Deadspin Is Being Burnt To The Ground By Its New Management As Staff Quits Or Revolts

from the oops dept

If you’re a sports fan and you’re not familiar with Deadspin.com, then, no, you’re not a sports fan. The former Gawker property is certainly one of the most popular sports sites on the web and was a bright spot even when under Gawker Media’s management. The charm of Deadspin has always been its irreverence, its humor, and its willingness to take on stories that fall outside of the realm of sports reporting. The fanbase of the site was built upon this editorial practice.

Gawker fell to Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel, of course, leading the site to be sold to Univision. During that time, Deadspin continued to operate normally. The site, along with other Gizmodo Media properties, was then sold to Great Hill Partners, a private equity firm. Great Hill put in place Paul Maidment as Editorial Director. Alongside Great Hill attempting to clamp down on the Deadspin staff’s use of encrypted communications, leading to a fairly severe backlash from Deadspin, Maidment recently sent an edict to the Deadspin staff demanding that they not do any posts or reporting that fall outside of the world of sports.

The conflict was set off Monday, when Paul Maidment, the editorial director of G/O Media, sent a memo to the staff, telling them to focus their coverage on sports.

“Deadspin will write only about sports and that which is relevant to sports in some way,” he wrote in the memo, which was first reported by The Daily Beast.

Also on Monday, a Deadspin blog post that solicited reader feedback on the site’s features, including autoplay video ads, was removed. The post had previously appeared across the portfolio of sites, including Kotaku and The Root. G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller personally directed the company’s CTO to remove the posts, a staffer told CNN Business.

Petschesky claimed in a tweet that in doing so management had violated the company’s collective bargaining agreement with the Gizmodo Media Group union. (Gizmodo Media Group is the previous name of G/O Media.)

That would be Barry Petchesky, editor in chief at Deadspin. It’s important to remember that the staff at G/O Media is a union that collectively bargained their contracts. G/O Media denies the violation of the union agreement, which requires a vote among several executives. Regardless, the message that Deadspin was to “stick to sports” from here on out didn’t, ah, go over all that well.

Instead of heeding management’s mandate, staffers filled Deadspin’s homepage on Tuesday morning with non-sports stories that had been popular in the past, seemingly a nod to their argument that stories that are not strictly about sports have been favorites of Deadspin’s regular readers. Perhaps most telling among the selections was “The Adults In The Room,” an article published by former Deadspin editor-in-chief Megan Greenwell on her last day at the site in which she condemned the actions of Deadspin’s parent company, G/O Media.

The rebellion has not been without consequences. Deadspin interim editor-in-chief Barry Petchesky tweeted Tuesday, “Hi! I’ve just been fired from Deadspin for not sticking to sports.”

Petchesky’s firing kicked off a firestorm of its own, with GMG Union tweeting its condemnation of the firing in a statement. The Writers Guild of America East, which represents GMG Union, issued its own statement in solidarity. And, more importantly, the Deadspin staff continued to revolt.

Deadspin staffers published several new stories to The Concourse on Tuesday. Editor Tom Ley wrote about meeting “three good dogs” in Mexico City and fellow editor Dan McQuade wrote about a pumpkin thief. Writer Kelsey McKinney wrote about “acceptable wedding dress codes.” None of the stories mentioned the word “sports” or had any connection to sports.

The site has been basically dormant since Tuesday. Given that the World Series just concluded, it’s a rather telling and tough time for a well known sports journalism property to instead be headlining “I Would Have Sex With An Entire Major League Baseball Team If Given The Opportunity.” And, worse than the ongoing revolt, large swaths of Deadspin staff of varied levels of fame have announced they are leaving the company as a result of this whole fiasco. The latest exodus came Thursday morning as Drew Magary, the site’s best known writer, announced he had quit as well.

Magary, perhaps the site’s best-known writer, announced his resignation Thursday morning. He joined a list of staffers leaving in recent days. Most elected to quit over a management edict to “stick to sports.” While Deadspin was founded in 2005 as a sports-centric site, it has branched out into several coverage areas, from the arch and waggish to more serious political and social commentary.

