Bustle Owner Bryan Goldberg Wins Bankruptcy Auction for Gawker.com

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Gawker.com in February 2011 showed a shirtless New York Republican Rep. Christopher Lee flexing in a mirror. Mr. Lee stepped down after Gawker said the married congressman had sent the photo to an unidentified 34-year-old woman on a dating site.

Gawker.com in February 2011 showed a shirtless New York Republican Rep. Christopher Lee flexing in a mirror. Mr. Lee stepped down after Gawker said the married congressman had sent the photo to an unidentified 34-year-old woman on a dating site.


Photo:

KAREN BLEIER/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

NEW YORK—A holding company owned by

Bryan Goldberg,

the founder of the websites Bleacher Report and Bustle, has been picked as the successful bidder for the assets of former media gossip site Gawker, according to people familiar with the matter.

An auction for Gawker was held Thursday in the Manhattan offices of Ropes & Gray LLP, the law firm that has represented Gawker’s former publisher as it has been liquidating in bankruptcy over the last two years. Mr. Goldberg placed a high bid of $1.35 million, one of these people said. The assets for sale include the Gawker domain, social media accounts and nearly 200,000 of its published articles.

Mr. Goldberg, 35 years old, outbid  Mineola, N.Y.-based marketing firm Didit Inc., whose $1.13 million offer had led the bidding for the blog, these people said. He said in an email to The Wall Street Journal “there are no firm plans in place at the moment” for Gawker going forward and said he didn’t expect that to change before the end of the year.

“There are a lot of people who have opinions about Gawker, and I’d like to spend the next few months listening to them,” Mr. Goldberg said.

A bankruptcy judge is scheduled to approve a sale of Gawker on Tuesday.

Mr. Goldberg got his start as a co-founder of the Bleacher Report sports blog, which was sold in 2012 to Time Warner Inc. for  $175 million. The following year, Mr. Goldberg launched Bustle, a site aimed at millennial women.

In early 2017, Bustle raised $12 million with an eye toward making acquisitions. A month later, it acquired Elite Daily from the Daily Mail. In March of this year, Bustle bought the fashion and style site Zoe Report from

Rachel Zoe.

Gawker Media was forced to file for chapter 11 protection in June 2016 after losing a lawsuit brought by professional wrestler Hulk Hogan. The jury ruling resulted in a $140 million judgment. Hulk Hogan’s case was secretly funded by billionaire venture capitalist

Peter Thiel.

The wrestler is entitled to 45% of the proceeds from the sale of the Gawker site.

Gawker was left behind in bankruptcy after Univision Communications Inc. passed on the site when it acquired its sister sites, including Gizmodo, Jezebel, Kotaku and Deadspin, in 2016 for $135 million. Univision confirmed earlier this week it is exploring a sale of these former Gawker Media blogs.

Asked if he had any plans to acquire the former Gawker Media blogs owned by Univision, Mr. Goldberg said: “We will take a close look at those publications. I don’t know anything about the process or the cost—but I’ve certainly admired the quality of those brands for many years.”

Thursday’s auction caps a marketing process that began last year but quickly hit a snag after Mr. Thiel expressed interest in acquiring the site. At the time, Gawker Media’s lawyers were exploring a potential lawsuit against Mr. Thiel over his secretly funding litigation that drove the company into bankruptcy and out of business.

Mr. Thiel agreed to withdraw from the Gawker sale in a settlement with Gawker Media.

Hulk Hogan’s case concerned Gawker publishing excerpts of a video of a sexual encounter with the wife of the wrestler’s former friend, a radio show host known as Bubba the Love Sponge. The case was settled in chapter 11 for $31 million. 

Mr. Thiel has said he backed the case because he believed Gawker violated the wrestler’s privacy.

Gawker Media has maintained the verdict would have been overturned or the judgment reduced had it had the financial wherewithal to mount an appeal.

Gawker’s new owner would be able to remove old articles that were published on the website before it shut down, some of which had been the subject of threatened litigation. Topics covered in the archive are broad and include an early expose on the drug bazaar Silk Road, a rant about food at diners being too expensive, and several columns written from the perspective of a dog.

“We take this matter very seriously,” Mr. Goldberg said in response to a question about what will happen to the Gawker archive. “We are not able to comment about this on the record at the moment, but I want to reassure everyone in the publishing industry that we know how important this is to a lot of people.”

Some former Gawker writers and First Amendment activists have raised concerns that a new owner might remove controversial articles from the site.

Gawker was founded in 2003 by

Nick Denton,

who wrote on the last article published to the site that the blog “was an experiment in journalism free of commercial pressures and the need for respectability, constrained only by law.”

Reached by email in Switzerland, Mr. Denton had no immediate comment except to say he was aware of the sale and was happy to be sitting on the shore of Lake Zurich.

Write to Jonathan Randles at Jonathan.Randles@wsj.com and Lukas I. Alpert at lukas.alpert@wsj.com