Jim Dey: Deadspin editor's mission is telling 'unauthorized version'

Jim Dey: Deadspin editor's mission is telling 'unauthorized version'

One thing Tommy Craggs knows for sure is that the Internet has changed everything in journalism.

It's turned some newspapers into shells of their former selves — including the New Orleans Times-Picayune, where he once interned.

"It was a great newspaper at times," Craggs said.

But the Internet also has given rise to his current employer at Deadspin (deadspin.com), an irreverent, unconventional, sometimes profane and always lively news and sports web site for men. As Deadspin's editor, Craggs oversees writers who are rebels with a cause — pulling the mantle of respectability off their subjects and telling readers what's really happening.

"The basic mission is to tell the unauthorized version of things," said the 34-year-old Urbana native.

A graduate of University Laboratory High School and Northwestern and a former high school scoretaker at The News-Gazette, Craggs has traveled a circuitous route to his current life in New York City. But he said he knew when he was a high school junior that the newsroom was where he wanted to be.

"I loved it. It was a sort of formative experience," he said. "It was fun to watch the next day's (sports) section come together."

These days Craggs is the guy putting together Deadspin's offerings to readers. The site draws 15 million unique visitors monthly with such offerings as "Confessions Of A Nail-Biter," "What It Was Like Being The Only Virgin On Magic's Hypersexed Lakers," "Pau Gasol Does A Dad Dunk," "How Davone Bess's Career Collapsed In 12 Months" and "Martin St. Louis Tantrums His Way Out Of Tampa."

If those stories don't suggest that Deadspin is not your father's website, its unofficial motto tells the tale — "Sports news without access, favor or discretion."

Craggs said that kind of in-your-face description was Deadspin's "way of suggesting the attitude of the place."

But the site's sometimes odd stories have a habit of slipping into the mainstream media.

Deadspin's biggest scoop was the weird 2013 story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o's girlfriend, the death of whom simultaneously broke his heart and spurred him on to ever-greater feats on the gridiron. It turned out to be a hoax — there was no girlfriend, no one died, the entire event was made up out of whole cloth.

"That was the model Deadspin story. That's about as good as it gets," Craggs said.

Deadspin pulled the curtain back on the hoax or hoaxes — it was never really clear whether Te'o, after being tricked himself, perpetuated the myth rather than disclose how he had been fooled.

"Our working theory was that there were two hoaxes — the one pulled on him and the one he perpetrated by telling the media how this girl was the love of his life," Craggs said, referring to the girl Te'o said he never met face to face and had only talked to by telephone.

The real truth did not come out until well after the tale of the Te'o tragedy became regular fodder in the sports press, including Sports Illustrated. For some reason, sportswriters love stories about broken-hearted athletes who excel on the field. This story was so rich in that theme that no one bothered to check the facts — the most important of which was that the Te'o's girlfriend didn't die because she didn't exist.

"This was as much a media story about the blind spot of sportswriters as it was about a hoax in the Internet age," Craggs said.

It was certainly reflective of a breakdown in elemental fact-checking, but the story also demonstrated the power of the big lie — a lie so vast that no one hearing it could conceive that someone would tell such a whopper.

Another Deadspin scoop fit more neatly in its comfort zone — pushing the envelope on an athlete's off-the-field misbehavior.

It told the inside story (revealing text messages and cellphone photographs) of then-New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre's pursuit of a comely woman who worked for the team. Red faces were all around when Deadspin revealed the married Favre pursues women with at least as much ardor as he did touchdowns.

Craggs conceded that Deadspin violated some basic rules of journalism in pursuing the Favre story but said it demonstrated that "our allegiance is to the story."

If that makes Deadspin an Internet version of a newspaper tabloid, so be it. Craggs said "tabloid is not a dirty word" and that "our job is to point out the bad boys."

Craggs' parents continue to live here. His mother is a real estate appraiser while his father is a retired math professor at the University of Illinois. Craggs said he makes it back to town every few months, but that's about all the traveling he wants to do now.

After living in New Orleans, Atlanta and San Francisco, Craggs said he and his girlfriend intend to remain in New York City for a good while. He said they enjoy life in the city, but the reason they're staying is much simpler.

"The reason why is because the jobs we like are in New York," Craggs said.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 351-5369.

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (2):Internet, People