Commentary

Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

New York media last week was buzzing with reports about the newsroom revolt at sports website Deadspin, whose interim editor in chief announced on Twitter that he was fired for not "sticking to sports." Almost 20 writers and editors subsequently quit in protest, showing solidarity against the site's new owners, private-equity firm Great Hill Partners.

The incident encapsulated the tension between newsroom employees and private-equity companies that are buying media properties and restructuring them to maximize profits. As reporter Gerry Smith of Bloomberg News pointed out last week, private equity's presence in the news industry is expanding and may lead to more strife.

Private-equity firms are either acquiring publishers like Gannett or backing purchases of magazine titles like Sports Illustrated. The firms also happen to be some of the most reviled in the world. The criticism isn't always fair, especially in cases when they share the same ideas with managers and employees about how to run a company.

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I'm not going to apologize for the private-equity industry either, having seen cases where leveraged buyouts stripped assets out of companies and left them straining under unsustainable debt. Toys 'R' Us is a classic example of a company that was left in a much weaker competitive position after private-equity owners paid investors handsomely while loading up debts on the toy retailer.

Private-equity firms aren't necessarily any worse than any other kind of owner. I have yet to work for a publisher who didn't have suggestions about what to publish, and who didn’t complain about how much they were paying newsroom employees. "Do more with less," is an often-heard mantra in the news ghetto. Salespeople are held in high esteem for making it rain, while editors and reporters are a cost center of sulking grumps who aren't much fun at the office Christmas party.

It's a shame that differences between Deadspin's owners and newsroom employees couldn't have been resolved without sacrificing jobs. I’m impressed by the boldness of the move, considering how many unemployed journalists there are.

Browsing through the journalism jobs posted on LinkedIn, it's not unusual to see several hundred applicants for the same opening at major media organizations. I also wonder which of those companies would be willing hire an editor whose last grand gesture was to tell a former employer, in the immortal words of David Allan Coe: "Take this job and shove it!"

That said, I'm always happy to help editors and writers looking for work, whenever I can. And I do hear about job openings in the course of my work. Out-of-work reporters are welcome to contact me, and I won't even charge a finder's fee.

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