“I don’t want to see Deadspin die,” Rich, 48, said in an interview Wednesday. “I know the obit has been written already and people feel like it’s dead, but I want to change people’s minds.”
He added that he witnessed the unrest at Deadspin last year with both sadness and sympathy but did not feel like a scab.
“I’m aware of what happened,” he said. “I understand the emotion of it. That’s what a great site and publication does. It invokes passion. I can’t control any of that. I’m coming into this with the best intentions, with a record that I’m a champion of the best and highest forms of journalism. I’m the farthest thing from a stick-to-sports sort of guy.”
G/O announced earlier this month it would move Deadspin’s headquarters from New York to Chicago, a move that would also shift the site under the umbrella of The Onion, another property owned by G/O. As part of the restructuring, G/O announced it would no longer negotiate with the union that represents the staffers of the G/O sites. Rich said he would be based in Chicago and plans to hire a staff of around 20. He said he had not been in contact with any of the former Deadspin staffers but was open to any of them returning to the site.
Rich shares some of the DNA that made Deadspin a powerful voice in sports media. He was known for punchy back-page headlines during two stints as editor in chief at the Daily News, the first from 2015 to 2016 and the second for eight months in 2018 under the management of Tronc. He oversaw a number of layoffs and resigned in 2018 over the direction of the newspaper under Tronc’s management.
“I feel for everybody who was here and the decision they made,” he said. “I’ve been in their shoes before at the Daily News. I know the emotions behind those decisions. It’s not easy, and in no way am I forgetful of that.”
Deadspin, along with the other sites that make up G/O Media, was bought in April by private equity firm Great Hill Partners. Almost immediately, the new management, led by chief executive Jim Spanfeller, clashed with the site’s staff. Megan Greenwell, Deadspin’s top editor, left the company in August, 18 months after she was hired, over disagreements with the new executives about the content the site should publish.
In October, Deadspin staffers received a memo that mandated they write only about sports “and that which is relevant to sports in some way,” which ultimately prompted the mass resignations.
Rich said G/O leadership reached out to him in the weeks afterward, and he was convinced that he would have the editorial freedom to pursue a wide range of stories.
“I won’t be shackled to straightforward sports journalism,” he said. “What interests me is the issues that a lot of the bigger sports journalism places tip-toe around — not much different than what Deadspin has always been and [what] made it as good as it was.”