- Deadspin’s Interim Editor-in-Chief Barry Petchesky was fired after he disobeyed an order from the executive director of the site’s parent company, G/O Media.
- Though the site has often been known to post non-sports related stories, the order instructed Deadspin to only post sports-related content moving forward.
- At the same time, employees are embroiled in another dispute with G/O Media after it implemented a new auto-play ad feature on the site.
Editor-in-Chief Doesn’t “Stick to Sports”
Deadspin’s Interim Editor-in-Chief Barry Petchesky announced he had been fired Tuesday morning after disobeying an executive who ordered the site to only publish sports-related stories.
Deadspin, an online sports news website owned by G/O Media, has been known to occasionally break away from sports on its site, so much so that it’s become a running joke, even receiving its own category on the home page and merchandise with the label “Stick to Sports.”
Monday, however, G/O Media’s recently-appointed editorial director Paul Maidment ordered employees to refrain from writing non-sports related stories in the future.
“To create as much great sports journalism as we can requires a 100% focus of our resources on sports,” Maidment said in a statement to employees. “And it will be the sole focus. Deadspin will write only about sports and that which is relevant to sports in some way.”
“Where such subjects touch on sports, they are fair game for Deadspin,” the statement continues. “Where they do not, they are not. 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.”
Instead of “sticking to sports,” however, Petchesky did the exact opposite by converting the website’s front page into a collection of non-sports related stories. Staff then tagged those stories with the label “Stick to Sports.”
Deadspin became part of G/O Media in April after being bought by the private equity firm Great Hill Partners. Before the acquisition, the site was part of the Gizmodo Media Group owned by Univision. In the deal, G/O Media also acquired sites like Gizmodo, The Onion, Kotaku, and Jezebel.
“The Concourse,” Deadspin’s non-sports category, features everything from political commentary to an annual “Hater’s Guides to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog.” The site has also dipped into video game news, one 2014 article receiving high praise for its deep dive into sexism and harassment in the gamer community.
In fact, according to former editor Timothy Burke, those stories were some of the site’s most-viewed, despite the fact that The New York Times reports the section only made up about one of every 50 posts.
Fallout After Petchesky’s Firing
About thirty minutes after Petcheksy’s firing, the Gizmodo Media Group Union confirmed the termination, adding, “This will not stand.”
The following day, the site’s founder, Will Leitch, addressed Petchesky’s ousting.
“There is also no more Deadspin person than Barry,” Leitch said. “He has been with the site its entire history. He covered the Westminster Dog Show for Deadspin in 2007 WHILE A JOURNALISM STUDENT.”
By Tuesday evening, the site’s main page reverted back to sports stories, though as of Wednesday afternoon, several non-sports stories still remain on the home page, as well. Following the change, GMG Union tweeted again, saying Deadspin staffers did not play any role in the new changes to the front page.
The New York Times then reported that two sources with “full knowledge of the situation” said Maidment was in direct control of Deadspin on Tuesday.
The same day, senior Editor Diana Moskovitz announced that she had given her two-weeks notice the week prior.
“What happened today — and everything that preceded it — are among the reasons I decided to move on,” she said.
The situation follows Deadspin’s former Editor-in-Chief Megan Greenwell leaving the site in August after disagreeing with several top executives, including Maidment.
In response to revolt, Maidment issued another statement.
“I sent a memo to Deadspin staff stating that our sports site should be focused on sports coverage,” he said. “As I made clear in that note, sports touches on nearly every aspect of life — from politics to business to pop culture and more.”
“We believe that Deadspin reporters and editors should go after every conceivable story, as long as it has something to do with sports,” he continued. “We are sorry that some on the Deadspin staff don’t agree with that editorial direction and refuse to work within that incredibly broad mandate.”
Leitch then accused G/O Media executives of potentially attempting to ruin to the website.
“The only way you could buy Deadspin and say, ‘Here are some edicts and now everyone follow them,’ is if you never read Deadspin in the last 10 years,” he said. It feels like they are either trying to kill the site and squeeze whatever money they can out of it or get rid of the entire staff. Or both because there’s no sense they have any plan.”
The Intersection of Sports and Politics
The situation with Deadspin and G/O Media has breached another debate: how sports news outlets cover other topics like politics, especially as the two become increasingly related.
According to Maidment, the staff at Deadspin has full range to talk about sports-related issues like the NCAA saying it will allow student-athletes to profit from their names, images, and likenesses or about the debate around the NBA, China, and Hong Kong.
