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(Image: Deadspin)

Reporters at beloved American sports website Deadspin are in the midst of an all-out war with its corporate owners.

Deadspin, once part of the Gawker Media empire that sued into oblivion by billionaire Peter Thiel and wrestler Hulk Hogan, made a name for itself by injecting social commentary and a touch of life into the tired world of sports reporting. 

Struggling for survival in a post-Gawker landscape, Deadspin was bought in April by Great Hill Partners — the kind of ghoulish private equity firm known for acquiring media outlets then bleeding them white. Deadspin became part of Great Hill Partners’ G/O Media group — a collection of brands that includes gaming blog Kotaku and satirical news site The Onion.

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G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller wasted little time rankling Deadspin employees, and within months top editor Megan Greenwell was out the door.

Spanfeller was accused of stacking the company with his mates from places like Playboy and Forbes. Deadspin responded by publishing withering takedowns of Spanfeller and G/O Media’s management, who they argued were destroying everything the site stood for in a desperate and obsessive quest for traffic and advertising dollars.

This week, the final straw for Deadspin’s long-suffering employees came when editorial director Paul Maidment (another of Spanfeller’s old comrades) sent around a memo on Monday telling staff to “stick to sports”.

Overnight, reporters have been quitting en masse, announcing their resignations on Twitter.

Despite the site’s initial sports focus, Deadspin had increasingly branched out into reporting on politics and pop culture, and Maidment’s edict was anathema to staff who prided themselves on doing things differently from traditional sports media.

Moreover, solely sticking to sports might prove fraught in a country where the president picks fights with footballers, and where the NBA is embroiled in the China-Hong Kong stand-off

Maidment’s memo was met with open revolt by staff. In an excellent act of trolling, Deadspin filled the website with everything but sport content (highlights include “Three good dogs I met” and “Check out the wheels on this pumpkin thief”). The bosses hit back, firing deputy editor Barry Petchesky, the site’s longest-serving staffer, for “not sticking to sports”. A day later another senior editor left. 

Perhaps Deadspin was lucky to make it this far — plenty of small online publications known for their idiosyncratic offerings (like The Awl, Grantland and Splinter) have fallen victim to the ruthless convulsions of the digital media landscape in recent years. For now, Deadspin continues to operate, but plenty are already writing its eulogy.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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