Things at G/O Media have taken another twist. G/O Media (the parent company formed to oversee the former Gawker Media sites, The Onion and its affiliated sites, The Root and more when Great Hill Partners bought them from Univision) announced Wednesday that they’ve named Jim Rich as editorial director, a position that had been vacant since Paul Maidment resigned in November. Interestingly enough, Maidment’s resignation came only days after Deadspin’s entire staff resigned in protest over the firing of deputy editor Barry Petchesky for not sticking to sports (and Maidment played a large role there, from his claims of an “incredibly broad mandate” for a site that wasn’t allowed to touch on any of the things it had historically covered, to his August 2019 remarks that the site would be “laser focused” on sports in the wake of editor-in-chief Megan Greenwell’s resignation, to his much-panned solo blogging in the wake of the Deadspin staff’s mass resignation). And Rich is the man who came in to try to relaunch Deadspin with new writers (while insisting that he wasn’t a scab). So there’s a strong Deadspin connection to this move; here are some further details on it, via J. Clara Chan of The Wrap:
Now, as G/O Media’s editorial director, Rich will be responsible for overseeing the company’s news desks for its 11 brands, which include Deadspin, The A.V. Club, Jezebel, The Onion, Jalopnik, Kotaku, Lifehacker, The Root, The Takeout and The Inventory. In doing so, Rich will be responsible for “investigative journalism practices, content creation and original reporting, including video,” the company’s announcement said.
“Jim’s career as a journalist is incredibly impressive and prepares him well to take on the duties of this very key position within G/O Media,” Jim Spanfeller, CEO of G/O Media, said in a statement. “I am thrilled that he has accepted the position of Editorial Director, not only because of his newsroom background but also because of his dedication to journalistic authenticity and steadfastness. G/O Media is proud to announce Mr. Rich’s new position as an affirmation to our business’s commitment to exceptional journalism and the continued success of our unique media properties.”
Almost six months is a rather long time for an editorial director role to sit vacant, especially one that covers so many sites, but Maxwell Tani of The Daily Beast tweeted that Spanfeller’s internal e-mail about this noted that the editors-in-chief of G/O Media sites at the time of Maidment’s resignation weren’t interested in this role:
Here's a particularly wild graf in the announcement email pic.twitter.com/gVIN9latyc
— Max Tani (@maxwelltani) April 22, 2020
What does Rich’s elevation to this new role mean for the new “Deadspin”? Well, Eric Barrow has been named as the head of “Deadspin” following Rich’s promotion, as per Tani:
According to the same email, Eric Barrow is the new EIC of Deadspin
— Max Tani (@maxwelltani) April 22, 2020
Barrow is notable as the former sports editor of the New York Daily News; he was laid off from that role in January 2019. At that time, Barrow wrote in an internal e-mail that “my position is being eliminated”: that was true in a technical sense, as the NYDN did not hire a replacement “sports editor,” but they did instead hire Kyle Wagner (a former Deadspin writer) as “director of digital audience development for sports.” It’s also perhaps significant that Barrow worked with Rich at the NYDN; Rich was the NYDN’s editor-in-chief from October 2015-July 2018, while Barrow worked there in various roles from 2003-2019, including as sports editor from January 2016 on.
While Rich has a significant journalism background of his own, including sharing a Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism for a year-long NYDN investigation he oversaw during his time as editor in chief, promoting him to oversee all of G/O Media’s editorial content certainly isn’t uncontroversial. Yes, Rich only joined the company in January, and that was after all of last fall’s developments at Deadspin, so he isn’t personally to blame for those. But he is responsible for signing on to oversee a “relaunch” of a site that only was staffless thanks to a protest of a management decision to fire an editor who was doing his job in keeping with both the traditions of the site and what actually brought it traffic. (Which itself came after pushing out another editor who was sticking up for her writers.) That’s quite the reanimation.
And that Deadspin relaunch came with a shift of the new site’s headquarters from New York to Chicago to get it under the union umbrella of The Onion, and away from the union umbrella of the former Gawker writers. Rich wasn’t there for the firings or the city/union shift, but he signed on to try and sell a pale imitation of Deadspin that only shares the site’s URL rather than its writers, its sensibilities, or its history. And seeing that guy promoted to editorial director of the entire company has to be worrying for the remaining former Gawker writers who still work for G/O Media.