Gawker is appealing the judgment, but Thiel said in an op-ed for the New York Times on Monday that he will support Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, “until his final victory.”
Lee, who did not respond to a request for comment, is expected to visit Gawker’s offices in Manhattan on Friday. When he arrives, Lee can expect to hear a pitch from Nolan and others. Editors for Gawker Media’s other sites also intend to publish statements in support of the flagship.
“There’s a strong sense of teamwork here and we really know how to operate as a unit,” said the top editor at one of Gawker Media’s sites. “Not sure what that looks like without our flagship.”
Regardless of the site’s fate, the company’s future will not include its founder, Nick Denton. At an all-hands meeting held Wednesday morning at the company’s headquarters in Manhattan, Denton confirmed that he will be leaving Gawker, according to an employee who attended the meeting.
Denton, who was found personally liable for $10 million in the Hogan judgment, told staffers that it would be too much of a liability for Univision if he stuck around.