The Slatest

The Media-Sensational Rise and Fall of “Jim Spanfeller Is a Herb”

A growth-hungry publishing company suppresses one of the week’s most popular posts.

The headline and photo of the now-deleted post, Jim Spanfeller Is a Herb
Kinja

In the culmination of a dayslong struggle to suppress a post that repeatedly referred to its CEO, Jim Spanfeller, as a herb, G/O Media has taken the drastic step of removing the article from its Kinja platform entirely. In its brief life, the post—written by Emma Carmichael, a former editor at a former version of the company—was viewed nearly 100,000 times and was tweeted out by the official People for Bernie Twitter account. It was four days old.

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Before we go any further, I feel compelled to acknowledge that nearly everything about this item is a conflict of interest. Emma Carmichael is a friend of mine, and we both worked at Gawker Media and, as it was later named after being purchased by Univision, Gizmodo Media Group, or GMG. What’s left of that company is currently called G/O Media. Among the multiple Gawker and/or GMG and/or G/O websites I wrote for was, for a brief stint, Deadspin, which is currently without a staff after every single one of its writers quit en masse following the firing of beloved editor Barry Petchesky, who is another friend of mine. Lastly, I firmly believe, personally, that Jim Spanfeller is a herb. Use this information as you see fit.

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This particular set of troubles all started when private equity firm Great Hill Partners purchased GMG and hired Spanfeller, a former Forbes.com CEO, to guide the ship. According to Great Hill Partners’ website, Spanfeller “has led comparable media platforms and positioned them for successful strategic exit,” which probably means something to someone, somewhere, but Spanfeller is perhaps best known for dramatically increasing Forbes.com’s focus on digital advertising (Spanfeller also previously served as chairman of the Interactive Advertising Bureau).

As Spanfeller increasingly insisted on directing editorial coverage in what he believed to be more advertiser-friendly directions, clashes between him and the company’s writers and editors have escalated. Most recently, after the latest edict that Deadspin “stick to sports,” its writers revolted, and Spanfeller retaliated by firing the top-ranking employee, Petchesky (Deadspin’s latest editor-in-chief, Megan Greenwell quit in August for many of the reasons described above).

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In the midst of the fallout, former Deadspin, Gawker, and Jezebel editor Emma Carmichael had “a spirited discussion with [former Jezebel writer] Clio Chang on the overwhelming herbishness of Jim Spanfeller,” she told me over the phone. This conversation inspired her to write a post on the personal account she still holds on G/O’s publishing platform, Kinja, titled “Jim Spanfeller Is a Herb.”

Pronounced with a hard h, herbs are difficult to define, but typified by the individuals seen in this earlier Carmichael post about herbitude. Or as Carmichael explained, “If you don’t know what a herb is, you’re probably a herb.”

While the archived version of the post did not preserve the original images, you can view a PDF of the original post below.

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The post, published Tuesday evening, proved wildly popular on Twitter. At the time of publication, Carmichael’s original tweet has been retweeted more than 300 times.

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According to multiple sources inside the company, the post even joined the leading posts from official G/O sites on the “big board,” a large screen in the company’s New York headquarters that displays that moment’s most highly trafficked stories—an unusual feat for a user-generated post.

The post was so popular, in fact, that it apparently gained the attention and ire of Spanfeller himself (perhaps partially due to the fact that someone registered Deadspin2.com and set it to redirect to Carmichael’s post). While Carmichael was on a plane to Paris, I discovered that G/O had changed her account’s URL from emma.kinja.com to lajskhclsahkchkad.kinja.com, while going to emma.kinja.com now redirects to the new URL, at the time of the change, it simply showed a broken page. In other words, G/O media had effectively broken the redirect at Deadspin2.com, so that the site now redirected to a dead link.

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Then, Thursday night, after Bernie Sanders tweeted in support of Deadspin, supporter collective People for Bernie tweeted the post at its new URL:

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After which, sometime today, the post disappeared, only to be replaced by this:

The message about the deleted post
Kinja
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It’s not entirely clear which of Kinja’s guidelines were violated, particularly considering that there’s no agreed upon definition of what constitutes a herb. A spokesperson for G/O has yet to respond to a request for clarification, but we will update this post if and when that changes.

“Oh my God, that’s so funny,” Carmichael said when I informed her of this latest development. “Everything they’ve done in reaction to it is the herbiest shit I could possibly imagine. It’s everything I’ve wanted and more.”

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“I’m kind of a tipsy at a bar in Paris,” she added.

When asked if she stood by the content of the since-disappeared post, Carmichael remained steadfast: “I did really careful, thorough research, and the evidence is there. Everyone can see it on the page—or at least, everyone could see it before the censorship. The anti-herb agenda is being suppressed.”

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In addition to the removal of the post itself, Carmichael also discovered that she’s now unable to use her personal Kinja account at all. When she tried to edit the post, she was greeted by the following image:

A screen that says 401/You do not have permission to access this page.
Screenshot
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Attempts to create a new post were similarly thwarted.

A screenshot with text over a post saying, "Post save failed."
Screenshot

I’ve reached out to Spanfeller for comment multiple times over the past few days and have yet to hear back. In the meantime, Carmichael had her own message for Spanfeller: “Congratulations on confirming your herb-ishness.”

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