(Last) Weekly Roundup: Union Of The Fake Edition

If you’re not in the habit of following the convulsions of “new media” — if, in other words, you have a real and potentially fulfilling life — then you’ve missed a lot of drama in the past week. The G/O Media (previously GMG, previously Univision, previously Gawker Media) site Deadspin went through an extraordinary series of self-flagellations when Barry Petchesky, who succeeded Megan Greenwell, was fired for deliberately defying the “stick to sports” mandate of its new owners. Several of the site’s writers quit shortly afterwards in “solidarity”. A 53-year-old freelancer agreed to work for the site and was immediately bullied into quitting by an online mob. Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy gloated at the collapse of his rivals.

It’s not for me to say who is wrong or right here, although I have my personal opinions on the subject. I’d rather focus on something that is, to me at least, more interesting: the idea of perpetual adolescence in the workplace, and the social structures which have evolved to enable that idea.

I wasn’t all that shocked by the firing of Petchesky — putting stories like “Woman Furiously Shits On Floor Of Tim Hortons” and “What Did We Get Stuck In Our Rectums Last Year?” above the fold on his website amounted to slapping his bosses with a white glove and daring them to do something about it. I was surprised by the mass resignations of the staff, and I was flat-out shocked when Samer Paloof and Dave Margary were shamed into resigning by Dave Portnoy in the aftermath. It made me wonder: What kind of people have the means necessary to quit their job on emotional grounds, particularly in the current creative economy?

You can see what the Deadspin employees earned by reading their union contract. While $55,000 to $72,100 a year to write clickbait about Tim Hortons floor-shitting might seem like pretty strong money — and it is — it’s not the kind of salary that leads to financial independence, particularly if you live in New York and like your avocado toast. Nor is the market for general-purpose web writers particularly strong at the moment, so it’s not like any of these people could count on being immediately picked up somewhere else.

It seems reasonable to guess, therefore, that this mass exodus led to more than a couple “margin calls” to parents and relatives. The parents involved could at least take solace in the fact that the majority of their boomerang kids were, themselves, conveniently childless. The G/O Media sites, like their counterparts elsewhere in new media, appear from a distance to be quite allergic to hiring writers who have anything more than a furbaby on their tax returns. Their staff members are mostly single or in childless relationships, they don’t own property. Many of them don’t even own a car. They had, in a manner of speaking, nothing to lose.

It’s not historically common for unions to be founded by itinerants; symphony musicians have unions but buskers don’t, for example. Nor do you typically see unions being operated by people who have the ability to quit at whim without consequences. When Robert Plant decided he couldn’t be bothered with performing in Led Zeppelin after the Celebration Day reunion, he didn’t notify his shop steward about that decision.

Surely the much-discussed GMG Union, founded in the Gawker days for reasons seemingly lost to time, could have done something about the, ahem, labor troubles at Deadspin. They issued bold-sounding statements on the matter and assured the Internet that Petchesky’s firing “would not stand” — but not only did the firing stand, the rest of the union members didn’t even try a strike. They just quit. Can you imagine that happening with, say, the line workers at a GM plant? “They fired our buddy, so we’re all gonna quit!” Of course not. The line workers generally have families, and homes, and responsibilities. They don’t have the ability to wander off on a whim. That’s why they have a union!

So if the Deadspin employees didn’t need the work, and they didn’t want the union to intervene on their behalf, what’s the point of the GMG Union? From what I’ve read, the existence of the GMG Union is basically considered by its members to be a performative act; in other words, the union exists to demonstrate support for unions elsewhere. That’s why you’re not seeing a general strike across G/O Media properties — because that’s not the primary purpose of the GMG Union.

You see this sort of thing a lot on the right wing with people who own AR-15s and whatnot simply because they feel it frustrates their political opponents and demonstrates defiance on their part. This sign, which was produced by the writers at G/O Media’s defunct gossip blog Splinter, illustrates the point:

It’s worth noting that the history of Gawker Media does not involve brutal suppression by “the Pinkertons”, or unsafe work conditions, or child labor, or any of the other venalities typically practiced by the “bosses” of unionized work environments. Gawker’s founder, Nick Denton, was in favor of unionizing and he deliberately failed to discourage the founding of the union. Successive owners paid the union wages without complaint while issuing feeble directives like “try writing more about sports on this sports website.” So who, precisely, are the bosses who require fucking here?

