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Because They’re Wreckable

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Barry Petchesky explains how private equity bustouts are destroying one media outlet after another:

Why would anyone buy Deadspin to change Deadspin? It’s hard to understand why Great Hill Partners demanded that we “stick to sports” — especially at a time when the site was driving the conversation in sports coverage and had the highest traffic in its history — until you realize that this was most likely their plan.It’s the private equity model: Purchase an asset, strip it of everything of value, then turn around and sell the brand to someone else before they realize that what made the brand valuable in the first place has been lost and can never be recovered (the low-quality, un-bylined articles sweatily posted to the site after the mass resignations bear this out).

This strategy is cynical enough when the victim is something like Toys ‘R’ Us; it’s a societal crisis when it comes for journalism.

And come for journalism it has. In recent years, we’ve seen the deaths (and to varying degrees, the troubled rebirths) of the likes of Newsweek, The Denver Post, LA Weekly, Playboy and just last month, the granddaddy of all sports media, Sports Illustrated.It plays out the same way each time: The new owners come in, slash staff and costs and turn a once-proud publication into a content mill churning out bland and unimportant stories that no one wants or needs to read.

It’s going to keep happening, faster than new outlets can rise up to replace the gutted old. For every refreshing new outlet, two will be zombified. Corners will be sanded down. Bitter pills puréed to a beige pap. Everything you liked about the web will be replaced with what the largest number of people like, or at least tolerate enough to click on and sit through three seconds of an autoplay ad. Unique voices will be muted, or drowned out altogether.

As an addendum, in the latest Jamboroo Drew Magary reveals that he had made an agreement in principle to leave Deadspin for Sports Illustrated, with the former making no serious effort to retain its most popular writer. G/O was bailed out, though, by the fact that SI was also being busted out by private equity goons who refused to honor the oral agreement. Which helps to explain why Spanfeller was complacent that he could retain enough of a demoralized skeleton staff to put up content to put six simultaneous autoplay ads on.

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