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VC alumna blogs for Deadspin, Gawker

Carmichael blazes own journalistic path

Sports Editor

Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 15:04

Emma

Courtesy of Emma Carmichael

Emma Carmichael ’10, pictured above, started working at Deadspin.com immediately after graduation. She is now the Managing Editor at Gawker.com.

With graduation approaching, Vassar seniors with journalistic aspirations may be feeling apprehensive about their future, considering the state of the job market and the current instability associated with their selected field. The early career path of alumna Emma Carmichael ’10, however, provides an exemplary and perhaps reassuring model to follow. Carmichael spent the first year and a half of her post-Vassar life working for the sports website Deadspin.com and now serves as the Managing Editor of sister site Gawker.com.

Carmichael, who majored in urban studies with focuses in English and sociology, shared that her prior experience with sports journalism lead her to Deadspin. “My background was always sports writing…so I felt really comfortable writing about sports,” she said, citing summer internships at The Burlington Free Press, NBC Olympics and Sports Illustrated for Kids. She was not overly familiar with Deadspin, a site known for its humorous, sometimes sarcastic commentary in addition to its propensity for sports-related gossip. Carmichael first started working as an intern in mid-September 2010, right when Deadspin experienced one of its most famous moments: breaking the news of former NFL quarterback Brett Favre’s alleged sexual misconduct towards New York Jets journalist Jenn Sterger, or as Carmichael referred to it, “the Brett Favre penis [story].” (Among the charges was a claim that Favre texted photos of his genitalia to Sterger.) Carmichael acknowledged that her timing was consequential. “It was a really funny time to start because the site kind of blew up in the months following that,” she recalled. “Obviously it was known before, but that was kind of the big moment for Deadspin.”

The nature of this story reflects one of the general approaches of Gawker Media, the company that owns Deadspin and Gawker.com. “Under [Gawker Media], you’re basically required to do the gossipy stuff and the stuff that drives a lot of page views,” Carmichael explained. “And you’re always aware of that.” She added that this particular framework for content can at times make for an uncomfortable writing experience. Certain pieces require “boundary pushing,” Carmichael said. “It’s not necessarily the stuff you’re dying to write about.”

Carmichael also used the Favre example to comment on the homogeneous way stories are often spun by the media, and the importance of emphasizing alternative points of view. “It’s basically ‘Deadspin ruined this guy’s life. Poor Brett Favre,’” she said. “I don’t feel bad for Brett Favre—at all. I feel bad for Jenn Sterger.”

The stigma she alluded to—“Deadspin ruined this guy’s life”—taps into a larger aspect of what makes Deadspin so influential: fearlessness. Carmichael acknowledged that Deadspin is often viewed as a threatening antithesis to leading sports news sites like ESPN.com, because Deadspin’s philosophy dictates that it cover the topics other organizations do not wish to address. This growing reputation makes the site the go-to place for sources looking to break stories. “[It’s portrayed as] ‘Deadspin versus the sports media,’” Carmichael said. “Maybe that doesn’t hold up anymore, but it makes people come to the site when they have ideas.”

This bold style put Carmichael in a relatively unfamiliar working environment. She explained that when she wrote for print-based publications, fact-checking was always essential, even for the most minute of details. Deadspin and Gawker, meanwhile, allow their staff to take more risks. “This is a really different style of writing, because you make a lot of mistakes and often you’re wrong, and the idea that that’s okay and something to deal with is a big part of Gawker [Media],” Carmichael disclosed.

Although her approach to content has not changed much since moving to Gawker.com, Carmichael’s responsibilities have altered considerably. Carmichael, who started working for Gawker in late January, is the site’s first managing editor. She is not doing as much writing, which she finds somewhat relieving because of the daily grind that blogging entails. Now, her role revolves around editing and organization, which is no small statement when one considers the vast range of the website. “It’s a really different site, because there are no limits to what it can cover,” Carmichael said about Gawker, which focuses on New York City media and gossip. “There’s kind of that paralysis that comes with too much freedom, because there’s too much you can possibly do—so it’s really hard but it’s really fun.”

Gawker’s extensive scope has also challenged Carmichael to assess her arsenal of online resources. “It’s funny—coming from Deadspin, I definitely felt like I knew how to approach the Internet every day,” she explained. “I knew where to go for stories ... I knew who to follow on Twitter—even though that sounds kind of silly. Going over to Gawker, the big change was expanding that to include everything.”

Carmichael, though, has gotten used to making adjustments, both technologically and methodologically. She said she hadn’t even heard of Twitter when she graduated from Vassar—an illuminating memory from someone who now calls the social media service a major part of her everyday life. From a journalistic standpoint, Carmichael observed that her post-Vassar writing varies considerably from the articles she wrote for The Miscellany News during her time as a student. “It’s really different from Vassar, where the stories I worked on were so concentrated and source-based,” she said.

Still, Carmichael attributes much of her professional success to the foundation laid during her four years at Vassar. “College is amazing because you’re writing all the time; if you want to write, that’s the best possible practice to be a journalist,” she said. Carmichael added that writing a sports column for the Miscellany provided her with a space to interact with sports in a way she couldn’t do otherwise.

Moving forward, Carmichael does not have any firmly established long-term plans for her career. She noted that she is very aware of her youth and relative inexperience, and that those two factors make it difficult for her to determine what the perfect next step would be. More importantly, Carmichael is very happy with what she’s doing right now. “I love Gawker,” she said. “The freedom there is incredible.”

And anyway, Carmichael is essentially ahead of the game already. “I didn’t even expect to have a job at this point,” she said with a laugh.

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