Deadspin‘s A.J. Daulerio has garnered all kinds of publicity lately, much of it focused on his site’s turn toward a sleazy, TMZ-esque style of investigative journalism since Daulerio succeeded Deadspin founder Will Leitch in 2008.
There’s no doubt that Deadspin looks a lot different today than it did during Leitch’s watch, just as there’s no doubt it pulls in more page views.
But is the site fundamentally changed? Does Leitch secretly blanche at Daulerio’s style, as Jason Whitlock claimed (and which Leitch denied)? What is Deadspin, exactly, under the reign of this new enfant terrible? And if it has changed, is it for the worse?
I think there’s a sense out there that Deadspin has changed significantly more than it actually has. Part of this is the writing style of the editors-in-chief — Leitch is all folksy, Midwestern politesse while Daulerio comes across like a brash Northeasterner who could give a fuck what you think (he’s from Philadelphia).
Shortly after taking over, Daulerio endured the expected backlash that came with the beloved Leitch leaving. Any “new guy” would have been ripe for a shelling from loyal commenters and readers. But Daulerio further enraged the old guard by instituting new, stricter commenting regulations, and many longtime readers and commenters abandoned Deadspin for other blogs. The perception was that Daulerio was taking Leitch’s nice little blog family and tearing it apart.
Then came the salaciousness: the dong shots, the invasions into players and media members’ personal lives, the odd, personal vendetta against ESPN execs, and most notoriously, the Brett Favre/Jenn Sterger saga.
With each new image on Deadspin of an athlete’s dick, or with each new report that an ESPN football analyst had been fired for showing pictures of his dick, outrage grew both in the old media and in blogs that had previously been Deadspin supporters. The days of Leitch innocently championing Barbaro and Carl Monday seemed long ago. Each time Deadspin pushed things a little further, screams would come that they had finally crossed the line this time.
But here’s the thing: I don’t think the Favre story, or accompanying cock shots, are fundamentally different than the Chris Berman “You’re With Me, Leather” post that helped build the site’s early buzz under Leitch. Both posts peeked at public sports figures attempting to cheat on their wives, and both did so without any corroboration from the figure in question. If anything, the Favre story is more defensible because there’s much more legitimate evidence to back it up, and because Favre is a more public figure than Berman. Yet somehow, the Leather post is typically portrayed as harmless fun while Daulerio was excoriated for the Favre post. Was it just the penis pics that made the difference?
Deadspin began as an “alternative” sports site, meant to publish the stories ESPN was ignoring, and comment on ESPN and its kin to boot. I think that’s basically still what it is — it’s just morphed in style as it’s grown.
I agree that Deadspin is missing something since Leitch left, but I think that’s largely due to the loss of Leitch as a writer. Daulerio’s clearly not the writer Leitch is, and he doesn’t pretend to be. But his strengths lie elsewhere: running the site and investigating. In all, Deadspin’s expanded team of writers is better now than it has ever been. Maybe none of the current crop can match Leitch’s gentle, witty prose, but Tommy Craggs bring a delightful righteous anger to everything he touches, and Drew Magary’s rants are still funny, at least when he’s not playing to his basest fans.
The heat Daulerio takes now is borne of success, and borne of pissing important people off, which always seemed like one of Deadspin’s aims. If the Leather story had been picked up by national media and gotten Berman suspended or fined, Leitch would have faced the same kind of anger — at least proportionally to Berman’s level of fame.
People who cry that Deadspin isn’t what it used to be are probably either jealous or nostalgic, neither of which is something to be proud of.