Nick Denton, the man behind Gawker’s rise and meteoric fall, isn’t one to mince words. Back in 2014, he told Playboy in an exclusive interview that the infringement of privacy is “sort of liberating” and then tried to convince us that the pilling of secrets has been “very healthy” for people’s lives. The irony is that Denton’s propensity for exposing secrets to the public is exactly what buried his website. In the summer of 2016, Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy after a Florida jury ordered the media company to pay Hulk Hogan $140 million in damages for posting his explicit sex tape online.
“If there’s a gap between your private behavior and your public status, that’s what makes the story for us. To my mind, the only real modern sin is hypocrisy,” he told Playboy in 2014 of his philosophy. He then went on to discuss his desire for a new journalistic platform of storytelling wherein everyone could contribute information in the name of reporting the truth—not just credentialied media. “There’s some real truth that gets told that is never of a scale to warrant mainstream media attention, and there’s also no mechanism for fact-checking, no mechanism to actually converge on some real truth,” he said. “It’s out there. Half of it’s right. Half of it’s wrong. You don’t know which half is which. What if we could develop a system for collaboratively reaching the truth?” This was, of course, before the rise of fake news. Had Gawker Media not been derailed by Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit, one can only imagine the role the company might have played in the 2016 election.
This week, in an entertaining hour-long talk at SXSW, Denton hinted at his post-Gawker career, expressing appreciation for “the space between private and public” and insisting that “somewhere between messaging and public forums" was still “very interesting.” Denton elaborated that post-Gawker, he prefers platforms like Google Hangouts and Twitter’s direct messaging capabilities where “you can exchange ideas, quotes, links, stories, media.” He added, “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.”
As expected, Trump talk breached at SXSW, but only faintly, when Denton touched on the media’s tendency to publicly bash the president while refusing to acknowledge its own political bias. “They are acting as opposition to Trump,“ he announced, referencing the use of leaked information against Trump’s administration. "That makes the press part of the opposition against him. You can’t deny that anymore,” he said. “Gawker and the early blogs were at least explicit in what their political leanings were.”
Back in 2014, Denton confessed to Playboy that he wanted to be a politician when he was younger but admitted he “wouldn’t be electable” because he “hates liberals in this country” as “they’re so fucking prissy.” Looking at it now, though, such rhetoric doesn’t seem out of line in politics in the age of President Donald Trump.
When asked whether he wishes Gawker was still around to take on right-wing outlets like Breitbart, Denton admits he doesn’t think the conflict between left- and right-wing media will “be won in some sort of direct head-to-head conflict.” Unlike much of what he says, it’s tough to disagree with that.
Revisit Denton’s evocative 2014 Playboy Interview, about the state of media and privacy, here.