The best analogy I can think of is this: The television show “Sons Of Anarchy”, which offered a profane and hugely depressing look at the travails of a fictional NorCal biker gang, spurred the founding or revival of countless faux biker gangs. The fake gang that benefited most from the SoA hysteria was the Iron Order, an “MC” largely populated by… police officers. That’s right, there’s a biker gang made up of cops.

The so-called one-percent biker gangs bitterly resent the Iron Order, referring to them by names that don’t bear repeating here. This in no way bothers the Iron Order guys, who spend their weekends wearing leather and patches and referring to each other by criminal-sounding nicknames before putting the Harleys back in the garage and getting back in their police cruisers, where they then work to actively undermine the position and activities of the “real” biker gangs.

In a sense, the Iron Order is the realest (most real, for those of you who don’t listen to rap) motorcycle club of all because they do, in fact, represent the most powerful gang of all — organized full-time law enforcement. So it’s what the furry-animal-outfit crowd calls “cosplay”, but it’s also a truthful and brutal reflection of reality. If you have the choice between killing a Hell’s Angel or killing a cop, you should choose the former, because there are parts of America where the Hell’s Angels have no power but cop killers have to live the rest of their lives without using credit cards or leaving fingerprints.

So you can look at the GMG Union as elaborate cosplay, appropriating the trappings of working-class unions for amusement and left-wing social cred in an elaborate act of performative wokeness that borders on self-parody. Or you can see it as a shadow of another, larger power in this country, namely the upper reaches of the middle class whose children live astoundingly privileged lives free from the responsibility, consequences, and cares assigned to their social inferiors. I don’t know about you, but I’ll sleep better at night if I can convince myself to believe the former.

* * *

For Hagerty, I reviewed the mighty GT500 and reminisced about the less mighty Ford Flex.

For TTAC, Brother Bark covered Buick problems and broken leases.

33 Replies to “(Last) Weekly Roundup: Union Of The Fake Edition”

  1. Avatarstingray65

    How do you create a sports site and populate it with contributors who would rather quit (and return to mother’s basement) than write about sports? Is it really that difficult to find decent writers/journalists who actually like and follow sports, or is this another manifestation of PC culture and the supposed need to hire a “diverse” staff (meaning white/Asian women) who by and large don’t know or care about sports?

    • AvatarNewbie Jeff

      …I’ll offer something else, too: I think people like this are the predictable products of a “progressive” education system that coddled students and praised them for their mere existence, as opposed to expecting effort from schoolwork and rewarding (or not rewarding) them for substantive (or less than substantive) results. Jack’s previous link to the article about the detrimental effects of progressive ideology in NYC public school has its fingerprints all over this kind of “work ethic” (at least in organizations that allow it).

      Basically, my guess is that the writers don’t feel compelled to write about sports, for the expectations of their readers or for the benefit of their company, simply because they think that whatever crap they feel like discharging will be totally awesome and receive universal acclaim. When that mindset comes face-to-face with reality, you then get the “Fuck Bosses…” thing…

      I have a great job, by almost any measure at the top of my field. But I did a lot of lesser – some would even say crappy – jobs to get here. In those lesser jobs, did I behave like I was resentful that my “totally awesome” skills weren’t being rewarded with accolades and a giant paycheck? Of course not… I did those jobs to the best of my ability, thankful that I had the opportunity to work and consciously aware (to Jack’s point) that I needed the paycheck. I don’t think today’s progressive education movement produces many students who would have the same attitude.

      • AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

        The quitters are probably part of the crowd that believes they deserve to have their student loans forgiven, free healthcare, and a universal basic income.

        • AvatarNewbie Jeff

          “The quitters are probably part of the crowd that believes they deserve to have their student loans forgiven, free healthcare, and a universal basic income.”

          Bingo. Just as it’s always much easier to demand things than earn them, it’s much easier to demand society provide you with what you feel you deserve than it is to be a net contributor… you have to hand it to the Democratic party, they’ve built an entire political platform by selling the former and demonizing the latter.

      • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

        Now that English grammar has been deemed, by professors of English no less, to be racist and that math has been determined to be underpinning cis heteronormative capitalism and the patriarchy, I feel bad for smart black and Hispanic kids who actually want to learn.

        • AvatarCJinSD

          You should feel for all smart kids who want to learn but don’t have parents with boundless resources harnessed for the purpose of shaping future plutocrats, because they’re all being held down to create social justice. You can’t accept people trying to separate behaviors from outcomes and expect anything less than horrific to result.

  2. AvatarJohn C.

    I like that you brought it back to the comparison with the UAW and to me the analogous cop versus thug bike gang. The union or government job allowed for marriage, house and an intact family for those with lower IQs. The other freelance part timer/criminal do not. It used to be the American dream was available to all who kept their nose clean. Not so much now.

    I was struck by that cop/UPS biker gang in NYC a few years back that got rough with that rich Asian family. The part that blew me away is when they sent their girls out to beg for the guilty cops, those were no wives. Just another bunch of ghetto welfare queens from central casting. A good steady union job and the adrenalin junky bum biker cop still are not stepping up to be real men. Quite disheartening how far we’ve dropped. Daniel Patrick Moynihan promised different.

  3. AvatarJW

    Deadspin has always been more of a “culture” sight loosely based around sports than a strict, ESPN-like sports website. Going back to the days of Will Leitch, they never really have stuck to sports exclusively. I mean, goodness even the weird stuff isn’t new. Deadspin is the reason Piggy Poop Balls entered the Internet’s collective lexicon.

    A lot of their pieces with higher readership were not really sports centered either. A lot of the stuff Drew Magary, known Guy Who Has A Lot of Readers, writes isn’t very sports-centered, for example.

    Management screwed the pooch here by being really bad at running a website that was already easy to advertise and profitable by taking away the parts of Deadspin that made it what it was.

    Comments about the GMG Union are fair, but I don’t think the criticism about Deadspin doing what it has always done are.

    • Avatardejal

      Except the new owners paid $$$$$$ for the property and rightly or wrongly they want to show a profit on their investment. Remember Deadspin was a part of a dumpster fire in the aftermath of the Hulk Hogan lawsuit.

      I had read something that their NON sports stories were rarely clicked on. That may be a lie in order to justify what happened, but the ones with the coin get to tell others how high to jump and dance. It doesn’t matter if the owners are right or wrong, they are the owners.

      What the tools at Deadspin did immediately following the edict of “Stick to Sports” by placing non sports stories online with an overlay mocking the owners was nothing but vandalism. I saw something where Bernie Sanders stuck up for the tools. I wonder if I was hired for the care and feeding of Bernie’s web pages and started putting non Bernie things on the pages that Bernie would be cool with it.

  4. AvatarNoID

    Dave (or their new CEO Erica) should immediately send job offers to the “displaced” ex-staffers from Deadspin. Just to watch them squirm at the notion of working for them.

    Your point about their faux-union is spot on. What’s the point of having a union if it won’t do any of the typical union stuff? Go on strike, “work to rule”, sabotage the editorial quality, etc…until you get what you want. People unionize so they can collectively turn the screws on management.

    As well, **** that “scab” who rolled over in the face of criticism. He saw a company in need of labor/content and filled the gap, good for him. Maybe if the Deadspin staff had actually called a strike my opinion would be different, but they all quit. They gave up their voice. If I was this Goldsher fellow, I’d write all the stories Deadspin would take and accept all the money they would give, especially in this economy.

    • AvatarNewbie Jeff

      “…but they all quit. They gave up their voice”

      Exactly. There is no picket line cross, and therefore a not-so-subtle irony here: a freelance writer who makes his entire living from publishing his unhindered work, unbound by the confines of a media organization, gets publicly destroyed by a mob who undoubtedly fancies themselves the stalwart guardians of the free press and righteous champions of writers being able to express what they want…

  5. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    I’ve long wondered why some people think that a business has a greater moral obligation to the people from whom it buys labor than to any of its other suppliers. The people working for my vendors are equally human to the people working directly for me.

  6. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    Am I the only person to have noticed that when the Deadspin labor story is covered, and they mention other affiliated former Gawker sites, Jalopnik is almost never mentioned by name, just one of the “other former Gawker properties”?

