Gawker.com's subdued finale

Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker: A timeline
Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker: A timeline

Throughout its history, Gawker.com was a hive of activity -- a frenetic source of gossip, venomous takedowns and, occasionally, some salacious footage. But on Monday, in stark contrast to the 14 years that preceded it, the site felt subdued, as if the most interesting part of the obituary had already been written.

By the time Gawker Media's new owners, Univision, announced that they would shutter the company's flagship site, most staffers had already braced themselves for such an outcome.

Since Thursday, when the site's fate became official, there have only been a handful of posts published by Gawker.com writers. Visitors to the site on Monday morning were greeted by a pithy and profane sign-off from writer Hudson Hongo, which had been posted late the previous night.

By noon, only one new post had appeared on the site: a data-driven look back at Gawker.com's 14 years online. But the eulogies started rolling in a short while later. Choire Sicha, the second person to serve as Gawker.com's top editor and now the director of partner platforms at Vox, offered up a post that harkened back to a previous era of the site.

"Now this place passes into a prolonged nostalgia," wrote Sicha at the end of a piece touching on a number of other publications that have come and gone. "Gawker existed for far longer than anyone deserved. It stayed long enough to win."

Other editors of Gawker past filed their own reminiscences before the site's final post was published late Monday afternoon. That last post came courtesy of founder Nick Denton, who waxed nostalgic about a site that, he said, captured "the most extreme expression of the rebellious writer's id."

"Gawker's remit was eventually so broad, news and gossip, that subject matter proved no barrier. And Gawker's web-literate journalists picked up more story ideas from anonymous email tips, obscure web forums or hacker data dumps than they did from interviews or parties," Denton wrote. "They scorned access. To get an article massaged or fixed, there was nobody behind the scenes to call. Gawker was an island, one publicist said, uncompromised and uncompromising."

Aside from that, other Gawker staffers said, they wanted the last day to be low key.

"We might order lunch," Hamilton Nolan said in an email Monday morning. "What that lunch will be--only time will tell."

Related: What's next for Gawker writers?

Nolan, Gawker.com's longest serving writer and the author of more than 14,000 posts on the site, wrote his own tribute essay that was published late in the afternoon. In it, he saluted the freedom that was afforded to the site's writers.

"Most journalism jobs exist on a continuum between audience and freedom," Nolan wrote. "If you want a lot of people to pay attention to you, you work at a place where the individual writer's voice is completely subsumed into the institutional voice. If you want complete freedom to write whatever the hell you want, you write on your personal Tumblr, where the whole world will ignore you. Gawker was one of the few places ever to exist that offered both a large, steady audience and almost complete freedom."

The final blowout, it seems, came earlier this month with a party at Gawker's offices in Manhattan. Bustling with dozens of current and former employees, the party felt like a wake combined with a high school reunion.

Addressing party-goers then, Denton, who will be leaving Gawker Media after the sale to Univision closes next month, said he was "incredibly proud" of how his staff "stuck together during this tricky time."

Univision bosses told employees last week that Gawker.com's fate had in fact been sealed earlier this year, when a Florida jury awarded the former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan $140.1 million in damages for the site's publication of portions of his sex tape.

Hogan's lawsuit was financed by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who described his legal crusade against Gawker as a matter of "specific deterrence" to what he considers a progenitor of online bullying.

Thiel has been the subject of Gawker's often-ruthless coverage over the years, but as he said in an op-ed for the New York Times last week, it was a single 2007 story that prompted his legal efforts. The post, published on Gawker Media's now-defunct tech blog Valleywag, cut right to the chase in the headline: "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people."

"I had begun coming out to people I knew, and I planned to continue on my own terms," Thiel wrote. "Instead, Gawker violated my privacy and cashed in on it."

Thiel said he plans to support Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, "until his final victory." Gawker is appealing the $140.1 million judgment, and Denton has expressed confidence that his side will ultimately prevail -- a conclusion many legal experts have come to as well. Any victory will come too late for this edition of Gawker.com, although Denton has left open the possibility of a "second act" for the site.

Related: Peter Thiel feels no remorse over Gawker sale

True to form, many of Gawker's writers took a devil-may-care attitude in the site's final days.

In the lead-up to Univision's acquisition, all of Gawker Media's sites celebrated what they dubbed "senior week," an opportunity for the company's writers to pen some of the stories they have always wanted to write. The same week, Gawker.com editor-in-chief Alex Pareene unveiled "The Cuck," a heavily sarcastic site nominally aimed at men.

Gawker reporter Ashley Feinberg wrote on Friday that readers could soften the blow of the site's impending demise by sending the staff Donald Trump's tax returns.

Beginning on Tuesday, Feinberg, Hongo and the site's other staffers will start work at some of the six Gawker Media sites that Univision will keep around.

There was also no shortage of Gawker.com eulogies published elsewhere.

Alex Balk, a former Gawker editor and co-founder of The Awl, wrote Monday that the soon-to-be-shuttered site "was stupid, loud, bullying and ill-informed, and most days it was the only honest thing you could read."

"What Gawker did at its best was stand up and say, 'No, you're right, these are lies, you are correct to think that you are being lied to'...You weren't alone," Balk wrote.

Not everyone felt so sentimental, of course. The film critic Matt Zoller Seitz said Balk's piece is "basically a whitewash."

"The site's true legacy was repackaging sneering as righteousness," Zoller Seitz tweeted.

Comedian Dane Cook ladled up his own helping of schadenfreude, recalling on Twitter that Gawker "made some bs remarks about me."

"I said I'd have the last laugh," Cook bragged.

The tweet prompted mockery from a number of current and former Gawker writers -- making the day, for once, feel like old times.

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