With Magary out at Deadspin, the site might as well be dead. And for what? Because a private equity firm and its editorial puppet wanted a site that had built its own success out of not sticking to sports to start sticking to sports? To what end? It’s well known that the “stick to sports” edict generally means “don’t talk anything related to politics.” Even for a sports site, that’s just stupid.

As stupid, in fact, as burning a successful site to the ground for no discernible reason.

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Companies: g/o media, gizmodo, great hill partners

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Comments on “Deadspin Is Being Burnt To The Ground By Its New Management As Staff Quits Or Revolts”

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61 Comments
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

According to the union agreement, the removal of any article on Deadspin or its sister sites—such as the critical-of-management blog post mentioned early in this article—can only be done after a required vote among the top executives. The union says the post in question was removed directly on the order of Spanfeller alone, rather than by the required vote.

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Anonymous Coward says:

The whole thing seems like a storm in a teacup; business owners have the right to make seemingly poor business decisions and employees have the right to walk away. I’d argue that brand recognition is (with some exceptions) worth more than the name of particular writers, so if the owners consider the value of the Deadspin name to be worth buying for the purpose of rebranding, then it is what it is.

That aside, I’m pretty sure yet another Gawker site burning itself to the ground is cause for celebration.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Just because they can, doesn't make doing smart

I’ve seen petty(hell, scrolling down ever so slightly as of this comment will find three examples by TD’s resident fanatic…), but damn. ‘It used to be owned by Gawker, so burn baby burn’ is just shortsighted and spiteful.

As for ‘business owners have the right to…’, sure, just like everyone else has a right to point out how boneheaded the new management are and that they are driving the ‘brand’ into the ground by trying to force to be just another sports reporting site, firing and driving off people that have been working for the site for years.

If someone buys a house that was sold off by a person who was bankrupted and starts knocking out load-bearing walls with a sledgehammer because they ‘want to add in a few windows’ the fact that they can do that doesn’t mean the act isn’t incredibly stupid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Just because they can, doesn't make doing smart

Call it petty if you want but Gawker made the online media landscape considerably worse imho by pushing a ridiculous amount of clickbait as ‘journalism’. I wouldn’t say they pioneered it because I don’t know if that’s true, but they were certainly amongst the worst culprits along with Breitbart, Huffington etc.

Exaggerations from both of us aside, I agree that it’s not a wise decision, but I’m trying to imagine the flip-side of the coin as to why someone would make what appears to be an unintelligent business decision. Brands don’t lose their appeal overnight.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Just because they can, doesn't make doing smart

Call it petty if you want but Gawker made the online media landscape considerably worse imho by pushing a ridiculous amount of clickbait as ‘journalism’. I wouldn’t say they pioneered it because I don’t know if that’s true, but they were certainly amongst the worst culprits along with Breitbart, Huffington etc.

Which can make for understandable grounds to be happy to see the previous owners toppled(though the how is still seriously problematic), but it’s important not to paint everything connected to them with the same brush. If Deadspin managed to avoid most of the objectionable activity then cheering for them to crash and burn just because they were previously connected would be unfair, and could all too easily turn around and bite you if a site you enjoy gets the same treatment because someone didn’t like something connected to it.

Exaggerations from both of us aside, I agree that it’s not a wise decision, but I’m trying to imagine the flip-side of the coin as to why someone would make what appears to be an unintelligent business decision. Brands don’t lose their appeal overnight.

Arrogance and ego are the first ideas that comes to mind, someone who doesn’t just think they can improve the site but knows how to make the site ‘better’, and are so sure that they are correct that they can’t be bothered to actually look into why the site may be popular or why their changes might be driving staff/readers away.

Matthew Cline (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Just because they can, doesn't make doing smart

Arrogance and ego are the first ideas that comes to mind, someone who doesn’t just think they can improve the site but knows how to make the site ‘better’, and are so sure that they are correct that they can’t be bothered to actually look into why the site may be popular or why their changes might be driving staff/readers away.

Executive Meddling

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Just because they can, doesn't make doing smart

You can choose which sites you visit, and ignore those that you do not like. However wishing for destruction of sites that you dislike is being petty, as nothing grants you the right to decide what the content of sites visited by other people should be..

