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Deadspin revolts and editor fired over 'stick to sports' mandate

Posted at 4:54 PM, Oct 29, 2019

The staff at Deadspin, a sports news blog that also covers culture, media and politics, revolted on Tuesday after management told the site's employees to steer clear of stories that do not have a connection to sports.

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." CNN Business has reached out to Petchesky for comment but has not heard back.

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 . Spanfeller personally directed G/O Media's CTO to remove the posts, a G/O 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.)

GMG Union's contract reads , "Decisions about editorial content ... may only be made by editorial, including the Executive Editor. Once a story has been posted it can only be removed by a majority vote of the Executive Editor, the CEO, and the General Counsel, unless required by law."

A G/O Media spokesperson would not confirm or deny whether Spanfeller directed the CTO to take down the post, but said "a vote had been taken, as prescribed in the contract, to take down the post."

"We condemn this action in the strongest possible terms," the GMG Union tweeted Monday. "We're re-posting the statement as a screenshot here as we gather more information. We thank you, our readers and supporters, for standing with us through the process."

CNN Business did not immediately hear back from GMG Union and Writers Guild of America East, which represents the union. In a statement to CNN Business, Maidment said, "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."

The current backlash from Deadspin's staff is the latest in a series of protests and criticism directed at G/O Media's management team since April, when that team took control of the group of sites of which Deadspin is a part. G/O Media is currently owned by private equity firm Great Hill Partners, which bought the properties from Univision , where they had been known as Gizmodo Media Group. Most of the sites that are currently part of the portfolio were part of the group originally known as Gawker Media, which went bankrupt after wrestler Hulk Hogan sued the company in a lawsuit bankrolled by billionaire Peter Thiel.

In August, Deadspin writer Laura Wagner wrote a deep dive about G/O Media and Great Hill, citing conversations with more than 20 employees about their frustrations with CEO Jim Spanfeller and the leadership team. Later that month, Greenwell wrote her exit post about the owners' vision, including a "stick to sports" mandate that Maidment had put in place at the time.

"Maidment said the 'stick to sports' edict comes from Great Hill leadership, but that he would 'double-check the numbers.' If the data changes, my views change,' he told my colleagues. The data has in fact stayed quite consistent. Posts on The Concourse, Deadspin's vertical dedicated to politics and culture and other topics that are not sports, outperform posts on the main site by slightly more than two to one," Greenwell wrote.

CNN Business did not immediately hear back from Great Hill.

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.