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Deadspin Editor Fired After Ignoring “Stick to Sports” Order

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  • 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.

Source: Deadspin

“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)

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Child Safety Advocates Urge Facebook To Scrap Plans for Instagram Kids

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  • Nearly 100 child safety experts and international organizations sent a letter to Facebook Thursday criticizing its plans to develop an Instagram app for children under 13.
  • Facebook claims the app will offer parental controls and is meant to create a safer space for kids, who are often lying about their age to access the normal version of Instagram.
  • Still, critics point out that children already on Instagram are unlikely to switch to a kids version. Many also cited concerns about screen time, mental health, and privacy, arguing that younger children are not ready for such a platform.
  • U.S. Lawmakers expressed similar concerns earlier this month, saying, “Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

Instagram for Kids

An international group of 35 organizations and 64 experts, coordinated by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, released a letter Thursday urging Facebook to abandon its plans to release an Instagram app for kids under 13-years old.

Plans for Instagram Kids have been public for about a month after Buzzfeed News obtained emails about the app in mid-March. Since then, there have been widespread concerns about how such an app could affect children.

Thursday’s letter argues that a version of Instagram targeting under-13-year-olds raises concerns about privacy, screen time, mental health, self-esteem, and commercial pressure. Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company understands the concerns presented by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“We agree that any experience we develop must prioritize their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it,” she said.

“The reality is that kids are online. They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate. We also want to find practical solutions to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps,” Otway added, noting the reality of how many children interact with age-gated apps.

Unlikely To Stop Children From Joining Regular Instagram

The idea that children would just switch to Instagram Kids received pushback from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. In fact, the group’s executive director, Josh Golin, pointed out that most kids who are currently on Instagram are between 10 and 12-years-old, and they likely wouldn’t migrate over to Instagram Kids because it will be perceived as “babyish and not cool enough.”

The children this will appeal to will be much younger kids,” Golin explained. “So they are not swapping out an unsafe version of Instagram for a safer version. They are creating new demand from a new audience that’s not ready for any type of Instagram product.”

It’s unknown exactly how the app would work, but it would feature content similar to what is allowed in other age-appropriate apps, such as YouTube Kids. One of the few details given out so far is that Instagram Kids will be ad-free and feature parental control options.

Concerns over Instagram Kids has also come from lawmakers. On April 5th Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), alongside Representatives Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing concerns that “children are a uniquely vulnerable population online, and images of kids are highly sensitive data.”

“Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

See what others are saying: (TechCrunch) (BBC) (NBC News)

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Retail Sales Jump Amid Stimulus Spending, Unemployment Claims Plunge To Pandemic Low

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  • The Commerce Department released a report Thursday recording a 9.8% spike in retail sales for the month of March.
  • That surge was largely driven by stimulus check spending, with restaurant, sporting goods, clothing and accessory, and auto sales all being among the top-performing sectors in retail for the month. 
  • Coupled with that news, the Labor Department reported that 576,000 unemployment claims were filed last month — a pandemic low. 
  • That figure is still significantly higher than the roughly 200,000 weekly unemployment claims filed before the pandemic. 

Retail Sales Spike

U.S. retail sales for the month of March jumped 9.8% from February, according to a Thursday morning report from the Commerce Department.

That spike is largely thanks to the most recent round of stimulus checks from Congress.

March was the best month of retail spending since May of last year, which at the time saw an 18.3% gain following the first wave of stimulus checks.  

Sales in the bar and restaurant industry rose 13.4%, making them among the retail sectors that saw the biggest spikes last month. That’s largely a result of relaxed lockdowns stemming from the country’s current pace of around three million vaccinations a day. Meanwhile, sporting goods spending rose 23.5%, clothing and accessory sales rose 18.3%, and motor vehicle parts and dealer sales rose 15.1%.

“Spending will almost certainly drop back in April as some of the stimulus boost wears off,” wrote Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, “but with the vaccination rollout proceeding at a rapid pace and households finances in strong shape, we expect overall consumption growth to continue rebounding rapidly in the second quarter too.” 

