Gawker Founder Nick Denton Has a Sobering Take About Money’s Influence on the Media

Jeff Goodby interviewed him at SXSW

Nick Denton and Jeff Goodby talked about life after Gawker at SXSW.
Suzanne Cordeiro/Getty Images

Gawker founder Nick Denton has no regrets about that Hulk Hogan sex tape—the one that led to the lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker and forced the site to shut down.

“The idea of the internet is to say all the things you believe with as little filter as possible, so I don’t regret having done that,” Denton said in a conversation with Jeff Goodby, co-founder of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas, on Sunday.

Denton said that Gawker’s demise is one example of how billionaires like Peter Thiel, who funded Hogan’s lawsuit, can impact how the media operates.

“The media is financially outmatched when up against billionaires,” Denton said. “Peter Thiel is worth more than The New York Times, so the balance of power has shifted dramatically. We need to make digital media more profitable to fund good journalism. As long as the free press depends on the goodwill and generosity of billionaires, it’s going to be hard to say, for instance, when the first antitrust investigation against Amazon will be, because of [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post.”

He added that, in the same vein, product reviews can be fraught with danger for media outlets.

“The most dangerous stories aren’t the ones about celebrities, who use the media to get the message out about their lives but don’t like it when somebody exploits that,” he said. “The most dangerous stories are product reviews. An honest review of the Samsung Galaxy Note could be considered opposition and bring drama.”

Despite some of Denton’s dour observations, the session ended on a somewhat upbeat note. When Goodby asked Denton whether he still misses Gawker, he said, “I feel like its spirit lives on in many places.”