You can expect the same idiots who made your favorite website

The Deadspin gang is back baby. Meet Defector

Welcome to Welcome to Hell World the newsletter about how fucked we are. Please put your email into the box to subscribe for the free version or, if I’m being honest here and I had my way, maybe try the paid version so that you can get every issue and all the archives, and so I can finally purchase a golden toilet with all this newsletter cash. 

If you’re new here recent Hell World posts include an interview with a water park worker in Florida — “Right when I came back they said we’re going to do all this social distancing stuff, we’re gonna be safe, bla bla bla. They had these big plans for social distancing and masks and whatnot. I came back and realized that almost all of it was for show…” — a gorgeous and furious essay by Jeb Lund on life in isolation raising a child, an interview with journalist and labor organizer Kim Kelly about why police are not workers and should be kicked out of major labor unions, and an interview with Pulitzer winner Wes Lowery about the deference given to police by media outlets, the ongoing idiotic debate about “cancel culture” in the media, and the state of journalism today.

Much like when any beloved website closes, something that happens a lot more frequently than I might like of late, there was a period of a few months after the staff exodus at Deadspin where I kept reflexively typing D...e... into my web browser only to remember once the page loaded that what I was looking for wasn’t there anymore. So I’d sit there for a few minutes with my mouth open like an idiot dog looking out the window waiting for his owner to come back from Afghanistan and try to think of another single decent website to go to, come up blank, then go back to looking at Twitter for nineteen hours a day. 

But now, in what has to be the first piece of good media news in a long time, or any kind of good news for that matter, I can put that finger muscle memory back to good use, because the old staff of Deadspin are back, in a conveniently spelled new project called Defector. Set a video of me running into its arms to a racist cover of  “I Will Remember You” or whatever and get like 75 views on YouTube. 

luke o'neil @lukeoneil47
Deadspin 2
defector.com

“This is Defector, a new sports blog and media company,” they announce on the site. “We made this place together, we own it together, we run it together. Without access, without favor, without discretion, and without interference.”

The project, which will begin soon with podcasts, including one from Drew Magary and David Roth called The Distraction, will launch a dedicated site in September. And in keeping with the culture-wide movement toward independent media, it will be owned and operated by the workers involved themselves, meaning no shitty middlemen or executives fucking things up. 

(Somewhat similarly, in case you missed it, I have joined a collective of lefty writers and podcasters for a weekly newsletter called Discontents — including Discourse Blog which is the newish project of the also-shuttered Splinter — where we are each taking turns writing a digest of our work from the week. The first edition went out on Monday. It includes Cruel and Usual by Shane Fero, no love in fear by André Carlisle, BORDER/LINES by Gaby Del Valle and Felipe De La Hoz, A Lonely Impulse of Delight by Connor Wroe Southard, Perspectives: Past, Present, and Future by Patrick Wyman, Be the Spark by Kim Kelly, Wars of Future Past by Kelsey D. Atherton, Air Gordon pt. 2 by Jeremy Gordon, The Insurgents by Jordan Uhl, Rob Rousseau and (occasionally) Ken Klippenstein, Foreign Exchanges by Derek Davidson, and Hell World by me.)

I chatted with a bunch of the writers involved in Defector this morning to talk about what to expect from the site and how it feels to be striking out on their own.  

Oh wait relatedly I just remembered I interviewed David Roth back in November when all this shit was going down at Deadspin. It was “a good one.”

Oh wait part two the essay I mentioned above by Jeb Lund was chosen by Longform as one of the best pieces of the week or whatever it means when they share something. “Pretty cool” imo. 

Ok here’s the Defector gang.

How does it feel to be delivering the first piece of good news any of us have heard in like six months?

KELSEY MCKINNEY: It does feel great! It is so rare to have good personal news that feels like more than that. But also, I vomited first thing this morning! I feel a lot of pressure for this to succeed, and I want it to stay good news!

DREW MAGARY: A tough question but a fair one. Frankly, we've had Defector planned since December so we've been fucking dying to tell everyone. So it's just a massive relief to finally be able to start yammering about it publicly. I have a HUGE mouth so keeping that shit in was like holding back a dump on the highway.

LUIS PAEZ-PUMAR: It feels fucking phenomenal. I mean, I've had a subtle urge to hurl for the last who-knows-how-long, but as Drew would say, we're back, WE'RE BACK.

DAN McQUADE: Here is how I'm surviving covid: I've spent the last few months doing nothing but watching old Baywatch episodes. My wife and I are on season 8 now. I have barely been able to talk about or pay attention to anything else in months. So, you say the news has been bad recently?

I’m pretty sure the prospect of doing something like this has been on the table since shit fell apart back… I don’t even remember when that was anymore. What had to happen in order for it to come together now?

