Following an order from new management to make sports content the “sole focus” of the site, Deadspin protested on Tuesday by posting a series of old and new stories on a range of other topics.
At least one top employee was promptly fired, worsening already-volatile relations between G/O Media ― formerly Gizmodo Media Group ― and its staff.
Deadspin has historically focused on sports content, but also frequently covers media, politics and culture. On Monday, G/O Media Editorial Director Paul Maidment issued a mandate to Deadspin employees, obtained by The Daily Beast, that they could no longer publish any content not directly related to sports.
“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 in the memo. “Deadspin will write only about sports and that which is relevant to sports in some way.”
He added: “Where such subjects touch on sports, they are fair game for Deadspin. Where they do not, they are not. We have plenty of other sites that write about politics, pop culture, the arts, and the rest, and they’re the appropriate place for such work.”
G/O was formed earlier this year when Great Hill Partners, a private equity firm, purchased the Gizmodo Media Group from Univision and rebranded it. Univision had formed Gizmodo Media Group after acquiring Gawker Media, which filed for bankruptcy proceedings in the wake of a lawsuit secretly funded by billionaire Peter Thiel.
The new company oversees Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jezebel, Lifehacker, and a number of former Gawker Media sites.
Deadspin staffers protested Maidment’s mandate on Tuesday by filling its front page with a host of old and new stories not related to sports. Among them was an August editorial by former Deadspin Editor-in-Chief Megan Greenwell, who said staff members have clashed with the new management’s “‘stick to sports’ edict” from the start.
“The numbers apparently do not matter to my ostensibly numbers-obsessed bosses, for reasons I can’t quite understand,” Greenwell wrote. “When I have told them that the data show that non-sports content brings more traffic and more revenue opportunities, I have been ignored.”
These clashes have cost the company several of its top employees, including Greenwell, whose last day at Deadspin was the same day her editorial ran.
“They have driven out several senior managers—most of them women, myself included—by undermining us and condescending to us at every turn,” she wrote. “Among the people Great Hill Partners has fired and driven out of the company and treated like children are people who have been responsible for creating and sustaining a successful digital media business for over a decade.”
Barry Petchesky, who has been at Deadspin for over a decade and who took over as interim editor-in-chief after Greenwell left, said Tuesday he was fired from the company “for not sticking to sports.”
The site’s union, organized under the Writer’s Guild of America, East, tweeted in response to Petchesky’s termination on Tuesday that “this will not stand.” (WGA East also represents the HuffPost Union.)
Maidment responded to the backlash over the “stick to sports” mandate by saying he was “sorry” some staffers “don’t agree with that editorial direction.”
“We believe that Deadspin reporters and editors should go after every conceivable story as long as it has something to do with sports,” he said in a statement, according to CNN Media reporter Kerry Flynn. “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.”
Some G/O employees have also recently spoken out about a massive new advertising deal that has filled Deadspin and its sister sites with auto-play videos. Deadspin published an article on Monday that said staff members were “upset with the current state of our site’s user experience” and noted that they don’t “control the ad experience on the site.”
The post was taken down later on Monday. Petchesky tweeted that management had deleted the article “in clear violation” of the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
G/O did not immediately respond to a request for comment.