This is How Things Work Now at G/O Media
August 2, 2019 9:23 AM   Subscribe

"When Jim Spanfeller and a private equity firm called Great Hill Partners took over G/O Media—formerly Gizmodo Media Group—in April, their stated goal was to make the company profitable. It was a welcome refrain for employees all too aware of how the company had languished under Univision’s doomed ownership. But as Spanfeller began to implement his vision, that hope was replaced by employee frustration and skepticism over his hiring practices and interference with the company’s journalism." Deadspin's Laura Wagner writes a blistering report ofnDeadspin's parent company leadership.
posted by Ragged Richard (20 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Ragged Richard you sly devil, I was just coming over to post this.

For reference: Previous on the blue, Univision's management of GMG was "merely" incompetent -- they had no real understanding of what they had bought or how to maintain it. Now it seems they've moved on to actual bad faith and maliciousness.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 9:28 AM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Glad it made it here. Thanks
posted by aleph at 9:30 AM on August 2, 2019

I wish the actual staff of all the sites would all walk (and I'm sure the GMG/GO Union would back it) and just stake a claim elsewhere. Gawker, in all its incarnations, has had the best writing staff out there. They were just owned in order by a part-to-most time asshole who let the actual writing bloom, an incompetent media overlord who let it languish, and now this sack of wet ass who seems to be bent on turning it into a robofactory of content.
posted by deezil at 9:33 AM on August 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

The Pluto Gangsta Thanks for the previously - I kinda rushed over here because it's my first post.

There's a ton to think about here, but as a developer I can most speak to this part:

One major conflict arose over whether the company should build a video player in-house or pay for a third-party platform. In April, the tech team was told to move the company’s video operations off of MCP, which Univision paid for to host video content, and onto JW Player, a cheaper video system. Though neither Spanfeller nor Knight provided the team a hard deadline, they made clear that they wanted the task, which should have taken months, completed in a matter of weeks. The tech team managed to execute the move in about a month, but before they had finished, Spanfeller changed course and decided that the developers should build an entirely new video platform and player from scratch... Spanfeller’s expectation that the process would be done “in the next week or so” shocked the tech team.

The expectation that a video player that's going to be used across multiple highly trafficked sites can be built in a week is just utter lunacy. Stuff like this is how my last job lost its entire dev team within the space of about a month, but at least that place had the excuse of being a bad startup, not a major media company.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:40 AM on August 2, 2019 [20 favorites]

I agree with her point about the old boys club, but I did have to laugh a little bit at the charming naivete of this sentence:

What Spanfeller says is “normal” is, of course, a reflection of his own values, which evidently rank transparency, diversity, and inclusion as secondary concerns to financial success.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:00 AM on August 2, 2019

After Forbes, Jim Spanfeller founded Spanfeller Media Group (wiki)
Although reviews of Spanfeller Media Group are no longer available on Glassdoor, reviews of Daily Meal on Glassdoor reference a number of concerns about Spanfeller's "abusive" leadership, low wages and poor working conditions in the office.[5] Specifically, cleanliness appears to be a recurring issue: "The fact that cleanliness is something that varies on a day to day basis is concerning. We don’t live in a third world country, this isn’t a hospital or a homeless shelter so people shouldn’t be pooping on the floor (I wish I was kidding). We should be able to have access to drinking water and toilet paper. TDM doesn’t pay for a consistent cleaning service, so trash cans with food are constantly overflowing which means we have a constant mouse problem."[6]
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:15 AM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

So this guy bought basically the Gawker staff, treated them like crap, and expected them *not* to write about it? Really?
posted by kevinbelt at 11:25 AM on August 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

In one instance in which Spanfeller tried to promote a woman within the company, his offer came with strings attached. According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, in April Spanfeller offered the job of head of talent to Katie Pontius, who until recently was the chief of staff for The Onion, Inc. The job, however, came with a condition, they said: Pontius’s first order of business would be to fire newsroom editorial director Susie Banikarim. Multiple sources say Pontius declined to go along with the plan, angering Spanfeller.

Spanfeller described the situation differently. “I hired Katie who accepted the job,” he wrote. “The next day she refused to join me in communicating our plans to Susie. I found this troubling but was okay with it given the circumstances. Katie then refused to assume the HR lead role around other wider layoffs at the company.

So basically he offered her a job specifically to make her take responsibility for a bunch of layoffs that he already wanted to do, to which she wisely said no. He then characterized it as her having accepted the job and then stepped down because she didn't want to do the layoffs, but there's no formal acceptance of the job documented anywhere.
posted by tocts at 11:25 AM on August 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Great article. This is going to be used in textbooks as an example of how institutional sexism and racism work. (The line from Spanfeller explaining that he can't possibly be sexist because he has daughters is fantastic.)
posted by booksarelame at 12:10 PM on August 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

I’ve been reading Deadspin and Gizmodo since (and maybe I’m wrong about this?) before they were part of the same network under the gawker umbrella, and, well, the last few years has felt like the sites were living on borrowed time. I treasure the whole network (though the Takeout is pretty useless), but I feel like it’s a matter of time until the free rein the writers have enjoyed is taken away, and at that point, I can’t imagine any of the writers I read the sites for staying. In the article it mentions that the new ownership group tried to spike the article already, which seems like a terrible sign. It would be nice if they’d been bought by someone who wasn’t an asshole, but maybe a prerequisite of having enough money to buy a media group is that you have to be one?