MAGARY: I think the main thing was all of us staying together as a unit. We had our own slack already. We started reaching out to friends and possible investors as reps for the group as a whole. Over the course of a few months, we were able to get Alley (design and infrastructure) and Stitcher (podcasts) on board, plus Jasper Wang as our COO. Once all those pieces were aligned, we realized we could launch the company and have it be a real company, with insurance for everyone and all that shit.

Also, Megan Greenwell served as senior advisor during all this. There's no way this happens without her help.

MCKINNEY: Like Drew said, a lot of this being able to come together required a lot of sacrifice from a lot of people. Alley and Stitcher helping us launch this the way we wanted to was a huge support. Megan's support and advice was invaluable. A crazy decision like this takes a ton of buy in. I'm really proud of all of my co-workers and co-founders for taking this risk!   

PAEZ-PUMAR: We wanted to do this right. That meant aligning on not just whether we wanted to do this together, but also how. And that took time. But the end result was worth the wait, in my opinion, because it is wholly ours.

Obviously there are a lot of newsletters right now. Did you all look at how that has been working in terms of readers paying to support writers they like and get confidence from that that this type of model will work for you?

MAGARY:  Yeah obviously we'd seen the success that you've had with Substack and that others have had with Patreon and we knew there would be a market for us out there.  But also... this is how it's gonna have to be for indie journalism as a whole moving forward.  Just you and the readers.  No one else getting in the way.

PAEZ-PUMAR: We do. Media consumers are becoming more accustomed to paying creators directly, and we think that we have something that no other Sports, Etc. website can offer right now. 

MCKINNEY: Absolutely. Newsletters have really proven that readers want to support individual writers in their works, which is really encouraging for what we are trying to do. For so long journalism branding has been based around the idea that people pay for the name, and while that's certainly kind of true, what makes the name is the workers. Starting with a new name but the same writers is a real way to test the theory that new media ventures can be built on the platforms individual writers already have.  

McQUADE: When I was about 12, there was a series in the Bucks County Courier Times about how to create your own website. I don't even know why we got the paper—I lived in Northeast Philly—but I followed the instructions and made a "home page" on the World Wide Web. I've always been fascinated with straightforward, independent media on the Internet, and I think the rise of the Email Newsletter is another part of that evolution. I want my work for Defector to have the same ethos http://members.aol.com/MCQ23/ did: Independent, confident the Flyers can win the Stanley Cup, heavy on the Baywatch content. Only, you have to pay for it. Sorry! It's better than my old AOL site.

What are the logistics basically speaking of how people are going to get paid? Is it equal split? Will some being doing more work than others?

PAEZ-PUMAR:  As we get started, we will all be paid equally. Once we reach profitability, then everyone will have salaries.

We all had a good laugh about Vichy Deadspin launching right when sports stopped being a thing. Do you guys have that same worry at all? 

MAGARY:  No because sports are a thing again!  Also, I think we were better equipped to handle the dead sports era better than most places if we had been live, because ESPN and other access outlets haven't necessarily gone all in on talking about how fucked this is. Because it's REALLY fucked.  We write about sports, but really we write about sports culture.  And that still churns even when the games are dark.

McQUADE: One thing that was always nice about my old job at Deadspin is I was never pressured to write some sort of half-assed take on a subject just to get a take out there. (If I ended up publishing my own half-assed take, it was mostly my fault.) They let me write about Wildwood boardwalk t-shirts and Japanese streetwear and Philadelphia fan culture and whatever else. For Jezebel I wrote about a prop from the 1987 film Mannequin and a whole series on Ben Simmons and Kendall Jenner’s relationship. I think I can figure out what to write about when there isn't sports. Seriously, I could write dozens of articles about Baywatch at this point.

PAEZ-PUMAR: We don't, because we're a bunch of weirdos and brain-geniuses who believe strongly that we are well-positioned to write about sports even when there are no sports. Plus, all the major sports are currently trying, in their own ways, to come back, so there will certainly be a lot of things to write about in our own special way.

MCKINNEY: The only worry I have about sports is that all the players will get coronavirus and die!!! The sickos who agreed to start this blog all have brains that constantly surprise me, so I do genuinely feel like we would have plenty of blogs without sports. But I think a question we are all interested in and have always played with is what exactly makes something a sport? Sure, professional leagues may be screwed, but "sports" are still happening. Protestors are in Portland using lacrosse nets to throw smoke bombs back at police! 

Do you think any of these leagues are going to make it even halfway through the seasons they’re trying to do?

McQUADE: I think basically all of the leagues will finish. They barely stopped pro wrestling for covid. If WWE can just write out Roman Reigns, a guy they've been trying to push as a star for nearly a decade despite fan resistance, the NFL or MLB or whoever can write out any sick player they need to. Obviously there's more media and political pressure on a major sports league, but I think they'll figure out a way to finish for various reasons.

MAGARY:  I think the NBA and NHL will finish their bubble seasons.  I think the NFL will also bull through its season even though awful shit will happen during it.  Baseball should have ended last night, but they're such miserable assholes they're still at it.  So I dunno about them. College football should not happen at all. I really hope it doesn't.

