On Joy

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I told myself that I started this career because I wanted to work as a political journalist. What I really wanted to do was blog. I find myself a nostalgia of the smallest scale — wishing I had been born, say, four years earlier. I started working in 2016, just in time to witness the death throes of sites like Gawker. I tell myself that I wanted to write like the people I read at those places. What I was really looking for was a sense of community. 

What attracted me, like many others, to those sites was the overwhelming sense of joy that I felt when I read Drew Magary’s annual hater’s guide to the Williams-Sonoma catalog or Emma Carmichael’s opinions about the Titanic. Rather than looking for prestige (there was none) or money (there was even less of that), I wanted the camaraderie of Jezebel and Deadspin switching staffs for a day (Jezspin forever), resulting in Barry Petchesky declaring that “Penetration is This Year’s Hottest New Sex Move.” Or the feeling of surprise when Jia Tolentino made me realize that many people think that in the first line of the song “I’m Real” J. Lo is saying “Are you Ellie?

This week, Jim Spanfeller, the CEO of G/O Media, tried to strong-arm the staff of Deadspin to “stick to sports” — seemingly just for the sake of doing so. A group of Deadspin staffers refused, and instead quit their jobs. Now we have yet another example of private equity forces systematically destroying a media company. Now we have yet another example of a media community standing in solidarity with each other, in the face of the total idiocy of their bosses. Deadspin was one of the few sites left in the industry that felt truly joyful; as Drew wrote in his goodbye post, “Here is where I learned that there was true joy to be had in the grunt work of this dream gig, and I plan on taking that joy with me to new and fertile pastures. I am hardly alone in that plan.” Deadspin was a site that even from the outside you could tell actually worked as a team, who wanted to write for themselves and their readers. It felt right that my first impulse, then, was to try to write like the people I read. 

Deadspin, as the site’s staff and union reiterated over and over again, was profitable. As Alex Shephard wrote at The New Republic about the situation, “the collapse of Deadspin is so spectacularly stupid, so clearly self-inflicted, that it has an epochal quality.” But it also reads as a tactic of the wealthy and powerful—targeting creative and independent sites like Deadspin is an unsparing and effective way to grind down workers. As Jia wrote when The Awl shut down, “Reading the Awl and the Hairpin, and then working with the people that ran them, had actually convinced me that the Internet was silly, fun, generative, and honest.” Who wants to stay in an industry in which it feels increasingly impossible to have fun while doing so? Those in power, and those deferential to it. 

Instead of blindly eulogizing the past, Deadspin writers are showing that we can imagine something better. Media has never existed as an equitable industry and those who have access to its rare freedoms are limited by race and class. Nor is the often-too-insular world of blogging the only place where these pockets of joy exist. As my friend Haley Mlotek tweeted in the wake of staffers quitting Deadspin, “I think it’s time we stop focusing our efforts on saving media as it exists, and start talking about building something that actually takes care of the people who make it.” 

As a media community, we take care of each other not only because things are horrible, but also because we have had glimpses of what it could look like to work in an environment that is joyful. Despite the repeated guttings, firings, and layoffs, it’s the funniest and seemingly least important moments—the blogs and jokes and the unfettered creativity—that make me still want to do this work. That joy is where the transformation begins. You know who knows how dangerous that is? Our bosses.