A couple of weeks ago, Deadspin senior editor Tommy Craggs met with ESPN executive vice-president John Walsh to assuage Walsh's fears about hiring Craggs for Bill Simmons's Grantland site, which launches tomorrow. In response, Deadspin editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio sent a pink gorilla singing the SportsCenter theme song to their meeting. (Craggs turned down the job.) It was the next, and most amusing, salvo in an ongoing Grantland-Deadspin "rivalry," which began with Deadspin's Katie Baker being poached by Grantland and ended up with Deadspin hiring Slate's Tom Scocca as managing editor. Now that Craggs is staying, and Scocca — whose Slate blog was required reading, including a smart final-day takedown of Simmons and Grantland — is on board (along with Dom Cosentino as editorial assistant), we talked to the two of them, separately, about the future of Deadspin, doubts about Grantland, and blotter acid. (Disclosure: Uh, we founded Deadspin.)
First, Tommy Craggs.
So how close were you to leaving Deadspin and going to Grantland? Do you think Grantland is going to be good?
Close enough that Daulerio threw me a going-away party. Let's put it this way: Between March 31 (when I said I'd take the offer) and April 7 (when I backed that offer over my foot), I was operating under the assumption I was gone. And from there until about half-past the pink gorilla, I figured I'd be leaving at some point soon. That all changed after my meeting with John Walsh (ESPN's executive VP), when it became pretty clear that ESPN and I were a miserable fit.
I have no doubt Grantland will be really, really good. There are way too many smart people involved for the site to be anything less. I think it'll be great to the extent that it can keep Bristol at arm's length. I'm pessimistic about that part, for obvious reasons.
Were you surprised by the gorilla? We can't see Walsh's face in the video, so you have to tell us how he reacted.
I knew something was coming, A.J. being A.J. Still, nothing quite prepares you for the sight of a pink gorilla in the lobby of the Essex House, except maybe blotter acid. As for Walsh, I really have no clue what he thought. He mumbled something about liking surprises, and then some weird Samuel Beckett dialogue ensued, and then he chuckled, collected himself, and resumed condescending to me.
I feel like I should clarify something: This wasn't sabotage. A.J. wasn't sandbagging me or anything. I was having doubts even before the Walsh meeting. I didn't like that I was being made to perform a soft-shoe for a job that had already been offered to me, and I didn't like what Walsh's involvement in my hiring augured for the site. He's a brilliant guy, obviously, but I'm not sure he gets that Grantland's appeal, not least to Simmons, is its seeming independence from the Borg. The conversation with Walsh was going badly by the time the gorilla showed up, and I'm not sure either of us had allayed any of the other's concerns.
So, for the record: The deal fell apart because:
1) I wrote that thing about Lynn Hoppes;
2) ESPN is a terrible company full of craven morons who would rather maintain an air of phony intramural bonhomie than hire someone like me.
No. 1 was my fault, and I'm sorry I caused so much consternation for my now former future editor, Dan Fierman, though I'm not the least bit sorry for the post itself. No. 2 is ESPN's issue and ESPN's alone, and it would take an army of dendrologists and a pack of sherpas to determine the type and size of the stick they keep jamming up their asses.
Deadspin now has a larger editorial staff than Gawker Media did when Deadspin launched. Is your role changing with the addition of Scocca and Dom?
I'll be writing a lot more. (I'd somehow become more of an editor over the past year.) The idea of working with Scocca was hugely appealing to me, and a very big reason I pulled out of the Grantland job. He's a genius.
You have earned a reputation (unfairly, in our mind) as a "hatchet guy," someone no one in media wants to go after them. Does this bother you? Do you like it?
Fuck you, Leitch.
How does it feel having Jason Whitlock refer to you as "my half-Asian brother from another mother?"
We're just a couple sportswriters who looked up one day and realized we were riding all the same hobbyhorses.
Plenty of people read Charlie Pierce, I suppose, but I don't think everyone appreciates just what we have in him. He's our Liebling, minus the fabulism. Read his old essay on Larry Bird, and you'll never have to read another word about basketball. And check out Brian Phillips over at Slate and Run of Play. He's a soccer guy and he writes sentences I would've strangled large animals to have written:
Pelé, the best player on the best team who scored the most goals and won the most trophies and was the happiest and the most famous and most beloved, offers the child's narrative of sports heroism, an exuberant conquest of a just and welcoming world. Maradona, who railed against authority and sabotaged himself and, in 1986, dragged an inferior Argentina team to the World Cup title by sheer force of will, represents the adolescent narrative: an unjust world forced to yield to a superior ego.
Now that you've turned down Grantland and Play no longer exists, will you just stay at Deadspin from now on?
I guess so. "Be the change you want to see in the world," and all that.
Now, Tom Scocca.
What are you going to get from Deadspin that you didn't get from Slate? And you're going to still be writing pieces for Slate, but not doing the blog? Will you still write about non-sports topics on Deadspin?
Benefits. Apparently there's a Zipcar discount? And some thing where you can "save money" for "retirement." Luxuries unimagined by the contract blogger. And the chance to work with Tommy Craggs. I've always been a swing writer-editor; since leaving the Observer, I've missed the speed and volume you get when editing, and the collaboration. There were a few years there when it looked like no one would ever hire any editors ever again.
We're still drawing the Venn diagrams for exactly what I'm writing about where. I'll do columns for Slate, which I hope will carry on what I was doing in my longer or better blog posts. Sports stuff goes to Deadspin. Non-sports stuff for Deadspin? Craggs was suggesting a new rubric called "Fonts and Shit." Seems promising.
You're taking the job as "managing editor" of Deadspin, though in our experience almost all editorial titles at Gawker Media are just sort of made up out of nowhere. Are you going to be doing more writing or more editing?
The editing-to-writing ratio is another thing we'll be figuring out as we go. I'm looking forward to doing headlines and splash pages, certainly.
You wrote one of the earliest profiles of Nick Denton in the New York Observer about a month after Deadspin launched. Looking back at the profile now, how much do you think that company has changed? Did you imagine back then ever going to work for Denton?
Oh, there are many things I never imagined doing. Gawker Media has been through all sorts of cycles of change between then and now, but if you just look at the endpoints, Old Gawker Media was on a much smaller and bloggier scale, with the sites defined by individual voices. Now when Denton says Deadspin is a magazine, not a blog — well, shoot, there's a newsroom, with real employees in it, and now even a managing editor.
How well do you know Daulerio, personally? Related: How is your liver? How many people have you actually met on staff? There are a lot of them now.
Daulerio was among the first people to haze or welcome me when I joined the Observer, hitting me with that Black Table interview request. Maybe only that terrifying Gawker person Choire Sicha struck faster. Till now, I've seen A.J. socially about once every three years, which is probably the 80th percentile for me, socializing-wise. My liver is okay; the excesses in the recruitment process largely involved oysters, with alcohol as a sidelight.
I've had most of the staff at least pointed out to me, but it was very dark in there. So dark that I walked into a glass conference-room wall when I went to sign my offer letter. But that was fine; there was enough blood to do the paperwork.
You're only two months away from the release of your book, Beijing Welcomes You. What do you miss most about China?
Peking duck. The people, old people in particular, taking possession of even the most cynically developed public space. The luxurious desolation of glitzy insta-malls. The glow of neon signs in apocalyptic smog. The west wind briefly carving the smog away. Mandopop. China Mobile. Cheap taxis.
What are you doing for the Grantland launch tomorrow?