A downside of working in the media is vastly overestimating how interesting the dramatics of the business are to people who don’t — how what seems like hot gossip often dissipates into chatty inanity when explained to an outsider, how supposedly self-evident miscarriages of justice (did you hear the VICE office no longer has good snacks?) are really just mild inconveniences that should never be described out loud. Many of these problems are not really problems when weighed against the fact that life is short, and that we will all die. I recognize that, but if life is to be enjoyed while we have it, then here I must complain about something relatively trivial but, in fact, immensely irritating: the new video ads at Deadspin, which affect a great many people who do not work in the media.
Deadspin is a good and very popular sports website that, earlier this year, was acquired, along with its sister sites at the former Gawker/Gizmodo Media Group (Jezebel, Kotaku, etc.) by the private equity group Great Hill Partners. By the depressing accounts of those who work there, this has largely been a disaster — the new owners are uninterested in anything but boosting profits and diminishing controversy, and are waging a low-scale psychological war against the tenured employees clinging onto their notions of what journalism, and specifically the journalism at the former Gawker/Gizmodo Media Group, should be.
As horrible as the owners have been, I feel mildly sure in declaring that, were the actual experience of using the website unchanged, most people would simply get used to it in the service of supporting the good people who still work there. But this has not been the case. The new overlords have pushed an aggravating change to the site: the automatic inclusion, in every article I’ve clicked on (and I’ve clicked on a lot), of auto-play, sound-on video ads that begin the moment you scroll down a post.
This process has repeated at least two dozen times: I open up a piece, I start reading, I reach a video clip helpfully embedded by an editor to enhance said piece, I hit play, I realize that sound is playing from two sources, I scroll back up to pause an ad for Farmers Insurance before scrolling back down to rewind the intended clip from the start. Or worse: I get halfway through an article with no video clip, settling into a nice rhythm before the advertisement kicks through my speakers like the Kool-Aid Man and I have to dart back up to silence this sonic barrage. Horrible! It’s just horrible. The change has been levied across the sites at G/O Media (the company’s new name), but they’re most personally notable at Deadspin because that’s the one I read the most. (There’s also more banner ads, which are just as annoying, but thankfully soundless.)
Okay, it’s one more thing you have to click. Certainly it’s not in the (thinking deeply) top 100,000,000 grievances about the state of the world today. But perhaps you have read that journalism is in somewhat of an institutional freefall, as money continues to be lost, publications continue to be shuttered, and workers continue to be jerked around by bosses who say they’re interested in doing the right things, but would really rather gallivant around in the Hamptons and bemoan the protestations of the hoi polloi. It begins to aggrieve, the craven bottoms they’re willing to scrape in order to get that money, as I presume this is the result of some stupid new strategy to maximize profits with no consideration for the average reader. The lie that Jim Spanfeller and Paul Maidment, the two stiffs dragging G/O Media through the mud to get that cash, are “invested in journalism” collapses when pitted against the blunt fact that reading the website is now an inarguably worse experience.
The people who work at these sites are creative enough to weather the hemorrhaging staff, budget cuts, editorial mandates, and pushes for traffic that often accompany these acquisitions, but they can’t do anything about the ads. Nor should they have to, really, given that a writer’s job is “produce writing,” not “convince my boss to avoid alienating our readers.” One could go to the trouble of installing a hacker-grade adblocker to remedy things, but the onus shouldn’t be on the very basic internet users (i.e. me) who don’t want to have to consult a computer handbook before reading a piece of trenchant commentary about LeBron James. I guess all there is to do is complain about things, until the bosses are shamed into obeisance.
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