The owners of Deadspin, the New York-based sports and culture website that has lain dormant for two months after a remarkable exodus of all editorial staffers, will move its operations to Chicago in a bid to restart the site.
The move will align Deadspin with the Chicago-based Onion, one of the digital properties acquired from Univision by private equity-backed G/O Media last year. The decision, announced Friday, came after G/O broke off talks with GMG Union, the WGA East local representing workers at the sites formerly owned by Gizmodo Media Group.
The portfolio was once known as Gawker Media Group, after its best-known brand, which was forced to shutter after being hit with a libel judgment. Deadspin displayed much of the same insouciance as Gawker, gleefully skewering athletes and traditional media outlets like ESPN and Sports Illustrated. It often scored with serious enterprise work like its reports about sexual harassment and the 2013 revelation that Sports Illustrated had perpetuated a hoax fallen for by former Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o.
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“In order to restart Deadspin as soon as possible, we have decided to move Deadspin within our corporate structure to be part of our properties based out of Chicago, where we believe we will be able to more quickly rebuild our staff, relaunch the site and help ensure its long-term success,” G/O said in a statement. “However, our offer to prior Deadspin employees to return to their former positions (working in our New York offices) remains open at this time.”
In a lengthy statement explaining its decision to stop talking with the union, G/O said it had determined that the discussions were no longer productive. The union had stepped up its efforts after the spectacle of Deadspin’s meltdown, which saw a progression of more than a dozen staffers walk out the door rather than abide by G/O’s mandate to “stick to sports” and avoid politics or pop-culture posts. In its final breaths, the original incarnation of the site continued to publish a series of scathing posts directly poking management in the eye, drawing waves of wider media attention.
“Editorial control is the crux of the issue here – not pay, working conditions or hours,” G/O said in its statement. “We provide competitive compensation and benefits, and we strive to create a positive, supportive environment for all employees. No credible grievance has been filed by the union on these matters.”
In response, the GMG Union said in a statement that G/O chief Jim Spanfeller “has once again demonstrated a jaw-dropping lack of understanding of the business he acquired.” The statement went on to say Spanfeller “did everything in his power to kill” Deadspin. It said union members “vehemently object” to the decision to move the site and will have more to say about it soon.
Spanfeller is known in media circles for his lengthy run as the publisher of Forbes, whose online footprint expanded dramatically after he led an effort to widen the magazine’s network of freelance contributors. While the wider base of writers expanded the scope of Forbes significantly, the flow of digital content became such that it couldn’t always be properly vetted.
Here is the full text of G/O’s statement about talks with the union:
We have reached a point where our discussions with the GMG Union about potential updates to our current collective bargaining agreement’s editorial independence provision have stopped being productive given the Union’s continued unprecedented, unreasonable demands. As such, we will not engage in any further negotiations and instead will continue to operate in compliance with the CBA as it was agreed to last year.
This CBA already includes robust, industry-leading assurances around editorial independence, far exceeding anything that exists elsewhere in the digital media industry. To be clear, editorial independence is the staff’s ability to publish stories without commercial influence from management – for instance, to favor an advertiser by rejecting a hard hitting story about them. At G/O Media, it is never, and will never be, management’s desire to influence stories on a day-to-day basis. We believe strongly that journalists should operate without interference of business interests – period, full stop.
However, what the GMG Union is seeking goes well beyond editorial independence to full editorial control. Editorial control is the right to fundamentally change a site including what topics are covered, and its strategic, competitive and commercial positioning, as well as the right to hire and replace personnel. The Union wants to take those rights away from management and put them in the hands of the writers themselves – something that no commercial enterprise can do while also retaining its value, and no CBA in the country allows.
Editorial control is the crux of the issue here – not pay, working conditions or hours. We provide competitive compensation and benefits, and we strive to create a positive, supportive environment for all employees. No credible grievance has been filed by the Union on these matters.
As long term-focused stewards of this business committed to providing financial security and more opportunities for our employees, we simply cannot accept the Union’s effort to virtually take full operational control of the G/O Media brands with no regard for commercial sustainability. The reports of the “stick to sports” mandate have been grossly mischaracterized and dramatized. However, it is absolutely critical for media companies to have the ability to make the strategic decisions which can prevent any irreversible damage to the company and to the ongoing employment of our staff.
It is unfortunate that the Union’s actions have essentially drawn a picket line around Deadspin and created an environment that is directly and adversely impacting our employees and business – preventing us from hiring talent by harassing candidates and influencing our current editorial management to refuse to partake in the recruitment process. However, it remains our goal to restart Deadspin as soon as possible in a manner that provides both the editorial freedom necessary for such a platform and the business focus to ensure its long-term sustainability.
With our continued investment and support, we intend to grow all of our platforms sustainably for the long-term, which will result in more jobs and opportunities for our employees and more great news for our readers.
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