Deadspin and Me…

On Deadspin, AJ Daulerio, Will Leitch, Drew Magary, and Tommy Craggs and how they have shaped me as a reader and writer

I was a pretty early–though not the earliest–Deadspin reader. I was a freshman at Wisconsin, read a brief blurb about it in Sports Illustrated, checked it out, and have visited it multiple times a day, every day that I have been on a computer ever since.

In writing from the disenfranchised, but intelligent, fan’s perspective Will Leitch had curated it in such a way that it was the first web site that I ever felt spoke to me. As it has evolved, Deadspin has impacted how I have read and written about sports to a greater degree in aggregate than any other media outlet (but it has been Bill Simmons more than any other individual writer. That’s a whole other column). Leitch’s writing was outstanding and evocative. Since moving on to New York Magazine, his talent as an essayist has shined through as he no longer produced upwards of 20 posts per day (see his column from last winter on what the Yankees should do with Derek Jeter for an example).

Starting with the great Outkick The Coverage proprietor and former briefly tenured Deadspin writer Clay Travis’s roast, we are going to see a series of posts, and therefore takes on outgoing Deadspin editor AJ Daulerio and the broader meaning of his 3.5 year (It’s been that long?!) tenure in the position as Leitch’s successor.

***

The journalistic ethics that I naturally have (but am untrained in) were hesitantly OK with Leitch’s publishing pictures of Matt Leinart drinking with hot girls. However, they were compromised first when AJ Daulerio wrote about Stuart Scott’s attempted infidelity from an over-the-shoulder glimpse of his phone screen and, years later, Brett Favre’s sexts to Jenn Sterger. I felt that they violated a sense of privacy that the subjects (NOT victims) were entitled too. But I clicked on the stories. I could tell what the stories would be about from the headlines and I never abided by my personal principles and refrained from clicking.

And I never doubted that Daulerio’s risque, reputation-damaging news breaks were true. It was an odd dichotomy that made me question how I felt about fairness. Did the fact that I trusted Daulerio to be completely honest justify his destroying the life of a public figure if he/she had done something immoral and/or newsworthy in private? Where should the line be drawn and what if Daulerio got something wrong? Even if he was a neutral, unbiased arbiter of what was fair and what was not, what would happen if similar power fell into the wrong hands? What would stop a remorseless sociopath from attaining this status on the internet as Rush Limbaugh has done on AM radio?

When Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger erupted on then-editor Will Leitch in his infamous meltdown on Costas Now (Braylon Edwards’ presence isn’t any less unintentionally funny four years later), he was projecting on Deadspin’s evolution under Daulerio’s leadership and other gossip sites have become as opposed to the comparatively tame Leitch Deadspin.

Dan LeBatard, who has spoken a lot about these issues on his radio show, various podcasts, and his column, worries about the next step in gossip journalism, which in the excerpted passage (the clickthrough leads to a broken Miami Herald link and I can’t find the original column) expresses his fears that this is headed towards a gay professional athlete being outed against his will:

One of the first orders of business at TMZ Sports, rest assured, will be to out a gay male athlete. It is the only boundary left to cross. It will either wreck that athlete’s life or make him the next Jackie Robinson or maybe both.

That’s a pretty horrible thing to do to someone against their will, obviously.

But an outraged America will punish the behavior by showering it with views, dollars and rewards.

All said, though, Daulerio doesn’t just traffic in gossip. He has built a stable of great writers including Luke O’Brien, Barry Petchesky, Emma Carmichael, and Jack Dickey whose work alternate between short- and long-form, original content and responses. Drew Magary, the lone holdover from the Leitch regime, writes unsurpassed satire coupled with brilliant insight and perspective (like Simmons, Magary is a deserving subject of an entire column) and has seen his content improve exponentially over the past few years. His mailbag, Jamboroo, and Balls Deep columns are must-read.

Tommy Craggs, who is taking over as editor-in-chief, is a pitbull who eviscerates corrupt and inept powers-that-be from such a strongly researched and argued vantage that it is impossible to finish one of his columns and disagree (example: his recent epic takedown of Skip Bayless). Long-form freelance profiles such as Alex Belth’s outstanding tribute to George Kimball appear from time to time and are of the utmost quality.

Whatever the format, a post on Deadspin is more likely to be well-written, informative, and interesting than something posted anywhere else on the internet or in print. Its writers evoke thought and continually improve. As such, if there was any editor who I know of that I would trust to develop me as a writer in terms of the quality of the content I provide and maximize readership, it would be AJ Daulerio.

In his aforementioned roast, Travis writes that he did not enjoy working for Deadspin (and that the feeling was mutual) but nevertheless notes:

There will be a lot of dick pic jokes in the next couple of days, but that misses A.J.’s real strength (although he knows penises better than just about anyone): He put Deadspin on a path to churn out more original content on a daily basis than the vast majority of “mainstream” Internet sites. A.J. saw that the web 2.0 template couldn’t last for long; eventually you had to break news and provide compelling original content to keep the pageview meter ticking upward.

I still don’t feel completely comfortable with where this is all going but I have developed a large amount of trust in Daulerio’s reporting. He has a preternatural sense of what is interesting and drives content in that direction. At Gawker, he will shift from curating the newsworthiness (which of course will often be the private transgressions) of athletes to that of celebrities, social elites, and, I can only hope, politicians. I’ll be shocked and appalled by what is written but my outrage won’t outweigh the extent to which I’m interested and informed. I’ll read. And I certainly won’t be alone. And I’d still love to write for Gawker or Deadspin.

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