Something along the lines of “this is why we can’t have nice things”
posted by Ghidorah at 4:38 PM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

No matter how this turns out, big props to Laura Wagner for this amazing, brave story.

I'm very sad that the company is hemorrhaging talented writers, though. This was the perfect sign-off from Splinter's Libby Watson.
posted by zeusianfog at 4:40 PM on August 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm a long-time AV Club reader, and Univision took away everything that made that site great. Writers abandoned it en-masse, and it's now full of basically listicles. Sponsored content, articles from the other umbrella sites that have nothing to do with TV/Movies, auto-play videos etc They also changed the commenting system, and lot of long-time posters abandoned the site.

It was really sad, I hung out in the comments sections at AV Club for a long time. It felt like losing a friend.
posted by signsofrain at 4:49 PM on August 2, 2019 [14 favorites]

This is a mess. I'm just glad they have the union. Thank god for that. The writing staff would probably have been cut in half by now if not for the union. (I'm basing this half on gut feeling and half on Albert Burneko, national treasure, writing about how dissent is being tolerated solely because of the union.)
posted by Hactar at 6:14 AM on August 3, 2019

the story behind the scenes at the AV Club is actually pretty insane, it's a perfect example of what's going wrong with digital media today and hopefully a really good article (or book) is written about it some day.

Univision took control of the AV Club and the Onion in 2016. whoever was running the site before that (i'm honestly not sure who but the story i've heard is that the Onion's investors forced new management onto the company) had already laid off most of the original AV Club staff around 2012/2013 - people who had been at the site for more than a decade, almost everyone who had built up the reputation that site had. (as a sidenote, many of these writers went on to found The Dissolve with Pitchfork Media, which was shuttered shortly before Pitchfork sold themselves to Conde Nast, presumably to cut costs and make the company look more desirable.)

after this mass layoff, the Onion built up a new staff of younger, cheaper talent, all of whom fled the site as soon as their profile was high enough to go elsewhere (see: Emily VanDerWerff, who was promoted during the layoffs and then left the site 2 years before the Univision sale, and John Teti).

so in my humble opinion the AV Club was already a shell of itself by the time Univision got involved, but yes, the community behind the comments section persisted. Univision, in an effort to consolidate its properties, forced the Onion sites over to Kinja, which broke the AV Club's archives and basically killed off the AV Club community (pretty much everyone left there is a reactionary of some kind). then after burying the site six feet under, Univision sold it to this new guy to put up the headstone.

this is the story of digital media under (say it with me now!) late capitalism. three different entities owned the AV Club this decade, and each one of them systematically stripped it for parts until it became a shell of its former self, then passed it to the next guy for pennies on the dollar, all the name of PROFIT. when the people who made the AV Club great spun off their own site, the same fucking thing happened there, under, again, completely different ownership. it's very easy to get mad at this spanfeller guy but he's just another wolf in the pack.
posted by JimBennett at 7:35 PM on August 3, 2019 [10 favorites]

If you're interested, four of the the old AVClub/Dissolve film writers have a podcast called The Next Picture Show.
posted by octothorpe at 4:27 AM on August 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Columbia Journalism Review: The Mess at G/O Media
Last week, things escalated further. On Thursday, employees received a draft of a new staff handbook. Per Tani, it said that G/O Media has the right to search staffers’ “vehicles, parcels, purses, handbags, backpacks, briefcases, and lunch boxes,” and review and disclose all electronic communications sent on G/O property, including tweets. It also said employees will be barred from using encrypted email programs, and have to follow dress and attendance codes. On Friday, Greenwell announced her resignation from Deadspin. “I have been repeatedly undermined, lied to, and gaslit in my job,” she told Tani. The Wagner-story imbroglio was part of the reason; a bizarre reader survey stuck on the site over Greenwell’s objections and a management directive that Greenwell “stick to sports” were also at issue. Of the latter instruction, Greenwell told Tani, “That’s not something I feel I can ethically do.”
Deadspin's loss is Wired's gain, as Greenwell will be the new editor of
posted by tonycpsu at 7:57 AM on August 23, 2019

I'll be shocked if those sites are still up and creating new content two years from now. Hell, I don't really give them a year.
posted by octothorpe at 10:36 AM on August 23, 2019

Greenwell's final words on Deadspin are thunderous: The Adults in the Room
This man is not the adult in the room at the former Gawker Media, just as Kendall Roy was not the adult in the room at Vaulter and Alden Global Capital executives are not the adult in the room at any of the 100 newspapers they are destroying. Sending a copied-and-pasted company handbook, issuing vague edicts about becoming sites for “enthusiasts,” and making inexplicable changes for the sake of making changes are the professional equivalent of a small boy dressing up in his father’s suit: He is role-playing, deluding himself but no one else.

The editors and writers and video producers and artists and sales reps and product managers and so on—the people who made this a successful company while also making it the best place I can imagine working—are its actual leaders, and the reason that, despite it all, these websites will continue writing things the rest of us want to read. But none of those people are the richest person here, which means they will keep succeeding despite—not because of—the man who is. He doesn’t know what they know; he doesn’t have to know. No one like him does.
posted by Kybard at 1:27 PM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

That post could have been titled "Let's Dismember Some Private Equity Guys".

Wonder if they'll wait until she's escorted out before pulling the plug on The Concourse.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:40 PM on August 23, 2019

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