Nov 1, 2019

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."

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.

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The new power brokers in sports media

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The sports media landscape has shifted significantly over the past few months, with flagship sports brands falling victim to layoffs, shutdowns and consolidation, while newer players report strong growth.

Driving the news: Minute Media, a holding group that owns other digital websites — including sports sites like 90min and The Big Lead — announced last Thursday that it had acquired Derek Jeter’s Players Tribune. Deal terms were not disclosed.

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Three thoughts from Bernie Sanders' take on Deadspin

Bernie Sanders. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Bernie Sanders Thursday night tweeted support for the Deadspin journalists who resigned en masse, in protest of a management edict that their coverage stick exclusively to sports:

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New estimates show Disney spends more on content than Netflix

Data: MoffettNathanson presentation from Code Media Conference; Chart: Axios Visuals

Michael Nathanson, a well-respected media research analyst, said Monday at Recode's Code Media conference that he estimates that Disney spends the most on content annually, followed by Comcast and AT&T.

Why it matters: There's been a long-standing narrative that Netflix spends more money on content than its streaming rivals, but the MoffettNathanson estimates revealed at the conference dispute that notion.

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