In the latest example of journalism's clash with profit-driven mandates, reporters and editors for the popular sports and culture website Deadspin were in open revolt against the site's private equity owners on Tuesday after being ordered to forego other topics and "stick to sports."
The rebellion has already cost one staffer, deputy editor Barry Petchesky, his job.
"Hi!" Petchesky tweeted. "I've just been fired from Deadspin for not sticking to sports."
For much of Tuesday, the front page of the site was filled with non-sports-related stories that Deadspin has written over the years, a clear refutation of a memo that was reportedly circulated to staff on Monday by G/O Media editorial director Paul Maidment.
Of the four new stories published on the homepage, only one, a David Roth piece on President Donald Trump being booed at a Washington Nationals game, was tangentially sports-related.
if you haven’t been following what’s going on over at @deadspin, their higher-ups have ordered them to “stick to sports,” so naturally, they’re running all non-sports pieces today. let’s help them do bonkers traffic. here’s a good one to brighten your day: https://t.co/wNzeIUe1MF— jane c. hu (@jane_c_hu) October 29, 2019
Tuesday's front-page protest was apparently undone by management Tuesday afternoon.
Deadspin staffers had nothing to do with the changes on the front page. Here's how it looked earlier today and here's how it looks now. pic.twitter.com/g51nEOr3FE— GMG Union (@gmgunion) October 29, 2019
The so-called "stick to sports" memo was the second instance on Monday of management interfering in the site's editorial direction. A story called "A Note to Our Readers" addressing the site's new autoplay ads—which had spurred a flood of user complaints—was pulled from Deadspin and other G/O properties, a move that may violate the company's agreement with the union—particularly section VIII, which lays out the governance of editorial independence for the site's editors and writers.
In an email, G/O Media spokesperson Jeffrey Schneider told Common Dreams that the union was not consulted because management believes removal of the post was "not a violation of the contract."
"The post would not have been covered by the contract and the three editorial managers charged with making these decisions voted unanimously to remove it," said Schneider.
Schneider clarified in a second email that, "A vote was taken—as stipulated in the contract—by the editorial director, general counsel, and CEO, to remove the post."
An attempt to get Schneider on the record over the phone for further clarification failed when Common Dreams asked to record the discussion to ensure accuracy.
The vote was taken by editorial director Maidment—whose position, Schneider claimed, is the same thing as executive editor—general counsel Kai Falkenberg, and CEO Jim Spanfeller.
Deadspin staffers Common Dreams spoke to said they doubted the vote took place.
GMG Union, which represents staff at G/O Media, said in a tweet that they were taking action over Petchesky's dismissal.
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"This will not stand," said the union. "We will have updates soon."
Earlier today, @JimSpanfeller, CEO of G/O Media, fired our colleague and longtime Deadspin Deputy Editor Barry Petchesky. This will not stand. We will have updates soon.— GMG Union (@gmgunion) October 29, 2019
"We believe that Deadspin reporters and editors should go after every conceivable story, as long as it has something to do with sports," Maidment said in a statement. "We are sorry that some on the Deadspin staff don't agree with that editorial direction and refuse to work within that incredibly broad mandate."
The company's decision to fire Petchesky was not the first instance of well-publicized friction between the company's writers and management. In August, Deadspin editor-in-chief Megan Greenwell left the site, penning on her way out a harsh overview of the new owners and the culture they created.
A metastasizing swath of media is controlled by private-equity vultures and capricious billionaires and other people who genuinely believe that they are rich because they are smart and that they are smart because they are rich, and that anyone less rich is by definition less smart. They know what they know, and they don't need to know anything else.
Greenwell left the company less than a month after Deadspin's Laura Wagner's reporting on management took aim at Spanfeller and called out the CEO's treatment of staff and G/O Media properties as having the effect of "a deflation of morale."
"Several high-ranking employees have left the company over the past three months, departments have been stretched thin, and those who remain say that Spanfeller's micromanaging and inappropriate interference has hamstrung their ability to effectively do their jobs," wrote Wagner.
On October 10, as Common Dreams reported, G/O Media killed politics site Splinter, leaving seven full-time staffers and a number of freelancers without jobs.
"It fucking sucks that it's getting shut down by vulture capitalist goons," former Splinter writer Emma Roller said of Splinter at the time.
Deadspin staffers past and present weighed in on Petchesky's firing Tuesday with anger and frustration.
"Fucking stupid and awful," tweeted Roth, a sportswriter for the site.
Slate reporter Ashley Feinberg, who got her start at Gizmodo, one of G/O Media's properties, summed up her feelings in a profane tweet.
"Fuck that absolutely godawful company, Barry is one of the single best writers and editors working today," said Feinberg.
G/O Media is making a mistake, said Vice's Anna Merlan, who recently left Jezebel.
"Editorial independence is something every media company should zealously safeguard," said Merlan, "and anyone lucky enough to own an immensely popular, well-trafficked, beloved website like Deadspin would probably do well not to make bizarre mandates trying to strip the site of its essence or stuff the page to bursting with ads that make the articles virtually impossible to read."