OPINION: This Site Won’t Bite the Dust

The site you’re currently reading is presented by Marist College’s sports communication center and was principally founded in the interest of filling a void. For years, the only coverage that Marist’s athletic programs — of which a majority are Division-I teams — came from inside the athletic department. Game recaps read like press releases, and press releases frequented the front page. Never was there an athlete profile, nor a fun video, nor a column of any kind. The school’s teams went unchecked; students Marco Schaden and Matt Rzodkiewicz, aided by the guidance of faculty advisor Leander Schaerlaeckens, set out to stop that. Our goal, in writing, was and is to “comprehensively cover Marist Athletics like never before.” I’d say we’ve done exactly that.

And we have since the Spring of 2018, which is frightening because it feels like we’ve been doing it for some time longer. Just yesterday, though, our editorial team — myself, Lily Caffrey-Levine, Amelia Nick, Bridget Reilly, and Dan Statile — collaborated on a fun project we deemed, in short, “Other Marists.” Each editor selected one Marist from around the world — there are many — and a notable alum from that school. We found a number of interesting names, from George R.R. Martin (the author of Game of Thrones) to Michael Peña (actor from Tower Heist, End of Watch, Ant-Man). This piece, for the most part, is not about sports. 

And people loved it. We don’t mean to toot our own horn, nor would we ever, but people truly enjoyed reading it. Editors received texts from friends who read the piece commending our approach to the story; my mother certainly enjoyed learning that the singer Lorde’s mother attended a Marist in New Zealand. I don’t think those readers particularly cared about the fact that Sean McVay once went to a school with the same name as this one, nor do I think our nutty idea from last week’s editorial meeting attracted them because it wasn’t sports. I think they appreciated the idea that there was something different on the internet; something different on a site that traditionally does, in fact, stick to sports. 

The very idea that a “sports website” can stick to sports entirely is fraught. It becomes boring when a site does that. Sites like SB Nation, The Ringer, and until recently, Deadspin, were best at rejecting the notion that sites discussing sports should do that and only that. The Ringer has billed itself as a sports and pop culture site with a podcast network, and its most traction — perhaps aside from basketball coverage — has come from content related to Game of Thrones. Yesterday, I was scrolling through SB Nation and found this headline: 

Needless to say, I clicked.

I don’t often travel to SB Nation for these articles. But when one catches my eye, I naturally indulge the creativity. I absolutely travel to The Ringer for all the fixings; give me “Muck Dynasty: The Bleak Outlook for the Curry-Less Warriors,” but give me “The Post-‘Friday Night Lights’ Power Rankings” and “Untimely Debates: Is ‘Now You See Me’ a Good Movie?” too. When I turned to Deadspin, it was for both their World Series coverage and their “Classic Rock rankings.” You won’t be seeing the latter anymore.

To boil it down to one, broad-ish statement about what has happened to Deadspin, I’ll say this: Deadspin was a really good website. It’s still up and running and publishing, so “was” might not be the literal word to use here, but the fact of the matter is, the site was good until it wasn’t. To no fault of the writers or editors on staff, it began to die and was gutted from the inside after writers and editors refused to stick to sports. Some of the gutting was self-induced; Tom Ley, Laura Wagner, Dom Cosentino, David Roth, and Drew Magary are among the more popular names who have quit in the last few days. The site’s editor, Barry Petchesky, was fired, as he said in a tweet yesterday, for “not sticking to sports.”

This isn’t so much a snowball as it is an avalanche, and while Deadspin isn’t the only site whose staff has been Mavened, this one feels different. A site that people legitimately went to because they knew they wouldn’t find gamers and sidebars has been destroyed for no clear reason. Well, I guess there is a reason. The bumbling corporations that have taken the helms at places like Deadspin and Sports Illustrated — another recent victim —  don’t exactly know how to run a content machine unless the agenda’s they maintain varnish the front page. 

There’s a silver lining to this, at least for me and my editing staff: Leander Schaerlaeckens, Jane McManus, our department Dean, Lyn Lepre, and others who work hard to help our site exist aren’t employed by Maven or G/O Media. They have their fingers on the pulse of our work, but not a grip around our throats, killing that pulse so that our voices can’t see the light of day. I’m grateful that we’re given the freedom to think and to try different things, whether they work or not. Editors, writers, and multimedia folks at Center Field are lucky enough — thanks to the support of those above people — to think by doing. Matt Rzodkiewicz and Molly Street interviewed dogs last year. I wrote a gamer this year, but entirely in Drake’s song titles. We’ve done our own Carpool Karaoke. This week, we started a cooking show. We haven’t been told off for doing so, and we didn’t ask permission. We just did it. 

Dan McQuade, a Deadspin editor who quit on Thursday, noted that they “had a tremendous amount of editorial freedom,” which he called “one of the best things at Deadspin.” This is something I’d assuredly say is true about our site. Not every story has to be about sports — in its own way, this one certainly is not — nor do they have to fixate on the sports at Marist. Sure, 90-percent of our stories are strictly sports stories, but I’d argue that the other 10-percent is where we have our most fun and, not at all regrettably, work the hardest. We do so because telling a Marist sports website to stick to sports would be like telling the Marist Circle to “stick to Marist.” 6,000 kids go here, and so little goes on that we refer to our campus as a “bubble”; stories aren’t necessarily billowing out of the dorms like they might at Syracuse or North Carolina. Sure, the Circle dedicates a significant chunk of their content to Marist — what else would they do? — but they also make room for student opinion on the impeachment inquiry, a review of Joker, and a weekly sex and love column. 

My point — if I have a point other than this trend just plain sucks — is that editorial freedom exists in plenty of places, and shouldn’t be stunted by clueless corporations who don’t know the first thing about journalistic operations. My other point is that I’m proud to edit and write for a site — however temporary working for a college website may be — that is willing to dedicate themselves to a certain avenue, but is excited to venture down different ones every now and again. I feel lucky to be a small part of a site that occupies a small corner of the internet, one that is passionate about last night’s soccer game, as well as a basketball player’s feelings on Icelandic history

The final point I’ll make — not ever, but for right now in this column — is one I credit to my deputy editor and her sentimental mind. When Sports Illustrated began its exodus, she said to me, “this feels like the day the music died.” Deadspin played its own kind of music, and its death feels the same, albeit different at its core. Sports Illustrated dying is like if classic rock evaporated. Deadspin dying is like if rap disappeared from our ears. Fearless lyrics; lyrics that said whatever they wished, gone. Ideally, Center Field is a timeless genre of music; the events of the last few days don’t just suck because the type of music our writers listen to is being turned down. It sucks because music like this isn’t supposed to die. 

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