But there’s also been some concern that the site’s freedom to publish such stories may be stripped away in the future.
“If [the] past year has shown anything, it’s that when a company says ‘stick to sports, except when there’s a connection to politics,’ what they mean is ‘stick to sports,’” Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay said. “It’s meant to have a chilling effect. This is like buying a hat and wearing it as a shoe.”
Auto-Play Ad Complaints
Deadspin employees and employees from the other sites have also expressed discontent with another decision by G/O Media. Last week, G/O Media landed a seven-figure advertising deal, but employees were reportedly not happy with the move because that deal includes sound-on, auto-play video ads.
Employees claimed to the sites had all received a ton of negative feedback from their readers, which is why, on Monday, they directly addressed these concerns to their audiences.
In a series of identical articles, they said that they were “as upset with the current state of our site’s user experience as you are.” The posts then went on to say that none of the individual sites had any control over those ads.
“Editorial staffers at all levels of this company have made our concerns known in various conversations with members of G/O Media’s senior leadership team,” the article concluded. “We think it would be good for them to hear from you, as well.”
“This isn’t what any of us signed up for,” The Daily Beast quoted one staffer as saying. “It’s amateurish and pushing longtime readers away and making the sites difficult to enjoy.”
Those posts were then deleted shortly after they went up.
“The GMG Union has been informed that posts across our websites asking for reader feedback on an autoplay ad campaign were taken down by management,” GMG Union said in a tweet. “We condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”
The union followed up Tuesday by claiming that G/O Media executives had disabled the forwarding address to the email provided in those posts.
See what others are saying: (Vice) (Wall Street Journal) (The Wrap)
TikTok Bans Ads for Weight Loss Supplements and Fasting Apps
- TikTok said Wednesday that it will ban advertisements for fasting apps and weight loss supplements. It will also add new restrictions on ads that “promote a harmful and negative body image.”
- Part of its new policies include only allowing viewers ages 18 and up to see ads for “weight management products” and barring ads with irresponsible claims.
- The app is also partnering with the National Eating Disorder Association to connect users with resources directly on the app and will support Weight Stigma Awareness Week (Sept. 28-Oct.2) with information about the topic on its discover page.
- The move comes after months of users noticing increased ads for Intermittent fasting apps and other weight-related products, which many found concerning considering TikTok’s massive young user base.
New Restrictions Announced
TikTok announced some new restrictions for weight loss advertisements on its platform Wednesday in an effort to support body positivity.
“We’re introducing new ad policies that ban ads for fasting apps and weight loss supplements, and increase restrictions on ads that promote a harmful or negative body image,” the company’s Safety Policy Manager, Tara Wadhwa, wrote in a blog post.
“These types of ads do not support the positive, inclusive, and safe experience we strive for on TikTok.”
Wadhwa said the app recognizes the role the internet plays in exacerbating weight stigma and body shaming and wants to do more to make TikTok a safe and comfortable environment for its users.
As far as what those new policies will be, TikTok said:
- Advertisements for weight-management products can now only reach users ages 18 and up.
- Stronger restrictions will be placed on weight loss and implied weight-loss claims.
- Further restrictions will be introduced to limit irresponsible claims made by products that promote weight loss management or control.
- Ads promoting weight loss and weight management products or services cannot promote a negative body image or negative relationship with food.
Concerns for Young Users
Those are some pretty important changes that address ads that have recently become common on the app. Over the last few months, TikTok users have complained about being served ads for products like intermitted fasting apps. That sparked a ton of concerns, especially since TikTok has such a young user base.
According to internal company documents viewed by The New York Times, in July, TikTok classified more than a third of its 49 million daily users in the United States as being 14 years old or younger.
But that’s not all the app is doing to support inclusion and body positivity.
TikTok has also partnered with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) to connect its users with resources directly on the app.
“We’ll soon begin redirecting searches and hashtags – for terms provided to us by NEDA, or associated with unsafe content we’ve removed from our platform – to the NEDA Helpline, where NEDA can then provide our community with confidential support, tools, and resources,” TikTok explained.
On top of that, the app is also supporting Weight Stigma Awareness Week, which runs from September 28-October 2.
During that time, it will have a dedicated page on it’s discover tab to support NEDA’s #EndWeightHateCampaign in an effort to educate the community about the topic, why it matters, and how users can find support for themselves or others.
