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G/O Media Shutters Jezebel After Abandoning Sale Efforts

Illustration by Dan McQuade

G/O Media, the holding company led by dipshit media parasite Jim Spanfeller, abruptly suspended the operation of Jezebel and laid off the site's entire editorial team Thursday morning. The move comes two days after Spanfeller dismissed G/O Media editorial director Merrill Brown, and amid a round of layoffs expected to eliminate 23 jobs across the company.

Jezebel, the popular feminist publication that launched in 2007, survived the collapse of Gawker Media and the sale of its network of sites to Univision in 2016, and then the ominous transition of ownership to private-equity firm Great Hill Partners in 2019. Under Spanfeller’s oversight, the site had seen its staff whittled down to the bare minimum. At the time of its shuttering, Jezebel’s masthead (which evidently hadn't been fully updated in the past year) included one full-time editor, Lauren Tousignant, who in addition to regular editing duties was standing in as interim editor-in-chief, while Brown and deputy editorial director Lea Goldman worked through a protracted search for a permanent replacement.

Laura Bassett, the former EIC who resigned in August, said at the time that her hand was forced by leadership’s refusal “to treat my staff with basic human decency.” Among Bassett’s concerns was the company’s top-down decision to start using AI-written content, which the network’s union described as “computer-generated garbage” that undermined the work of staff and the publications’ editorial missions. 

Communication under the Spanfeller regime has always been poor. (The founders of Defector, who worked for him before resigning en masse in 2019, can confirm this firsthand.) As Jezebel was allowed to stagnate, with an overworked staff and an interim EIC stretched to the limit, rumors swirled about the future of the publication. Two Jezebel staffers who spoke with Defector on Thursday said that staff demanded and received a meeting with Brown and Goldman several weeks after Bassett’s departure, and asked “point-blank” whether G/O Media was planning to sell Jezebel. The staffers, who asked for anonymity due to uncertainty about severance in the aftermath of the site’s shutdown, said Brown and Goldman were evasive and non-committal, offering vague statements about working to put Jezebel on firm footing, which at least one staffer took to be a no. This seemed to contradict a rumor that had circulated among G/O Media editorial staff: that Brown, acting on G/O Media’s behalf, had earnestly offered the site to Bassett at the time of her resignation. In any case, shortly after Brown and Goldman seemed to downplay or even deny any effort by the company to offload Jezebel, Axios reported the opposite: G/O Media was searching for a buyer for the site, and Goldman was in charge of leading the effort. According to the two Jezebel staffers, this was the first official confirmation that they received about the plan.

As the effort to sell Jezebel became common knowledge, the staffers who spoke with Defector began to notice a marked decrease in attention from G/O Media leadership. Where previously oversight had been hands-on to the point of micro-management, the sources said that starting in September it suddenly seemed like no one really cared about what went on at the site, either on the page or behind the scenes. Concerns about traffic and output suddenly melted away, and staffers began to suspect that this meant G/O Media had given up on running the site. Editorial leadership appeared to make no real effort to find a new crew of editors or diversify the staff, and the current staffers could only gather “scraps of information” about what might be happening with the sale. The failure of editorial leadership to staff up one of the network’s flagship publications was no longer a surprise, according to these staffers, who had grown accustomed to working in a bare-bones operation.

In the absence of better information, staff began to tie the two overlapping conditions together: Goldman and Brown were dragging their feet on hiring because they were either occupied with the sale or because they assumed the site would be easier to offload with lower payroll commitments. The reverse also seemed possible: that the reputation of G/O Media was so spoiled that even in a brutal media job market, people “would rather starve” than work for it. 

Staffers were optimistic that a sale would eventually be completed, even in the absence of any concrete updates. One Jezebel staffer told Defector that they had been assured in no uncertain terms that a failure to sell Jezebel would not lead to layoffs. There was still no indication, as Jezebel went into its final hours of operation this week, that the site was nearing its end. On Tuesday night, staff worked off-hours to cover the 2023 elections; on Wednesday night, the site was again staffed off-hours to provide updates on the GOP primary debate in Miami. On Thursday morning, editorial leadership sent notice of a meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. At the meeting, the handful of Jezebel staffers were given three pieces of news: The effort to sell the site had fallen through and been abandoned as of Tuesday; Jezebel would be shuttered, effective immediately; and they would all be out of a job. The Jezebel staffers told Defector that within minutes of that meeting, they were removed from company Slack channels and had their email access terminated.

Laid-off Jezebel staffers continue to harbor doubts about the seriousness of Goldman’s effort to sell the beloved website. The firewall between editorial and sales had long been permeable enough at G/O Media for editorial staffers to have internalized that Jezebel could be a tough sell for advertisers, a business-side concern that Spanfeller reinforced in a memo distributed to staff Thursday, announcing Jezebel’s shuttering. Spanfeller said that G/O Media’s “business model and the audiences we serve across our network did not align with Jezebel’s,” which one staffer understood to be a more-or-less true statement of the gap between the enthusiast content mills Spanfeller prefers and the outspokenly left-leaning work that forms Jezebel’s editorial outlook, which has historically made it a tougher fit with advertisers.

The suddenness of the abandonment of the sale effort and the abrupt shuttering seem to confirm what one Jezebel staffer described to Defector as a suspicion, starting with Bassett’s departure back in August and growing stronger in the months to follow, that G/O Media had already decided to nuke the site. The search for a buyer, by this interpretation, was less about capitalizing on the reputation of a legacy publication and more about seeing if there was any last-minute value to extract from a property that management had come to view as garbage.

The closure of Jezebel rids G/O Media of the last site with a direct mandate to report and offer commentary on American politics, and shutters what a G/O Media pitch document described as “an outlier in G/O Media’s male-skewing portfolio of digital properties” according to Axios. Given the ongoing nationwide struggle to resist harsh state-level abortion bans and a 2024 presidential election cycle that is about to kick up into high gear, it's an astonishing decision. There is no word yet on whether Spanfeller’s new robo-writers will have the latitude to acknowledge the shifting state of American democracy, as they scrape the work of all the journalists the company is chasing out into the street.

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