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Aug. 26, 2019, 12:24 p.m.
Business Models

Times are turbulent across digital media: advertising revenue still sucked up by the tech giants, investors nervous about putting in more cash ahead of a potential recession, layoffs and pivots, and people trying to hop on the digital media money train (if it exists) without having an actual plan for quality journalism.

That’s the scene that Megan Greenwell is leaving as editor-in-chief at Deadspin of G/O Media, formerly Gizmodo Media Group, formerly formerly Gawker Media. She’s joining Wired as an editor after being “gaslit” by the new private equity leaders of G/O Media. And she left them quite the exit interview that should be read in full, but here’s a snippet:

The journalists at Deadspin and its sister sites, like most journalists I know, are eager to do work that makes money; we are even willing to compromise for it, knowing that our jobs and futures rest on it. An ever-growing number of media owners, meanwhile, are so exceedingly unwilling to reckon with the particulars of their own business that they refuse to accept our eagerness to help them make money. They’re speaking a language no one else does, proud of their own inability not just to not fail, but to not understand the terms on which they’re failing. The tragedy of digital media isn’t that it’s run by ruthless, profiteering guys in ill-fitting suits; it’s that the people posing as the experts know less about how to make money than their employees, to whom they won’t listen…

A metastasizing swath of media is controlled by private-equity vultures and capricious billionaires and other people who genuinely believe that they are rich because they are smart and that they are smart because they are rich, and that anyone less rich is by definition less smart. They know what they know, and they don’t need to know anything else…

The numbers apparently do not matter to my ostensibly numbers-obsessed bosses, for reasons I can’t quite understand. When I have told them that the data show that non-sports content brings more traffic and more revenue opportunities, I have been ignored. When I have told them that the data show that readers prefer publications with a distinctive point of view, that Deadspin succeeds precisely because it doesn’t try to be all things to all people, I have been told that being all things to all people is in fact exactly the way to grow pageviews. The reason my colleagues are not going to suddenly start sticking to sports is not about editorial purity, it’s about the opportunity to grow the audience and make more money for Great Hill Partners. But the adults in the room know that we’re wrong, despite all evidence, because they just know.

Greenwell and G/O CEO Jim Spanfeller, have their personal differences, the piece unsurprisingly reveals, but Greenwell also has the backing of the staff (see their departing roasts to her). She had led the editorial push to investigate the site’s new owners that culminated in a “This is how things work now at G/O Media” article with significant resistance from said owners. And the traffic on her last piece might blow the sports content traffic off the charts.

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