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

In the purely hypothetical, I could use a bot/vpn/proxy or other similar program to put something defamatory against myself or upload my own copyrighted work that is contractually obligated to someone else in such a way that techdirt’s terms of service aren’t controlling and then demand it be taken down.

I would not even have to admit I uploaded it, though the entire process would admittedly be stupid.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7

I didn’t challenge you to a thought experiment. I asked you to cite a goddamn fact. No law, statute, or “common law” court ruling lets you personally decide what a third party says on their own platform—and if you think there is, I ask you to cite it right the fuck now or GTFO with your bullshit.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Name one law that lets you, personally, decide what should be on Techdirt.

The First Amendment lets everyone express their own decision about that, and it’s generally considered to protect freedom of thought (e.g. to decide this). Of course, decisions of random internet commenters about proper Techdirt content carry no legal weight.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

business owners have the right to make seemingly poor business decisions

Just because they can doesn’t mean they should.

I’d argue that brand recognition is (with some exceptions) worth more than the name of particular writers, so if the owners consider the value of the Deadspin name to be worth buying for the purpose of rebranding, then it is what it is.

The value of the site lies with the writers and what they bring to the site; the site itself, no matter its brand name, means nothing without them. Yes, management could hire a whole bunch of new writers and all, but that “stick to sports” edict would cut them all off at the knees. Deadspin is/was popular in part because it didn’t stick to sports.

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K. "For The Sexual Entertainment Of Millions" Hill says:

Well, your first line is for once RIGHT.

You even get through an entire paragraph before a flat, easily refuted falsehood:

Gawker fell to Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel

NO, Gawker fell due to its deliberate decision to host video for its salacious prurient click-baiting income, NOT any "news" value. And rightly so. Particularly after the exec was asked on the stand: "Well, how young before you would protect a child’s privacy?" … "Uh… Four." — The Gawker execs had just about ZERO sense, guile, or wiles! How did they ever get into management except by born rich?

Anyhoo, I conclude that Deadspin must be a cesspit of "liberalism" if you like it.

Yet you destroy your own premise because clearly have NO hesitation to burn down the site when management doesn’t fit your notions!

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K. "For The Sexual Entertainment Of Millions" Hill says:

Re: Well, your first line is for once RIGHT.


TRIED to make one comment, but no, apparent length limit, then same text right in. I’ll just piece up again from now on, phooey on your silly arbitrary "system".

I think it’d be better to focus on sports.

Maybe I have the wrong view of "sports", though. I think it’s just silly games by athletic brutes. Those who like watching (never playing) seem to think it’s high drama, must fit some good-evil struggle template in their brains (especially the most ridiculous: "professional" wrestling with idiots prancing around spouting cartoonish drivel that offended my intellect at age ten), so that even when the Chicago Cubs LOSE, as even I know that they do, it’s still valiant.

Of course the key problem is that "sports" isn’t actually very entertaining even for literal idiots, so they have to spice it up.

And again, it’s you / Techdirt / fanboys advising people who are actually doing! Talk about Mundane moaning boreder-quacks!


Got me ranting about sports! I’d better read engineering, astro-physics, or at least archeology text until my mind is right again.

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: Jezebel

It bears adding that the cross-pollination of all the Kinja sites has really had a negative impact on them.

The AV Club used to have a good comments section — not perfect; any comments section has its idiots; but it had a pretty thoughtful community overall.

Then they integrated it into Kinja’s comments and started cross-posting AV Club articles on other Kinja sites.

I don’t read the AV Clu anymore.

DannyB (profile) says:

A Thank You to Timothy

I want to express my thanks that in the very first sentence is an acknowledgement that there actually exist people who are not sports fans nor have any clue what Deadspin is. — Thanks!

I not only am not a sports fan, I see sports as a colossal waste of resources that could be used to develop better silicon and/or more sophisticated compilers.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

Deadspin was never exclusively about sports. To pretend otherwise is to remain as ignorant as the people who ultimately killed the site. I doubt anyone wanted to be fired from Deadspin; that they all quit in solidarity with the editor who was fired, and in defiance of management executives who thought they had those fuckers by the balls, makes them better people than the executives who destroyed Deadspin will ever be and can ever hope to be.

