Yesterday, I lost one of my favorite websites, Deadspin.com. As my good friend Dave Harrell pointed out, it was also the 4-year anniversary of the loss of another beloved site, Grantland.
As has been pointed out many other times online, this isn’t the true death of Deadspin, which will likely exist as a zombie website in order to catch SEO search views and serve tons of ads to those who click on the links.
I have been reading the website since Will Leitch was the Founder and Editor-In-Chief. It served plenty of sports, but also a quirky and bizarre set of side pursuits that had little to do with sports. Where else can you get upset by some incredibly bad takes on cereal? Or follow the monthly drama of Oddibe McDowell’s water bill? I miss Bear Friday. Just a small selection of a lot of content that I truly enjoyed as a tangent from sports. You don’t have to Stick To Sports.
The writing was always fantastic. The writers were always allowed to expand on the sports they were most passionate about. I learned more about Premier League and La Liga because of the expansive write-ups by people like Greg Howard and Billy Haisley, even though its a sports where I only have minor interest. I loved reading it.
Nobody wrote about Donald Trump better than David Roth, and nobody made better Stephen A. Twitter jokes. I could go on about so many more writers, and of course, how could the website exist without Drew Magary? I suppose we will find out.
The writing has been on the wall, as they say, for Deadspin’s demise. After Gawker Media was litigated out of existence, the site lived on (with it’s sister sites) with Univision. When Great Hill Partners bought Gizmodo Media, Deadspin’s days were numbered. It’s doubtful that the new owners really did their homework. Anybody who actually read Deadspin knew that they were committed to journalism and not taking things too seriously. The “Stick To Sports” confrontation only had one way to go. Even a newly created union did little to stop the site’s demise.
I suspect this is what Great Hill Partners wanted in the first place. Free of expensive, experienced, writers, they can now explore the SEO underbelly that actually powers the internet. They already inserted awful Sponsored Taboola links, which are nothing but garbage. The controversy over auto-play video just to try to hit Farmer’s Insurance viewership goals made things obvious. User experience meant nothing.
Crap Content is The Present, and Future
This is the reality of writing on the internet. There are easy ways to boost traffic. Content farms are supposed to be downgraded on Google search, but it’s obviously not working. Current G/O Media boss Jim Spanfeller once bragged about posting 5,000 Forbes.com articles a day. That isn’t writing or journalism, that is a virus. This is, if you will, the Bleacher Report method of content.
This method also uses unpaid or low-paid writers, opening up a host of issues. I don’t know G/O Media and GMG Union’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the fact that Deadspin was still using freelancers makes me believe it didn’t protect its workers as well as it should have. Sites like Fansided and SB Nation (not coincidentally investigated by Deadspin’s own Laura Wagner) have created hundreds of “team sites” selling the dream to unpaid people that they too can become a professional writer (they won’t). My Google News is filled with hundreds of these team sites I have had to manually remove from search results.
Then, there is the lousy content itself. Evidence of bad content being uploaded with little to no oversight are too easy to find on the internet for me to link to. Turns out, having a good Editor helps. Fill every space with obnoxious ads, spammy Sponsored Links, and cross-site cookies means you can do the illusive: make money on the internet.
But here’s the thing. Deadspin was a profitable franchise! Some of the best writers, many young but already skilled, curated by good editing, and you had a website worth reading several times a day. There was a dedicated commentariat that even the writers themselves got to know. Off-the-wall content was actually one of the reasons to go back to the site when you had a break or a lunch hour. Great Hill Partners needed to do nothing, literally nothing, to keep the site working and profitable. That they only knew to cut costs and strip all parts from G/O Media shows that they had no business buying the company in the first place. Now that they fired Barry Petchesky and watched the entire staff resign one-by-one, what do they have? Who wants to buy G/O Media now that its been stripped down to bare parts?
That’s where Deadspin’s future as a zombie lies. Somebody will buy it, and they will either add a lot of lousy, unpaid, content, or they will just use the existing SEO to generate advertising money. Deadspin will live, but it won’t exactly be alive either. In that respect, I have a little more respect for ESPN holding Grantland.com in stasis, the articles allowed to rest in peace.
Deadspin was one of the first websites I loved. At various times, I also loved Baseball Prospectus, Grantland, and a few others. Arstechnica is still going strong, and I do hope its owners allow the site to continue unimpeded. There isn’t much good journalism left.
The future of writing is bleak. The future of reading is bleaker. Just go to cnn.com and read up. How many articles are news and how many are just opinion? Our own instincts are powering this behavior. Purple journalism isn’t new, so anybody worried about Clickbait should read up on newspaper publishing. They are only serving us what we engage with, and it isn’t straight-up, no compromise, journalism. Great Hill Partners knows that, and that is why Deadspin had to die yesterday.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.