    BTW, Jalopnik wasn’t started to provide an offbeat perspective of the automotive world. It was started to provide further career opportunities for Ray Wert, now in charge of communications at Cruise, GM’s autonomous driving subsidiary. I’m quite sure he never discusses GM’s interests with his wife, a Michigan state senator.

  7. AvatarBaconator

    Trenchant observation, but I think the Occam’s Razor hypothesis here is much simpler:
    – The Union is a shitty union that can’t negotiate on behalf of its members.
    – A Union can’t call a strike effectively when scabs can be found anywhere, and can submit work from anywhere in the world.
    – The G/O media people are wanna-be private equity guys who can’t run a business effectively. But with a $20M buy, they’re Pop-Warner-league compared to real private equity Masters of the Universe like Bain Capital / Blackstone / TPG / etc. So … entitled boneheads with a network of high-net-worth families, most likely. (I think their hilariously bad handling of the Kinja shutdown is an important data point in a pattern of incompetence.)
    – The Deadspin writers don’t have kids or cars because they can’t afford them and have no job security.
    – It was obvious that the writers were going to get fired, so why not quit and get some “street cred” that springboards into the next job? These guys really have only their byline to sell to new employers, and “took a principled stand for the readers” sells so much better than “waited to get fired so I could collect 12 weeks of state unemployment checks.”

    Admittedly, I would not be surprised to find out that all these writers are *also* trust-fund kids whose parents were I-bankers that had houses in the Hamptons. But that little plot twist isn’t at all necessary to explain the course of events here.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      A single point of contention:

      “The Deadspin writers don’t have kids or cars because they can’t afford them and have no job security.”

      Not buying it. The vast majority of children in this country are born to people who have a household income well below the $72k plus guaranteed raises paid to middling G/O union-era. You can absolutely have kids on that kind of money. What you cannot have: kids PLUS a iPhone 11 PLUS Starbucks frequent buyer cred PLUS summer trips to Tuscany.

      These young people have been brainwashed, plain and simple, by an upper middle class that sees Brazil as the destination model for the United States: a light-skinned caste ruling over a vast brown servant pool, with one of those servant occasionally elevated to mouthpiece status. Having a bunch of even +1SD middle-class people reproducing threatens that plan.

      • AvatarBaconator

        You worked for a Gawker site and know these guys, and I don’t, so I don’t know if they’re entitled asshats or just your standard hosed-by-the-economy Millenial keyboard warriors. I will say that If these guys are living in Manhattan where Deadspin’s offices are, they can’t have a kid, a 2-bedroom apartment, and any hope at saving for retirement. Basically pick any one of those three. Even if you cut your iPhone-and-craft-beer budget to $0, you can’t get around the cost of living in a place like that.

        Yes, plenty of immigrants and black people raise kids in Manhattan on $72k a year, but if you’re trying to give your kids a middle-class lifestyle and a shot at a future with a middle-class lifestyle, then it ain’t happening there, not with that kind of income. My budget math says it takes $300k a year in NYC or SF to give a kid the same lifestyle — good school, separate bedroom, a few toys and after-school activities — that you seem to provide for your son in Ohio.

        Deadspin writers aren’t really the creators of that problem, but if I’m reading the G/O Media guys’ backgrounds properly, they definitely are of the creating-that-problem class.

        • AvatarBaconator

          Although perhaps you and I are saying the same thing, with the G/O Media guys clearly part of this ruling class. The only nuance is that I think the Deadspin guys are probably part of the “vast brown servant pool” by pay grade. They’re holding on to their quaint notion of white-middle-class-respectability of lifestyle via the budget-cutting exercise of childlessness.

        • Avatararbuckle

          “Even if you cut your iPhone-and-craft-beer budget to $0, you can’t get around the cost of living in a place like that.”

          I’d say the Deadspin writers are people fortunate enough to have the freedom to choose the priorities in their lives. These aren’t folks handcuffed by circumstance, there are G/O Media writers that don’t live in NYC and in general you certainly don’t need to live in Manhattan to write for a website or work as a journalist.

          While I don’t necessarily agree with Jack’s specific examples the overall point of “you can’t have everything” is accurate.

  8. AvatarSigivald

    “Workers quit jobs en-masse in solidarity with fired CEO” is … not how I expected unionization to work out.

