While ostensibly a sports-focused website, Deadspin has maintained a loyal readership base over the years by weaving social commentary and cultural criticism into its reporting, earning a reputation as a publication unafraid of speaking truth to power. However, after a private equity firm bought the website’s parent company, G/O Media, a rift emerged between the site’s new owners and the editorial staff, who strongly objected to various changes they were making at the publication. In keeping with their rebellious nature, Deadspin’s staff writers published posts criticizing their company’s new owners, revealing the extent to which managerial changes offended not only the website’s core staff but also the bulk of its readership. Though writers objected to changes like the introduction of auto-play ads and the prioritization of quantity over quality, the final nail in the coffin was a broad editorial edict to “stick to sports,” which writers understood to be code for “don’t write anything that will get anyone in trouble.”
The site’s writers initially reacted to this order with strong defiance; the site’s editor-in-chief, Barry Petchesky, featured a number of articles that did not concern sports but were nonetheless popular with readers on the Deadspin homepage, leading to his being fired. On Tuesday, October 29th, Petchesky announced his firing on Twitter. The following day, one by one, various other writers for the site announced they would be resigning in solidarity with Petchesky and in a total rebuke of the new management. As of this morning, more than half of the writing staff had left the company, and Deadspin has not been updated with any new stories, even in the aftermath of the Nationals’ historic win at the World Series. As such, the future of the website looks bleak; the Deadspin adored by a broad, loyal, and engaged readership is no more, and the brand is likely to be transformed into a clickbait farm or some other form of low-quality publication.
The collapse of Deadspin at the hands of an indifferent corporate class speaks to the negative impacts of a philosophy of putting profit above all else.
The mass exodus at Deadspin, which effectively killed the website, speaks to the importance of maintaining editorial independence in a media publication. In the article during which the site’s former editor-in-chief announced her resignation, Megan Greenwall described her understanding of the motivations of Jim Spanfeller, the company’s new CEO, thus: “he believed he could simply turn up the traffic (and thus turn a profit), as if adjusting a faucet, not by investing in quality journalism but by tricking people into clicking on more pages.” According to Greenwall, Spanfeller ignored evidence, both in the form of comments and traffic figures, that readers appreciated Deadspin for the variety of topics it covered. As such, Greenwall argued that the fundamental business model whereby writers and editors publish content that readers actually wanted to read, rather than maximizing volume in a narrow subject matter at the expense of quality, lead to the company’s financial success in the first place, which was jeopardized by decisions made by people who didn’t fundamentally understand the industry.
The widespread resignation of Deadspin’s staff is particularly notable in light of the reality of the current media landscape, where journalists are prone to fear of sacrificing their livelihoods for their principles, as it can be difficult to find work in the industry. Moreover, the collapse of Deadspin at the hands of an indifferent corporate class speaks to the negative impacts of a philosophy of putting profit above all else, and the self-destructive forms in which this philosophy, motivated by greed, can manifest. Ultimately, the loss of Deadspin is a loss to the broader world of sports journalism; the website was initially created as a response to the apolitical and at-times superficial ESPN and other sports media giants, and was founded under the belief that politics and cultural criticism are inextricably intertwined with sports, as they are with all aspects of life.