Kotaku, Deadspin, GMG Union vs. G/O Media, Explained

If you've caught wind of "Kotaku is closing down!" and similar social media cries, here's what's going on with G/O Media and their sister sites.

If you’re a regular reader of other outlets such as Kotaku, The Onion, Deadspin, and other websites that are under the media company G/O Media, you may have noticed some controversy taking place. So what’s actually going on with these websites and G/O Media?

Earlier this year, Great Hill Partners agreed to acquire Gizmodo Media Group with James Spanfeller becoming the chief executive of G/O Media, a new company created to house the websites that are part of the Gizmodo Media Group. Spanfeller, in interviews as stated by Digiday, said that he “planned to boost their revenues by leaning more on commerce and expanding programmatic advertising, as well as expanding into consumer revenue through a subscriber-exclusive content strategy.” He planned to make this happen by relying on “deep, comprehensive understanding of the digital advertising ecosystem”.

On October 28, all of the websites that are part of G/O Media published a blog post, “A Note to Our Readers,” which called attention to the websites introducing intrusive auto-play sound-on video adverts. The blog post stated that the websites had received a great deal of feedback about the adverts and that the staff is also unimpressed with the “current state of our site’s user experience”.

The blog post also states that the staff had voiced their concerns to G/O Media, but felt that it would be good to have readers hear from them as well, inviting them to email the G/O Media’ CEO, and editorial director. The emails sent from readers would also be sent to the editors-in-chief of Deadspin, Kotaku, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Lifehacker, and The Root. They also urged any emails to be respectful.

However, on October 29, all of these posts were taken down with staff from those sites claiming they had not taken the posts down. Gizmodo Media Group Union (GMG Union) confirmed that the posts were taken down by management and that they condemn the action taken. They then reposted the statement on Twitter through a screenshot as well as the email to allow readers to continue sending their comments surrounding the user experience being ruined by these adverts.

The removal of the posts could be a violation of the GMG Union’s union contract which aims to protect editorial independence which can be found in section VIII. Editorial Independence which reads,

“Decisions about editorial content (e.g., whether to post a story or the story’s contents. headline or placement) may only be made by editorial, including the Executive Editor. Once a story has been posted it can only be removed by a majority vote of the Executive Editor, the CEO, and the General Counsel, unless required by law,”

According to VICE, a source at the G/O Media company has stated they had received more than 1,300 emails from readers which prompted the company to turn off the email address. However, former staff had started to join in the social media conversation and started offering Jim Spanfeller, the CEO’s direct work email address.

VICE also updated their story with a statement from G/O Media claiming a vote had been made to remove the posts across all websites:

“A spokesperson for G/O Media told Motherboard after this blog was originally published that a vote had been taken, and that the vote was 3-0 in favor of removing the posts.”

On October 28, The Daily Beast reported that G/O Media editorial director Paul Maidment had issued a memo to the staff at Deadspin to stick to writing about sports rather than talking about non-sport related topics. Maidment said, “We have plenty of other sites that write about politics, pop culture, the arts, and the rest, and they’re the appropriate place for such work.”

However, on October 29, Deadspin published non-sports related stories titled “Three Good Dogs I Met” and “Check Out the Wheels on This Pumpkin Thief.” Deadspin deputy editor Barry Petchesky then later tweeted that he had been fired from Deadspin for not sticking to sports. The GMG Union then tweeted, “This will not stand. We will have updates soon.”

Yesterday, GMG Union also addressed changes to the front page of Deadspin had been made, removing all content that wasn’t related to sports. They state that these changes have not been made by the Deadspin staff.

As for Kotaku, news editor Jason Schreier has expressed that he doesn’t know what will happen next. He also says that Kotaku is still alive and fighting. Additionally, Kotaku’s editor-in-chief, Stephen Totilo says that he’s “steered Kotaku through some rough waters before thanks to my amazing team. Can I do it again?”

If the dislike towards auto-playing sound-on video adverts confuses you, Paula Harper, a historical musicologist at Columbia University wrote her PhD dissertation claiming that they’re bad internet practice. Additionally, they’re bad for web accessibility as stated by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which was created by the World Wide Web Consortium.

There’s a lot still happening, but it seems clear that the tensions surrounding the direction of advertising taking place across G/O Media websites have now escalated to how the media company is handling editorial. Worries of potential firings have also started to circulate. Hopefully, everything can get resolved in a timely manner, although I’m sure there’s more to come.

Ben Bayliss

Based in the UK and adores venturing through FPS horrors and taking photos in pretty much anything with a functioning photo mode. Also likes car games.

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