New Republic - October 25, 2019

"When Splinter shuttered, former Gawker writer Brendan O’Connorwrotethat “the workplace under capitalism is a dictatorship, and the dictatorship of private equity is an especially arbitrary one.” It’s a shame that journalism—something with such obvious broad societal value, and that should be wholly antagonistic to the rich and powerful—should be mostly done for private profit, with all the compromises that come with that. But the sad fact of journalism’s dependence on profit-making becomes far more grotesque and dangerous when the profiteers in question are financial sector wheeler-dealers."

Earlier this month, private equity killed another news outlet. Splinter, a news and politics website where I’d previously worked, was shut down by its owners. Seven people lost their jobs—a comparatively small culling compared to the hardships some other media outlets have recently endured. Nevertheless, Splinter’s fate points in the direction of bloodlettings to come.

It was a long and tortuous road that led to Splinter ending up in the hands of private equity masters, beginning when Gawker Media was hounded into bankruptcy by Peter Thiel, who backstopped Hulk Hogan’s defamation case against the site. Denied the opportunity to appeal the judgment against them, the media properties that resided under Gawker’s banner were rebranded as Gizmodo Media Group (GMG) and sold to Univision. It was an ill-fitting arrangement: Univision was a normal, cautious media company mostly focused on Spanish-language TV, and GMG was a small-ish network of irreverent websites that regularly published the musings of a dog and Ashley Feinberg. The unwieldy partnership was exacerbated by corporate mismanagement which saddled the profitable GMG with debts from Univision’s disastrous experiment in millennial-focused content, Fusion. Fusion’s website was rebranded and relaunched as Splinter in the summer of 2017; GMG was eventually sold to the private equity firm Great Hill Partners, who renamed the company G/O Media.

Given all that history, it was never a guarantee that Splinter was going to succeed, the Hogan lawsuit having transformed the uniquely profitable media venture of which it became a part into a troubled property overnight. But Great Hill Partners, a firm with no previous experience in building a successful media brand, quickly demonstrated that they were bent on proving that they could be the worst stewards of the company. They interfered with G/O Media’s editorial independence, stuffed the sites’ layout with eyesore ads, and pushed out competent managers, such as Deadspin editor-in-chief Megan Greenwell, who laid out a searing indictment of Great Hill’s mismanagement on her way out the door. ...
Read full report at New Republic