SXSW: Nick Denton Talks Post-Gawker Plans, Breitbart's Rise and Why the Media Opposes Trump

Nick Denton Court Pic Getty H 2016
John Pendygraft-Pool/Getty Images

Gawker "was always grounded in the truth — a dramatic version of the truth — but the truth," Denton told the audience.

Gawker founder Nick Denton has offered a few clues about his next act following the shuttering of the website and his departure from the company last summer. 

Asked Sunday at SXSW about what he will do post-Gawker, he said, "the space between private and public is very interesting, somewhere between messaging and public forums." 

Denton didn't provide details about a specific project but elaborated that he enjoys communication platforms like Google Hangouts and Twitter direct messages where "you can exchange ideas, quotes, links, stories, media. My hunch is the next phase of media, like the blogs themselves, is going to come out of the idea of an authentic, chill conversation about things that matter."

Gawker's 14-year run ended last summer after a Florida jury ordered it to pay Hulk Hogan $140 million in damages for posting his sex tape online. Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy and was sold at auction to Univision for $135 million. The Spanish-language broadcaster did not buy and the site was shut down. The remaining properties were organized under the Gizmodo Media Group, a part of Univision's Fusion Media Group. After the trial, it was revealed that billionaire Facebook board member and close Donald Trump advisor Peter Thiel had bankrolled the lawsuit.

Denton has previously teased that could have a "second act" but Univision is paying him nearly $17,000 a month for two years not to compete. 

Though he refrained from speaking at length about the lawsuit and subsequent end of Gawker, Denton spoke out in support of First Amendment rights for journalists. He told the audience that if they want to do something to help journalists, they should support blog TechDirt and its founder Mike Masnick, who is being sued by the same lawyer who led Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker over stories TechDirt published about Shiva Ayyadurai, who claims to have invented email.

When interviewer Jeff Goodby, of advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, asked whether Denton had spoken to Thiel since the lawsuit, he responded, "It was reported by Vanity Fair that there might have been some conversations. But if there had been, I wouldn't be at liberty to talk about it."

Denton also acknowledged that the Hogan story toed the line. "Was it the greatest story? No, it clearly wasn't the greatest story," he said. "As an editor, if you're going to expose somebody to mockery, there should be a point to it. I think there was a point to the piece — it was trying to put up a mirror to the public." 

The hourlong talk touched on Trump's anti-media rhetoric, and Denton called out the mainstream media for not acknowledging its bias. "They are acting as opposition to Trump," he said, referencing the use of leaked information to take a hard stance against Trump's administration. "That makes the press part of the opposition against him. You can't deny that anymore. Gawker and the early blogs were at least explicit in what their political leanings were." 

Asked whether he wishes Gawker was still around to take on right-wing outlets like Breitbart, Denton said he doesn't think the conflict between left- and right-wing media will "be won in some sort of direct head-to-head conflict." Instead, he said, "my hunch is that the response to Breitbart is actually going to be some kind of Zen Buddhist reaction." 

Denton also acknowledged that outlets publishing fake news grew out of a similar reaction to "the stilted mainstream news environment" that Gawker was born out of, though he noted that Gawker "was always grounded in the truth — a dramatic version of the truth — but the truth." 

Near the end of his talk, Denton offered up advice to budding media entrepreneurs. "Don't do what everybody else is doing," he said. "The current market for the standard 2006 vintage digital media business is extremely competitive. The margins are not high and the established players have got a lot of the audience locked up. It's hard to get attention in this environment."