Bruce C. says:

Re: Follow the money...

Management behavior in this case is much like Blizzard’s in reg. to Hong Kong controversy. Enough to make me wonder if there’s Chinese investment involved on top of this. "Private Equity" firms don’t tend to publicize who their investors are. There’s no such information on GHP’s website.

If Deadspin spent any time covering the HK controversy as related to the NBA or to eSports, Chinese ownership would explain a lot of the management behavior.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Sounds like the title of this article really should be "Deadspin writers throw temper tantrum, and burn site to the ground because their new management told them to do things slightly differently". The GMG properties were reportedly sold by Univision for a significant loss. That likely includes Deadspin. Meaning the site is losing money and dying a slow death unless something changes.

That it’s new owners decided that what is ostensibly a sports website should stop publishing articles unrelated to sports sounds like a reasonable decision to me. It might turn out to be a wrong decision, but staying the course obviously isn’t working financially for them. As such refocusing on what is ostensibly their core business is an obvious decision. Especially if they have supporting evidence for the decision such as metrics showing a high bounce rate for the non-sports articles compared to the sports articles.

The staff might disagree with it, but their job is to carry it out. Them deliberately doing the opposite instead of attempting to make it work, sounds like a good reason to fire them.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

It might turn out to be a wrong decision

Narrator: It was a wrong decision.

Deadspin never entirely “stuck to sports”. The writers and editors would’ve changed that approach if the readers didn’t like it. That those writers and editors didn’t do so—and that they quit rather than have management force them to become a full-bore, “apolitical”, nothing-but-sports blog—speaks to the fact that the people who wrote for Deadspin, not the executives, made the site what it was before the “stick to sports” order came down.

They knew whether their approach worked. They didn’t need management trying to turn the site into an “apolitical” content farm for the sake of running autoplay ads. Now management gets its wish—they can hire a bunch of non-unionized freelancers on the cheap and run all the autoplay ads—while the now-former writers and editors of Deadspin can find better outlets for their work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You proclaiming it to be the wrong decision does not automatically make it the wrong decision. If the site is unprofitable or rapidly trending that direction, then the approach that "worked" merely worked in the literal past tense meaning. It wasn’t working long term, producing sustainable results, or at the least was not producing the results it’s new owners wanted. At that point making a change to either focus on what they perceive to be the site’s strengths, or what the data shows is the site’s strengths, is entirely reasonable.

Articles like you linked might get a lot of views for being an interesting story, but if most of the people viewing it don’t give a rats ass about the rest of the site, or belong to demographics their advertisers don’t care about, it’d be fairly useless to the new owners.

Furthermore deliberately rebelling against management like they did is definitely the wrong decision. Either try and make it work, or quit and find work elsewhere. Acting out to force the management to fire you just marks you as unprofessional and calls into doubt anything you argue for your point of view.

Really, the bottom line here is that all signs point towards anything in the GMG including Deadspin being on the rocks. The new ownership is giving up on some things they think are a total loss, and making changes to sites they think can be salvaged. It sounds like Deadspin worked when it was a sports site some with random articles, and isn’t working now that it’s more a site of random articles with some sports articles. As such the new owners have decided to try and save the site by cutting down heavily on the random articles to get back to the sports heavy focus. That you personally disagree with the decision does not mean that the new owners are incompetent, egotistical assholes who don’t know what they’re doing. That the writers disagree with it doesn’t mean that either… and by their response it sounds they’re really just pissed that management didn’t want to let them use the site as their soap box and glorified personal facebook page any more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Sure.

Great Hill Partners, a private-equity firm based in Boston, has reached an agreement to purchase Gizmodo Media Group from Univision for what will likely be “much less than the $135 million Univision paid in 2016 to acquire most of the Gizmodo properties,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

If Univision bought GMG for $135 million and is selling it at a significant loss just a few years later, then it must be losing money at an unsustainable rate under it’s current business practices with few, if any exceptions. Or as I put it, anything in the GMG aka G/O media including Deadspin is likely on the rocks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

No, I don’t have any specific information about Deadspin. However I don’t think it’s a stretch to say they likely weren’t doing significantly better than the whole. If they were the piece of gold in a pile of shit, Univision would have spun them off or otherwise moved them out of the GMG before it was sold. If they were profitable and trending upwards, I doubt Great Hill would be trying to refocus the site on sports.

