PHOENIX — Nik Richie and thedirty.com are flourishing in a world where the Internet and social media sites render privacy more and more irrelevant.
The site, which got its start in Scottsdale, broke the news of the next chapter in the Anthony Weiner scandal.
After a sexting scandal led to Weiner's resignation from Congress in 2011, thedirty.com revealed that he continued to send X-rated messages and photos to women online under the alias Carlos Danger.
"It was just like any other submission," said Richie, the site's 34-year-old creator and moderator. "(The woman) needed help to get exposure to get her message out there so people would believe her. I gave her the opportunity to do so."
After receiving the submission, Richie asked to contact the woman so that he could fact-check the information she gave him. When he connected the dots with Weiner's previous scandal, Richie was convinced and posted the photos on the site.
"It was posted just like any other post we would put on The Dirty," Richie said. "It just went out there to national media."
Weiner was forced to admit his continued online sexting, but as of Friday had refused to drop out of the race for mayor of New York City.
The Weiner revelation is not the first time the site, known for gossip and racy photos, has fueled a national story.
In March 2008, when thedirty.com was still based in Scottsdale, the site posted photos of then-Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart drinking and beer-bonging in a hot tub with young women. In September 2011, thedirty.com reported that Ashton Kutcher was cheating on Demi Moore in San Diego.
Former Arizona Congressman Ben Quayle also was drawn into controversy during his 2010 campaign when it was revealed that he had written for the site under the pseudonym "Brock Landers."
"We've broken a lot of national stories, but this one by far is the largest as far as traffic and media coverage," Richie said.
Richie sees thedirty.com as a reality-based blog. He said he based the idea off the popularity of reality television and the notion that no one had conquered reality Internet before.
"To me, it's civilian paparazzi," Richie said. "I wanted to give people a voice where they could express themselves and have their freedom of speech and talk about their neighbors, celebrities, friends, politics and what not."
Sites like thedirty.com serve as the fifth estate in today's digital media, said Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member specializing in ethics at the Poynter Institute. While it doesn't put them on the level of a national newspaper or news site in the fourth estate, thedirty.com is valuable enough to create and break stories like this one, she said.
"The fifth estate creates information, but the fourth estate still amplifies it," McBride said. "Most people did not hear about the latest round of Anthony Weiner's indiscretion from The Dirty. They heard about it from someone in the fourth estate who was referencing The Dirty."
McBride said that while it's tempting to say that sites like thedirty.com will replace more traditional news outlets, it's hard to envision that actually happening. More traditional news sources sort through all the information created in the "fifth estate" to tell the audience what's important to look at, she said.
"Anyone can influence the marketplace of ideas and the trick is to have the right information at the right time," McBride said.
Richie said the Weiner scandal is another example of the power of the Internet and the spread of information.
"It reveals that the Internet gives people their voice," Richie said. "We don't know how to really control it and we still don't know how to gauge it, but at the same time it gives the little people their chance to shine and it makes celebrities out of everyday, normal people."
Richie acknowledged that if it wasn't for Scottsdale, he wouldn't be where he is now.
"I'm really, really proud to say this all started in Scottsdale," Richie said. "It's just cool to me to know that the test market of Scottsdale was so juicy and had so much scandal and had so much craziness going on but it was all private."
The site, now based in Newport Beach. Calif., boasts 20 million monthly views across its 400 localized sites around the world, including ones in Australia, Moscow and Stockholm.