The internet is ephemeral. It’s always seething and shifting. Nothing remains the same from day to day, month to month, or year to year. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last few days in regards to the very public murder of my formerly favorite blog: Deadspin. I’m not going to recap the whole incident. You can read about its demise here and here and here and here and here. It’s been a thing. But it’s a thing to which I can relate—I’ve gone through an acquisition, and I’ve watched startups collapse around me, I’ve seen friends and colleagues go through the same both good and bad.
I have some thoughts.
Great Hill Partners (the private equity firm that bought Deadspin), G/O Media (the company that operates Deadspin’s blog network), and Jim Spanfeller (the CEO) made a purchase that was, in its essence, a talent acquisition. But either they didn’t realize it was a talent acquisition or they didn’t understand what to do with the talent they acquired. Most likely both. They failed to recognize that fans (myself included, Deadspin had been my homepage for years) didn’t go to Deadspin to read a generic sports blog. We went to Deadspin to read articles on all manner of things from writers we loved. Sport was a part of that, but it certainly wasn’t all of that. And that was its draw. There are a hundred other charmless sports sites that bloviate ceaselessly about sports—they exist for those who want them. Loyal readers didn’t want Deadspin to “stick to sports.” We wanted Deadspin to stick to Deadspin.
Loyal readers didn’t want Deadspin to “stick to sports.” We wanted Deadspin to stick to Deadspin.
Over the years, the site made a name for itself with a brash tone and a punk attitude. They punched up, made stands, took sides, and spoke truth to power. That was something that resonated with its fans. It set them apart from everyone else. Anyone could see that trying to force them to be something they weren’t would have backfired. Smart and capable leadership should have known that before the purchase was finalized.
As you’d expect, when a company doesn’t understand its talent acquisition, things went poorly. A longtime editor, Barry Petchesky, was fired when he spurned mandates that went against the site’s ideology. The staff revolted and refused to capitulate to management’s ridiculous demands, and they left en masse. Of course they left. They should have left.
Good on them.
I applaud and admire the staff of Deadspin for sticking to their principles. It’s uncommon to find that level of integrity in online media today—especially in blogging, and particularly in sports blogging. My gut tells me that the Deadspin I knew as a fan will never be back. That’s the nature of our everchanging web. But often, when this sort of thing happens, the result ends up becoming something greater. The talent goes elsewhere. The hydra spawns two new heads. Something new arises from the ashes, and it is often something better, with a wider reach and a tremendous impact. So while I mourn the death of my favorite blog, I cannot wait to see what the writers and editors do next.
Deadspin was a good website.
Deadspin forever. ✊