Deadspin Decimated: Staffers Resign After Top Editor Fired for Defying Edict to ‘Write Only About Sports’

Deadspin has spun into a downward spiral.

At least 10 editorial employees, the majority of the staff of the irreverent sports and culture news site, have resigned in the last three days. The exits have come after the firing of interim editor-in-chief Barry Petchesky by parent company G/O Media because he refused to follow instructions to stick to sports in Deadspin’s editorial coverage.

In a statement to Variety Thursday, a G/O Media rep said, “We’re sorry that the staff that resigned couldn’t work within this incredibly broad coverage mandate. We’re excited about Deadspin’s future and we’ll have some important updates in the coming days.”

Deadspin continues to operate, the rep added. The comments sections for the site are currently disabled.

Deadspin, whose tagline is “Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion,” was part of Univision’s sale earlier this year of Gizmodo Media Group and the broadcaster’s interest in the Onion to the newly formed G/O Media, which is backed by private-equity firm Great Hill Partners. Univision had acquired the assets of the former Gawker Media in a bankruptcy auction in 2016.

The chaos at Deadspin stems from G/O Media’s crackdown on the site’s writers covering the actions of the company — most recently, an Oct. 28 Deadspin article (since deleted) reporting that G/O Media employees were “upset with the current state of our site’s user experience” after the company began running auto-play video ads, to meet ad-impression guarantees in a deal with Farmers Insurance, per the Wall Street Journal.

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Editorial director Paul Maidment then issued a directive Monday to Deadspin staff that said in part, “To create as much great sports journalism as we can requires a 100% focus of our resources on sports. And it will be the sole focus,” Maidment said. “Deadspin will write only about sports and that which is relevant to sports in some way.” The memo was first reported by the Daily Beast.

The following day, the Deadspin staff revolted — publishing exclusively non-sports-related stories, including this one: “Three Good Dogs I Met.” Shortly afterward, G/O Media fired Petchesky.

With the recent resignations, Deadspin’s coverage hit a lull — with notable lack of coverage of the Washington Nationals’ dramatic Game 7 World Series win last night. The site resumed publishing stories Thursday at about 10 a.m. ET.

Staff editor Dan McQuade became the latest to hit the exits, tweeting his resignation Thursday morning. “Deadspin’s new owners wouldn’t publish my Wildwood boardwalk t-shirt column this summer. I should have quit months ago, instead of just now,” he wrote.

Other Deadspin staffers who announced that they quit include columnist Drew Magary; senior editor Diana Moskovitz; news editor Bill Haisley; features editor Tom Ley; and staff writers Laura Wagner, Lauren Theisen, Patrick Redford, Chris Thompson, Kelsey McKinney and Albert Burneko. The only senior editorial staffer still at Deadspin for now appears to be managing editor Samer Kalaf.

In a statement on Twitter Wednesday, the WGA East-affiliated union local that reps G/O Media edit staffers called CEO Jim Spanfeller’s actions in the Deadspin situation “bad business” and “morally reprehensible.”

“From the outset, CEO Jim Spanfeller has worked to undermine a successful site by curtailing its most well-read coverage because it makes him personally uncomfortable,” the GMG union said. “‘Stick to sports’ is and always has been a thinly veiled euphemism for ‘don’t speak truth to power.'”

In a response issued Thursday, G/O Media claimed that in September 2019, 24 of the top 25 stories on Deadspin were sports-related while non-sports content accounted for less than 1% of page views. “Given those facts, we simply believe it makes sense to focus attention and resources on even more sports coverage to serve our readers what they want,” the company’s statement said. “While amusing, our readers haven’t actually come to Deadspin for stories like ‘Classic Rock, Ranked,’ or ‘You’re Goddamn Right It’s Layering Season,’ or ‘It’s OK to Logoff.'” G/O Media didn’t address the allegation that its “stick-to-sports” order was really about stories critical of the company or questioning its policies.

Petchesky, the site’s ex-EIC, disputed G/O Media’s claims about Deadspin page views, saying in a tweet they’re “demonstrably false.” Citing Deadspin’s internal analytics team, he said that since the start of 2019, non-sports posts have on average twice the traffic of sports posts (on a per-article basis). He also tweeted, “Give your love to the Deadspin staff resigning this week. It’s really hard and brave and scary to quit your job. (Way harder than getting fired.)”

Earlier this month, G/O Media shut down news and opinion site Splinter, laying off seven staffers.

Meanwhile, New York-based G/O Media has touted its ability to turn around the former Gizmodo Media Group business, through measures that have included layoffs: In September, the company claimed the company is “operating at a profit for the first time since 2015 after a successful third quarter.”

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