If you’re reading this, it is hopefully because you are interested in pitching a story to Deadspin, and you want to know exactly what a good Deadspin pitch looks like. If all goes well, you will have your answer by the time you reach the bottom of the page and will be fully prepared to send your own pitch to email@example.com.
Maybe you’ve read one of these “how to pitch [insert publication]” guides before, and found yourself helped very little by sentences like, “Here at [cool magazine], we are interested in telling stories nobody else wants to tell,” or, “A good [prestigious magazine] story is a story that transports the reader, and tells them something they didn’t already know.” I promise that you will find no such sentences here. Instead, you will find actual pitches that Deadspin editors have received and approved, which then turned into actual stories that appeared on our website. After reading these pitches, and brief explanations of what made them so enticing, you will hopefully have a good idea of what your own pitch should look like.
Here is the pitch that eventually turned into The Hateful Life And Spiteful Death Of The Man Who Was Vigo The Carpathian, by Shaun Raviv:
My name is Shaun Raviv and I’m a freelance journalist based in Atlanta. I’m working on an article about the actor who played Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II, Norbert Grupe, a.k.a. Wilhelm von Homburg. I thought it would be a good fit for Deadspin since Grupe and his father were both top German boxers and professional wrestlers back in the day.
Ghostbusters II was Grupe’s big break, but it didn’t lead anywhere and he was mostly a failed Hollywood story until he died of prostate cancer in 2004. Before he became an actor, Grupe was one of the best boxers in Germany. He was known as the Beatle Boxer because of his shaggy blonde hair, handsome face, and general boxing rebellion. Grupe would enter the ring with a cigar, taunt spectators, and wear kingly robes. He drew big crowds and paparazzi in Germany. He hung out with pimps and Hells Angels and spent years in prison.
I spoke to Grupe’s half-sister, and she told me he was messed up pretty bad on drugs in his later life. His close friend told me the same. He said, “He was a good guy. He made good money and then he blew it.” The author Patricia Nell Warren was also friends with Grupe and she told me he was a man definitely worth remembering. When he died, she wrote a praising obituary in which she quoted Grupe as saying, “I never wanted to wind up a punch-drunk old guy in a wheelchair.” In a bit part in the movie Diggstown, he played precisely that, and in life he became that, minus the wheelchair. Norbert Grupe died in Mexico on a ranch owned by a notorious German pimp.
Richard Grupe, the father, may have been even more interesting. He was a poor German baker turned boxing champion turned Nazi soldier and guard at Buchenwald who eventually got captured by the British and escaped to California where he wrestled professionally along with Norbert as The Vikings. They were the tag-team that always lost. Both his daughter and a former wrestler have told me good stories about Richard. The wrestler said: “Never saw a man turn as gray as Arnold [Schwarzenegger] would when Richard entered the gym.”
My hope is to make the story about both Richard and Norbert, with Norbert as the selling point given his cult status as Vigo. A few years before Norbert Grupe died, a German filmmaker made a documentary about him, and there’s some great footage in there. I interviewed the director by email, and I bet he’d be down to include some scenes with the article.
I’ve written for The Atlantic, newyorker.com, and Mosaic. The Killers of Swaziland was Longform’s pick of the week. You can see more clips here.
This pitch represents the Platonic ideal of a non-sports story that is nevertheless a perfect fit for Deadspin. The hook is easy: it revolves around a little-known but immediately recognizable cultural figure with an insane and mostly untold backstory. More importantly, it demonstrates that Raviv already has a firm grasp on exactly why such a story would be interesting, and a clear road map for the reporting that needed to be done in order to pull it off. The best pitches are usually the ones that have a clear vision of what the resulting story will look like, and can point to the specific sources of information that will ultimately create that story.
Here is the pitch that eventually turned into Native American Lacrosse Teams Reported Racial Abuse. Then Their League Expelled Them., by Curtis Waltman:
My name is Curtis Waltman, I am a freelancer and reporter for MuckRock. I think I have a story that would be perfect for Deadspin, being a fan of your work. I have a source in South Dakota who I have known for about eight months now and consider him trustworthy and reasonable. This source is Native, and runs a middle school to high school aged lacrosse team from his home on the Cheyenne River Reservation. This team, called Seven Flames Lacrosse, has been a huge force for good in his community, and my source is incredibly passionate about running this program.
Last night he called me very upset, telling me that last season his boys were systematically being discriminated against and targeted because they are a Native team playing in an almost entirely white league. This included racial slurs, vicious cleating, and slashes to his players neck and head that referees refused to call penalties on. Furthermore, when he took this to the league’s commissioner yesterday afternoon, the commissioner admitted that this was indeed something he was aware of, but that he did not want to address. He then informed my source Seven Flames Lacrosse and the other Native team in the league, the Lightning Sticks, were being booted from the league due to “racial issues.” There are some aggressively racist comments I already have on record, including “you play for the creator, we play to win.”
