Remember those early days of blogging when there was a race for commenters to be the “FIRST!” to comment on a post? That is something that used to happen. Nowadays, I prefer to be anything but “FIRST” to discuss topics and issues, but it seems appropriate to begin that way today with the death of Deadspin as we know it taking place this week.
In case you missed it, the short version is that the new owner tried to curtail editorial independence of the site and its workhorse staff. They fired Barry Petchesky for insubordination (probably,) and everyone else quit in solidarity and out of principle. The story isn’t finished being told, but it feels like most of the significant action of the plot has taken place. Now, in hindsight, it’s funny that their poor judgment in their worst moments and the tag team of Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel couldn’t and didn’t kill Deadspin. They hurt Gawker’s owner Nick Denton and former editor A.J. Daulerio, and there were some weird days, but Deadspin survived. That ended this week.
What actually killed Deadspin is a private equity firm. These are business collectors that are generally so many layers away from actual stakeholders that they’re out of touch. I think of it like this. Imagine a kid who goes to a baseball card show desperate to find Francisco Lindor cards and autographs because he loves Frankie more than any baseball player in the world. He’s going to buy that stuff and keep it. Probably forever. Now compare that kid to the crusty, unshaven value picker who’s looking to make a shrewd deal and flip stuff on eBay for a profit. Say what you want about Nick Denton, but Gawker was his baby. He loved it and nurtured it and rooted for it. Now Deadspin is in the hands of a collector. And the second collector, to boot, as Univision owned Deadspin and sold it as part of a package to Great Hill Partners subsidiary G/O Media.
If you look at Great Hill Partners’ website, they have a portfolio that includes G/O Media. Deadspin is one of their common cards and they refused to put it in a special case. Hell, they didn’t give it the utility to put it in the spokes of their bicycle to make a cool sound. Why? Deadspin is just one of about a dozen websites in the portfolio that’s part of an even bigger portfolio of companies.
All of this makes the end of Deadspin that much more confounding to me. Great Hill Partners is a giant investment company. G/O Media is a pretty big subsidiary with a dozenish sites. Jim Spanfeller is the CEO of the subsidiary. In the scheme of things, G/O Media is not likely that significant. Drilling down into G/O Media, Deadspin couldn’t have been that significant. So from 10,000 feet above it appears to me that Great Hill Partners shouldn’t have spent even a minute thinking about Deadspin unless they were getting the company in legal trouble. This jousting over editorial control and the fact that Deadspin criticized the advertising strategy is not grounds for blowing up the world. But they did it anyway.
I know not everyone likes Deadspin, but criticizing their bosses is akin to Howard Stern making fun of his. It’s feeding the audience exactly what they want. It portrays Deadspin as a rogue player in a field of bought and paid for journalists and media entities. Pay no attention to the fact that they’re owned by a giant private equity company. Deadspin is still the same independent badass they always were, right?
And it’s over.
With it goes the memories of those early days for this site when getting a Deadspin link not only threatened our poor webservers, but made us feel good to be a part of a larger community. We’ve had Deadspin founder Will Leitch on the podcast before, and we spent some time with him when he was in Cleveland touring various sports cities. Sure, we’ve had our turn getting beaten up for bad posts as a part of the community, but nobody has a perfect record in anything. Certainly, Deadspin and its writers and editors didn’t either, but you don’t focus on the negatives with your friends. You grit your teeth and root for them to have a better day tomorrow. That’s not to say we were literally good friends with Deadspin, but at one time we were almost peers or something. There was a validation in watching them grow and turn into a legitimate media company, as if it justified all the time we spent over here doing our own localized thing in Cleveland.
There’s a distinct sadness to see it end.
And with that, it's over. Deadspin no longer employs a single writer or editor. I am gutted but so very proud of this group of people.
Deadspin was a good website.
— Megan Greenwell (@megreenwell) November 1, 2019