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Why the end of Gawker may be great for journalism but terrible for the First Amendment

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FILE - In this Wednesday, March 16, 2016, file photo, Gawker Media founder Nick Denton arrives in a courtroom in St. Petersburg, Fla. Spanish-language broadcaster Univision has bought Gawker Media in an auction for $135 million. That's according to a pers

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 16, 2016, file photo, Gawker Media founder Nick Denton arrives in a courtroom in St. Petersburg, Fla. Spanish-language broadcaster Univision has bought Gawker Media in an auction for $135 million. That’s according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the deal had not been formally announced. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius, Pool, File)

Steve Nesius, AP

The news that controversial news and gossip website Gawker is shutting down amid bankruptcy and a buy-out from Univision could be good or bad, depending on who is looking at it.

It was certainly good news for wrestler Hulk Hogan and billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who, thanks to Thiel's financial support, won a $115 million lawsuit against the site for Hogan in March. Gawker made enemies of both Hogan and Thiel, first by outing Thiel as a homosexual and then by publishing a 2008 sex tape of Hogan. Thiel paid Hogan’s legal fees to ensure the case went to trial, in what the New York Times called his "secret war" on Gawker.

The site's demise was also good for its critical peers in the media industry. The New York Post gushed “Good riddance” to Gawker when it first filed for bankruptcy in June, with columnist Michelle Malkin calling the outlet "crapweasels" and a "smear machine."

Salon reported that Gawker's end is bittersweet, given that the site published both "disgusting" gossip columns and, sometimes, serious breaking news like the revelation that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford used crack cocaine or that Hillary Clinton used a private email server as secretary of state.

"Was Gawker good for America, for journalism, for 'the media,' for the Internet?" Salon reported. "Good questions and...hard to answer — because the site demonstrated some of both the best and worst of 21st century journalism."

The newsworthiness of Gawker's gossip pieces were often questionable at best and most believe Thiel's sexuality wasn't Gawker's story to break. Yet Thiel's retaliation in bankrolling lawsuits that led to Gawker's demise sets a worrisome precedent for other news outlets: Make the wrong billionaire angry, and you could be silenced for good.

Many journalists took to Twitter with their concerns, as the Poynter Institute reported.

"No matter what you think of Gawker, this is a dark day for independent journalism and press freedom," Freedom of the Press tweeted.

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson