Manti Te’o had a fake girlfriend. Rob Ford smoked crack. Brett Favre texted photos of his junk to a young woman. That these and countless other onetime secrets are now public knowledge is thanks to Nick Denton, the founder and owner of a network of news-and-gossip websites called Gawker Media. When Denton, a U.K.-reared financial journalist, founded it in 2002, he was already a successful entrepreneur twice over, having started and sold First Tuesday, which produced networking parties for young professionals in technology and related fields, and Moreover Technologies, which automated the process of aggregating news headlines for websites. The two sales netted around $90 million.

Denton’s third company started with Gizmodo, a gadget blog, then blossomed with the launch of Gawker, a nasty and funny blog about New York’s cultural and financial elite as viewed by the resentful underclass. A sensation from its launch, it spawned sister sites covering sports (Deadspin), women’s issues (Jezebel) and other subjects. Operating outside the journalistic establishment and its constraints, Gawker Media writers were the first to break the scandals around Te’o, Ford and Favre. They also published the photo that forced “Craigslist congressman” Chris Lee to resign and got their hands on a prototype of the then top-secret iPhone 4–a scoop that drew considerable heat from law enforcement and a furious personal response from Steve Jobs.

Despite the hundreds of millions of page views these and other stories have yielded–translating into an estimated $40 million in annual ad revenue–Denton isn’t satisfied. Gawker’s reliance on journalists is, he believes, a fatal weakness, one he means to correct with a new system called Kinja, which he is currently in the process of refining. Part publishing platform, part social network, Kinja aims to do nothing less than turn Gawker Media’s 80 million monthly readers into willing accomplices, a virtual nation of gossip reporters. In fact, Playboy is also an accomplice, regularly republishing articles from both the magazine and its digital platforms on Kinja.

To pry secrets out of the man who exposes the secrets of others, Playboy tapped respected media writer Jeff Bercovici. He reports: ‘When I first sat down with Denton, he had some personal news he was happy to share: He had just gotten engaged to his boyfriend, Derrence Washington, a handsome African American actor. The two live together in a vast and somewhat severe loft apartment in SoHo, where we conducted much of this interview (when we weren’t eating Thai food at a nearby restaurant). A trim 46, Denton dresses in casual but stylish clothes of gray and black and keeps his salt-and-pepper hair cropped short. Feared and reviled by so many, in person he is candid and voluble, with no shortage of opinions and no fear about betraying his own privacy.’”