Bustle Digital Group (BDG), the parent company of media brands Bustle and Elite Daily, has tapped longtime magazine editor Dan Peres to lead the revamped Gawker.com. It’s the biggest hire yet for a media brand that has already faced heated scrutiny and controversy before even getting off the ground.
Peres, who served as the editor in chief of the defunct Condé Nast title Details, will start on April 1 and will revamp the site, which is slated to launch this summer. Peres plans to hire a permanent team of up to 20 staff, he told Adweek, and will also rely on freelancers and contributors.
The site’s team consists of Peres along with editorial director Carson Griffith, senior editor Ben Barna and publisher Amanda Hale, whose hires were previously announced. The New York Times first reported Peres’ hire.
Gawker.com filed for bankruptcy and subsequently shut down in 2016 after losing a lawsuit brought by professional wrestler Hulk Hogan that was funded by tech investor Peter Thiel. (The media company Univision bought Gawker Media Group sister sites like Gizmodo and Jezebel in a $135 million deal.)
Bryan Goldberg, Bustle Digital Group’s founder and CEO, subsequently scooped up Gawker and its assets in July for a reported $1.5 million with plans to rehabilitate the brand under new editorial sensibility. Gawker also picked up Valleywag, a defunct Gawker sister site, which it would relaunch if the experiment to revive Gawker proved successful.
Goldberg and Peres have said they do not intend to revive Gawker as it was. The original site, headed by the media entrepreneur Nick Denton, served as a launchpad for a number of prominent journalists and is perhaps best remembered for its irreverent, provocative tone and willingness to report on media and celebrity gossip that other sites wouldn’t touch—including gossip about Hogan and Thiel.
“It’s no secret that Gawker was a polarizing brand,” Peres told Adweek. “I believe that Gawker can regain—and surpass—the level of influence and respect that it held before it was derailed by misguided decision making and click bait programming. To move Gawker forward and distance the site from a legacy of gratuitous meanness, there needs to be a clear differentiation from everything else out there right now.”
That differentiation hasn’t yet been defined. Peres said he will announce the site’s editorial mission when it reopens.
Hale told Adweek initial advertiser interest in the revamped Gawker was “high,” and that Gawker’s sales team will rely on BDG’s existing sales and creative services teams “to scale big, creative programs right out of the gate.”
She added, “I think there’s a real appetite for media brands with cultural relevancy.”
Editorial director ‘cleared’ after workplace conduct investigation
The attempt to revamp Gawker quickly derailed after the site’s first two writers, journalists Maya Kosoff and Anna Breslaw, quit the site two months ago to protest Griffith’s behavior in the workplace.
The trouble started after a journalist for Splinter News published Griffith’s old tweets, which included anti-gay and -trans slurs as well as racist comments. Subsequently, The Daily Beast reported that Griffith had made inappropriate comments about black people, poor people and a potential hire’s gender identity along with an unsolicited remark about a person’s genitals, in the workplace.
Those comments, coupled with the old tweets, were enough to prompt Kosoff and Breslaw’s resignations, they said. At the time they told the Beast they couldn’t “continue to work under someone who is antithetical to our sensibility and journalistic ethics, or for an employer who refuses to listen to the women who work for him when it’s inconvenient.”
BDG undertook an internal investigation into Griffith’s workplace conduct, it said, and Kosoff confirmed to Adweek that she had been contacted by attorneys as part of the review. This week, BDG told the Times that Griffith had been “cleared” and would remain on as editorial director.
“I am deeply saddened about the allegations that were brought forth by two former staff members,” Griffith told the Times. “With the conclusion of a rigorous and in-depth third-party investigation, I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting down to work with our new editor in chief, Dan Peres, who I very much admire.”
A spokesperson for BDG said the company had no further comment about the investigation.