Imagine you’re driving down the highway and a truck transporting chickens overturns. The road then becomes filled with chickens running around. A driver hits his brakes, the car behind crashes into him, followed by 20 more vehicles. An oil truck involved with the wreck leaks its contents. As people get out of their cars to assess the damage, they comically slip and fall. On the other side of the highway, the rubberneckers who slowed down to watch caused some collisions and one of the vehicles erupted in flames. The air turns to smog. The disaster snarls traffic for miles. People are yelling, pushing and shoving each other. Frantic calls are going out to insurance agents. The police officers arrive at the scene and are so startled that they just stare bewildered at the mess. Everyone blames each other and nothing gets resolved, except for escalating further tension and anger.
A similar story is playing out in the sports blogosphere. Deadspin, the punk-rock, sports news and culture site spectacularly imploded last week. The entire staff, consisting of around 20 writers and editors, abruptly quit in a communal huff. They angrily claimed that the rich, private-equity, white-guy “suits” who run the place had the temerity and unmitigated gall to request that the intrepid journalists stick with writing about sports, which was kind of supposed to be their thing.
Paul Maidment, the editorial director of G/O Media, which is Deadspin’s parent company, stated, “To create as much great sports journalism as we can requires a 100% focus of our resources on sports. And it will be the sole focus.” He added, “Deadspin will write only about sports and that which is relevant to sports in some way.”
The writers were outraged, demanding that they were more interested in writing “woke,” culture-related pieces and would fight for their right to write whatever they damn well please. Senior-level staff asserted that the data showed their interests in topics outside of traditional sports coverage garnered significantly more clicks and views compared to the stale, old sports stories. Also, saving the world is much cooler than a tennis match. Executives were not swayed by their analysis.
Instead of trying to find a solution, the union representing the writers, the journalists themselves and management were intransigent. All parties refused to yield and stood their respective, lofty ground. CEO Jim Spanfeller clamped down on the mutiny and demanded that the writers stop their social-warrior crusade and stay on topic with their mandate—sports. One of the blog’s top editors was discharged of his duties for “not sticking to sports.” After that, the heroic writers revolted by quitting. A freelancer was brought in to offer some life support, but was hectored and bullied into resigning and forced to grovel with an apology to the Twitter trolls.
When tens of thousands of people are downsized from stuffy, non-blog corporations, tears are not shed in the media. It's not national headlines when random, 45-year-old, white-collar professionals are let go on a daily basis due to automation, cost cuttings, globalization and jobs relocated to lower-cost cities and countries. When you’re at a certain age and earning a relatively high compensation, it becomes exceedingly hard to procure another job at—or even slightly below—the one you lost. There is a real fear and anxiety over finding a position so that they can pay their kids’ college tuition and the mortgage on their home.
The behavior—on both sides—at Deadspin was not standard business practices, to say the least. In what bizarre universe could a tax accountant refuse to file tax returns because they’re boring? The accountant who spends his working hours telling clients all about his political views on taxes, rather than crunching numbers, will be given a stern lecture. If his behavior continues, he’d be shown the door without any severance or a good reference. If GM wants its factory workers to make trucks, the assembly-line folks can’t revolt and say they’d prefer to produce electric scooters instead.
The now-departed staff somehow didn't—or couldn’t—comprehend the basics of corporate life—it sucks up a lot of your time and you will need to do things you don’t want to do. There are expectations and requirements that come along with receiving a paycheck. Most of the time, you have to do things that aren’t fun, sexy, cool, hip, virtue signaling or meaningful. That’s why they call it “work.” It's the nature of business—you accept a job and its terms. If you don’t like it, you could always start your own blog and do things the way you want. Then, your employees will hate and lampoon you.
Executive management may have been embarrassed by some of the journalists’ posts. The cutting commentary by the writers could have conflicted with clients of Deadspin’s private equity parent. Maybe the writers’ shtick didn’t sit well with the Baby-Boomer management’s sensibilities. It is, however, the actual job of the executives to be the adults in the room. They are literally charged with the responsibility of motivating employees, helping them reach their full potential, effectively handle internal disputes and create a harmonious office environment. This takes time, patience and understanding of what drives and motivates employees. Executive must listen to their employees and customers. If the readers prefer the non-sports commentary and the journalists like writing on a greater variety of topics, management should take heed. It's wise and commendable for management to backtrack in the face of facts that suggest that they may be incorrect in their analysis of the situation and aggressive demands.
The employees violated a cardinal career rule—never quit in haste, as you’ll regret it later. It makes more sense to continue the conversation, in an effort to work together and resolve the serious issues. If you have a big, philosophical difference, take time to seek out a new job. In the interim, maybe things at your current company could improve.
Interviewing is tough when you're in between roles. It's even more difficult when you resign in a very public rage. The next person that you’ll interview with may not share your politics, work ethic or thought process and will be reluctant to hire you. The hiring manager will think you’ll be difficult and storm out at the first sign of being tasked with something you don't like. Managers think that if you talk poorly about your last employer, the odds are high that you’ll badmouth her too. No one wants to be the subject of derision by former employees.
This is a case study and cautionary tale of how not to act—on both sides. It played out as an over-the-top, pro-wrestling match rather than a professional, business dispute.