Stories

Deadspin is dead after refusing to "stick to sports"

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The majority of Deadspin's staff — nearly 20 writers and editors — resigned this week after the site's interim editor-in-chief, Barry Petchesky, was fired for refusing to "stick to sports."

Why it matters: In the last month alone, two prominent American sports publications have been gutted and look destined to become shells of their former selves.

  • A few weeks ago, Sports Illustrated's new owners laid off half the newsroom — the first step in their plan to turn it into a rickety old content mill staffed by contributors making as little as $25,000 a year.

How we got here: Deadspin was founded as a sports blog in 2005 and was originally part of Gawker Media, which was sued out of existence thanks to a lawsuit brought by Hulk Hogan (and funded by Peter Thiel).

  • After bouncing between a few owners, Deadspin and its sibling sites like Gizmodo, Jezebel and The Onion were acquired by private equity firm Great Hill Partners earlier this year.
  • Since then, new ownership has tried to change the tone of the site on the fly, urging writers to avoid hot-button issues or polarized political topics.

The big picture: Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley describes this growing class of "zombie" publications, which extends far beyond sports media:

  • "Trustworthy brand-name publications are being hollowed out and refilled with unpaid 'community' contributors or low-paid, less experienced professionals who don't have the stature to challenge editorial imperatives or productivity quotas."

What they're saying:

  • WSJ's Jason Gay: "'Stick to sports' has become a pernicious rallying cry over the past few years, the idea being that for a sports media company to discuss political events is to somehow risk alienating your audience. ... [T]he net consequence is usually a chilling effect, limiting discussion of anything political or even complicated."
  • The Ringer's Bryan Curtis: "In 2008, author Buzz Bissinger faced off with [Deadspin founder] Will Leitch on HBO. Bissinger freaked out that real, honest-to-god reporters like him were being undercut and replaced by snotty bloggers. ... Now we've lost the snotty bloggers."
Screenshot of Bernie Sanders' tweet saying he stands with Deadspin.

The bottom line: As someone whose job is to highlight the best sports content on the internet, this stinks. Deadspin has played a vital role in the media landscape for years and has published some of the best freelance writing anywhere online.

  • It also stood for something, and you saw that this week, as a bunch of people — many of whom probably can't afford to be unemployed — took down their own publication over perceived journalistic/moral differences with their bosses.