I have already recorded two interviews, I have audio of the commissioner saying much of this to my source’s grant writer who is a white woman and called after my source and reported much of the same but with “cleaned up language.” I plan to speak to representatives from US Lacrosse, the commissioner, other teams, and get individual stories from players. I also plan to speak to a discrimination lawyer. The commissioner has a non-profit arm to his league, which may mean what he is doing is outright illegal. I think I can get this story to you by late next week or early the week after (I can give a more definite date early next week), and I am thinking initially it will be around 1,500 words. If you want more or less I can make that happen though. Let me know if this sounds like a story Deadspin would want to run. You can find me on twitter if that is easier @CHWaltman. Thank you for your time!
A story about a lacrosse league in which a group of Native American teams are being treated unfairly by the league’s commissioner is obviously one worth pursuing, but what sets this pitch apart from others that have promised similar stories is that Waltman already had a strong foothold in the community, sources willing to go on the record, and hard evidence that supported the sources’ story. It’s hard to turn down any pitch that has the reporting process and sourcing lined up like this.
Here is the pitch that eventually became The Totally Unexpected True Story Of Yi Jianlian’s Magical Mystery Chair, by Matt Giles:
I hope this email finds you well. I am a freelance writer who has written for Deadspin in the past, and I’ve contributed to other outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Vice Sports (among others). I wanted to reach out with a pitch that I think would be a good fit for Deadspin.
Please let me know what you think, and if you’d like to speak further about this pitch.
The past decade hasn’t been kind for Yi Jianlian. A lottery pick in the 2007 draft, Jianlian flamed out of Milwaukee and then bounced around the league, never quite showcasing the skillset that led Chad Ford to slot the stretch-4 as a top 3 pick in his mock drafts. What also didn’t help Jianlian’s perception was the existence of pre-draft footage of the forward working out against an empty chair. The workout was said to be featured on ESPN around the time of the draft, and it came to symbolize how overhyped and overblown a prospect could become in the days leading up to the draft.
Or did the video even exist in the first place? While Jianlian has since rebounded—he shined in his native China this past season, earning MVP honors, and he subsequently signed an $8 million contract with the Lakers this offseason (though he left the team early in the season to go back to China)—I’ve spoken with the Bucks GM, Yi’s agent, several players who worked out with Yi, and countless others involved with that particular draft who swear they’ve never seen this video. There isn’t even a copy on the ESPN servers.
Essentially, the basis of the video comes from several Bill Simmons columns and a Boston Globe column with quotes from Danny Ainge about Yi working out against a chair, so the piece would focus on did this video—which has been widely talked about and derided for the past decade—exist, and if not, how could an urban myth like this be created in the age of the internet. This piece would also focus on how this video may or may not have harmed Yi’s chances of sticking in the NBA as well as the growth of the modern pre-draft workout, a series of one-on-zero workouts which Yi helped usher in and has now become the standard.
If there’s one thing Deadspin loves, it’s a good debunking story. The hard thing about debunking a widely accepted story is that it is very hard to prove a negative. This pitch was accepted not just because we were enticed by the idea of proving that the Yi Jianlian chair video never existed, but because Giles had already done a lot of the reporting necessary to prove his thesis. “I have a hunch that the Yi Jianlian chair video never existed and I want to prove it,” is flimsy, but “I’ve all but proven that the Yi Jianlian chair video never existed and now I want to write about it” is an automatic green light.
Here is the pitch that eventually turned into Three Men Crossed Frozen Lake Baikal, And Chased More Than A World Record, by Jessica Camille Aguirre:
I am a journalist writing with a story pitch for Deadspin about a world record-breaking traverse of Lake Baikal (my work has appeared or is forthcoming in Outside, Alpinist and WIRED). I would like to write a short narrative feature based on my reporting on the ground in Siberia last month. Here is the pitch:
A few weeks ago, three friends set out in the dark Siberian morning to break the world record for a speed traverse of Lake Baikal. They sped across the snow and ice facing the harshest winds anywhere on Earth other than Antarctica, pulling hundreds of pounds of gear on pulks hitched to their waists and armed with, in the words of the leader, enough sugar to give an elephant diabetes.
Their aim was to break a Baikal traverse record set by a Canadian adventurer in 2010 by covering nearly 400 miles in 12 days. The three guys – one (the scholar) who has worked for the UN in Iraq, Syria and Sudan, one (the muscle) who owns a construction business and is a member of the England and Wales Mountain Rescue and the third (the leader) who co-founded the Montane Spine Race that’s considered to be one of the world’s toughest endurance races – thought they had a realistic chance of setting a new record.
