As It Happens

Why this Deadspin reporter and her colleagues are quitting the site in protest

Laura Wagner loved her job at Deadspin, but she says can't keep working there because she believes its new owners are driving the site into the ground. 

Laura Wagner and at least 6 other staffers left the sports and culture site after interim editor sacked

Laura Wagner was a staff writer at Deadspin until she quit Wednesday in protest. (Victor Jeffries)

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Laura Wagner loved her job at Deadspin, but she says can't keep working there because she believes its new owners are driving the site into the ground. 

Wagner is one of at least seven staff members who resigned from the popular sports, culture and politics website on Wednesday as part of a long brewing conflict with management over editorial direction.

The resignations come after the company fired the site's interim editor for refusing to adhere to management's edict that  writers "stick to sports" even though editors say non-sports coverage generates more than twice as much traffic. 

"We're sorry that they couldn't work within this incredibly broad coverage mandate," said Jeffrey Schneider, a spokesman for G/O Media, the company that runs Deadspin. 

But the tensions go back further than that. Management and staff members have butted heads since the private equity firm Great Hills Partners bought Deadspin and several sister sites earlier this year. 

Deadspin was formerly a part of Gawker Media, which declared bankruptcy and shut down after losing a lawsuit to wrestler Hulk Hogan that was funded by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel.

Wagner spoke to As It Happens guest host Megan Williams about why she's no longer a staff writer at Deadspin. Here is part of their conversation.

What happened after you were told to stick to sports?

First we decided that we were going to post blogs on the site that didn't have anything to do with sports as sort of a direct action we could take to push back against this mandate. We had previously been told to stick to sports, and we had ignored it successfully for months, and so we didn't figure that this would be any different.

Once we did put stories, both old and new, on the site that were not directly related to sports, our interim EIC [editor-in-chief] Barry Petchesky was fired.

Deadspin is a sports website first and foremost, so why was the dictate so objectionable to you and other writers that you had to stick to sports?

We don't see it as a sports site first and foremost. I mean, mostly what Deadspin is, is a place where writers can write about whatever they care about. And that is sports, but it's also a lot of other things that draw readers to the site and have always drawn readers to the site for more than a decade.

A lot of our readers come to the site for whatever we are writing about culture, politics or just, you know, random silly rankings of like board games or whatever. 

Saying that it's a sports site is kind of missing the scope of what Deadspin is. 

So your editor-in-chief Barry Petchesky was fired. What happened then?

We regrouped and decided what we could possibly do to make continuing to work at this site tenable.

Ultimately, we all sort of came to our own conclusions that it just wasn't a place where we could continue to work, not just because Barry, the heart and soul of Deadspin for more than a decade, had been fired, but because the management had been encroaching on our editorial independence for months and months and months and didn't show any signs of relenting on that.

Deadspin's parent company G/O Media says that non-sports content simply isn't successful on the site. In fact, the statement claims that posts that weren't about sports accounted for less than one per cent of traffic in September. What's your response to that? ​​​

They're kind of picking and choosing their statistics there. I have internal data from a few months ago that show that the posts on The Concourse, which is the non-sports sub vertical of Deadspin, far outperform the posts that directly are about sports.

Management and staff members have butted heads since the financial equity firm Great Hills Partners bought Deadspin along with sister sites like The Root, Gizmodo and Jezebel earlier this year. (

Can you tell me what some of the other issues were that you were objecting to and that led to so many of the writers resigning or quitting?

In the past week, our sites have been inundated by incessant auto-play ads, which is a terrible user experience and something that we have never had on our websites.

After we got a lot of reader feedback about that, all of the company sites posted a short statement saying that we were aware of the auto-play and that we also didn't like it and we were trying to figure out what we could do about it.

Management removed that post, which we decided was just further encroachment on our editorial independence and what we could and could not put on the site. And so that was kind of one of the latest straws.

But going back to August, I mean, I wrote a big report about how Jim Spanfeller, the CEO, took over the company and then immediately went about hiring a bunch of his old cronies from like mid-2000s Forbes without posting the jobs publicly. So we wound up with a lot of people who are not qualified to do the job and were incompetent, which I wrote about in my report.

What kind of people was he hiring when when he took over?

He hired Paul Maidment, who is the editorial director who has done nothing to stand up for the newsroom.

Jim Spanfeller also hired a stable of sales managers over various successful women who had been at the company without even interviewing those women for their positions. 

And beyond that, he's just shown a complete lack of awareness about how the company functions and what type of people are needed to lead it and have it be successful.

There seems to be a total breakdown of trust here. What does this whole saga tell you about the direction of the digital media landscape right now?

The whole playbook here is for the private equity company to buy an asset, to degrade it, and try to suck all of the money they can out of it and then sell it.

And I think that's what they're doing. I think it's pretty clear that this was why they wanted to have this "stick to sports" mandate injected overall, because it allows them to present Deadspin as a clean asset when they go to make their sales pitch for future buyers.

It's another depressing example in a long series of how private equity is destroying media.

Your fired editor-in-chief tweeted today that it's been like "getting to watch the eulogies at your own funeral." What have the past couple of days been like for you?

It's been really sad. That's been the best job I'll ever have. Some of my best friends work there with me or worked there with me. And no other site is going to be doing the work that Deadspin did.

For someone like me who doesn't have a family or a mortgage, it was a tough decision. But for my co-workers who have kids ... and health concerns, you know, it's a whole different calculation for them. 

So I just am feeling very grateful that we could all stick together on this time, and I'm hoping that everyone lands on their feet. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.