The Yang Slinger: Vol. LXXIX
An editor took to his website to bash my advice to journalists. This is my reply.
In case you missed this, last week I absorbed a lot of shit over some advice I tried to offer young journalists.
It came in the aftermath of the announced Los Angeles Times and Sports Illustrated layoffs, when I posted these two (one and two) videos on Twitter. And, to be clear, in hindsight I get some of the blowback. I do. Too often in social media we (cough—I) jump into a fray, and only later do we (cough—I) think, “Was that really helpful? Was that really necessary? Was anyone actually clamoring for my advice?” In fact, a few days ago the great Will Leitch wrote about the whole brouhaha on his Substack, and he made a number of points that hit home.
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So … yeah. I get it.
I really get it.
There is a website called Defector that specializes in witty, generally unreported takes on stuff going on the world of sports, pop culture, etc. It was founded/created by a bunch of the Deadspin refugees who left their old joint after G/O Media, the parent company, demanded writers stop delving into politics and social issues and stick to sports. And last week, in the aftermath of my posts, Tom Ley—Defector editor in chief—published an essay headlined, JEFF PEARLMAN’S ADVICE TO YOUNG SPOORTSWRITERS: SIMPLY WRITE A BOOK ABOUT LEBRON JAMES AND KOBE BRYANT.
And … hmm. I can’t say I was steaming mad. But I was certainly irked. First, because it struck me as old-school Deadspin low-hanging-fruit mean for the sake of being mean. Second, because the headline is wildly/purposefully out of context. Third, because Ley could have taken 10 minutes to call me and talk about the issue (this, of course, requires some level of curiosity). Fourth, because I actually e-mailed Ley in the aftermath of the article’s publication (specifically, concerning the headline) and the coward didn’t have the decency to respond. Fifth … eh. There’s no fifth.
Anyhow, it bothered me to the point where I had to stop and ask, “Why the fuck am I so annoyed by this?” Like, why do I care what Tom Ley thinks? We don’t occupy the same space. I don’t know him. I read Defector every so often (some of the posts are fantastic), but it’s not something I think about. So why, oh why, was I irked?
Then it sorta hit me.
Were one to sum up the advice I offered (and was bashed over), it’d be, “Make yourself indispensable.” That’s the wildly controversial suggestion that caused Ley and Co. to place my bloody skull atop a stick. Make yourself indispensable. And, even seven or eight days later, I remain befuddled not by the blowback (again—timing and tone matter), but by the intensity of the blowback. Like, why is, “Make yourself indispensable?” controversial wisdom? Fuck, it’s actually … true.
But here’s the thing. The wacky thing: Since graduating from the University of Colorado in 2010, Tom Ley has made himself the 180-degree opposite of indispensable. Which perfectly encompasses the audacity of it all.
According to his Linkedin page, Ley has served as:
• A Deadspin editorial assistant.
• A Deadspin staff writer.
• A Deadspin news editor.
• A Deadspin managing editor.
• A Deadspin features editor.
• Editor-in-chief of Defector.
I actually had to scroll his resume multiple times, because it’s bewildering. Were Defector to close shop tomorrow, the dude ripping me for offering tone-deaf/shit/old man advice would be (quite literally) unemployable. I’m not saying that to be mean. I’m certainly not saying Ley isn’t talented. But read his Linkedin page again. Please. Over the course of nearly 1 1/2 decades since college (a long time to develop useful talents), Ley’s skills and journalistic abilities can be summed up as: Edit pulp1, use The Google, write stuff for a website most people know not exists.2
In other words, Tom Ley is a Burger King manager. Or at least his resume suggests, “Burger King manager.”3 And … honestly, that’s fine. If he’s happy and content, earning a steady paycheck in an age of inconsistent paychecks—it’s not my place to question. Shit, I’m glad Defector employs writers. A gig is a gig is a gig, especially in these awful times.
But grr … this, from Ley …
I wanna dive in.
It is true I departed Sports Illustrated long ago (though it was 2003, not 2002). But am I the dated one here? Am I the one who doesn’t understand the industry? The need to multi-task? The need to evolve, change, morph? Or is it the Burger King manager?