    And it’s hardly “fuck bosses”, is it?

  9. AvatarHarry

    I can only comment on Drew Magary, a writer I have been following about as long as I have been following Jack.

    I think his departure probably had a lot more to do with needing to move on anyway. He has kids, a wife a home ect. and is probably making more money from that than Deadspin. Certainly, some of his success as a novelist is from the audience he found when he was a main contributor to Kissingsuzykolber.com, and along with Matt Ufford was god damned hilarious. He left KSK in a similar manner when he needed to manage his own brand.

    To say that for the last few years he was going through the motions at Deadspin the last few years would be an understatement. He rehashed the same jokes over and over year after year that he had been trotting out since 2006, apparently to quite a bit of readership since he had his own button in the Deadspin masthead to link directly to the articles he wrote. He also caught an unbearable case of Trump-itis. His hackey tirades make much of his work unreadable, even if he managed to write something he hadn’t expressed a thousand times before. I think leaving Deadspin will help him move on from his NFL, NFL, Dickjoke, Trump, Food, Dickjoke NFL, MLS, Fart Dickjoke, NFL formula that had made him some money.

  10. AvatarMopar4wd

    I’m sure plenty of them don’t have rich parents, they have the other traditional backup of the creative class, a well employed spouse.
    Also not entirely a new thing on either count. I think the newest parts are talking about it and reporters becoming part of the creative class rather then kind of in between profession.
    I lived briefly in a small rural town with a large art community, Wealthy (or hardworking) spouses and parents is what keeps that world turning and has for a couple generations now.

  11. Avatar-Nate

    Having never stepped above the Blue Collar state I find this interesting .

    It appears to me as these were indeed a bunch of slacker jerkhoffs ~ for that kind of money I’d be willing to do almost anything, I never saw it in my life, not everyone gets to have the fancy stuff, if that’s important you you get off your butt and study hard them work for it .

    OTOH, a a Union member I never felt ‘screw the bosses’ was the point or mission ~ it was to prevent them from screwing us, those who did the hard, dirty & nasty works they didn’t want to do .

    I have difficulty wrapping my mind around the concept of not doing the job you were hired to do .


  12. AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

    “I have difficulty wrapping my mind around the concept of not doing the job you were hired to do.”

    That seems to be pretty common these days. I have new hires that after a week on the job seem to think they are smarter than the foreman or even myself and my partner. And this is with them not knowing the difference between a theodilite (precision transit) and flashlight. We had to institute a “no phones” policy, after several tries at telling them “no phone while you’re working” due many of them trying to work with one hand, while holding their phone with the other. That created a hell raising session of biblical proportions, main bitch being, “what if my wife, kid, parent, cousin, etc, needs to get in touch with me?” Give them my number as an emergency contact, I’ll come get you. You would have thought we were asking them to cut off 2 fingers on each hand.

    Until your name is on the top left of the checks, you don’t make the rules. Right or wrong, that person does. If thats not acceptable to you, go start your own company.

    And get off my lawn.

    • Avatar-Nate

      Just so .

      I owned an indie shop and was coerced into being a supervisor a few times, mostly the guys I supervised were jerkhoffs and I wasn’t allowed to dock them pay, yell at them or smack them up side their empty heads so after one was caught trying to light the upstairs whse. on fire I simply refused to supervise anyone, said I’d let whomever I was supposed to be supervising go wherever they wanted as long as it wasn’t any where near me .

      BTW : it’s not usually the bosses who loot the pension fund, strip the value out of a profitable company and then bail out leaving the workers in the lurch, it’s the investors .

      Those old enough to remember the late 1970’s wil remember all the lazy assed rich baby boomers who figured this out and then cut a huge swath through America’s manufacturing .

      I used to read the newspapers in the early morning before I opened up my dinky little shop and wonder why it wasn’t illegal to do that .

      Guess who did all that ? hint : it wasn’t the worthless dnc .


      • Avatar-Nate

        OBTW :

        I learned that a sturdy fence will keep those goldurned whippersnappers off the lawn ~ a short one works just fine, they’ll trip over it a few times, who cares .


