The Rise of Deadspin

If true, the Favre-Sterger story was the kind of sports news Deadspin had targeted from the beginning. In early 2005, freelance writer and sports fanatic Will Leitch pitched a sports gossip site to Nick Denton, who had launched Gawker in 2002. Gawker , a blog, published gossip and news about the entertainment, media and business worlds. Its loft-like offices in Manhattans NoLiTa (north of Little Italy) section, with long tables of glowing monitors, exuded more dot-com company than newsroom.

Wall display of Gawker Media websites

Since Gawkers founding, Denton had added other titles, including Gizmodo (technology) and Jezebel (womens fashion and pop culture). Leitchs proposal could fit nicely in the Gawker group. The sports site, Leitch promised, would feature smart writing with an irreverent take for the sports enthusiast. I mapped out how it might work, how I thought there was not only a wealth of material to write about, but also an audience for sports writing that was not so insular and perhaps not so kind of faux heroic, Leitch says. [1]

Leitch was following in the footsteps of an earlier iconoclastic generation of sportswriters. Until the 1960s, most sports journalism treated the athlete as a god-hero. Journalists were complicit in sustaining athletes public images as superhumans; their private lives were off-limits. That changed with such reporters as Robert Lipsyte (author of the seminal SportsWorld ), Ira Berkow (later a Pulitzer-winning New York Times sports columnist), Leonard Shecter of the New York Post (who wrote the classic The Jocks ), and legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell. They described sports in the context of American society, candidly examining its role in such social issues as drug use and racism even when that meant de-glorifying teams and players.

Leitch proposed a test site first to allow Denton an opportunity to see what the new publication would sound and look like. He asked Rick Chandler, with whom he had worked before, to be associate editor for the prototype. Both of them had other writing gigs at the time; they produced the trial site on the side. For several months, the two published postsDenton paid $12 per poston a blog-hosting site called Movable Type. The blog was visible only to Leitch, Chandler, Denton and Gawker Managing Editor Lockhart Steele. Leitch averaged 10 posts a day.

Hear more: Will Leitch discusses Deadspin's style

By early summer, Denton was sold. The blog was a go. Leitch would be editor-in-chief, and Chandler was hired as associate editor. Denton came up with the blogs name, Deadspin . When Leitch asked what it meant, Denton replied that it doesnt mean anything. It's two very easy words to remember, right next to one another. Denton decided to wait until the first day of football season in September 2005 to launch. Leitchs first post was about an agency that arranged for sports personalities, including ESPN co-host Stuart Scott, to speak at conferences for as much as five figures. I wanted to launch with something like that because I think that showed the sensibility [of the site], that we werent afraid to criticize ESPN, Leitch says. ESPN was a pioneer among single-focus cable channels, creating a sports-only channel in 1979.

Will Leitch

Within the first six months, Deadspin s readership grew rapidly. The formula appealed to readers who had a thirst for sports news with a cheeky approach. Ninety-six percent of its readers were male, 80 percent of those ages 18-34. Eighty-two percent were college educated. The site published articles that ran the gamut from a story about fallen baseball star Pete Roses corked bat (under its running category Cheaters) and photos of drunken athletes in bars, to a poll showing that basketball star LeBron James popularity had declined. By 2008, the Financial Times noted that Deadspin was the worlds most visited sports blog with 116 million visitors in less than three years. [2]

As the sites popularity grew, Leitch needed additional contributors. In March 2008, he hired Daulerio for a position as senior writer. Daulerio came to Deadspin from Philadelphia Magazine , where he had been a staff writer for a year. Leitch had worked with him on other projects. Daulerio wrote longer posts that required investigative reporting, while Leitch continued to produce shorter pieces. When [Daulerio] wants to know an answer to a question, he finds out the answer to the question, Leitch says. He has a doggedness that frankly I dont.

By the summer, however, Denton started pushing for more site traffic. Leitch realized that the editors role would become more managerial, with less reporting and writing. Leitch preferred writing full time, so in July 2008 he opted to take a position as a contributing writer for New York Magazine . Daulerio was named editor-in-chief of Deadspin .

[1] Authors interview with Will Leitch in New York, NY, on October 28, 2011. All further quotes from Leitch, unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.

[2] Simon Kuper, The blogger who takes the hyperbole out of Super Bowl, Financial Times , January 19, 2008.