Although it’s an easy wack-at-a-softball swing to make it sound like I left SI and fell into books, it’s simply not true. First, I left Sports Illustrated to take a job at Newsday. Then, I left Newsday to write books. Then I took a side gig as a Yahoo! columnist. Then I took another side gig as an ESPN.com columnist. Then I took yet another side gig as a contributing columnist for The Athletic. Then I took another side gig as a contributing columnist for CNN.com. Throughout those runs, I started my own website/blog that featured a weekly Q&A section called The Quaz. Many of the Quaz guests came off of people I’d met writing columns for the various spots. Because of the Quaz, a Canadian podcast company hired me to do (a short-lived) podcast series called The Quazcast. Because of the short-lived Quazcast, I decided to start my own podcast series (which I host and produce and distribute) called Two Writers Slinging Yang. Because someone at Wondery enjoyed Two Writers Slinging Yang, I was approached by the company to write a season of its podcast, Business Wars. Because of the NFL v. USFL podcast series, I had the oomph to be hired by Audible to write, produce and host a murder mystery podcast series called Apartment 515. Shortly before I began work on Apartment 515, I went back to school (the University of South Florida) to get a masters degree in digital media. While getting that masters degree in digital media I created a (very bad) mini-documentary called, “Book Whore.” Because the universe is weird, “Book Whore” was viewed by someone who told someone else about a book I wrote called “Showtime.” That conversation led to “Showtime” being handed to someone who works with HBO. HBO bought the rights to “Showtime” and turned it into the TV show “Winning Time.” Thanks to “Winning Time,” my Q-rating took a spike and I was able to land a way-outside-my-comfort-zone book deal to write a biography of Tupac Shakur. This subscription-based Substack is used to pay for Tupac Shakur research expenses. Oh, and I recently agreed to a new deal to create and co-host a true crime podcast series because I was found via something I wrote … on my Substack.
That’s the thing about “making yourself indispensable.” It doesn’t mean it’ll keep your employer open. It doesn’t even mean it’ll snag you a job. It means the more you can do … the more skills you can offer … the more understandings you have—the more valuable and necessary and useful you become.
And—to be 100 percent clear—I say none of this as a brag. I am a strong believer that the big asteroid (or climate change) will destroy earth, and literally everything we do is meaningless. And even if the asteroid doesn’t destroy earth, nobody will remember me after I die. My books aren’t good enough. The TV show came and went. Pick a legendary writer folks revere—and that’s not me. I am aware.
But I’m also fed up by little know-it-all, drive-by vanilla wafers like Tom Ley, who can point at old journalists (and, at 51, I qualify) and scream, “Check out that Edsel!” when the bulk of my career can be chalked up to making myself indispensable. Still. To this day. As we speak.
The paper pusher wants to make fun of my book-writing advice? Junior, where are your books? Again—you’ve been in this business for more than a decade. Have you done … anything outside of your comfort zone? Have you written for anyone besides Deadspin and Defector? Are there any talents an outside entity would be interested in? And, not for nothing, my book advice is actually correct. If you’re an aspiring author (we’ll use sports for this example), and you’ve never written a book, it’s excruciatingly hard to get a deal for a deep dive into the local high school basketball coach battling Aarskog Syndrome. It’s much wiser (again, for book one) to think bigger/broader.4 So, for example, let’s say you live near Pennsylvania. You’re a freelance writer or small newspaper guy. Well, try talking to a bunch of Kobe’s old high school teammates and see if they’d be game for a book about Lower Merion Kobe Bryant. If you’re in Los Angeles, maybe, oh, find all the Clippers from the 1980s and pitch a book about the worst franchise in NBA history (Old trick: If you don’t have a literary agent, go to the local Barnes and Noble, find books similar in topic to yours, skim the Acknowledgments section, find the agent (they’re always thanked) and reach out. It actually works more often than one might think). Can you jump right in and write a Kobe-LeBron book? Not as one like Ley might envision it. But can you pitch a Kobe-LeBron book that, say, compares their teenage development? That goes back and interviews 200 (or so) people who watched them grow and rise? That catches the fancy of University of Nebraska Press? Of course you can. Is it easy? No. Does it take doggedness? Yes. Can it happen? Yes.
Final point. Ley wrapped his article with this …
… and it just … Grr.
I’ve spent the past, oh, decade working as an adjunct journalism professor at Manhattanville College, Purchase College and Chapman University. I’ve lined up dozens of internships, and I’ve watched scores of my students wind up working in media. A good number are producers for different TV networks. A chunk cover teams in varied markets. It is not easy. At all. It’s not getting easier. At all. I don’t have the same enthusiasm I once did. At all.
But, even at this advanced age, I’m out there—busting ass, always trying to reinvent, always trying to come up with new ways to promote, to report, to create. Before my podcast I was on Bumpers. Before my Substack I was blogging. It’s just what one must do. When I see people like Ley ridiculing Use-TikTok wisdom I think of the Los Angeles Times’ Keri Blakinger, a contemporary who has made herself (wait for it) indispensable by covering prison reform largely … via TikTok.
Yeah, it’s not easy.
Yeah, the sky is falling.
Yeah, corporate America is ruining media.
Yeah, being indispensable will not necessarily save you.
But it beats sitting behind a desk, mocking those who try.
