Pour One Out for Deadspin

So, over the past couple of days in protest of a mandate handed down by their new owners, a large swathe of staff resigned from Deadspin rather than comply with the dictum from their new owners to quote 'stick to sports.'  I have no idea what this means for the overall quality and future of the site, but it felt pretty final. It felt like a hammer blow to me- which is sort of a shame, because over the years, Deadspin has been one of the websites that I usually check on a fairly regular basis. Maybe it'll stagger on, a shade of it's former self, but I kind of doubt it.

While there was a certain amount of schaudenfreude** out there about Deadspin's implosion, there was also a lot of solidarity for their writers in my Twitter feed. The current media landscape is something I have no direct knowledge of but seems absolutely brutal these days. Facebook and their 'pivot to video' a couple of years back seems to have been utter bullshit- and there were rounds of layoffs as a result. Cable media is sinking and frantically throwing things overboard and racing for the clickiest of clickbait and trying to outpander one another just to stay afloat. Sports Illustrated was vivisected in the name of venture capitalism and now it seems that the bell hath rung for Deadspin.

And it's... well, it's just shitty to be quite honest. I'll be candid: a lot of the time, their brand of snark wasn't my cup of tea. It felt like they were pandering to an audience that agreed with them to begin with and if I wanted to find out why the Orange Man Is Bad today, I'd glance up at CNN's chyron and nine times out of ten it will inform me of today's reason why the Orange Man Is Bad. But sometimes, their snark could be devastatingly awesome***. Drew Magary's Yearly NFL Previews "Why Your Team Sucks" were always a must read for me. His holiday feature of 'The Hater's Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalogue' was another. There was 'What Did We Get Stuck In Our Rectums This Year' as well-- all brilliant, all must-reads and the latter two were most definitely not 'sticking to sports.'

But Deadspin was also brilliant at calling out bullshit in sports media (they got a baseball writer to essentially 'give' them his hall of fame ballot, which was awesome and a well-deserved poke in the eyeball of the sanctimonius nature of the Baseball Hall of Fame voting process.) They were consistent in calling out the NCAA's bullshit. They dug into stadium funding scams and didn't mince words about what they found there. Diana Moskovitz did amazing work for them (the links she lists here are all worth a read.) They were the website that broke the Manti Te'o story back in the day as well. There was a core here of brilliant and necessary content- especially when it came to sports, but not exclusively related to sports either. You need websites like this who are consistent and fearless in calling out the bullshit that they see in sports as well as provided actual coverage of sports as well.

I don't know enough about the business side of the media landscape to really dig into why their new owners purchased the site to begin with. I know enough, however, to tell you what it feels like: it feels like they were buying a brand purely for advertising revenue. Maybe there are aspects of that I'm not getting, but it exposes the fatal flaw that infects a lot of what passes for modern day capitalism: a slavish devotion and hunger for profits above all else.

Now, to a certain degree you can't escape that. If a business doesn't turn a profit, it will fail. Employees will lose their jobs. Shareholders won't get their cut. Nobody wins. But I think it's one of the negative aspects of globalization that we haven't previously considered. If you can maximize your profit and produced good products- or at least products that consumers will buy enough to keep your profits up- then you don't have to care about anything else. You don't have to look around at the community where your business is located. It's not quite unethical, because at the end of the day you're in business to make money and stay open, right? But the obssessive pursuit of maximum profits has left the workers behind in many cases. The profits don't 'trickle down' to them in any meaningful amount and to me, this particular flavor of vulture capitalism is what's causing the millennial fascination with things like socialism, because at least under socialism everyone's going to get screwed equally.

Markets don't work without consumers. Businesses don't work without people. If you sacrifice both in the obsessive pursuit of profit, you don't really believe in capitalism, you believe in profiteering.

I think part of the problem with the media landscape currently is that no one has any real idea about how its all going to work yet. It's a slowly sinking ship and there might be another lifeboat out there somewhere, but the race for clicks has undermined trust in journalism far more than anything else I can think of. Clicks demand narrative so you can steer people to the maximum number of clicks. Narrative sacrifices any pretense at objectivity* and fact. Consumers, therefore, get to decide what facts they want to buy into. They get to decide what narrative they prefer. All of which feeds into the toxic malestrom of narrative/worldview/fake news/conspiracy garbage that seems to be inescapable these days.

The sheer amount of information demands that we, as consumers, don't get our content from one source. My old journalism teacher would always tell us that the last reporter to get absolute truth from a source was Moses-- so responsible consumers of media today should read everything they have time for from all over the ideological spectrum. When a voice like Deadspin- which for all it's faults, was unique and at it's best, important is silenced in the name of profit, we all lose. And whatever the next model for media is, it's now a little further away than it needs to be.

**There were a lot of 'well, you quit rather than do your job' takes out there. This implies that the job of a Deadspin writer was to 'stick to sports' which anyone who had more of a passing familiarity with the site should know was always more than about sports. Personally, I favored the takes that pointed out that in this media landscape, quitting on principle given how brutal it is out there is something of an act of courage. Like them or hate them, when they saw the site they had worked at for so long taken in a direction they disagreed with, they quit. To me, that's ballsy. It also makes my long ago decision to not pursue journalism as an undergraduate seem positively prescient in hindsight-- though it's not like I made a better decision with two degree that I don't actually use under my belt.

*I'm reading Micahel Beschloss' book Presidents of War right now and one thing that struck me, especially during his chapters about Lincoln and the Civil War was that there was an aubdance of newspapers at the time, most of which had a distinct partisan affiliation. Maybe objectivity was a myth we told ourselves-- but those papers back then seem more or less like the British papers of today--which have faults of their own, but don't try and sell you on the righteous purity of their journalism. Anyone reading The Daily Mail knows exactly what they're getting. Same way anyone reading The Guardian should know exactly what they're getting. The actual truth of the matter is always somewhere in between. 

***Late addition I know, but Why Your Children's Television Program Sucks is another feature I'm going to miss. 

****Oh what the hell, one more post-script to this post.  I am a Millenial/Xennial with student loans and a family to raise. I don't have a lot of disposable income at the moment and should that far distant day every come when I do, subscribing to a website like The Athletic is probably going to be on my agenda, at least for sports coverage. The subscription model is not something I'm crazy about, because I hate paywalls with a passion but even I have to acknowledge that it's probably the way things are going to start to move over the next ten to fifteen years.


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