It sometimes seems like the only time you read about G/O Media is when they’re laying off staff or losing editors.
Private equity firm Great Hill Partners bought the former Gawker Media sites (which include Deadspin, Gizmodo, The Onion, Jalopnik, and Jezebel) in early April 2019 and created G/O Media as the company to run them. New CEO Jim Spanfeller said soon after that they did not plan on laying off any employees. They laid off 25 employees a week later.
The infamous mass exodus of Deadspin staffers over “stick to sports” mandates took place that October. In January, the GMG Union announced a vote of no confidence in Spanfeller and demanded that ownership replace him, which they didn’t. In April 2020, they laid off 14 more staffers.
In November 2021, Gawker reported that around 75% of the Jezebel staff had resigned over that year due to a “hostile work environment.” That was soon followed by a similar report on The Root, where 15 of the 16 full-time staffers had left since that April.
In January 2022, seven editorial staffers left Chicago-based A.V. Club after refusing a mandatory relocation to Los Angeles that was not accompanied by a salary increase to account for the cost of living change.
The GMG Union, which represents staffers at G/O Media publications, went on strike in March 2022 after their contract expired. A few days later, they announced a new agreement with the company, in which “G/O Media agreed to raise salary minimums, severance, and parental leave; maintain our healthcare while requiring it to be trans-inclusive; and ensure annual increases for our Unit members.”
It appeared as though it might be a fresh start for the company and its workers. However, we were reminded of G/O’s existence last Wednesday when The Onion Union shared that the company had laid off 13 employees.
Our statement on today's layoffs: pic.twitter.com/Ha82Xxh9Vl
— Onion Inc Union (@OnionIncUnion) June 14, 2023
“Management made no effort to work with the union to find a less cruel alternative arrangement before springing these layoffs on employees with just a few hours and in some cases minutes of notice,” read the statement.
Those layoffs reportedly included four international editorial staff members specific to Quartz and the company is planning to hire U.S.-based Quartz staff this year.
Criticism over the decision was widely directed at Spanfeller.
— GMG Union (@gmgunion) June 14, 2023
i can think of at lest one c-suite exec who is absolutely useless and whose salary could be used to keep the people who actually perform the labor that keeps the sites afloat. solidarity with everyone who was laid off. this sucks. https://t.co/XDVEy7r3aF
— Claire Lower (@clairelizzie) June 14, 2023
Soon after, interim Deadspin editor-in-chief Julie DiCaro shared on Bluesky that she had stepped down from that role (but remained with the company), adding that “editorial decisions should not be made based on traffic goals and pageviews.”
DiCaro marks the third Deadspin EIC to step away from the role in the past four years. Jim Rich came in to try to relaunch Deadspin in 2020 after the mass exodus of the previous staff. However, he quickly shifted roles to G/O editorial director, paving the way for Eric Barrow to take over in June 2020. Rich left G/O in 2021, reportedly over conflict with Great Hill Partners. Barrow lasted in the role until December 2022 when he left the company abruptly. DiCaro, a senior writer and editor with Deadspin, took over at interim EIC this past January, presumably while the company searched for a full-time replacement. However, DiCaro was still in that interim role in June 2023 before stepping back into her original role.
There was one major editorial hiring at G/O, however. Merrill Brown was tapped as the new executive director, filling the role that had been vacant since Rich left in 2021. Per the announcement, he would report directly to Spanfeller and oversee editorial output at all G/O properties.
The company seemed intent on filling that Deadspin EIC role full-time in January when they initially posted the Deadspin Editor-in-Chief position on job sites. Not only that, but they also listed EIC role openings at The Root, Gizmodo, and Quartz (Ed. Note – The Jalopnik role was reportedly offered to the former EIC). While they appear to have filled that role at Gizmodo and Jalopnik, most of those listings have been reposted since as it seems as though they have yet to find their candidate of choice. As far as Awful Announcing has been able to tell, DiCaro was not replaced by a full-time hire as of yet.
In reaching out to multiple current and former employees and writers at G/O Media, we found most people reluctant to discuss the situation. Many of them referred us to the union, which has not responded. However, in speaking with one high-level G/O editorial staffer, we did learn that there’s a feeling it’s hard to do good work when you’ve “got two 70-year-old white men telling us what people want to read.”
That appears to be reflected in G/O’s traffic numbers. Deadspin, for example, used to hover in the 14-17 million monthly unique visitor range back in 2019, per ComScore. By February 2020, that was down to around 717,000 visitors when the site was no longer publishing content because of the staff exodus. In 2021, Deadspin’s first calendar year with a new staff in place, traffic climbed back to a monthly average audience of 3.16 million readers per Comscore. However that positive trajectory stalled out (at least according to Comscore) as 2022 showed the site’s number regress back to 2.4 million readers and thus far in 2023 is averaging a little under 2.3 million monthly readers in 2023.
Adding to the frustrations of staffers has been the addition of wire service content to the site’s offerings that begs the question how much traffic is even coming courtesy of the staff. Deadspin has been supplementing its employee coverage with articles from Field Level Media, which provides syndicated sports content to its clients. According to one person we spoke with, the generic posts are “drowning the RSS feed and causing people to stop reading the site.”
According to a G/O Media source, Field Level Media content was meant to supplement Deadspin editorial staff content, not replace it.
A recent check of Deadspin even showed Field Level Media content competing directly with Deadspin staff content on the site. The article on the left is from the syndicated service while the article on the right is from a managing editor.
That strategy might work well for management but appears to be at odds with the expectations the union had when they settled their strike in 2022. Per one editorial source, G/O’s executives want their sites to meet rigorous traffic goals in line with much larger sports websites while also cutting staff and burying their work under syndicated content and slideshows. Some of the audience loss, staffers believe, is due to those demands on slideshow production and an increasing ad load.
“We know what our readers want to read, and we’re being prohibited from doing that by all these demands,” said the editorial staffer. “The constant push for more production is making it impossible for people to do any kind of investigative work. They literally track stories per head.”
Given all of the grief that G/O Media has received, especially from those who ran those prior to the Great Hill Partners sale, you have to wonder what’s in it for the editors and writers who still depend on this management to take care of them and put them in a position to succeed.
“We all need our jobs,” said the G/O Media staffer. “None of us are in a position to quit just for principle’s sake.”
Given the state of online sports media, that’s a depressing fact of life a lot of writers in the industry can empathize with.
Do you currently work for or have you previously worked for G/O Media and have more to share? Awful Announcing would love to hear from you. Drop us an email.