Tensions between the owner of New York sports news site Deadspin and its staff boiled over Wednesday when eight staff members resigned in protest over an edict to “stick to sports” coverage.
The writers’ union slammed Jim Spanfeller, chief executive of G/O Media, Deadspin’s parent company, saying in a statement that he “has worked to undermine a successful site by curtailing its most well-read coverage because it makes him feel personally uncomfortable. This is not what journalism looks like, and this is not what independence looks like.”
The union, which represents Deadspin writers and is part of Writers Guild of America, East, called the mandate to “stick to sports’ a “thinly veiled euphemism for ‘don’t speak truth to power.’”
The resignations came after G/O Media Editorial Director Paul Maidment sent a memo directing staffers who write about sports as well as culture and other topics, to focus on sports or topics related to sports. The memo, which was published by news site the Daily Beast, quotes Maidment as saying, “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. Deadspin will write only about sports and that which is relevant to sports in some way.”
Maidment defended his memo. “As I made clear in that note, sports touches on nearly every aspect of life — from politics to business to pop culture and more,” Maidment said in a statement to The Times. “We believe that Deadspin reporters and editors should go after every conceivable story, as long as it has something to do with sports. 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.”
A G/O Media spokesman Wednesday confirmed the resignations. The departures affected nearly half of the editorial staff.
“We’re sorry that they couldn’t work within this incredibly broad coverage mandate,” the spokesman said in an email. “We’re excited about Deadspin’s future, and we’ll have some important updates in the coming days.”
Deadspin, which started as a one-man blogging operation in 2005, grew into a publishing bantamweight that successfully competed against better-resourced sports powerhouses such as ESPN and Sports Illustrated. The saucy site put itself on the pop culture map with an occasional explosive scoop about sports figures, including allegations of sexual misconduct by former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. He denied the claims. The site was part of Nick Denton’s Gawker Media, the in-your-face online news site, alongside other niche sites such as the A.V. Club and the female-focused Jezebel.
Time magazine named Deadspin one of the 50 “coolest” websites of 2006. But 10 years later, Gawker was in serious financial straits after losing a bruising court battle brought by wrestler Hulk Hogan, who sued Gawker for invasion of privacy. Gawker declared bankruptcy.
Spanish-language media company Univision Communications bought the Gawker properties, a collection of random sites, out of bankruptcy. It paid $135 million for the Gawker properties in 2016. Univision immediately closed the flagship, Gawker, because of the legal problems.
Univision then merged the remaining Gawker sites with the satirical news site the Onion into a portfolio called Gizmodo. In April, in an effort to slash debt, Univision sold Gizmodo Media Group, including Deadspin, to the private equity firm Great Hill Partners. The new investors renamed it G/O Media.
Since the sale, some of Deadspin’s editors have aired their disagreements with the direction from G/O Media. Deadspin’s editor in chief, Megan Greenwell, left in August. On Tuesday, Deadspin Deputy Editor Barry Petchesky said he was fired “for not sticking to sports.”