PAEZ-PUMAR: The ones with the bubbles have a shot at it; MLS and the NWSL just got through their return tournaments without a coronavirus outbreak, so I'm hopeful for the NBA and NHL. As MLB is showing, though, no bubble makes it much more difficult to contain, so I wouldn't be shocked, personally, if both baseball and football struggle to finish their seasons.

MCKINNEY: HAHAHAH! This is a depressing question! I think all of these leagues will "make it through the season" in that they will play games and crown a champion, but I don't think that any of them will get through it without an infectious outbreak. Like Luis and Drew said, the bubble leagues have a better shot, but even the NWSL had teams drop out because of infection.  

Who among them has handled it the worst? MLB for not it seems but you have to expect the NFL is going to fuck it up which is a bummer because I really wanted to see Cam take the Patriots to the Super Bowl against Tampa Tommy. 

MAGARY: I think the NFL will fuck it up but not care.  I mean that's the MO of every other dominant institution right now. The NFL and MLB are just adhering to the model.

MCKINNEY: It's MLB hands down. Not only did it take the owners forever to figure out a contract, they have still managed to come up with a plan that leaves players (and stadium workers!!!) at risk. The only competition I see on the horizon is the NFL. 

What, generally speaking, can people expect from this thing? Will it pick up where Deadspin left off for the most part? You guys are doing the Fun Bag still?  

MCKINNEY: You can expect blogs. There are gonna be blogs for sure.  

MAGARY: All of that shit will still be there BUT we now have free rein to build and expand the site in ways we couldn't necessarily do at our old stomping grounds.  Also, we have muscle from Stitcher behind our podcasts, which excites me because then we can sell the joint for $250 million and then spend the rest of our days partying in Vegas with HouseO and "Angry Jake"

McQUADE: I want my work to be better than it was at Deadspin. I'm someone who reads my old work to see where I can improve in reporting and writing. I've gone over all my old Deadspin work. I don't want to do the same thing again. An annoying branding way to put this would be that I want to do "elevated" versions of my old work. I haven't published that many things since I quit last year; though there is a lot of downside to that, it has also been a nice break. In some ways I am refreshed and can return to regular blogging with a new focus. (This is approaching another annoying branding term.) But to answer your question: Yes, I will have my annual Wildwood boardwalk t-shirt roundup in September.

PAEZ-PUMAR: Yeah it's going to be a dead heat between baseball and football. Go Pats, though; nothing would be funnier than Cam winning a Super Bowl this season.

Cam winning a Super Bowl with the Pats would truly be the funniest possible outcome. Did you choose the name at least in part because people still have the muscle memory of type d-e… into their browser?

MAGARY: Nope. Giri was leafing through the dictionary when he stumbled on it.  

MCKINNEY: This is a nice coincidence!  But yes, Giri found the name through some kind of dictionary process I do not understand yet envy.

Will Roth be able to write about Trump as much as he wants, which I happen to know he takes great pleasure from and loves doing.

MAGARY: I sure as hell won't stop him.  

MCKINNEY: I cannot and will not try to control David Roth. 

What, generally speaking, can people expect from this thing? Will it pick up where Deadspin left off for the most part? 

PAEZ-PUMAR:  You can expect the same idiots who made your favorite website. As someone who has been in Slack with them since we all quit last fall, everyone's takes have only gotten more...powerful in the hiatus. Plus, I think we're the first website in the history of the internet to mix sports and culture together in one place. [citation needed]

I gather there will be no sticking to sports mandate?

PAEZ-PUMAR:  That is correct. I can't wait to write about the horrifying amounts of TV, movies, and video games that I consume on a daily basis.

MCKINNEY: The thing is, our ownership stakes allow a 2/3rds staff vote to oust an EIC or any member of leadership, so I don't think that kind of mandate would even be able to be made unless someone brain swapped every single one of us. 

McQUADE: I really have so many articles about Baywatch I want to write. The first season—which was on prime time in NBC, and greenlit after a rerun of a pilot movie in 1989 finished in the top 10 one week—did so poorly in the ratings, late NBC exec Brandon Tartikoff retooled the show with a few episodes to go in the season and made it about this guy Cort (he literally returns in an episode named "Home Cort") and the show is barely about the beach anymore; it's just about this guy Cort, who is a lifeguard and also a petty criminal and he owns a surf shop and then in later seasons he goes blind but this does not stop him from winning a dune buggy race once. Also, the show Baywatch Nights takes place primarily during the day? Anyway that was my impression of what Hell World would be like if it were about Baywatch.

Are there things that you already have planned that you never felt like you were able to do before under the previous structure? 

PAEZ-PUMAR:  There are. I have to be annoying and just say "stay tuned," but we own this thing, so we're going to do it our way, and that definitely means trying new things.

Will there be any dress code? 

PAEZ-PUMAR:  Yes, everyone has to wear jerseys honoring the reigning, defending Premier League champion Pool Boys at all times.