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Gawker files for bankruptcy after losing $140m case

Online news site Gawker has filed for bankruptcy after losing a $140m (£97m) privacy case earlier this year.

Gawker's founder Nick Denton and Hulk Hogan
Gawker’s founder Nick Denton and Hulk Hogan

The company filed for bankruptcy protection, which could allow it to avoid paying the damages.

In March, Gawker was ordered to pay wrestler Hulk Hogan for invading his privacy by publishing a sex tape.

Gawker told staff it still planned to appeal against the ruling and would continue to operate, but it was now accepting offers to buy the site.

Gawker said it had been forced to put itself up for sale because of “a co-ordinated barrage of lawsuits intended to put the company out of business and deter its writers from offering critical coverage”.

Publisher Ziff Davis, owner of PC magazine and Geek.com, has already made an offer to buy all of Gawker’s assets, reportedly for less than $100m.

In a statement Gawker’s founder Nick Denton said: “We are encouraged by the agreement with Ziff Davis.”

The company does, however, plan to consider other offers as it goes through the bankruptcy process.

Last year Mr Denton estimated Gawker Media, which owns the sites Jezebel and Deadspin, was worth between $250m and $300m.

In its official filing Gawker said it had $50m to $100m in assets and between $100m and $500m in liabilities.

Hogan trial

Gawker was sued by Hulk Hogan, whose real is Terry Bollea, after the website published a video from 2007 of Mr Hogan having sex with the wife of a former friend.

During the three-week trial Gawker defended its right to publish the video as part of its celebrity news coverage, while Mr Hogan argued it had been an invasion of his privacy.

The jury ruled in the former wrestler’s favour and ordered Gawker to pay $115m in compensation and $25m in punitive damage.

In May a judge denied Gawker’s request for a new trial.

In an interview with the BBC earlier this month Mr Denton said he was confident that the original ruling would be overturned.

“I’m confident that when this case comes before judges in a higher court that people will find again there is a place for critical journalism and it deserves to be protected.

“There are substantial protections for the free press in the United States and there’s protection for criticism.”

‘Thicker skin’

In a twist revealed after the trial, Mr Hogan’s legal bills were paid by PayPal co-founder and tech billionaire Peter Thiel.

Mr Thiel, said he wanted to curb Gawker’s “bullying”. In 2007 Mr Thiel clashed with Gawker after the site published an article that outed him as gay.

Mr Denton told the BBC Mr Thiel should accept that his position means he should face public scrutiny.

“If you’re a billionaire and you have power and access to the media, you should expect now and then to get the occasional critical piece,” said Mr Denton.

“A wiser approach to getting angry and trying to sue a media company out of existence is to … develop a thicker skin,” he added. BBC