Rob Trigwell, the aid worker, had been reading about famous explorers since he was a kid in England. His personal idol, Tom Crean, was a semi-literate explorer who was part of Robert Falcon Scott’s failed race to the South Pole and who sailed on the Endurance with Ernest Shackleton. Last year, Trigwell spent New Year’s Eve in Crean’s pub in Ireland in honor of his hero, a working man who beat the odds stacked against him in Victorian-era society. Crean’s story has parallels to Trigwell and his teammates who set out to cross Baikal, one of the most overlooked of the serious expedition challenges.
When the guys began their journey, they knew that if even if they succeeded, their record might not stand for long. Another team was already training to mount another challenge next year. The competition shows how Lake Baikal is becoming a favorite for adventurers, due to its extreme conditions and relative geographic and financial accessibility. It also demonstrates a new paradigm in adventuring, wherein the extent of the challenge is largely a decision of the explorers – and the adversity determined, to a degree, by the limits of will.
In mid-March, after cracking through ice twice, nearly getting lost in a snow storm and facing one night so cold their eyes felt like jelly, the guys broke the world record and shaved almost 24 hours off the previous best time.
Let me know if you’re interested.
Everyone loves a good adventure story, but this pitch stood out for a few reasons: Aguirre had actually been to the place where this adventure took place, and it was clear that she had a solid in with the people who were actually going on the adventure. This pitch also goes a step beyond “These guys did something crazy!” by teasing a larger point about adventuring in general.
Here is the pitch that eventually became A Brief History Of Rugby Teams Trying To Respond To The Haka, by Ben Tippett:
I think a catalogue of rugby teams’ responses to the NZ All Blacks’ pre-game haka over the years would make for an interesting write-up. There’s a bit of a debate in rugby circles: why does one team get to perform this awesome pre-game ritual, amping up their adrenaline and preparing them for battle, while we just have to sit there and take it? So, teams over the years have come up with different ways to respond other than just standing and watching silently. Some teams advance forward arm-in-arm, striding toward with the Kiwis in a show of defiance, despite a World Rugby diktat that the teams keep their distance during the haka (France were fined £2,500 for advancing on the NZ haka prior to the 2011 World Cup Final). British and Irish Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll once picked up a tuft of grass and threw it in the All Blacks’ direction, apparently thinking that that was the traditional way of accepting the battle challenge, and was subsequently tombstoned and knocked out in the first minute of the match. The Australian captain ignored the haka and continued warming up before the 1991 World Cup semi-final, which Australia won and he personally dominated; the whole team then joined in in ignoring it in 1996 and got smashed by the Kiwis 10,000-nil. A better Wallabies’ strategy was observing the haka in their warm-up tracksuits, then slowly walking to the sidelines to change into their playing gear, thus allowing the adrenaline to subside and the advantage to mostly dissipate. The English crowd often drown out the haka with their traditional ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. The Cook Islands players once thought that starting an all-in brawl was the way to go. A tour around these responses, and a bit of a discussion on the meaning of the haka then and now could be an entertaining read.
Not all pitches have to promise a deeply reported feature or grand revelation, and a great pitch can also be a fairly basic one. What made the above pitch so attractive is that Tippett demonstrated a level of knowledge and expertise about the subject that signaled that the resulting story would be thoroughly researched and well-written. Any corner of the sports world can be a worthy topic for a Deadspin blog, but only if the person writing about it really knows his or her shit.
Here is the pitch that eventually turned into The Rise And Fall And Rise Of Tyson Fury, Boxing’s Most Dangerous Man, by Christina Newland:
Hope you’re well! I’m Christina Newland, a journalist on film, pop culture, and sports for The Ringer, The Guardian, Sight & Sound Magazine, The Village Voice, and others. I’ve been talking to Megan (CC’d in!) about pitching you on some boxing longform, so I wanted to send over an idea I’m really keen on. I’d really like to write a story in the lead-up to the 1st December heavyweight showdown between WBC champion Deontay Wilder and British former unified champ Tyson Fury. He’s still the lineal champion (the man who beat the man), which makes him a big contender.
Fury comes from an Irish traveller / gypsy background. I married into a traveller family, so have a reasonably unique perspective on it which I’ve written about in the past.
What interests me about Fury is that he was never popular in Britain the way Anthony Joshua is, in spite of being the first British unified champion in years, and part of it is, in my opinion, down to his ethnic background. It doesn’t help that he’s motormouthed and obnoxious, with some backwards views stemming from his evangelical beliefs. Some of his public sentiments have been wrong and inexcusable, but the press has also continually treated him with thinly-veiled racism and ridicule, so it became something of a vicious, adversarial cycle.
