Sensing Threat to Press Freedom, Group Archives Gawker and LA Weekly

Hoping to neutralize a potential threat to digital publications, the Freedom of the Press Foundation said on Wednesday that it would archive online content it deems at risk of being deleted or manipulated by wealthy antagonists.

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, along with any unfavorable prior coverage.

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 LA 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.

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.