G/O Media Continues to Undermine Great Journalism

When journalism is exercised in sole servitude of profit, there’s little regard for public interest.

G/O Media is a prime example of what happens when great penmanship is ruled over by an incompetent management, leading the entire organization to lose the script of what is right for their business as they slowly head for imminent collapse. Ever since Hulk Hogan laid waste to Gawker Media’s financial assets, what’s left of it is but a mere shadow of what once was, a swift reminder that you can revolutionize digital media and still manage to head steadily towards irrelevance if the cockpit is left empty of rational pilots.

On Monday, every site belonging to G/O Media published a note about the introduction of auto-play ads, decrying corporate greed and urging readers to redirect their furor towards G/O Media’s management–including CEO Jim Spanfeller. The posts were eventually taken down, and the email address tasked with forwarding complaints to relevant personnel had its forwarding functions disabled, signaling open hostility towards staff’s demand of better transparency regarding ad policy.

Things didn’t take long to escalate–just yesterday, Deadspin’s oldest writer Barry Petchesky, with more than 20,000 posts in the span of ten years under his belt was fired from the company, presumably for “not sticking to sports.” Of course, this turned out to be but a mere ruse to throw dissenters off the scent, as earlier that day, the website went from its usual facet of miscellaneous culture items, to suddenly becoming an ESPN clone in a suspiciously-short amount of time. If companies do indeed reserve full discretion for their decision to letting an employee go, the fact it was done under false pretenses put the entirety of G/O Media’s working force on edge, prompting many of them to don their “GMG Union” swag to show solidarity, and express discontent at executives’ impossible-to-contain lust after short-term financial gain.

It wasn’t long until Petchesky’s colleagues retaliated–and boy did they retaliate hard. Deadspin staff invoked the nuclear option and quit the company en masse in a show of solidarity for their wrongfully-terminated colleague. This wasn’t the first sign of upheave at Deadspin, as Megan Greenwell left the outlet back in August over disputes of similar veneer regarding the distribution share of non-sports items versus the site’s supposed area of focus. “The tragedy of digital media isn’t that it’s run by ruthless, profiteering guys in ill-fitting suits; it’s that the people posing as the experts know less about how to make money than their employees, to whom they won’t listen,” Greenwell wrote in a farewell post to the site.

The story of media since moving to digital has been that of ever-pouring streams of grief. As of mid-September 2019, Business Insider reports there have been a whopping 7,200 layoffs in the media space this year alone, far surpassing the 2014–2017 period with a more modest — but nonetheless hair-raising — 5,000 layoffs. This if anything, signals that the transition to digital media has met a bit of a stand-still–between the craze after video when Facebook misreported video analytics, and the over-reliance of websites on a steady stream of promotional content more readers are finding ways to circumvent, it’s more than ever harder to justify a career in journalism, given it could all be over in a fit of poor executive judgment.

This comes at a time where alternative sources have caught whim with an audience that is far more accepting of falsehoods than ever before. Outlets like the Daily Caller, the Post Millennial, or even state-sponsored fixtures like Russia Today have been bombarding the media space with stories that mess with the perception of the common reader, accustoming them to a further degradation of their critical thinking faculties. In an environment where readers are increasingly compelled to read what only qualifies as journalism in the epistemic sense, the need for outlets who commit to the work of tacit fact-seeking is now at its uttermost crucial. To have that undermined by corporate greed is a statement to how destructive a force capitalism can be even to agents seeking its sustainability–media companies can often bite on more than they can chew, leading those enslaved to their whims to despair at the sight of any immediate reform.

As a freelancer, it’s quite sobering to see those whose lives are completely held up by engagement metrics, pass by every moment on constant edge. Media is no gig for the faint of heart, and it’s at moments like these that it serves to remind that stability, first and foremost, will be the media’s savior from the unforgiving winds of change. Seeing that extensive writing credentials like Barry Petchesky’s couldn’t keep him from losing his job is a painful reminder to media that stability in this industry is the exception, not the norm, and if it were to turn it into a norm, its partisans have to fight tooth-and-nail to keep even those least-vulnerable from biting the dust under the crushing weight of untamed capitalism. As Deadspin staff saw to no timely end of their unsavory exploitation, they decided the best way to proceed was to forever surrender their labor hostage–a courageous enactment of moral justice, but a costly one nonetheless.

If it is easy to put the blame on faulty ad policy, or the actions of a few errant executives, the core of modern media’s faults lie at a fundamental conflict of interest between what every party involved in the publication of a story wants. Readers would rather take the ad-free experience if they could, writers would ideally limit their output of snackables and focus instead on real substance, and management could try to limit executive overreach and instead let the writers do the actual writing–but what we have instead is discord on what means achieve better ends, compounded with seeming disinterest from lawmakers to make sure the holy duty of informing the ignorant isn’t bound by the pursuit of profit. In the absence of the latter, it’s unlikely that media will ever recover from its shrinking numbers, and this if anything, is a lesson in how media is often perceived as a product whose quality is only second to its marketability, not serving firstmost of public interest like it should.

Updated with mention of Deadspin staff’s mass departure.