Will Leitch has only days left as editor of Deadspin, the biggest sports blog on the Internet (and therefore symbol of social decline to every lazy sportswriter in America) before he departs for a cushy gig as contributing editor at New York Magazine.
In the time he has left, Leitch seems to be getting a bit sentimental. In a post yesterday, he unburdens his soul about the current state of the media landscape and his place in it. In the sports world, that discussion must center on ESPN, the oft-reviled “World-Wide Leader in Sports,” whose response to the rise of Deadspin, Kissing Suzy Kolber, With Leather, and other sports blogs should serve as a lesson to old media companies.
What that lesson is, I have no idea. But I’m pretty sure it starts with: Don’t be a douche.
It started at the Super Bowl in Detroit, when ESPN distributed a memo making it clear no one from Deadspin would be allowed at any ESPN parties. (The site, at this point, was three months old.) The next year, they brought out the muscle. Trey Wingo had Daulerio — who was told, if he tried to take a picture of Sean Salisbury, he would be “put through a wall” — thrown out of another Super Bowl party. Berman went after a 15-year-old kid for quoting YWML to him. We received 4,000 words middle-of-the-night missives from angry ESPN.com writers. (Not Simmons, actually, before you ask.) Stephen A. Smith blamed us for his low ratings. (Or something.) One ESPN personality actually went to a private detective to look up information on us, and who our sources were. (He must have been so disappointed; “buys lots of black T-shirts and watches “Love And Death” a lot.”) And, of course, February 1, 2007. They must have felt that they were losing some guerilla war they didn’t know they were fighting.
This did, and still does, surprise us. ESPN was just not used to criticism, and once they started handling it so poorly, it was only a matter of time until other media outlets, eager to pick on the bully in the room, started piling on. Suddenly, Sports Business Journal is doing “What’s wrong with ESPN?” cover stories. We are not claiming to be the impetus for this; we just caught a wave that was coming, and ESPN responded with a crash course in how corporations should not handle bad publicity.
Leitch goes on to praise the strides made by ESPN.com, which has evolved from supporting the company’s TV initiatives to a stand-alone entity with more robust content (though it still has a wayz to go, in my opinion).
The point is that in the digital age, you can’t aspire to own your audience, the way you could in the old days. You have to play within a sprawling matrix of choices — which means you have to actually offer something different.
Not to get too sentimental, but that’s exactly what Will Leitch did with Deadspin. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
Our Friends At Bristol [Deadspin]