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Kovacevic: About the coming Deadspin article

I’ve heard from so many readers that they’re sick of the drama here, that they just want to read about sports. I respect that. If you’re one of those, by all means, feel free to tap or click elsewhere. We’ll keep delivering sports. That’s all we ever want to do.

This company’s under attack.

That’s not dramatic. That’s not exaggeration. I wish it was.

The website Deadspin, with a whole lot of pushing from people no longer with our company and others in the local media, will publish an article at some point this week about my management of this company that will portray me as both a bad boss and even as a bad person. As I wrote a month ago, both have been the case far more often than I’d like. I’ve really messed up on both fronts.

But I’ve also never hurt anyone, never mistreated anyone — not at this company, not anywhere — and, above all, never came close to disrespecting women. (I’ll get to that in a minute.) I’ve made rash hires, uncomfortable firings, and people have come and gone too often at this place. But there’s never been any suggestion, much less an allegation — and there won’t be one in this article, either — of anything remotely resembling misconduct.

And I know that because, after seven weeks of Deadspin interviewing nearly everyone who ever worked here — and some people who never did, for some strange reason — to try to dig up absolutely anything they could on me, professionally and personally, they finally reached out Wednesday with questions.

One of those was regarding a recently employed woman and a remark made about her — pardon the language, but accuracy is important — that “her tits will look good on Channel 11.”

This remark was made. It wasn’t made by me. It couldn’t have been made by me for a variety of reasons. But it was told to me. It also was told separately to another member of the staff. Both of us confirmed that for Deadspin in an attempt to keep us from having to identify who spoke it. I don’t know if they’ll still use the quote, but I wanted to share here, anyway, so there’d be some perspective on the caliber of their reporting.

Here are all the other questions, accompanied by my answers in full:

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Are all DKPS staffers on 1099s?

Yes, they are. That’s my mistake, and it’s one we’ve been working for a while to correct. It was brought to my attention in the summer of 2017 by a subscriber and employment professional that everyone on our staff should be reclassified as W-2 employees. We began the process four months ago by changing our payroll company, and the process was supposed to be completed by the end of the year. It’ll instead come at the end of February at the latest.

Did you make promises to DKPS staffers that you would make them full-time employees down the line?

Yes, if you mean that we’d make them W-2 employees, once we’d begun working on that process. We spoke about that openly with employees, even in their interviews when asked. Because that was and remains our goal. We’re finally getting to that stage. It took way too long, and that’s my fault.

Did you often tell DKPS staffers to write off gas and food expenses on their taxes?

Of course. Anyone who’s a 1099 employee is an independent contractor. That’s how that works for any independent contractor. We told everyone up front that we’d cover all flights, hotels, rental cars and, as soon as they’re hired, a new Apple laptop. We also covered some parking and other incidentals. As it turns out, in working with 1099 independent contractors, we actually shouldn’t have been covering any of that. But if I’d figured that out earlier, I probably would have figured out a whole lot more related to the business in general.

That’s squarely on me. I blew it. I had zero business leadership experience entering this position, and I should have worked way harder to learn it.

Did you propose the idea of a threesome to XXXXXXXXX in exchange for exposure on DKPS?

Dear God, no. Wow. Really? That’s how insane this has gotten. I’ve made a lot of enemies in local media and among local bloggers, and I’m sure I’ve earned a good portion of that. I’ve rarely been friendly with competitors, and I can be pretty abrasive. But it takes only a casual glance at Twitter to see how many of those people love to knock this company because they think it’ll hurt me.

Did you or someone at DKPS read XXXXXXX’s direct messages on Twitter after he had left the site?

I’ve never read anyone’s direct messages, and I’m sure I wouldn’t even know how.

Did you or someone at DKPS read other staffers’ text messages?

No. How is that even possible? We have group texts, and anytime any left the company, they were removed from all groups.

Did you once retroactively dock $1800 out of  a staffer’s check for hotel stays deemed too expensive?

We retroactively docked XXXXXXXX for multiple personal charges on the company card, as XXXXX himself admitted and apologized for. One was $453.46 for a spa service and random shopping in XXXXXXX. Another was $505.63 for an auto repair. Another was $395 for legal services for a family matter. There were others. We’ll provide all the receipts and related communications.

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Did you catch that one about the ‘threesome?’

That’s how far this has gone.

This whole thing has been outrageous on so many levels. This push from a couple former employees, in particular, was met with a highly receptive ear at Deadspin, where one of these former employees has a relative on staff. (This departed employee has been openly boasting about this connection and threatening to ‘destroy’ our company from the day of the departure.) The goal of the article is singular: Damage this company as retribution for one dismissal in particular. They sought out anything that might match what they hoped to illustrate, and they evidently didn’t care that 99.9 percent of their audience will never even have heard of me.

They never interviewed anyone on our current staff, with one exception at my prompting.

They also never interviewed our former West Virginia beat reporter Matt Welch and many other former employees who continue to be great friends to the site.

That, in this industry, is the very definition of a hit piece.

Deadspin’s main target, as they’d maliciously leaked over the past month, was to try to show real misconduct on my part. No such thing will be in the article. Because no such thing would or could have been true. But they’ll go through with publishing the article anyway because damaging me and, by extension, the dozen-plus good people working at this company, was the sole purpose.

Here, for example, was part of a Tuesday night Twitter rant of one of our former football writers:

And this is from another of our former football writers, echoing a theme that was being repeated all week among the local media in which they’re gleefully awaiting this report:

We don’t owe the first former football writer a penny, by the way. We don’t owe a penny to any former employee, and we’ve never heard a single direct complaint from anyone to that effect.

These people would love nothing more than to see this fail, to kill everything we’ve built here with and for you. We’ve heard this for years, not just recently. And now, they’re even dragging my wife into it, as you can see above.

We’ve been advised for a long time here to always “take the high road” or “let it pass” regardless of the legitimacy of any attacks. Well, the high road clearly isn’t where this is being played out, and sitting back hasn’t proven to be a terribly effective response. I’ve been honest with you from Day 1, and that won’t stop now.

Maybe this article will damage our company. But I sure hope not.

I’m not in charge anymore, but I’m proud of what’s been built here, proud of the work that’s been done, even more proud of the staff we’ve gradually assembled, many of whom have been with us for years. It wasn’t easy progressing to this point, and it wasn’t all handled well. We’re the first company of our kind on the continent, and I had no choice but to go trial-and-error at times. Also, again, I made very real mistakes, both professionally and personally. That’s why my wife Dali and Dale Lolley are now running the business and editorial ends.

I’m grateful for all of the readership and other support we’ve gotten over the years, and we’ll all keep working as hard as ever to offer you the best Pittsburgh sports site that we can.

As ever, I’ll be in comments for any questions.