Was ownership wrong to tell Deadspin to "stick to sports?"
Is it really an absurd request to ask sports writers to stick to sports?
This isn't going to be just 60 seconds, so bear with me. On the face of it, no, absolutely not. We're talking about Deadspin, a sports blog which lost all of its staff, who resigned after ownership gave them a mandate to, quote-unquote, "stick to sports," and fired an editor who would not stick to that mandate. Everyone else resigned. On the face of it, not stupid. Ownership says, "hey, we're a sports site, that's why people come to us. That's how we get most of our traffic and our advertising revenue and why bother doing anything else?"
But actually, first, the numbers don't support that. The Los Angeles Times did an analysis of the traffic numbers at Deadspin. They can get a broader audience and as big or bigger numbers from the very, very few non sport-related stories that they do. But beyond that, it's a question about, "Does ownership get to decide what editorial does?" Owning a media company is not like owning any other kind of business. The owners do not decide what the writers or the editors do in their work. That might sound weird to you, but that is the standard for American media. It hasn't always been the case. In fact, it's a bit of a blip in history, if you think back on the days of a Pulitzer and Hearst, they definitely decided what went into their newspapers. It may change again. In fact, the way I see it, it is currently changing, but that is currently the standards that American journalists expect to work under. And when they don't get that level of independence, they are likely to resign, which is not an easy decision to make. It is not a good job market for writers and editors right now. So they've done that. Now, the problem that you have in media — print originally and increasingly digital as well — is that as they struggle economically, they get sold off. And they get sold off to private equity and further and further away from people who know media, or even like media and the people who work in it. So, that's why you're seeing increasing conflict between journalists and the people who employ them.
Now, you can say that ownership was right and they get to do whatever they want to do with their business. You can say that journalists were right and they get to write independently. But you know what? In any business, adopting a strategy that you know is going to anger your staff and cause you to lose all your talent, your irreplaceable talent… Because the Deadspin brand is the people who write for it. It's not like Sports Illustrated — and go watch that episode because that's a whole other story — it is not like Sports Illustrated, you don't have a brand that you can stick on a mug and sell for $9.99 at Yankee Stadium. You don't have a back archive of great sports photography or soft porn swimsuit issues. You have writing. And so when you lose all your writers, you essentially own a dead business. So congratulations. You were right. You own a dead business. Not a good strategy. So, it is absurd. And that will be my final word, in three minutes.