So I would say clearly something is wrong with the site, or it wouldn’t be sold as part of a group of sites sold at a significant loss and it’s new owners wouldn’t be looking to change it. Deadspin having serious problems that it’s new owners think they can fix is far more plausible to me than it being the rare, growing profit engine among a group of know money losers, and the new owners randomly decide to mess with it.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If the site is unprofitable or rapidly trending that direction

The owners would’ve shuttered it already like they did with Splinter News a few weeks ago. Deadspin is dead because the owners wanted to do something with the site that the writers, the editors, and (judging by the reactions elsewhere on the Internets) the readers neither liked nor wanted themselves.

deliberately rebelling against management like they did is definitely the wrong decision. Either try and make it work, or quit and find work elsewhere.

That is exactly what happened: The Deadspin writers and editors tried to make the situation work as best they could, then quit to find work elsewhere when the situation became untenable and they could do nothing about it.

Acting out to force the management to fire you just marks you as unprofessional and calls into doubt anything you argue for your point of view.

Defying management when management clearly has its collective head up its collective ass is not “unprofessional”—it’s human. I’d rather work with an “unprofessional” human instead of a “professional” asskisser.

all signs point towards anything in the GMG including Deadspin being on the rocks

Aside from the Deadspin debacle and Splinter News shuttering (as Splinter was a fairly recent addition to the GMG sites), [citation needed]

The new ownership is giving up on some things they think are a total loss, and making changes to sites they think can be salvaged.

And if those changes happen to scare away employees, well, they can always hire freelancers on the cheap to write clickbait bullshit for a content farm with autoplaying ads.

If those changes happen to scare away readers, on the other hand…well, you’ll never hear the executives blame their bad ideas for that outcome.

It sounds like Deadspin worked when it was a sports site some with random articles, and isn’t working now that it’s more a site of random articles with some sports articles.

And who is telling you that—people with a vested interest in seeing Deadspin fail as it was so it can either die or become what management wants it to be, or people who worked for Deadspin and knew for a fact whether things were going well?

As such the new owners have decided to try and save the site by cutting down heavily on the random articles to get back to the sports heavy focus.

Turns out, that stupid decision from bad executives killed the site. Congratulations, I guess?

That you personally disagree with the decision does not mean that the new owners are incompetent, egotistical assholes who don’t know what they’re doing.

The fact that they killed the site with their bad decision, on the other hand, makes that particular case for me.

it sounds [like the writers are] really just pissed that management didn’t want to let them use the site as their soap box and glorified personal facebook page any more

Except Deadspin wasn’t being used that way. The site was still largely a sports blog. That non-sports articles were receiving a hefty amount of traffic doesn’t change that. But I suppose you’ll believe anything you’re told so long as the person telling the tale has at least a seven-figure bank account and a job title that contains the word “executive”.

ECA (profile) says:

Wide world of sports, i miss you...

For some odd reason of many years USA sports has become REAL limited.
There WAS an dependent channel(buried now)Sprots one..that had some great stuff. but they got Buried someplace, and few can find it. World wide sports. Loved those Badmitten and Ping pong matches.(really)
At least YT has some of it.

I love management that Fights its Employees…esp on a Site/paper/TV that has Some of the best reporting.. Go ahead and kill your site. Please do..
ANd if those employee get together, THEY MIGHT make a better competitor they yourself.

L3arnT0Cod3 says:

And nothing of value was lost

Deadspin was absolute bottom tier garbage outlet. I’m not gonna even call it "journalism". It was literally a bunch of talentless spoiled subliterate hipsters writing articles like "Things we got stuck in our rectum this year" and such other braindead nonsense.

New owner has every right to demand that the employees do what they are supposed to do or GTFO.

That there’s even some kind of controversy about it in other online media outlets shows the absolute state of modern "journalisming".

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