Update 12:41: G/O Media now says that it is "reevaluating the options for maintaining Kinja user pages and they will remain accessible at this time."
In the aftermath of Deadspin’s death last week, countless users of the blogging platform Kinja—where unofficial personal blog pages live side by side with popular sites including Gizmodo, Jezebel, and Kotaku—rose up and shouted a single, unified message: “Jim Spanfeller is a herb.”
The phrase is a dig at G/O Media’s new CEO Jim Spanfeller, who made the decision to fire Deadspin’s interim editor-in-chief Barry Petchesky. After the rest of Deadspin’s staff, including me, quit, Spanfeller’s status as a herb has gone viral as the Deadspin community mourns the end of a good blog.
The herb observation was originally published in a blog by former Deadspin, Gawker, and Jezebel editor Emma Carmichael on her personal Kinja in the hours after Petchesky’s firing (archived here) and it immediately became wildly popular, rising high on G/O’s “big board” of viral stories and earning a tweet from the official People for Bernie account before the text of the blog was replaced with the note, “Certain content on this user post that contravenes the platform’s content guidelines has been removed per our terms of service.”
Unsurprisingly, the censorship only increased the story’s momentum. Former Gawker Media employees including Tommy Craggs and John Cook reposted the blog on their own personal Kinja pages, leading the company to play whack-a-mole as it tried to delete the apparently offensive plant comparison wherever it popped up (or hide it—Carmichael’s account had its URL changed to from emma.kinja.com to lajskhclsahkchkad.kinja.com.)
Deadspin’s official twitter account linked to Craggs’s repost on Friday night, and embarrassingly, it has not yet been deleted. Elsewhere, former Deadspin blogger and current New York Daily News sports editor Kyle Wagner changed his display name to “Jim Spanfeller Is a Herb BY EMMA CARMICHAEL,” making that phrase the official byline on countless old officially published blogs. It even showed up on Sunday’s episode of John Oliver:
Perhaps because it was unable to control the spread of the herb jokes, G/O Media has decided to nuke user pages altogether. The company placed this message at the top of all personal Kinja blogs, informing the community that their pages will soon be deleted:
Dear Kinja User,
We're writing to advise you that G/O Media, which operates the Kinja platform, will be discontinuing Kinja user pages. Accordingly, any content which you have posted to your Kinja page will be deleted in the coming weeks, and it will not be accessible after deletion. Should you wish to retain that content, you should make a copy of it for your personal records now. Comments posted to G/O Media's websites by Kinja users will not be affected by this change. Note that at this time we have set blogs to read-only. If you have any questions about this change to the Kinja platform, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A request for an explanation, including how long this change has been in the works and whether or not this move was a specific response to Carmichael’s blog, went unanswered by G/O Media. Whatever the reason, destroying personal blogs certainly isn’t going to change the opinions of those who used them.
“Even if it isn't specifically about the herbs,” Craggs said in response to the announcement, “It's a supremely herb move and just confirms the premise of Emma's blog, which is that Jim Spanfeller is a herb.”
Besides killing herb posts, G/O Media will also be killing dozens of important user-generated Kinja pages, some of which have been posting regularly for years.Some of these unofficial Kinja blogs include Sidespin, Oppositelock, and the only public record of White House pool reports. Plenty of smart people are already getting to work trying to save the writing of a personal blog system that’s been around since 2013 before it is unceremoniously deleted, perhaps because Spanfeller is a herb.
The abruptness of this announcement certainly won’t do anything to calm nerves. I reached out to the Internet Archive’s Jason Scott to ask what could be done to save the blogs, and he responded that the Archive Team, which is an independent group of archivers, hasn’t had a chance yet to survey the sites and learn if they can be saved.
“(I have) no idea, therefore, how the users can do anything but be sad,” he said.
G/O Media is “obviously in a death spiral with regards to these Univision-sold properties,” he added. And when I asked if there was ever a good reason for taking archived work off the Internet, his response was simple.
“No, there's no good reason at all.”
In the meantime, Freedom of the Press’s Parker Higgins, has offered to help Kinja bloggers create PDF backups of their work.
Regardless of why G/O media is doing this, it feels like a bizarre decision. The value of G/O’s sites is that it has an intensely loyal core group of readers, known as “super fans” internally. The expansiveness of the Kinja platform—including its side blogs, relatively good comments, and interaction between staff and readers—kept people coming back every day. That loyalty is something many media outlets would love to have. But as the company turns off comments, refuses to put bylines on new blogs posted to the Zombie Deadspin site, and is now nuking its user-generated content and archives it’s clear that the company is terrified of the very audience it’s trying to capture.