Anonymous no more
Popular sports blogger The Big Lead reveals identity
Posted: Wednesday March 12, 2008 5:32PM; Updated: Friday March 21, 2008 5:23PM
In the ever-evolving sports blogosphere, where truth and rumor-mongering collide daily and often on the same Web site, TheBigLead.com has found an unlikely ally: the mainstream sports writer. The site has gained traction among the sports media thanks to a near-daily dose of gossipy items about its practitioners and interviews with some of the power hitters of sports journalism, all the while remaining anonymous to its readers and subjects.
The person behind The Big Lead is a 31-year-old former sportswriter who runs the Web site from his home in Brooklyn. He recently left his job as an assistant news editor at US Weekly and has been working full time on The Big Lead since January. That month, according to Google Analytics, TheBigLead.com had 2.07 million page views and 429,949 unique visitors. "At the blog's best, it would strive to be The Colbert Report meets Drudge Report," says Jason McIntyre, the co-creator and principal writer and editor of The Big Lead.
McIntyre decided to reveal his identity following a number of conversations with me. "It never really crossed my mind until now," he says. "I had opportunities. NPR asked me to come on, and I've done some interviews anonymously."
His decision to go public comes five weeks after the writers of another popular anonymous sports site -- the entertaining and snarky FireJoeMorgan.com -- came out of the blogging closet to their readers. "The arguments against anonymity were overwhelming," says Michael Schur, one of FJM's founders and a writer and producer for NBC's The Office.
"The arguments for, at the time we started the blog, were simple: We didn't want people conflating our professional lives with our blogger lives. But once the site gained a substantial readership, and given its content, it became clear to us that it was more important to stand publicly behind what we write. The accused have a right to face their accusers, should they care to. The only reason we didn't do it earlier was laziness."
Should sites such as The Big Lead put a face or byline behind their opinions and reporting? It's a question that will continue to percolate as more sports bloggers extend into reportage. "When you get into the business of gathering information and reporting news, I'd like to see someone accountable with a byline," says Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski. "If it's just a site or a blogger throwing out general sports opinions and jokes and whatever it is they do on their own private site, then who really cares? That said, if bloggers are gaining access as contributors to serious mainstream sports journalism sites, the rules should change. It's no longer the free-for-all of posting that they had in cyberspace. They're going to be a reflection on the sites they're writing for. If they're going to be reckless here, there are bigger consequences for everyone."
Unlike the FJM crew, McIntyre has a background in sports journalism. He interned at the Greensboro News & Record after graduating from James Madison University in 2000 and then moved to New Jersey, where he held sportswriting jobs at the Herald News and Bergen Record. McIntyre freelanced for ESPN.com's Page 3 and ESPN the Magazine and had a tryout for Gawker's sports blog, the precursor to what is now Deadspin.com. He left the Bergen Record for Star magazine in 2004 and went to work at US Weekly in 2005 as a reporter. He has also freelanced for a number of papers, from The Boston Globe to Metro, a free daily newspaper published in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
McIntyre updates the site 10 to 15 times a day, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., and usually answers upward of 75 e-mails daily. He has aggressively courted media members as sources. He says writers forward him stories -- often their own -- on a daily basis. "I think they e-mail us because we are fair," he says. "We call it like we see it."
Why would a major sports columnist agree to an interview with an anonymous sports blogger such as The Big Lead? The New York Post's Mike Vaccaro said he spoke with the site because he thought it might be helpful for anyone who wanted to work for a New York tabloid. "I read, and had read, TBL occasionally, and it always struck me as relatively harmless at worst and kind of funny at best," Vaccaro says. "After a few e-mail exchanges, I was fairly certain they were trustworthy, and they proved to be."
Added Wojnarowski, who also agreed to an interview: "I spend most of my days interviewing people for columns and stories, so I've always felt that the least I can do is honor the request of someone who asks that of me."
Unlike traditional media outlets, The Big Lead has no written code of ethics. McIntyre says he and the site's co-founder, David Lessa, a friend from college, have often debated adding one to the site. Does McIntyre consider himself a journalist? Is The Big Lead journalism? "I looked up the definition of journalism and it said something like the occupation of writing, reporting and editing," he says. "So in the broader sense, in its traditional sense, I would say, yes, The Big Lead is journalism. We have some original reporting and other times we will just riff on a sporting event or a news story. But in the sense we don't have anyone looking over our shoulders -- we don't have any editors and there is no one to answer to -- that is not traditional journalism. Sports Illustrated has standards where you will have to vet a story with two or three sources. We don't have that, and blogs don't have that."