Gawker’s posts will be captured and saved by the non-profit Freedom of the Press Foundation, following a report that venture capitalist Peter Thiel wants to buy its remaining assets, including archived content and domain names. Thiel bankrolled the lawsuit that led to Gawker’s bankruptcy and eventual shutdown in 2016.
In a blog post, Parker Higgins, the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s director of special projects, said it is launching an online archive collection with Archive-It, a service developed by the Internet Archive (the non-profit that runs the Wayback Machine). The archive will focus on preserving the entire sites of “news outlets we deem to be especially vulnerable to the ‘billionaire problem,’” Higgins wrote.
Gawker shut down in August 2016 after its owner, Gawker Media, filed for bankruptcy following a legal battle with Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Bollea), who sued the site after it published a clip of his leaked sex tape. The wrestler was awarded $140 million by a jury in May 2016. Gawker initially appealed the decision before agreeing to pay Bollea $31 million. After the jury’s decision, it was revealed in a Forbes report that Hogan’s case had been quietly bankrolled by Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel.
Thiel’s long-standing enmity against Gawker reportedly began in 2007, when it published a story about his sexual orientation years before Thiel publicly came out at the 2016 Republican National Convention (in a New York Times opinion piece published after the convention, Thiel wrote that “cruelty and recklessness were intrinsic parts of Gawker’s business model”).
Univision won the post-bankruptcy auction for Gawker Media, which also published Jezebel, Gizmodo and Deadspin, and renamed the company Gizmodo Media, which kept Gawker’s online. Earlier this month, however, Reuters reported that Thiel submitted a bid for Gawker’s remaining assets, which are up for sale as part of its bankruptcy plan and include more than 200,000 archived articles. Worried that Thiel would take down Gawker posts, a group of former Gawker employees launched a campaign to buy the assets themselves.
Higgins wrote that by archiving news sites, the Freedom of the Press Foundation “seek[s] to reduce the ‘upside’ for wealthy individuals and organizations who would eliminate embarrassing or unflattering coverage by purchasing outlets outright. In other words, we hope that sites that can’t simply be made to disappear will show some immunity to the billionaire problem.”
Archive-It takes screenshots of webpages at specific times and is used by universities, libraries, museums and other organizations to preserve sites they consider important historic documents. For example, UCLA used it to archive sites related to the Occupy Wall Street protests, while the Internet Archive made a collection of sites, news coverage, blog entries and documents about the Wikileaks releases. The Freedom of the Press Foundation has already used Archive-It to capture the LA Weekly after it was acquired by Semenal Media, which originally tried to keep the identity of its owners secret, and then fired most of the newspaper’s editorial staff.
Preserved content from Gawker will appear in the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s collection, as well as on the Wayback Machine. “The Wayback Machine is often the first stop for researchers seeking content that is no longer available online, so ensuring these sites are available there is an important way to reinforce the notion that this material is not irretrievably gone,” Higgins wrote.