A decade ago, back when blogs were called "weblogs," before the word "blogosphere" had been invented, Will Leitch was a young college graduate who wrote a Web column called "My Life as a Loser." A few years later, he went on to found Gawker's snarky sports blog, Deadspin, after which he was pilloried by Buzz Bissinger as the personification of all the evils of the blogosphere. (The clip is extraordinarily profane and thus NSFW.) Hilarious and lurid, Deadspin became one of the most popular sports blogs on the Internet.
Now, Leitch is 34 and a sports columnist at New York magazine. His fourth book, Are We Winning?: Fathers and Sons in the New Golden Age of Baseball, comes out in May.
You're a print journalist these days, but you took a roundabout way to get there. Like ESPN's Bill Simmons, you built an audience on the Web, then landed a column and blog at a glossy magazine. You started at two different now-defunct blogs, then co-founded and presided over one of the most popular sports blogs on the Internet, Deadspin. Now you're at New York magazine, and you've got a book coming out in May. The small-picture question: what's next for you?
Well, I'll write for whomever will have me. It's amazing that I get to do this for a living: That was the goal all along, long before Deadspin. Working at New York magazine, considered one of the best magazines in the world by people a lot smarter than me, has been a learning experience, as was the plan from the beginning. A good magazine requires you to raise your game. I've become a better journalist and writer just by hanging around and listening to the geniuses who run this place. The ultimate goal is just to get better, as it has always been.
I'm 34 years old, and I'd like to think I have quite a bit of career ahead of me. I just want to keep adding tools to the belt as I get older, and just keep working. I loved doing Deadspin, and it was challenging, exciting, fulfilling work, but I *DO* think, if you're not careful, you can get caught in the trap of just chugging out blog posts and becoming lazy with your audience. Are there more people reading my work now than when I was running Deadspin? Probably not. (Though who knows? Pageview counters terrify me.) But I think I'm a better writer and reporter than I was when I left. The hope is that I eventually come close to figuring it out. I've got a while to go still.
The big-picture question: what's next for journalism? How is sports journalism changing, for better and worse? What will replace the dead-tree business model?
I, like many, am firm in the belief that people will always pay for quality journalism. We haven't figured that out exactly how that works yet, and I certainly wouldn't trust any journalist to figure out how. (Most journalists I know don't even know how overdraft protection on their checking account works.) But it has to be out there. We'll get there. It will all sort itself out. It's just going to take time. I do know this: Great journalism might not be as lucrative as it once was, but there is certainly more of it being produced in this age than at any other time in human history. I'm not sure it's a particularly close race, really.
Among the lessons of baseball's steroid era: baseball journalists totally missed the story. Has the profession made the necessary changes? Are there any stories that are going under the radar that you wish were being better explored?
Well, there are a million stories. I don't understand why more people don't report that baseball is about to pass the NFL in total revenue. This is the exact opposite of what everyone thinks—what infuses every aspect of our sports coverage, really—and no one seems to have noticed. As for the steroid story, I think baseball journalists have more than made up for "missing" the story by conflating non-stories like the Jose Reyes thyroid issue (which has NOTHING to do with HGH, not that anyone told Mike Lupica) into one more symptom of The Steroid Scourge. As bad as they were during the steroid era, I think they're worse now, in the other direction.