Nearly all of the 20 or so staffers of Deadspin who departed the sports and culture website in 2019 during a remarkable mass exodus have reunited to form a new digital company, Defector Media.
Using a subscription format, unlike the advertising-dependent Deadspin, Defector will primarily cover sports but plans to occasionally divert from that based on the inclinations of the editorial team. G/O Media, the private equity-backed firm that took over Deadspin in 2019, inflamed tensions with staffers by insisting that they “stick to sports,” a dictum they decided they could not follow.
Launching with a podcast in August and a website in September, Defector will charge $8 a month or $69 a year for basic access. Each of the 19 staffers in the new operation is a roughly 5% equity holder in the company.
Under the motto “All of Our Bulls–t. None of Theirs,” a splash page posted Tuesday offered a brief mission statement for Defector. “We made this place together, we own it together, we run it together. Without access, without favor, without discretion, and without interference.”
In a striking sequence of events that reverberated in media circles, Deadspin editors and writers quit one by one last fall after increasingly acrimonious exchanges with G/O execs. G/O moved Deadspin to Chicago this year and installed New York Daily News alum Jim Rich as editor in chief.
Digital brands relying on advertising have been hit hard by COVID-19, with companies like Vox Media and BuzzFeed among those forced to cut costs. Even before the pandemic, the dominance of Facebook and Google posed stiff challenges to digital up-and-comers hoping to woo ad buyers.
“Advertising is slowing dramatically,” G/O chief Jim Spanfeller wrote in a memo in April, announcing 14 layoffs. “Changes are happening swiftly across the industry — we are not the first, and we certainly won’t be last.”
Although Deadspin continues to publish, its roster of contributors is much lower-profile and its ability to generate headline-making posts is dramatically diminished compared with Deadspin. Once owned by Gawker Media, Deadspin made its reputation with a combination of shoeleather investigative work and puckish, finger-in-the-eye opinion pieces. Among its scoops was the revelation that former Notre Dame (and now NFL) football player Manti Te’o had been “Catfish-ed” by a fictitious girlfriend.
Tom Ley will be the editor-in-chief of Defector, with business operations run by Jasper Wang, a former Bain & Company employee and self-described fan of Deadspin. One model for Defector is The Athletic, a startup built on the subscription model that has disrupted the field of sports journalism by hiring a raft of big-name contributors, many of whom were at newspapers and magazines. The Atlantic frequently breaks big stories and sets the agenda for sports media.
“The hardest part is still the hard part which is having writers with talent and followings, and having these writers willing to hold hands and jump together,” Wang told the New York Times. “Once they decided to do that, building the scaffolding of the business is easier than it’s ever been.”
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