(FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a writer for Deadspin, and I know the subject of this piece very well, since he’s my boss and occasional drinking partner.)
When I began writing for Deadspin back in 2007, it was akin to working for a pirate radio station. Only a few people were hip to it, and the rest of the universe neither knew nor cared. I could bring up the word Deadspin to 500 people and not one of them would have known what I was talking about.
Well, it’s four years later now and I can tell you, from anecdotal experience, that people no longer look at you quizzically if you say the word Deadspin to them. It’s now a major force in sports journalism, for better or worse (many would say worse). And AJ Daulerio, the man who broke the Brett Favre sexting story that launched the site into the stratosphere, is the number one reason why.
Daulerio was profiled in GQ this week, and the article about him focuses mainly on the inner conflict of wanting to find compelling stories and knowing that those stories can adversely impact the lives of those you cover. That’s been a source of angst for journalists since the dawn of time, but it’s particularly pronounced for Daulerio, since many believe the stories he uncovers are far too tawdry for public consumption.
"It isn't a question of whether or not he should have done the story. It's a story," says Frank Deford, who's been writing for Sports Illustrated since 1962. "But aren't there better stories to do? Do we really want to know about Brett Favre trying to get laid? Wouldn't you rather spend your time delving into the evils of college athletics, or drugs and sports?"
Truthfully? No. No, I wouldn’t. The evils of college athletics and drugs and sports are two subjects that have been beaten into the ground for ages now by sports reporters, who often believe they are the last true guardians of moralism in the sports world.
What Daulerio is doing is getting rid of that moralism and concentrating solely on what stories readers will find interesting. Should we have better things to think about than Brett Favre’s sex life, like war and stuff? Well, yes. Of course. But we’re human. We’re nosy. We gossip. We’re perpetually interested in the lives of others, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
We focus on titillating stories like Favre's because we can’t help but wonder about the lives of people who we can only possibly know on a surface level. We always want to know people better. We’re curious. We want to dig deeper, and sometimes that means we end up finding a cell phone cam of someone’s private parts. Not always, but sometimes.
To me it’s not about what’s right and what’s wrong, or what’s fair game for coverage and what isn’t. I don’t think there’s ever been a clear demarcation when it comes to the latter, and Daulerio clearly has no interest in trying to establish it. All he can do is try and find the stories that interest sports fans, and he’s shown a remarkable ability to do just that, even, according to the GQ profile, risking jail time for it.
If it were Olympic drug cheats he was pursuing, you’d probably applaud him. You’d also likely never read a word of him.