Unemployment Hits Pandemic Low

The retail sales data came around the same time that the Labor Department released this past week’s unemployment figures, which dropped to a new pandemic low of 576,000 claims. 

That’s a massive difference from almost exactly a year ago when 6 million people filed for unemployment in a single week. It’s also a significant decline from the 769,000 people that filed jobless claims last week, especially since some analysts had predicted there would be around 700,000 jobs lost with this week’s report.

That said, unemployment claims are still much higher than the around 200,000 a week that were being filed prior to pandemic closures.

“You’re still not popping champagne corks,”  Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said according to The New York Times. “I will breathe again — and breathe easy again — once we get these number[s] back down in the 200,000 range.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (Fox Business)

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Hundreds of Businesses and Celebrities Join Growing Fight Against Restrictive Voting Efforts

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  • In a letter published Wednesday, hundreds of major companies, law firms, corporate leaders, and celebrities banded together “to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”
  • The list of signatories includes companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon; celebrities such as Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, and Samuel L. Jackson; and billionaire investor Warren Buffet, among others.
  • Though the letter does not address any specific voting legislation, it was organized by Kenneth Chenault and Kenneth Fraizer, who also organized a letter late last month in which more than 70 Black executives urged companies to take a stand against GOP-led restrictive voting proposals being floated in dozens of states. 

Hundreds of Companies Oppose Restrictive Voting 

The number of companies speaking out against a series of GOP-led voting proposals is growing, despite calls from notable Republicans for boycotts against companies doing so.

In a letter published Wednesday morning, hundreds of major companies, law firms, corporate leaders, and celebrities united behind what journalist David Gelles described as “the biggest show of solidarity to date.”

The letter itself doesn’t specifically call out Republican voting efforts. Instead, the statement reads, “We stand for democracy,” with the signatories also vowing “to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”

Still, the letter comes in the middle of an ongoing battle between corporate America and the GOP, which is backing dozens of state proposals that many have condemned as restrictive and discriminatory against poorer individuals and people of color.

The slew of companies that signed Wednesday’s letter includes Target, Netflix, Bank of America, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Mastercard, American Airlines, United Airlines, and others. 

The letter also boasts star-power from celebrities like Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Gwyneth Paltrow, George Clooney, and Samuel L. Jackson, among others. Notably, billionaire investor Warren Buffet also added his name to this list.

Companies Debate Taking Action Against States That Pass Restrictive Voting Measures

Wednesday’s letter was organized by Kenneth Chenault and Kenneth Frazier, who late last month also organized a similar letter from a group of more than 70 Black executives. That message, which urged companies to speak out against the GOP-led proposals, has largely been credited with helping to catalyze the fight between the GOP and corporate America. 

This past weekend, the two also partially led a Zoom call that featured over 120 CEOs and business leaders. 

During that call, participating executives considered a number of possible steps, including pulling donations to politicians who support restrictive voting measures, refusing to move business or jobs to states that pass such laws, and even relocating events; however, no hard plans were actually set into motion.

Still, some groups have already gone forward with various forms of protests against such laws. Last week, Major League Baseball announced it was moving its All-Star game out of Georgia, which recently passed a series of restrictive voting measures. On Monday, actor Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua also announced that they no longer plan to film their runaway slave thriller “Emancipation” in the state.

Some Companies Didn’t Speak Out in Wednesday’s Letter

Both federal and state Republicans have been very vocal as businesses have continued to lob criticism at their proposed laws. 

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned businesses to “stay out of politics,” though he later walked back that statement.

Two weeks ago, the Georgia state House voted to strip Delta Airlines of its tax breaks after the company spoke out against the state’s new voting laws. In fact, that reprimand might explain why it and other Georgia-based companies like Coca-Cola were absent from Wednesday’s letter. 

According to The New York Times, people involved in the process of organizing this letter said those companies feared more blowback and also did not feel the need to speak up again.

Connected to that, The Times reported that some companies originally tried to have the line of “oppos[ing] any discriminatory legislation” removed, but they later signed anyway after Chenault and Frazier insisted the line was crucial.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Hollywood Reporter)

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