Saving Gawker and Alt-Weeklies From Deletion

Gawker’s SoHo headquarters where the company operated seven websites in 2015.

An exposé of Silk Road, the underground drug market.

Pulitzer-winning restaurant criticism in Los Angeles.

A tale of eating mozzarella sticks for 14 hours straight.

Journalists and readers have feared that gems like these could disappear from the internet if the wealthy owners of Gawker and L.A. Weekly wanted to eliminate what they deem to be unfavorable coverage elsewhere on the sites.

Hoping to neutralize the potential threat, the Freedom of the Press Foundation said on Wednesday that it would archive online content it deems at risk of being deleted or manipulated, starting with the two publications.

The organization, which protects and defends adversarial journalism, said it aimed to protect publications from what it calls the “billionaire problem,” or the ability of news figures to buy publications with the intent of taking them offline.

Using Archive-It, a service from the Internet Archive, the foundation began by backing up the digital archives of Gawker, which went bankrupt and stopped publishing in 2016 but is currently for sale, and L.A. Weekly, which has new owners who initially concealed their identities. If the sites were to be wiped clean, their entire histories of content would still be available through the external archive tool.

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Credit...LA Weekly

In an interview on Wednesday, Parker Higgins, director of special projects at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said he hoped buyers’ inability to totally eliminate past coverage would discourage anyone from trying.

“The hope is: If you know that this kind of attack won’t scrub the internet of this kind of content altogether, maybe it won’t be worth undertaking the attack in the first place,” he said.

For readers, finding past coverage would be similar to using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

For journalists, the archives represent a line of defense against what some fear is an increasingly potent weapon.

Readers and former employees of Gawker have fretted that its domain and archive could be bought by someone with little regard for the company’s onetime mission. Peter Thiel, the technology billionaire who largely bankrolled the lawsuit that led to Gawker’s bankruptcy, submitted a bid in January to purchase the website. On Tuesday, Vanity Fair reported that Mike Cernovich, a right-wing media personality, had offered $500,000 to buy it.

Mr. Higgins said the threat of an owner who would remove or change articles could have a chilling effect on the press, either by directly shutting publications or by encouraging self-censorship.

“That can make it so what we get as readers, and what journalists are able to do, is constrained by what concentrations of money would like it to be,” he said.

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