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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