Deadspin’s editor in chief has left the company, saying the new leadership of parent company G/O Media have made it “impossible” for her to continue working there.
“I have been repeatedly undermined, lied to, and gaslit in my job,” Megan Greenwell said in a brief phone call with The Daily Beast on Friday.
G/O Media was formed earlier this year when Gizmodo Media Group, the former Gawker Media company that included sites including Deadspin, Gizmodo, and Jezebel, among others, was purchased from Univision by private equity firm Great Hill. As The Daily Beast previously reported, G/O’s new leadership have occasionally clashed with some of the company’s famously independent and outspoken editorial staff.
Greenwell said Friday that she feels “heartbroken” about leaving and that, while she does not want to be seen as a victim, recent decisions by company brass left her with few options.
Among the many grievances, Greenwell said, G/O leadership refused to guarantee editorial independence for Deadspin and asked for the site to “stick to sports”—a long-running source of frustration for a staff that also covers media, politics, and culture beyond sports.
“That's not something I feel I can ethically do,” the departing editor said.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, G/O Media editorial director Paul Maidment said, “We are laser focused on serving Deadspin readers sports and everything related to sports. Our former editor had a different vision and we wish her well in her future endeavors.”
Also contributing to Greenwell’s exit was an email CEO Jim Spanfeller sent in July to the entire staff criticizing a then-impending story, published earlier this month by Deadspin, highlighting how new leadership has operated since taking charge.
In the email, Spanfeller said he was “greatly concerned about the objectivity and core intentions of this piece,” and questioned the editorial standards of Deadspin’s editors. The CEO alleged that the piece was pre-written with its conclusions and that any responses he may have would be “mere window dressing.” While he did not specifically name any individuals, Spanfeller singled out both the Deadspin reporter and editor-in-chief.
“I’m making the gamble that Deadspin will be better off once the team leader is someone the leader of the company wouldn’t feel the need to smear in front of 400 people,” Greenwell said.
After Spanfeller’s email, Greenwell said she asked Maidment, in his capacity as the company’s new editorial director, to send a staff-wide email affirming his support for the newsroom but he never did.
Greenwell said that, following the report’s publication, she was repeatedly asked to “commit to G/O and its management.” When she inquired as to what that entailed, Greenwell said, she was never given a direct answer, nor would the company guarantee she and her team would not be punished for its reporting on company brass.
“I tried over the course of a week to get somebody to say there will be no retribution from this, your team will continue to have the independence that it has done so well with,” she said. “When I was unable to over a period of many days, I decided that that was putting the team at too big of a risk to not leave.”
Greenwell also took issue with a widely mocked reader survey that Spanfeller ordered up despite objections from the editor. The survey, posted on Deadspin last month, asked readers what they liked and disliked about the site and its writers. Staffers said the slightly leading questions mirrored the negative sentiments company leaders already felt about Deadspin.
“The whole thing around the survey was deeply fucked and seemed pretty clearly designed to instruct me and my team about what we could and could not write about,” she said. “None of us obviously had any intention of using the results that way, but the fact that the survey was slapped on my site over my and other people's objections was something pretty special.”
Greenwell’s departure comes as the network of former Gawker websites undergo cultural changes at the behest of G/O leadership. On Thursday, for example, the company released a draft of a new staff handbook with stricter new rules, alarming some staff members. It’s unclear whether the handbook contradicts the company’s existing editorial union contract.
The G/O handbook declares that the company can search employees’ “personal vehicles, parcels, purses, handbags, backpacks, briefcases, lunch boxes,” review all electronic communications made on company property, and disclose those messages to others if the company deems it appropriate. The new rules also strangely allow the company to access reporters’ “tweets” and bars employees from using encrypted email programs—a common tool journalists often use to protect highly confidential sources.
Perhaps most bizarrely, the handbook also establishes an attendance policy and a dress code. Employees must arrive between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., according to the handbook, and are required to wear “smart casual” attire. “Offensive” logos or “sweatpants, exercise pants, Bermuda shorts, short shorts, biker shorts, Mini-skirts, beach dresses, midriff tops, and halter tops” are all banned.
“New York G/O Media employees were emailed a draft of an employee handbook last night,” the GMG Union said in a statement. “Many of the policies in that handbook contradict our union contract and do not apply for that reason. Other policies suggested in the handbook—such as the false idea that we would stop using secure messaging services—are incompatible with our work. These policies are not in force and should not be taken as the policies of our sites.”
In the months since taking over, G/O Media has also not been afraid to drastically change how the former Gawker websites look and feel. The company has clogged the mobile versions of its sites with display ads, suggested brand-new website taglines, and on several occasions seemed to suggest shaping coverage in a way that benefits potential ad buyers (site leaders said they dismissed such requests, and G/O bosses have not interfered in coverage about other companies).
But despite the internal turmoil and Greenwell’s exit, the company has recently garnered positive attention: Deadspin was nominated for its first national magazine award earlier this year and, according to Comscore data, it reached 17 million unique visitors in June—a record for the site.
This story has been updated to include the GMG Union’s statement.