G/O Media Says GMG Union Is ‘Harassing Candidates’ as It Tries to Rebuild Deadspin

The site will be moved to Chicago, paired with The Onion

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Moving Deadspin to Chicago will put the editorial team under a different union umbrella than its New York staff. G/O Media

Nine months after acquiring the assets of Gizmodo Media Group, and a little more than three months since Deadspin writers and editors walked off en masse after the company pushed an editorial edict of “sticking to sports,” parent company G/O Media sent a letter to the GMG Union notifying them that it will be moving what’s left of Deadspin to Chicago.

G/O plans to pair a rebuilt Deadspin with another of its properties, The Onion, which was also once based in New York but returned to Chicago in 2012. By moving Deadspin under The Onion’s umbrella, and divesting from the G/O Media properties in New York City, the rebuilt and restaffed site will be under the Onion Inc Union, which has a different collective bargaining agreement. 

G/O believes it will “be able to more quickly rebuild our staff, relaunch the site and help ensure its long-term success.”

According to Comscore, Deadspin saw its 19.1 million uniques in October drop down to 2.2 million in November, the most recent data available.

"Over the past many months, talent continues to leave our company in droves.”
GMG Union Statement

The Writers Guild of America, East, which represents the GMG Union, said in a statement: “The guild has been working for months with the new leadership at G/O Media to find a path forward to ensure the continued success of the company and the wellbeing of our members. Today, without warning, G/O Media walked away from discussions around editorial integrity and then implemented a drastic restructuring of the unit.

“While the guild remains committed to finding a way to restore workers’ trust in the company, today’s actions undermine all our efforts to find a workable solution. The guild is meeting with our members today to discuss next steps.”

The move, a source tells Adweek, will have no effect on the sales team, as they sell the full portfolio of owned and operated G/O properties. 

The letter to the union came from G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller. In it, he also outlined his frustrations with GMG Union over its revisions to the three-year collective bargaining agreement the two parties entered last year. 

The further revisions you seek are designed not to protect the integrity of reporting, but to place virtually full operational control of the brands in the hands of the bargaining unit,” Spanfeller wrote. “For example, your request to give the staff veto power over who might be hired as their boss goes far outside the norms of the media industry. Your unreasonable and unprecedented demands are not in the best interests of the company and would inhibit our ability to successfully operate our websites for the benefit of our readers, employees and advertisers—it is absolutely critical for media companies to have the ability to ensure that sites are appealing not only to visitors but also business partners, and prevent any irreversible damage to the company and to the ongoing employment of our staff.”

"It is absolutely critical for media companies to have the ability to ensure that sites are appealing not only to visitors but also business partners."
G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller

GMG Union thinks otherwise, saying in its own statement today, “The GMG union sought to negotiate with management in good faith for more stringent protections of editorial independence to prevent further damage to this company, and to allow us all to do our jobs in peace, and to the high standards to which we hold ourselves. Management communicated today that they intend to pull out of these negotiations. We are disappointed that upper management refuses to recognize the effects of their actions.”

Spanfeller’s time as CEO of the former Gawker Media empire has been rocky, to say the least. After purchasing the properties in April 2019, Spanfeller told Variety there wouldn’t be any layoffs. That turned out not to be true. In October, G/O Media shuttered its politics site Splinter, laying off the entire six-person editorial staff. This sparked solidarity from Deadspin, which saw its editorial staff resign at the end of October.

Spanfeller noted in the letter to the union that the company’s “offer to prior Deadspin employees to return to their former positions (working in our New York offices) remains open at this time.”

In a statement, GMG Union said, “No one in this bargaining unit is surprised that, once again, Jim Spanfeller has demonstrated a jaw-dropping lack of understanding of the business he acquired. His reckless, ill-informed behavior has had repercussions beyond the mass resignations at Deadspin. Over the past many months, talent continues to leave our company in droves.”

In a statement accompanying the letter, G/O Media sharpened its knives: “It is unfortunate that the union’s actions have essentially drawn a picket line around Deadspin and created an environment that is directly and adversely impacting our employees and business—preventing us from hiring talent by harassing candidates and influencing our current editorial management to refuse to partake in the recruitment process.”

It’s been a busy time for digital media shops, as newsrooms from Hearst and NBC News Digital to BuzzFeed and Vox have banded together to unionize.

“[Unionizing] shows the stability and instability of the industry,” Lowell Peterson, executive director of the WGAE, told Adweek in November. “It’s stable enough that people say, ‘This is what I want to do,’ and unstable enough for people to say, ‘I need some protection to do it.’”

@joshsternberg Josh Sternberg is the former media and tech editor at Adweek.