      • Avatarhank chinaski

        To be clear, by ‘bosses’ I don’t refer to the supervisor level employees, stuck babysitting room temp IQ mouthbreathers for a 1.2-3x salary bump that you’re very accurately describing.

        Shareholders? Unless you’re swinging Buffet levels of shares around, I’m incredulous. Your mail in proxy votes must look different than mine. At the risk of sounding like a patchouli stinking college kid in a Che t-shirt, globohomocorp has zero loyalty to anything but profit…not to the citizens of the nations they supposedly reside in, not to their employees or customers, and not even to the laws of the nations they dance among, paying a pittance in penalties for whichever malfeasance as a cost of doing business. Worse, it’s transparent that they’re envious of the Chi-com model and would turn the US into one big social-credit driven, Blade Runner-esque, Foxxconn factory, nets and all, if they could.

        Many apologies for the rant. I should switch to decaf, or better yet, bourbon.

        aside: upinthevalley knocked it out, re. ‘Jeff Spicoli….’

  13. Avatarhank chinaski

    There must be balance in the Force.

    It’s the ‘bosses’ (and all due respect to DDMcG, it’s well above our pay grade) that move production overseas, use the Chamber of Commerce to lobby for unlimited cheap labor at home, have you train your own H1B replacements, drive your small business to extinction, gamble away the pension fund and load the company with debt before breaking it up, prompt you to use Medicaid and food stamps in the face of shit compensation and zero benes, dump waste in your own air and water etc etc etc. “Muh GNP”. The polar opposite of course is ‘we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us’. Collapse. Famine.

    As for Deadspin, nothing of value was lost. These twats will be writing op eds at WaPo or the Times sooner than later.

    And me? I’M ON BREAK.

  14. AvatarCliffG

    Now that ABC has forced CBS to fire the staffer that leaked the Robach/Epstein tape, I wonder how many righteous journalists will quit because ABC sat on a story about a pedophile for 3 years? And fired the whistleblower who outed their coverup? Oh, that’s right, the story was spiked to keep heat off Democrats (and especially the Clintons). Well, that is totally different. Never mind.

    • AvatarCJinSD

      Pedophilia will be part of the official Democrat National Committee platform by 2024. That they care more about protecting child rapists than any other priority isn’t a surprise to anyone who isn’t completely brainwashed.

  15. AvatarTyler

    I think the only possible explanation for Epstein’s having been permitted to stay afloat in truly elite waters long after his behavior was a matter of public record is: they’re all doing it. The practice of fabulously wealthy old men taking juvenile sex partners must be so pervasive that it’s invisible to them. If I so much as glanced across the room at a known pedo I’d be 404’d from every single thing that matters to me. Bill Gates is liberated. He may not have a harem of teenagers himself but he doesn’t see it as a problem in the same sense that I don’t see shopping for one’s own groceries as a problem. I may be forgiven for assuming that These People, even the well meaning ones, feel as though my purpose in life is to pump out attractive daughters for their consumption.

  16. AvatarRyan

    Watching this unfold on Twitter was absolutely hilarious. Most of what appeared on my feed seemed to originate from the same 2-3 people. Ironically enough, these same people happen to be freelancers who also complain about being unemployed… Whether direct-hire or freelancer, all of these people act as though they were performing a crucial public service. I don’t understand how getting paid $70k/year to “write” hot takes at a 5th grade level and post pictures of Brett Favre’s genitals betters our society, but perhaps I’m out of touch.

    I never really gave a shit about Barstool, but I do have a newfound respect for Portnoy. Say what you will of their site or his managerial style, but the way he was able to “troll” the former Deadspin bloggers illustrated how it is possible to “reverse the roles” so to speak when it comes to social media outrage. To Portnoy’s credit, it is no secret that Deadspin et al have been trying to “take down” Barstool for years. Hell, even Jalopnik had a hand in it when they published that garbage article about the NASCAR/Barstool tie-up.

    The best part about this whole situation is their gutless union. Nobody from Jalopnik or other G/O sites stepped down in solidarity. Based upon my (admittedly low-level) research, the only thing anyone did was retweet someone else’s statements and make vague statements about how “this will not stand.” The only reason for the existence of their union is to “protect” their ability to get paid for virtue signaling, a far cry from what people like Walter P. Reuther fought for.


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