The Quaz Five with … Rob Cooper
1. Rob, you're a wedding photographer. So I have to ask—what's your best awful wedding story?: Just like my boring no-Bridezillas answer, I don't have a story that ends with the bride & groom splitting up, or a groomsman punching the mother of the bride. Which lives my biker wedding as the hairiest story. Five years ago I had a wedding at a high-end venue. The bride was a sweet woman of about 40 and the groom was the leader of a fairly notorious biker gang which I obviously will not name. The groomsmen and many of the male guests were members of the club. A more menacing group you will not find outside a prison, and I'm guessing that many of them had been inside a prison. I spent the day and night alternating between feeling incredibly safe and feeling I was one ill-timed word from a boot-stomping. I wish I could share photos of the event with you - especially the women (aka property) of two of the groomsmen - the definition of "rode hard and put away wet". I have no idea whether you can use any of this answer, but if it makes you laugh, I'm happy.
2. It seems like shooting one's wedding comes with a lot of pressure. Like, this is THE day. So ... what is it like? What are you thinking?: On the back of the wedding in Q4. I seriously wanted to throw up all day before I went to the wedding venue, and the feeling didn't go away until about 3 hours into the shooting. I was convinced that I was going to miss every critical shot, just like 16-year-old me was convinced I'd never be able to drive a car without killing pedestrians. So it was kind of an insecurity flashback. Then I wondered if I was going to be Glenn Hall, throwing up before every game. But I quickly learned how important muscle memory is. The next few weddings were also nerve-wracking, but each one was successively less so. After about 20 of them, a switch flipped, and I became energized by the anticipation. Now, after 150 or so weddings, I've developed the confidence I lacked. I know without question that I'll be able to get all the shots and handle any weirdness that comes my way.
3. Is the Bridezilla thing more myth or reality? Why?: The Bridezilla thing exists but, in my experience, can be mitigated. I make it a point (and market myself accordingly) to get to know 'my' couples so well that they feel like a family friend is photographing them. As a result I can happily say that I've never had a bride lose her shit with me, or near me. I've seen it happen when I've been "second shooter" for another photographer, and it's awful to be around. Nobody even dares to tell the bride to relax. It's like a terrorist wearing a bomb vest. But personally? I've been very, very fortunate. (Or very, very well prepared.)
4. How did you become a photographer? What's the genesis of your interest?: My dad went to Expo '70 in Osaka and came home with a Pentax SLR camera. I was 7. I didn't take to it immediately but by age 10 I was taking photos pretty regularly. Through high school & university I took photos of everything. But I didn't turn pro until 2015, at age 52. It was a now-or-never thing - I didn't want to turn 75 and think, "Aw crap, why didn't I try it?" Long story short, I got the chance to shoot a wedding of a couple who didn't care if they had photos or not. I charged them $500 and promised them their money back if they hated the images. They didn't hate them.
5. How has the rise of the iPhone impacted your career? And the industry?: The iPhone has made the general public think that photography is easy. That's resulted in a sense that what we do isn't difficult or worth a lot of money. I've started to tell people that yes, iPhones take incredible shots, and yes, you can absolutely make a photo that's as good as one of mine. But you can't take 500 or 1,000 that are as good as mine. Composition, lighting, sense of story, anticipating The Moment...that's what the couple is paying for.
It's sometimes a struggle to convince people of my value because of the above. That's when I know they're not my client and I should cut bait.
Bonus [rank in order—favorite to least] "Say Yes to the Dress," Bobby Ojeda, Peter Criss, rainbow sprinkles, "Rapper's Delight," your toes, Klay Thompson, "Love Boat," electric cars, butt cracks at the beach: Ojeda (loved the torment of the '86 World Series), Peter Criss, pre-2024 Klay, "Rapper's Delight" for the innocent entrée into a new art form, rainbow sprinkles in moderation, electric cars that don't start with T, "Love Boat" for the memories of goofy 70s TV, my toes, "Say Yes," butt cracks. Does anyone have butt cracks higher than last place?
Ask Jeff Pearlman a fucking question(s)
From Jordan: You’re obviously working hard on your Tupac book. Do you feel like you’ve formed a sense of who he was or will that come with the writing?: Well, it’s not easy. First, because he’s been dead for 26 years. Second, because there’s been so much erroneous reporting. And third, because Tupac was a legitimately complicated and complex guy who was thrown in 1,000 different directions.
So, do I feel like I’ve formed a sense of who he was? Yes, I do. But I can’t say, right now, I’m 100 percent there. I’m about 540 interviews in, and I feel like I need more. I’m scratching and clawing. It’s just … hard.