As the first-ever Romany Gypsy heavyweight champion, I see a lot of parallels between Fury and the first ever black heavyweight champ, Jack Johnson. Both are outspoken, vulgar, flashy, and forever waving their racial difference in the face of the public — making them detested in a lot of corners, but loved by their own. Fury was inevitably going to rub people up the wrong way, but being hated is a tough gig, and he has long struggled with bipolar disorder. Combined with the hyper-macho environment of boxing and of his gypsy background, his mental health issues went untreated and led to a breakdown. After three years, he’s finally back and coming for his belts (three of them, which he vacated, now belong to Anthony Joshua; one belongs to Deontay Wilder.)
I think his is an amazing sports story, but few people have written about it much at length. It’s a story of racism, masculinity, mental health, and how the public reckons with someone who doesn’t fit their profile of what a hero should be. So I want to kind of break that down, examine his persona, offer him some sympathy without letting him totally off the hook, and do what I feel most other journalists can’t: put him in the context of his racial background and what that means.
Here’s a longform investigative piece I wrote on women in boxing for The Ringer. I’ve also written a lot about public persona & its social contexts, though usually to do with movie stardom rather than athletic stardom. For some kind of loosely related example in that context, here’s a piece I did about...Mickey Rourke.
Let me know what you think!
Thanks so much.
Most of the time, a pitch promising to tell a new and interesting story about a famous athlete without getting any real access to that athlete is a dicey proposition. Newland’s worked because she successfully made the case that there was in fact an aspect of Fury’s career that was being overlooked and was worth exploring, and that she had the credentials to tell that story better than most other journalists could.
Here is the pitch that eventually turned into Who’s Killing The Soul Of Sneaker Culture?, by Casey Taylor:
It’s me, the guy with the extremely unprofessional display name on Twitter from your DMs. I was hoping to pitch you on an essay about the way that Stockx and other streetwear marketplaces are eroding the culture of sneaker fandom and the resale marketplaces. Traditionally a marketplace of retail access cultivated by less affluent and predominantly black city dwellers, the sneaker resale game was about creating a market for people who didn’t have access to the affluent white markets (real estate, stocks, etc.). Now with the creation of places like Stockx, and the development of expensive online bots designed to purchase coveted streetwear and sneakers faster than humanly possible, that marketplace is becoming gentrified to white suburban people, mostly financially well-off kids.
I want to examine how this is impacting the people who have traditionally benefited from the sneaker and fashion resale marketplace. It is yet another example of the predominantly white culture of money and technology intruding on something that had been reserved for minority culture, while cutting them out entirely. As an added piece of backdrop that will help frame the work, a lot of the culture here that I’ll be covering is happening in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where right up the road Google’s offices have caused a massive wave of real estate gentrification in one of Pittsburgh’s few historically black neighborhoods.
I think this would fit well with Deadspin, given sneaker culture’s close relationship with the sports world, and Deadspin’s progressive view on sports and social issues.
I am an active sneaker head (but not a reseller, due to some very silly principles that I refuse to go against), and have access here in Pittsburgh to a lot of people in the culture who have experienced this impact firsthand. I’d like to frame the essay from their perspective instead of mine.
This is another example of the writer’s expertise on the subject serving as the main selling point. Someone who doesn’t know much about sneaker culture trying to talk to a bunch of sneaker heads and get this story out of them probably wouldn’t have worked, but Taylor demonstrated in his pitch that he’d be able to pull it off because he is also immersed in the culture and knew exactly what sorts of questions to ask.
Here is the pitch that eventually turned into How UNH Turned A Quiet Benefactor Into A Football-Marketing Prop, by Craig Fehrman:
i’ve written for the site a few times and have a quick idea to run past you. it’s a great example of how screwed up college sports’ incentives are, even at dumpy programs like the university of new hampshire’s.
earlier this month UNH announced that a longtime librarian had passed away — and left the school four million dollars. he was an eccentric, as you can see in this boston globe story:
but here’s what’s most interesting: he left instructions for only 100k of the four million, which means the university decided to spend a full million of it not on books or films (two of the librarian’s passions) but on a new scoreboard for its FCS (aka I-AA) football team.
i think there’s a good narrative here to talk about non-power 5 football programs and how they’re generally financial sinkholes. but there might be even more dirt, and i’d like to start by filing records requests with the university to get all the info i can on the librarian’s bequest. to do that, of course, i need to see if you guys are into the story. lemme know what you think.
This ticks all the boxes for a Deadspin story: it undermines a feel-good viral story, it calls bullshit on a powerful(ish) institution, and it provides an opportunity for a public records request. There are few things in a pitch email that will do more to catch a Deadspin editor’s eye than “FOIA” or “public records request.” If you’ve got an idea for a story that can be built around public records, please get in touch.
Hopefully these very good pitches have given you an idea of what your own very good pitch to Deadspin should look like. You can always find us at firstname.lastname@example.org.