Deadspin is dead. Long live Deadspin.
Funny, how rich, white assholes ruin everything.
Last month, the irreverent, biting sports blogging website had a mass exodus of writers and editors, following the owner’s edict of ‘stick to sports,’ after lying to advertisers about how the majority of stories were ‘sport-related.’
They weren’t, but that’s not the point, which everyone seems to miss. This is a story about greed and avarice in the post-print world of lawless, anything goes, gonzo vulture capitalism. The demise was a long time coming.
There are many versions of Private Equity firms. In the 1980’s and into the 90’s, they were called Corporate Raiders. Other People’s Money and Barbarians at The Gate were two novels, reports, plays and movies that captured the height of those times. Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street, with it’s 80s mantra “Greed…for lack of a better term, is good,” came to symbolize a generation of supply-side economics which has carried through to the current day.
Deadspin was started in 2004, in the post-dot-com era. It was, a couple years later, brought into the Gawker platform and had a broad range of writers and editors, ranging from Charles P. Pierce to Drew Mcgary (who writes for Gen on this site) and others. It was a digital version of the late 80s, long gone, missed and lamented Frank DeFord’s folly, The National. Without Skip Bayless and Jay Mariotti.
Gawker was a celebrity site, a digital version of News of The World or the National Enquirer. The platform included such sites as The Onion, a Lampoon-ish, satirical site that poked fun at everything and everybody. Gawker took celebrities and the mega-rich to task, exposing their hypocrisy and embarrassing behavior.
In 2007, Gawker ‘outed’ Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook. PayPal is the alternative-to-a-bank site where you can pay bills or, if you’re so inclined, hide your money without going to the Cayman’s (or the Bank of Cyprus). A Libertarian, Thiel once invested in a project called Sea-steading, so that he and others could live outside the United States jurisdiction in a ‘Libertarian paradise.’ It went nowhere, but it did provide Keith Olbermann with one of his best ‘Worst Persons in the World’ segments. All that aside, Thiel didn’t take kindly to being outed. But, under libel and defamation laws, he couldn’t sue. But his chance to destroy Gawker came a few years later.
Terry Bollea is just a name. But Hulk Hogan is a celebrity. One of the first breakout wrestling stars under Vince McMahon, Bollea/Hogan has been a household name for nearly 40 years, appearing in Rocky III, famously wrestling Andre the Giant in Wrestlemania III at the Pontiac Silverdome and later having his own reality TV show.
In 2012, Gawker published a ‘sex tape’ of Bollea and his best friend’s wife. Bollea sued the site for defamation in Florida and almost settled the case. But an ‘anonymous’ benefactor kept paying the legal bills and the case was eventually ‘settled’ for $115 million. Bollea received $31 million after Gawker declared bankruptcy. The ‘benefactor’ turned out to be Thiel who, through Bollea, got his revenge. He destroyed Gawker. Univision Communications brought the company out of bankruptcy and closed Gawker, while keeping its other properties, including Deadspin, Jezebel, et. al., which had nothing to do with the video, viable. Thiel called his involvement ($10 million on a case involving a person with whom you have no connection to? Must be nice) in the case “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done.”
Deadspin and the remaining sites slogged along until earlier this year when Univision sold them to a private equity firm Great Hill Partners, including Gizmodo, Splinter, Jezebel, Kotaku, The Root, and The Onion, and then tore up the whole platform.
Much like newspapers and magazines, digital media is being systematically destroyed by these private equity firms. The writers and editors walked out over a two month period and formed their own splinter group on blogging site Kinja.
As reported by Vice, G/O Media tried, without success it seems, to shutdown the dissent and the post “Jim Spanfeller is a herb.” According to the article, it is a dig at the G/O head, “ who made the decision to fire Deadspin’s interim editor-in-chief Barry Petchesky,” including the writer of the article, who was one of those who walked out en mass.
Traditional media, in the spate of 25 years, has fallen apart. Newspapers have merged, joint operating agreements broken. It is the result of ‘corporate consolidation.’ In 1980, there were 50+ media companies. Today, there are six. Gannett is about to merge with GateHouse, which means fewer jobs and higher costs. Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair, Esquire, all face extinction soon. Rolling Stone went from a bi-weekly to a monthly and changed their layout and format and the price went from $26 for a subscription to $100 a year.
Journalism is in danger of becoming a secondary career for many. Veteran journalists are brought out and younger, fresh-out-of-college and $40,000 in debt are brought in, only to be replaced by a fresh crop in a few short years. Broadcast, print, digital, doesn’t matter. When I was an active journalist in the 80s and 90s, someone said to me “the (Detroit) Free Press is where journalists go to die.” Which is ironic because he worked at the paper for a number of years before leaving.
The future of journalism is uncertain. We have seen what happened to our local papers, TV stations and even networks over the past 40 years and done very little to say, ‘hey, wait a minute.’ Even a site like this has its attrition. In the era of Trump, we need journalism more than ever.
As for Gawker, well, that would also qualify for Olbermann’s ‘Worst Person’s’ if he were still doing it. In mid-2018, Bryan Goldberg brought the domain name and online archives. For a mere $1.35 million. This was the same guy who started Bleacher Report and then sold it to Time-Warner for $175 million. (Time-Warner doesn’t exist anymore, either)
Goldberg then embarked on perhaps the biggest fake-out since Dan Marino’s against the Jets. What he planned to was essentially, nothing. As outlined by Esquire’s Kate Storey, he said as much in a memo to his staff, “We have no immediate plans to re-launch Gawker.”
Of course, he did the exact opposite. He hired a bunch of young, well-known journalists from Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post and other platforms and then tore it all down before it even went up. Questionable tweets and emails, fat-shaming, obsession with rich people, putting down the poor.
After hiring former Details editor Dan Peres, who most recently oversaw The Players Tribute, an athlete-centric site owned by former Yankee Derek Jeter, Gawker was shelved on July 30. What happens next is anyone’s guess. Goldberg still plans to relaunch Gwaker, but who knows when that’ll be.
Which brings us back to Deadspin. Much like Gawker, it is in internet purgatory and will probably remain there for a while. The heyday of media sites seem to be going through the same cycles as traditional media. Oh, somebody will attempt to revive DS at some point, but what will it look like without the likes of Pierce and Mcgary? As the average internet user gets older, will they care as much about celebrity gossip as was in the halcyon days of People, Entertainment Weekly (who, much like Sports Illustrated and others, aren’t weekly anymore) and Us? Will a relaunched Deadspin tell you why your team sucks or break news about your fantasy wide receiver getting hurt in pre-game warm ups? I’ll give former D-Spin editor-in-chief Megan Greenwell the last word: “The tragedy of digital media isn’t that it’s run by ruthless, profiteering guys in ill-fitting suits; it’s that the people posing as the experts know less about how to make money than their employees, to whom they won’t listen.”