A random old article worth revisiting …
On Aug. 16, 1983, the Kansas City Royals signed former Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent as a free agent. He lasted 11 games with the team, then was released and his career came to an end. This piece, from Mike Fish of the Kanas City Times, tells the story …
The Madness of Tyler Kepner’s Grid …
So unless you’ve been living beneath a pebble beneath a rock beneath a big hunk of cheese, you’re aware of Immaculate Grid, the daily game that’s drawn thousands of nerdy sports fans (guilty!) to its ranks. And while the NBA grid, NFL grid, NHL grid and WNBA grid are all fun, this game is at its best when it comes to baseball—where the names are endless and the transactions ceaseless.
Over the past few weeks I’ve often discussed the grid with Tyler Kepner, the Athletic baseball writer. And now, for kicks, every week I’m gonna feature one of Tyler’s bonkers grid results. He’s the ultimate baseball geek (I say this with great affection), and his outputs blow my mind.
Tyler thoughts …
• Steve Frey is from Bucks County, PA, not far from where I grew up.
• Chris Pritchett played some first base for the Angels when I covered them in 1998.
• Geoff Zahn had a big season for the Angels when they won the AL West in 1982.
• Greg Harris pitched for a lot of teams and had a really good long relief outing for the Padres in the 1984 WS (Game 3).
• Eddie Williams had a terrific season in the 1994 strike year for the Padres and I once took him as a platoon guy against lefties on a SIM team.
• Greg Harris — the other Greg Harris — had a couple of good years and then got traded to Colorado in their 1993 expansion season and faded pretty quickly. I just wanted to use both Greg Harrises and kinda got lucky (he won 10 games in only one season for SD).
• Brian Bruney was a favorite of mine when I covered the Yankees in the 2000s. Terrific guy. Fun fact: he was an extra in Kindergarten Cop.
• Andy Phillips was another great dude from my years on the Yankee beat. Hit a homer at Fenway Park in his first career at-bat and later coached at Alabama.
• Marius Russo was a guy I included in my World Series book as an unsung hero. He had two complete games wins in the ‘40s, then went into WW2 and only pitched briefly after that.
This week’s college writer you should follow on Facebook …
Isabel Pulgarin, Barry University
A copy editor at The Buccaneer, Pulgarin wrote a lovely piece headlined, simply, MEET WILLIE ESCALA.
Wrote Pulgarin …
One can follow Isabel on Facebook here.
Journalism musings for the week …
Musing 1: So Jim DeFede of CBS News Miami offered an absolute master class on how to interview a shifty politician. It’s beyond glorious, and should serve as a lesson plan for every college broadcast journalism professor.
Musing 2: Chad Finn of the Boston Globe is an all-star, and if you don’t believe me check out, THE NBA’S HOTTEST PROSPECT IS A 17-YEAR-OLD FROM MAINE. MEET COOPER FLGG.
Musing 3: I know I feature a lot of Mike Vaccaro on this Substack, but it’s because the dude is a hoss. This New York Post column on Chiefs fatigue is glorious. Writes Mike: “And now … well, they can’t lose. They won’t lose. Two years ago, despite having just 13 seconds to tie in regulation, they won in overtime. The first game of this remarkable title-happy run under Mahomes, the Chiefs spotted the Texans a 24-0 lead … and still won by 20 points. Their two Super Bowl wins, they trailed in the fourth quarter both times, shrugged, came back. Maybe most egregiously, they went on the road the past two weeks, significant underdogs in both games, and took great delight in breaking the hearts of fanatical Buffalo fans and breaking the spirits of frenzied Baltimore fans. And thus, the Chiefs arrived at the most egregious intersection in sports.”
Musing 4: Luca Evans of the Orange County Register has journalism rookie of the year vibes. He’s savvy, he’s smart, he’s aggressive and he finds stories. This piece, an oral history of Bronny James’ heart scare, is all Luca.
Musing 5: This, from a middle school teacher named Phil Shore, is insanely cool …
Musing 6: I love Susan Dominus’ latest deep dive in the New York Times. Headlined RECRUITED TO PLAY SPORTS AND WIN A CULTURE WAR, the story explains the conflicts and confusions of athletes recruited to compete at the DeSantis-fucked New College.
Musing 7: What tremendous work from the Los Angeles Times’ Nathan Fenno and Adam Elmahrek, who teamed up to report and write, STEVE GARVEY TOUTS ‘FAMILY VALUES’ IN HIS SENATE BIG. SOME OF HIS KIDS TELL ANOTHER STORY. In short, the former Dodger star is running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in California, and he’s (gasp!) a gross absentee father.
Musing 8: The new Two Writers Slinging Yang stars Joy Sewing, Houston Chronicle news columnist …
Quote of the Week …
I defy you to name something from Defector that has had consequence.
Important point: I am not dogging Defector. It’s a success by many measures. But it’s niche. There’s nothing wrong with niche. I’m probably niche, too.
I actually love Burger King.
Two reasons: 1. It’s easier to get that first book deal. 2. A broader book has greater sales potential, and your second book deal is based upon the success of your first.