4 writing lessons from Deadspin

The alternately beloved and reviled website has been gutted, but its legacy of withering snark and bold commentary offers timeless lessons for writers of all stripes.

Writing lessons from Deadspin

Amid an internet lousy with anodyne sports blogs, Deadspin stood out like a sore, mangled thumb (or middle finger, more like).

Sadly, it is now dead. After a now infamous “stick to sports” diktat from its corporate overlords, the entire editorial staff quit, leaving the website a voiceless, flavorless husk.

Sure, it was crass, rude and controversial—and earlier iterations of the site published truly disgraceful content—but holy smokes, the writing on Deadspin was withering and wonderful. The reporting was fearless. The snark—be it aimed toward Williams-Sonoma or your favorite football team—could be eviscerating.

Let’s remember the best bits of Deadspin with these takeaways for writers:

Be bold, and find your unique voice. Nobody read Deadspin for sports scores or recaps. The site was beloved because of the writers’ brazen, distinctive, inimitable voices.

Of course, you’re probably not tasked with penning “weird Grandpa stories,” interviewing stunt drinkers or covering the exploits of a “mad pooper” for your job, but do try to inject vibrance and voice into your writing. Don’t be afraid to let loose with a joke here or there.

Voiceless writers tend to be expendable, interchangeable writers. Be bold, take editorial chances, and let your unique voice shine.   

Balance snark with gravitas (or vice versa). Deadspin pumped out plenty of hilarious headlines and hero soccer dog content, but the website published a litany of magnificent long-form pieces, too.

If you’re known as the fluffy “jokey” writer at work, push yourself to produce more substantive, data-driven or deeply reported output. If you’re more the “serious corporate writer” type, show some human emotion. Try to strike a balance in your content’s tone, tenor and type to consistently whet your audience’s appetite.

Don’t ignore injustice or bias. Deadspin’s later years shone a bright, hot spotlight on injustice, hypocrisy and corruption in the sports world—even calling its corporate owners to account.

If you witness workplace bullying, discrimination, harassment or other “conduct detrimental to the team,” call it out. Write about it. Encourage your leaders to do something about it. Use your position as a mouthpiece to advocate for positive change.

It takes courage to speak out about injustice or bias, but it’s the right thing to do.

Don’t stick to ‘sports.’ Being told to “stick to sports” was the final straw for Deadspin staffers, who promptly quit rather than violate or compromise their journalistic ethics.

Perhaps your manager has told you to “stay in your lane” or to keep your nose out of other departments’ dealings. Maybe your insecure leader, keen to consolidate power and weaken others he views as a threat, has advised you to steer clear of certain “uncomfortable” topics.

Don’t be afraid to dig, poke and prod for possible stories. If you feel strongly about a story, pursue it. Don’t just “stick to sports.” You might have to hop over a few fences (and step on a few toes) to track down the most important and meaningful work of your career.


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