G/O Media — the parent company that runs 11 websites, including the former Gawker Media properties Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Deadspin, The A.V. Club, The Onion, and Jezebel — has removed images from articles published before 2019, sources have confirmed to Gawker. The removal took place without internal announcement — as one G/O employee put it: “We are still kind of flying blind.”
Many of the sites’ most famous pieces now appear without artwork. The Onion’s 1996 article, “Christ Returns To NBA,” no longer has pictures of Jesus. Deadspin’s takedown of football player Manti Te’o’s fake dead girlfriend is also missing art. All of the pictures in “The Best Stories Splinter Published in 2017” are gone. Perhaps most noticeably: The Onion’s section “News in Photos,” which typically features a joke headline and a photo, is now missing most of its photos. Even original art made by former G/O art director Jim Cooke is nowhere to be found.
One source, who spoke to Gawker on background, said the missing images were first noticed internally on Monday. Staff believed the disappearance may have been a technical bug, but later found the move was intentional. The confusion stemmed in part from the fact that images were still visible to anyone logged into the company-wide content management system, called Kinja, according to Slack screenshots reviewed by Gawker. “It's slowing the dissemination of this news internally, because I don't think a lot of people realize yet,” an editor said. “I mean, that's changing as we speak.”
The specifics of the removal are still unclear. Some of the deleted images still appear as thumbnails in other articles. The picture for the 2012 blog, “The Dumbest Story Ever Written About Derek Jeter” appears in this piece; it is missing from the original. Likewise, the 2017 post, “Nation Leery of Very Odd Little Boy,” now lacks the little boy, even though the model was a staff member’s son. But the image still shows up on Google.
A current G/O staffer told Gawker they believed the decision had been known only to G/O’s executive leadership — specifically its controversial CEO Jim Spanfeller — as well as select members of its legal and tech teams. A spokesperson for G/O Media did not immediately return Gawker’s request for comment.
A source familiar with the company’s CMS told Gawker they believed the removal primarily affected photos published before the publications were acquired by Great Hill Partners, the private equity firm that bought them from Univision in April 2019. The Great Hill acquisition, which led to the appointment of Spanfeller, a former Forbes executive, as CEO, has been fraught and widely criticized — including by its employees, who wrote about various managerial missteps on G/O’s own sites. Most famously: former Deadspin writer Laura Wagner reported an exposé on Spanfeller’s shortcomings, including his directive that her site should “stick to sports,” resulting in the mass resignation of its writers. That piece, which came out in Aug. 2019, still has artwork.
At press time, staff had not been briefed on the rationale for the mass image removal. But yesterday, Gawker reported on a similar situation at BuzzFeed, which had deleted thousands of images in posts published before 2015 due to copyright infringement claims. When staff brought up the issue at BuzzFeed, management laid out a complex process to petition for images to be restored, provided writers could prove they had been properly sourced. As of Wednesday, G/O staff had not been informed whether they would have a similar chance to restore images.
According to PACER, G/O Media has been involved in five lawsuits related to copyright infringement claims since September of last year.
“I'm of the opinion that this is wholly unnecessary, even being fully aware of the types of lawsuits that publishers are facing from poorly documented image licensing,” one employee said. “But even still, I would hope that like BuzzFeed, we would be offered the opportunity to provide such documentation and restore images on a case by case basis.”