Gawker Media Files For Bankruptcy

The media organization is appealing a $140 million verdict in favor of former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan.

11/06/2016 3:10 AM AEST | Updated 11/06/2016 6:40 AM AEST

Gawker Media has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The filing lists the company's assets as between $50 and $100 million and says its liabilities are between $100 million and $500 million.

Gawker is currently appealing a $140 million verdict in favor of former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, who sued the company for invasion of privacy. In 2012, Gawker published excerpts of a video showing Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, having sex with the wife of his then-best friend. Last month it was revealed that Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel was personally financing Hogan's lawsuit.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Gawker said it had reached an asset purchase agreement with media company Ziff Davis, but other bidders can offer a higher price as the company goes through an auction supervised by a bankruptcy court. 

The Ziff Davis bid is reportedly between $90 to $100 million, according to The New York Times.

"In the event we become the acquirer, the additions of Gizmodo, Lifehacker and Kotaku would fortify our position in consumer tech and gaming. With the addition of Jalopnik, Deadspin and Jezebel, we would broaden our position as a lifestyle publisher," Ziff Davis told employees in a memo announcing the agreement.

The bankruptcy filing is an effort to prevent the company from having to pay out the $140 million in damages, Recode reported.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman defended the New York-based outlet on Twitter.

Bollea, meanwhile, expressed gratitude.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a legal remedy that a distressed business can pursue to restructure its debts in the hopes of saving itself. A bankruptcy judge supervises a plan to make the company financially viable again, including renegotiating its debts.

The company can continue to operate as normal while seeking bankruptcy protections, but it must get the court’s permission for some decisions.

Many large corporations, such as American Airlines, have successfully emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Crucially for Gawker, filing for Chapter 11 triggers a stay on all litigation, meaning the company would not have to worry about paying the $140 million penalty or defending against other lawsuits while they go through the process. That could give the company the time and resources it needs to prepare its appeal.

And if Gawker Media fails to reach an agreement with its creditors during bankruptcy, it could be liquidated entirely, which would likely also result in a significant reduction in the payment Bollea receives.

For these reasons, the status of being in bankruptcy actually strengthens Gawker's bargaining position against Bollea. It is "very likely" Bollea will settle for a lower payout during the bankruptcy period, posited John Pottow, a bankruptcy law professor at the University of Michigan.

CEO Nick Denton, a former Financial Times and Economist reporter, founded Gawker Media in 2002. The group now owns eight different websites, including Deadspin, Jezebel and Gizmodo. The sites receive a combined 64 million monthly readers in the U.S.

"Attracting fans and critics alike for their inimitable delivery of news, scandal, and entertainment, the Gawker Media properties are heralded as everything from 'deliciously wicked' to 'the biggest blog in the world,'" the brand's website reads.

The company has built a reputation of calling out public figures for their misdeeds. That approach has led some to accuse it of "spewing hatred" and "bullying," Gawker editors wrote this week in a piece that defended the outlet's "lengthy published record of news, essays, investigations, satire."

Gawker sold a minority stake to investment company Columbus Nova Technology Partners in January, in part to raise money for the lawsuit.

This is a developing story. Check back for details.

Michael Calderone, Willa Frej and Daniel Marans contributed reporting.

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