Let me be clear, I don’t think Deadspin sucks.
But if I were working for the successful Gawker-media sports site — which I used to read on a daily basis — “Deadspin sucks” is the sort of headline I’d likely write on a weekly basis. Don’t believe me? Here are some 2016 examples:
This last piece, written Dec. 31 by Greg Howard about how Black Lives Matter activists have demanded LeBron James sit out games “until the DOJ imprisons the murderers of Tamir Rice,” epitomizes my annoyance with what have become standard Deadspin shock headlines.
The word “shit” does not appear in Mr. Howard’s commentary, and the headline chosen by one of Mr. Howard’s editors does not even summarize the author’s point. Here, for all intents and purposes, is Howard’s ultimate argument in the piece:
It should be noted first that there is nothing LeBron James, Steph Curry, Brian Scalabrine, Kobe Bryant, Bobby Jackson, Christian Laettner, or any current or former NBA player can do to influence the Department of Justice’s review of the case. LeBron James could wrap himself in dynamite and walk into Quicken Loans Arena with his thumb on the detonator and it wouldn’t move Tamir Rice’s killers one inch toward jail, and Touré and King know this as well as LeBron does. We do not live in a society in which a black basketball player can get killer cops sent to jail by taking a break from playing. Any gesture James made, then, would be empty performance, flattering Black Lives Matter activists for their ability to manipulate one of the most famous people in the world rather than recovering lost justice for Rice. It’s a waste of time.
To sum up Howard’s thoughtful and informative piece as “LeBron James doesn’t owe you shit” is as much an insult to the public as it is to the author. “Owe” isn’t even the right verb, and “shit” is a gratuitous curse word added for shock value and click-baiting, as it was in all the other headlines mentioned above.
Gawker Media Group, of course, remains one of the greatest online media success stories in American history, which is why it pains me to write this post. When we were developing NonDoc, I referenced Deadspin (GMG’s sports site) a fair amount owing to its history of intriguing voices like Drew Magary, whose commentary shtick is that of a curmudgeonly 30-something sports fan who hates on all teams, sports and players equally.
But even just over the past few months, I’ve come to groan more than gawk when I scroll Deadspin headlines. While Magary has brought the site great success with his annual “Why Your Team Sucks” NFL preview series, it’s as if the site’s entire voice has been taken over by curse words and dick-verbs (boned, sucks, screwed.) Most concerning, however, is that the site’s headlines often seem detached from the reality of the posts they introduce.
Let’s take the story associated with the picture above.
On Dec. 12, Deadspin published a post titled, “Sikh Fans Refused Entry To Chargers Stadium Because Of Their Turbans.” I read the post with mild interest until I reached the top reader comment at the time, which pointed out the incongruity of the post’s headline with its dominant art. I couldn’t believe I had missed it myself.
In short, the reader noted, the “Sikh fans” clearly were not “refused entry to Chargers Stadium because of their turbans” because, of course, they are pictured inside the stadium wearing the turbans!
More than one month has passed, but Deadspin has not changed the headline. There has been no correction, clarification or update issued. Even the San Diego local TV station that first reported the story offered a more appropriate headline: “Fans: We were hassled at Qualcomm Stadium over our turbans.”
Indeed, the fans had to remove the turbans briefly at the stadium’s entrance, which they felt was a hassle. But after an argument, they complied, entered the stadium to watch the game and were obviously allowed to wear their turbans.
Whoever wrote this Deadspin headline, however, either didn’t understand those nuances or didn’t care. In the midst of a December filled with Donald Trump race-baiting and discussions of radical Islam (Sikhs are not Muslims, by the way), this inaccurate and, frankly, libelous headline shot around the Internet and fed a negative narrative that had already been created by the same culture that led someone to call police on the Sikh men for being suspicious in the parking lot of that stadium.
That’s a dangerous dialogue to feed with inaccurate headlines, and I’d argue it’s irresponsible on the part of Deadspin editors. While we live in a difficult media environment where journalism ethics and journalism job requirements are routinely at odds — because clicks get dollars and shock gets clicks — headlines like the ones I’m criticizing ought to be avoided by legitimate media outlets.
Do you know why “Marvin Lewis Is Probably Boned (Again)”? Of course you don’t, because that statement doesn’t actually mean anything. Its entire function is to make you click the piece, and, even if you did, you would not later explain what you learned by saying, “Hey guys, Marvin Lewis is probably boned … again.”
That said, Deadspin is incredibly popular and likely more successful than our little site will ever be. In that regard, it’s not accurate for me to say, “Deadspin sucks.”
But that’s the whole point, now isn’t it?