Jesse Eisenberg can expect to be handed the role of Peter Thiel any day now.
The threat to Gawker’s existence has got “The Social Network” beat on every level of bizarre drama. It also serves as an interesting view how far the bar can potentially go or in this case not go.
For those who aren’t exactly sure what happened with the popular site Gawker, here is a quick synopsis. Gawker released a sex tape featuring arguably the most famous wrestler in the country, Hulk Hogan. Hogan sued the media group and won a massive judgement, 140 million dollars. Gawker has since appealed the judgement hoping to lower the price but Hogan’s fame and arguments that his earning potential was altered significantly in the wake of that release left them speaking to deaf ears on the bench. It’s reportedly crippling the company. More on that in a minute… What followed was a shocking revelation: Peter Thiel, a huge name in Silicon Valley having been an early entrant in Facebook and Pay Pal among other internet phenomenons, financially backed Hogan in the case against Gawker. The reason he did so was personal payback. Gawker published stories that outed him as a homosexual some years back. Thiel believed then it was not their business to announce his sexuality and while that didn’t border on the breach of privacy that releasing Hogan’s sex tape did, Thiel felt wronged. And now his vendetta was fulfilled.
Those entering our media world now find themselves in a different landscape, one where journalistic burdens are lessened. In the past, with far fewer outlets for content production, the vast majority played by a similar set of rules. And laws protecting subjects from libel and outright ridicule were clear. These days, the journalistic line in the sand has been moved. This isn’t to suggest the media landscape is not a better place, in some ways, it is. And in some ways, it’s not. The Gawker case and the parties earnestly linked to it are the reason publishers of traditional outlets feel a certain level of discomfort.
Consider this year’s Oscar winning Best Piscture, “Spotlight,” about how the journalists at the Boston Globe broke open the sex scandal linked to many arms of the Catholic Church. The drama wasn’t whether this was news, but uncovering it in a way that made the people publishing the stories comfortable that their reporting would not leave them exposed to legal and moral dilemmas. Based on what happened with Gawker, this movie might as well have been released in another era.
Let’s not pretend that every news organization of the past refused to punish untorrid or potentially illegal material. Of course they did. But it wasn’t commonplace. In a crowded market where eyeballs and clicks are at a premium, companies have to decide where their journalistic integrity begins and ends and the end point can be governed by commerce. I suppose the point of this is not to knock Gawker. They were entitled to release that material and Hogan was entitled to sue them. It’s more about understanding where do you want to be as a young journalist.
Are you willing to go after stories like this? Are you comfortable aligning yourself with a company that is OK with it regardless of your opinion?
I lived through numerous decisions made by the editors in charge of the content of the particular company I worked at. The most refreshing thing for me (and I consider this lucky now) is that when we put out a story that not everyone agreed was appropriate to air, debate began and ensued. Are you working for a place that shares that same sentiment about journalism?
Email me at Bram@reelmediagroup.tv, we’ll share your responses. Also follow me on Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram @RealBramW.