In its announcement, TikTok also reminded users that they can always use its existing features to block content, users, and comments that they find disturbing, and report ads that violate its policies.
While some would like to see TikTok do more to combat diet culture on its platform, the move has generally been met with praise, and it puts the app closer in line with policies platforms like Instagram have enacted.
Last year, Instagram started restricting users under the age of 18 from viewing ads promoting weight loss and cosmetic procedures. It also barred posts that make “miraculous” claims about weight loss while also including coupon codes or other commercial elements. Those changes were meant to target products people like the Kardashians and others promoted: flat tummy teas, appetite suppressant lollipops, and other items of that nature.
Ultimately, it seems like TikTok is listening to its users by creating these new policies.
“Though there’s always more work we can do in this critical area, we think these are steps in the right direction,” it said in its blog post. “We continue to look for new ways to support our community and foster a positive environment for everyone on TikTok.”
Charli D’Amelio’s Dunkin’ Partnership Proves Successful
- TikTok’s most-followed creator, Charli D’Amelio, partnered with the coffee chain Dunkin’ to add her go-to order to its menu for a limited time.
- A Dunkin’ official told TMZ that the chain sold hundreds of thousands of her signature drink, “The Charli,” within the first five days of launching. It also set a record for daily users on the Dunkin’ app the first day of the launch after seeing a 57% increase in app downloads.
- Dunkin’ even saw a 20% sales boost for all cold brews that day as well as a 45% surge the following day.
- This collaboration, along with musician Travis Scott’s partnership with McDonald’s, has many interested to see if and how more chains will use big names as marketing tools in the future.
Officials at Dunkin’ have finally given some insight into just how powerful its partnership with 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio has been for the coffee chain.
D’Amelio, of course, is TikTok’s most famous personality, and she recently teamed up with Dunkin’ to get her go-to coffee order on its menu for a limited time. The drink is called “The Charli,” a cold brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl.
It officially debuted in stores on Sept. 2. As part of the partnership, she also launched a contest with the chain. For that, the company invited her fans to post a picture on Instagram, recreating a memorable moment of Charli and her Dunkin’ drink using the hashtag #CharliXDunkinContest. Then, on Sept. 19, National Dance Day, five lucky winners were selected to join a virtual hang out with Charli.
View this post on Instagram
📣 Calling all Charli D’Amelio x Dunkin’ fans 📣 Want the chance to win a virtual call with the queen of cold brew herself – @charlidamelio? Keep reading… 👀 We’re giving five lucky winners the chance to win a virtual cold brew date with Charli D’Amelio. 🧡 ✨HOW IT WORKS✨ 1️⃣ Post a photo of yourself recreating an iconic Charli x Dunkin’ moment on Instagram 2️⃣ Use hashtag #CharliXDunkinContest and tag us @dunkin . *NO PURCH NEC. Open to 50 US/DC, 13+ (with parental permission if a minor). Ends 9/14/20 Rules: www.DunkinContest.com
It was probably fair to assume that the drink would be a success given Charli’s massive following and influence these days. She’s currently sitting at 88.4 million followers on TikTok alone. and the drink has been spotted all over the app, with fans, friends, and influencers trying it out themselves.
However, Drayton Martin, vice president of brand stewardship at Dunkin’, just confirmed to TMZ that the chain sold hundreds of thousands of the signature drink within the first five days of launch. Dunkin’ also set a record for daily users on its app the day her drink debuted after seeing a 57% increase in app downloads.
Apparently it wasn’t just “The Charli” that saw success. Dunkin’ also saw a 20% sales boost for all cold brews the first day as well as a 45% surge the next day.
Travis Scott’s McDonald’s Deal
These numbers are especially interesting to look at when acknowledging how lucrative Travis Scott’s limited edition collab with McDonald’s has proved to be. His partnership was for a $6 combo that included a Quarter Pounder with bacon and lettuce, fries, BBQ sauce, and a Sprite.
That launched on Sept. 9, and he also sold some exclusive Mcdonald’s themed merch on his website at the time.
Within days of the launch, several McDonald’s locations reported running out of ingredients to make the meals. In a memo sent to employees, McDonald’s said: “We’ve created a program that’s so compelling to our customers that it’s stretching our world-class supply chain; and if demand continues at these levels, more restaurants will break supply.”
