CHICAGO — Deadspin, the irreverent sports website that was all but shut down by a mass exodus of New York staffers in October, is moving to Chicago to relaunch under the same roof as the co-owned humor site, The Onion.
The decision, announced Friday by G/O Media, follows a months-long standoff between the digital media publisher and the union representing the more than 20 writers and editors who resigned in protest over the website’s direction under private equity ownership.
“In order to restart Deadspin as soon as possible, we have decided to move Deadspin within our corporate structure to be part of our properties based out of Chicago, where we believe we will be able to more quickly rebuild our staff, relaunch the site and help ensure its long-term success,” G/O Media said in a statement.
G/O Media, formerly Gizmodo Media Group, is an assemblage of popular websites that also includes The A.V. Club, Jalopnik, Jezebel and The Root.
Boston-based private equity firm Great Hill Partners bought the digital media portfolio from Spanish-language broadcaster Univision for an undisclosed price in April, installing former Forbes.com CEO and magazine executive Jim Spanfeller as CEO. While new ownership led to a number of changes, including the July departure of longtime Onion CEO Mike McAvoy, the clash of cultures came to a head at the New York offices of Deadspin.
In August, Deadspin published a lengthy article critical of G/O Media and Spanfeller’s leadership, with the site’s editor resigning several weeks later. But it was an October memo from G/O management instructing Deadspin to stick to sports that set off a full-fledged revolt among staffers. By Nov. 1, the entire editorial staff had resigned in protest, leaving the Deadspin website frozen in time, with a patchwork of midseason NFL stories still at the top of the page.
Spanfeller sent a letter Friday to The Writers Guild of America, East, the union representing Deadspin staffers, claiming efforts to restart the website have been “severely hampered” by the “divisive actions” of former employees and their objections to managerial decisions. He said those actions included harassing a freelancer “incessantly,” to the point where the writer refused to continue working for Deadspin.
“To this end, we have decided to move the Deadspin platform, which will remain a dedicated sports platform, under The Onion corporate structure to ensure the best chance of future success,” Spanfeller said in the letter, which was obtained by the Chicago Tribune.
A key point of contention in negotiations between G/O Media and the union is editorial independence in light of the mandate for sports-only content on Deadspin. The union is demanding “more stringent protections” of editorial independence, while G/O Media is not willing to relinquish “full editorial control” of its website.
Deadspin will relocate to The Onion’s offices in Chicago “as soon as possible,” with plans to begin hiring staffers and relaunch the site. Spanfeller said an offer to former Deadspin employees to return to their old positions in the New York office “remains open at this time.”
As part of the move, new editorial staffers at Deadspin will be represented by a different local of The Writers Guild of America, East, which The Onion joined in 2018.
The union’s New York-based bargaining unit issued a statement Friday questioning the efficacy of a Chicago relaunch for Deadspin.
“Moving Deadspin to Chicago will not solve the problem that Jim (Spanfeller) never understood Deadspin, and did everything in his power to kill it,” the union said. “The members of this bargaining unit vehemently object to this decision.”
The Onion itself made waves when it chose to relocate its editorial offices from New York to Chicago in 2012. At the time, nearly a third of 23 New York-based editorial staffers rejected a relocation package. The Onion moved into its current Chicago headquarters, which also houses The A.V. Club, in 2013.
Chicago Tribune (TNS)