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'Deadspin' Journalists Submit Their Resignations To Protest Mandate From New Owners


When readers of the sports website Deadspin logged on last night and this morning, there was a notable absence - not a single story about the World Series, one of the biggest sporting events of the year. And that is not an accident. It's an act of protest from Deadspin staffers, who object to a mandate from the new owners of the site. The mandate was stick to sports. NPR's David Folkenflik joins us now from New York to discuss the protest and the mass resignation of staffers at Deadspin.

Hey, David.


CHANG: OK. What I don't get - Deadspin is a site that's defined by sports coverage. Right? So what's the problem with saying stick to sports?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it seems like its bread and butter. Right? You've seen this tension at ESPN. Sometimes the bosses come down and say, hey, let's focus on athletics; you involve other issues of politics or society when you have to. This is different. This is the nature of the site Deadspin itself.

CHANG: Yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: It's not known simply for examining X's and O's and strategies, although it certainly does that. It's really defined as much by the sensibilities of the writers they've hired - sometimes looking sideways at sports, sometimes looking far afield, like an annual Hater's Guide to the Williams-Sonoma catalog or a gross parody of Gay Talese writing, a guide called the Adequate Men (ph), which was kind of a sendup of men's magazines, as well as doing coverage of the sporting events or certain kinds of investigations. Think back to Brett Favre, the Hall of Fame quarterback. He had sent essentially indecent texts to women he encountered as a player. They were able to expose his behavior that needed to be - he needed to be held accountable for.

So you know, it's really a varied kind of magazine, not a purely athletic-focused outfit.

CHANG: OK. Well, it seems like, from some of the writers there who have posted on social media, that there's been sort of this expectation of a lot of latitude at Deadspin. How did that culture develop?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you got to think of it as evolving from gawker.com and the Gawker Media company, where there was this anarchistic outlook fostered by the founder Nick Denton, Will Leitch - the idea that these guys had the ability to do almost anything and, in particular, do almost anything even in relationship to its own owners and editors. This site was sold, along with others, to Univision and then to a new series of owners this spring. They've covered their owners rather critically, sometimes brutally. And the new owners, they pulled some of the stories about the internal controversies. This has raised a bunch of hackles in recent months among the writers there.

CHANG: So tell us about these new owners that these staffers are protesting against.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's this investment firm called Great Hill. They put it - what they now call G/O media. Gawker went away, sort of sued out of existence. So G/O Media is run by a guy named Jim Spanfeller. He worked at forbes.com and Playboy - promised advertisers, according to writers and the union there, more than they could deliver. He's claimed that look; 24 out of the top 25 stories last month were purely about sports. A number of recent editors say, hey, that's flatly untrue; you could get as many as 100,000 readers or more for stories having little to do with sport.

Spanfeller and others forced out an editor a couple months ago at Deadspin who didn't want to push a more strictly sports line on writers and, a few days ago, sent out a memo the morning after a post on Trump being booed at the World Series, saying let's stick to sports. And then they fired their acting editor as well.

CHANG: So where do you think Deadspin goes from here with all these staff protesting?

FOLKENFLIK: Really hard to know. Not only protesting but most of them leaving, a few staying. What does it mean to own a title? What does it mean to own a URL without retaining any of the DNA and the people who made it popular? I don't know what they're going to achieve. But if they're planning on sort of refining it and selling it off for parts, not clear what the strategy is moving forward.

CHANG: That's NPR's David Folkenflik.

Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

All Things Considered
David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.