Tons of people have been trying to get their hands on this meal. In fact, it even became a trend on TikTok to order it using a range of phrases. According to USA Today, McDonald’s even noted some of the various ways customers have been ordering the meal in their memo to employees. Some were part of marketing and social media materials for it, like the phrase “Say Cactus Jack sent me.”
Other variations include “It’s lit, sick mode,” “The Fornite guy burger,” or “You know why I’m here” which is often followed by customers playing Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.”
Eventually, McDonald’s said the promotion will continue through Oct. 4 as scheduled. However, starting Sept. 22, customers who want the meal have to order it through the McDonald’s app. So maybe that will intentionally slow sales, or perhaps downloads for that app soar as it did for Dunkin’ with D’Amelio’s help.
Ultimately, both collaborations have shown just how influential big names can be in the fast food and drink world. It’ll be interesting to see if and how chains will continue to use people with massive followings as advertising tools in the future.
Twitter to Investigate Auto-Crop Algorithm After Accusations of Racial Bias
- Twitter users believe they discovered a racial bias in an algorithm the platform uses to automatically select which part of an image it shows in a photo preview.
- Many argued that the auto-cropping tool showed a white bias after testing the theory with photos of Black and white people, cartoon characters, and even dogs.
- However, others who tested the theory generated results that did not support this idea. Regardless, most users admit that these experiments have their limitations and agree that the current results at least show that this is something worth looking into.
- The company released a statement saying it tested its system for bias in the past but admitted it needs to conduct further analysis of it. Online, Twitter employees seemed to welcome the public discourse and the company promised to share its results as well as further actions it may take.
Potential White Bias
Twitter responded to concerns over its automatic cropping algorithm Sunday after users believed they discovered a racial bias in the tool.
In 2018, Twitter began auto-cropping photos in its timeline previews to prevent them from taking up too much space in the main feed and to allow multiple photos to appear in the same tweet. To do this, the company uses several algorithmic tools that focus on the most important part of the picture, like faces or text.
However, users recently began to spot issues with the algorithm. The first person credited for highlighting a potential problem was PhD student Colin Madland. He made his discovery while highlighting a different racial bias he thinks he found on the video-conference company Zoom.
Madland tweeted that when his Black colleague uses a virtual background on Zoom, his head is erased. When he uploaded examples to show this happening to his Black colleague and not himself, he noticed that Twitter was only showing his own face in its preview.
Soon after, others followed up with more targetted experiments. Cryptographic and infrastructure engineer Tony Arcieri, for example, tweeted out two long images with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and Former President Barack Obama.
The two photos have the politicians stacked on top of each other in different orders but with white space in between them. The experiment showed that Twitter would focus on McConnell, no matter what order the photos were stacked in.
Another user found that the algorithm even focused on McConnell when two photos of Obama were present in a single stack.
I wonder what happens if we increase the number of Obamas. pic.twitter.com/sjrlxjTDSb— Jack Philipson (@Jack09philj) September 19, 2020
A similar white preference appeared in examples of Black and white men in suits, Simpsons characters Lenny and Carl, and even black and white dogs.
Examples That Don’t Support White Bias Theory
Others looking into this theory of a white bias found results that did not support the idea.
For example, one user found that photos of Obama were cropped for the preview over photos of Donald Trump.
Still, some researching the trends noted that these experiments do have their limitations and are likely influenced by tons of other factors. Some believe the algorithm recognized high profile figures or considers brightness and contrast, among other photo elements.
Twitter’s Chief Design Officer (CDO), Dantley Davis, even suggested that the choice of cropping sometimes takes brightness of the background into consideration.
However, ohers found examples that rejected that idea. Regardless, all these tests did a lot to convince people that there was something worth looking at here, including Davis, who has been experimenting himself.
He’s not alone in his research. In fact, plenty of other Twitter users have been going to great lengths to track their results as they try to study what is going on.
Twitter Promises to Investigate
On Sunday, a Twitter spokesperson eventually released a statement admitting that the company had work to do.
“Our team did test for bias before shipping the model and did not find evidence of racial or gender bias in our testing,” the company explained.
“But it’s clear from these examples that we’ve got more analysis to do. We’ll continue to share what we learn, what actions we take, and will open source our analysis so others can review and replicate.”
Davis also isn’t the only employee that has appeared to welcome all of this public discourse. The company’s Chief Technology Officer, Parag Argawal tweeted, “This is a very important question. To address it, we did analysis on our model when we shipped it, but needs continuous improvement. Love this public, open, and rigorous test — and eager to learn from this.”