Petchesky’s removal comes a day after a staff memo from Paul Maidment, the editorial director of G/O Media, Deadspin’s parent company. Maidment wrote that creating great sports journalism would be the site’s “sole focus” and that Deadspin would write only about sports “and that which is relevant to sports in some way.”
“Where such subjects touch on sports, they are fair game for Deadspin,” Maidment wrote in the memo, the text of which was obtained by The Washington Post after first being reported by the Daily Beast. “Where they do not, they are not. We have plenty of other sites that write about politics, pop culture, the arts and the rest, and they are the appropriate places for such work.”
G/O Media also publishes Lifehacker, Kotaku, the Onion and other sites. Petchesky, who was serving as interim editor in chief of Deadspin, was fired after non-sports stories were pinned to the top of Deadspin’s homepage, in apparent response to Maidment’s memo. By Tuesday evening, the site’s front page had reverted to more traditional sports headlines; the union said Deadspin staffers had nothing to do with that change.
“The only way you could buy Deadspin and say, ‘Here are some edicts and now everyone follow them,’ is if you never read Deadspin in the last 10 years,” said Will Leitch, who founded the site in 2005. “It feels like they are either trying to kill the site and squeeze whatever money they can out of it or get rid of the entire staff. Or both because there’s no sense they have any plan."
Maidment’s decree comes at the same time other sports media outlets have wrestled with how to cover the intersection of sports and politics. ESPN, too, has preached to its employees about treading lightly on political issues.
Deadspin’s slogan, “Sports news without access, favor, or discretion,” described an editorial style that often departed from straight recaps of mainstream sports events and criticized — and sometimes, openly mocked — politicians, television personalities and other news outlets. The site even sold tongue-in-cheek “Stick to Sports” merchandise.
On Tuesday morning, Deadspin staffers began posting articles with very little connection to sports, tagging them with the label “Stick to Sports.” By the afternoon, the site was featuring stories new and old about dogs, an irate coffee shop customer, wedding dress codes, a pumpkin thief and President Trump.
“Yesterday I sent a memo to Deadspin staff stating that our sports site should be focused on sports coverage,” Maidment said in a statement on Tuesday. “As I made clear in that note, sports touches on nearly every aspect of life — from politics to business to pop culture and more. We believe that Deadspin reporters and editors should go after every conceivable story, as long as it has something to do with sports. We are sorry that some on the Deadspin staff don’t agree with that editorial direction and refuse to work within that incredibly broad mandate.”
The Gizmodo Media Group Union did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Petchesky declined to be interviewed.
Also on Tuesday, Diana Moskovitz, a senior editor at the site, announced that she had decided last week to leave the company, writing that “what happened today — and everything that preceded it — are among the reasons I decided to move on.”
In another sign of unrest, Deadspin and its G/O sister sites posted articles Monday that invited readers to email the sites’ management directly to voice displeasure about autoplay videos that had been introduced recently.
“Editorial staffers at all levels of this company have made our concerns known in various conversations with members of G/O Media’s senior leadership team,” the message read. “We think it would be good for them to hear from you, as well.”
The posts were removed soon after they were published, which staffers viewed as an encroachment on their collectively bargained editorial independence. A G/O Media spokesman said the collectively bargained process for the removal of the posts was followed.
Asked the business rationale behind eliminating popular content on Deadspin such as political stories when the site is trying to grow its traffic, the spokesman declined to answer.
Since it was sold earlier in April, Deadspin has had a difficult relationship with its new corporate owner. Univision, the mainly Spanish-language media giant, sold off the properties that now make up G/O Media to private equity firm Great Hill Partners as part of a corporate restructuring.
Almost immediately, Great Hill’s corporate leaders clashed with Deadspin editorial staff over the publication’s content.
Megan Greenwell, the site’s top editor, left the company in August, 18 months after she was hired, over disagreements with the new executives, including Maidment and CEO Jim Spanfeller, formerly of Forbes.
Two weeks before her departure, Deadspin published a lengthy investigation into Spanfeller that questioned his management style and hires and G/O Media more broadly. Spanfeller recommended an independent third-party editor vet the piece before publication, a suggestion that further inflamed tensions.
“Plenty of media properties have gone through this, but Deadspin is fighting,” Leitch said. “That’s the spirit of the site, and I’m proud of that — even if it doesn’t work.”