Smell Ya Later Forever, KSK

07.31.15 2 years ago 396 Comments

namathksk

Almost exactly nine years ago, I received an invite email from a group of fellow Deadspin commenters who had recently started a humor blog about the NFL. After first asking whether that I was, in fact, a huge football fan and was willing to write once or twice a week, the email laid out the mission of the site:

The bottom line is that we’re dedicated to having fun about laughing at the NFL. We don’t serve any higher purpose, and if people aren’t laughing we’ve wasted everybody’s time. We need somebody to help us out with the workload, and judging by your Deadspin comments, we think you’re a good fit for us.

That’s all there was to it. At the time, Kissing Suzy Kolber was a crude-looking site on Blogger with zero financial backing and no grand plan for the future other than being as funny for ourselves as it was for readers.

The day I got that email, I was en route to cover an overnight yacht race for The Washington Post. As an editorial aide for the paper, a silly story like that was nevertheless among the more exciting things I got to do. I was hoping a willingness to go after any assignment might result in getting a two-year reporting internship at some point. It never did. Womp womp. As for the race, it was a muggy August night on the Chesapeake Bay with no wind in evidence, resulting in the longest run in the event’s history. If memory serves, it took about 12 hours to complete. And I spent a lot of that time being mocked for not knowing my way around a ship by snotty rich kids who had grown up sailing. Fun times. Basically, it epitomized the type of pointless things I was doing for The Post so KSK surfaced at the perfect moment. I was 24 years old and frustrated that I already found my way into a dead-end job. So I was thrilled to get a writing offer from a little-known blog, even if it meant no additional money. I could at least be writing about something I was interested in and in an engaging way.

And it was great. KSK was immediately better than my actual job. Instead of straining through fluff stories, I was getting to exercise creative instincts and tackle subjects I would never be able to at a family newspaper, even if I were a sportswriter. Before I ever started in journalism, I had thought a lot about getting into comedy writing, though I never really went for it. I didn’t trust my instincts and I didn’t think I had enough life experience, which was probably accurate. Still, my time in journalism, mostly spent sitting at a desk doing scutwork, didn’t exactly fill that void. The site gave me a chance to write in ways that I had been too cowardly to try on my own.

KSK existed for nearly two years before we made any money off of it. We could have tried to put up ads ourselves but it hardly seemed worth the extra work for the piddling Google AdSense rates. Before there was actually an offer on the table from a site network, none of us thought we’d be paid anything beyond beer money for the site. And that was fine because we loved what we did. KSK was gleefully obscene and making light of a sport that trades on taking itself way too seriously. KSK didn’t only exceed our meager financial expectations, it changed our lives. One of the writers met his wife through the site. Some parlayed it into other jobs. My self-doxxing in 2008 may have resulted in me getting fired from WaPo (in what seems like 24 versions of the Internet ago), though it led to me pursuing blogging as a full-time job and getting a book published. Altogether, it’s been among the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life.

Through KSK, I’ve made lasting friendships and met my girlfriend of three years. I’m proud to have helped build from scratch a site that has meaning for people. To see a loyal reader reference a post I wrote years ago is an incredible feeling. To be told I’ve inspired other writers to pursue their passion makes this all worth it even I never do anything else like it, even if I left the field in which I got my degree to do it.

Now that I’ve given you an idea of what KSK means to me, let me explain why I’m leaving.

For starters, after three and a half years being the only full-time editorial employee for a website that’s expected to compete against sports blog networks with staff size and resources that I can only dream of, I’m burned the fuck out. I’ve been writing and conceiving of the majority of the posts, editing and often suggesting ideas for the stuff I don’t write, running social media feeds and mainly just making sure I’m constantly in front of my computer in case something happens because oftentimes there’s no one around to catch news if I’m not. Days off have been hard to come by and have needed to be arranged well in advance because there’s no one to back me up. During the NFL season, that means 80-hour weeks and an ungodly amount of stress.

The workload has at times been overwhelming, yet I’ve been glad to shoulder it because the site has meant so much to me and, for a long time, I enjoyed creative freedom that I’d never had before at a job and might never have again.

That freedom has eroded gradually in recent years and rapidly in recent months. As Uproxx has grown, I can understand why certain practices changed. Allowing its writers to toss just any photo into a post – which was more or less standard practice for several years – and therefore opening the network up to lawsuits probably wasn’t the wisest business plan. I can understand and appreciate why Uproxx got more disciplined in that area.

Other changes, however, I can’t support. KSK, at least the version of it that I want to oversee, can’t mesh with the way Uproxx is currently run. Kissing Suzy Kolber is a comedy site, unafraid to be unpalatable to some advertisers or potential sources of access. That’s always been its identity. What’s more, KSK is not an aggregation site. It’s not a place to pump out some lazy post titled “ODELL BECKHAM MADE AN INSANE CATCH AND TWITTER LOST ITS MIND!” with a paragraph of setup followed by 10 embedded tweets. The point of KSK isn’t to run the same stuff that’s on three dozen other sports blogs, or circulate reports we know to be bullshit solely become they will get attention. The site should have some reason to exist beyond amassing as many clicks and shares as possible, all while being firmly in the middle of the road so as to please ad teams.

I’m by no means inflexible when it comes to approaching the site as a business. I know the cheap, stupid clickbait is supposed to pay for the more ambitious, risky stuff. I’ve tried my best to reconcile what at times have been the oppositional demands of loyal readers looking for the risqué humor and biting commentary they’ve come to expect from KSK with the broadly focused material that might attract new readers. When I started as editor of KSK, the site had a scattershot approach to covering NFL news. Some big stories we would riff on while many others we would let pass without mention. For one thing, we just didn’t have the staff with the original six guys to cover everything. I mean, we still don’t the resources now, but I’ve strived to compensate for that. In the last couple years, KSK has functioned as much as a news commentary site as a comedy outlet. I sincerely tried to make it work. We’ve run enough variations on David Rappoccio’s NFL logo redesigns, a consistently big traffic draw, to last a lifetime. Perhaps I resisted suggestions to go after low-hanging fruit, nevertheless I worked tirelessly to build traffic while honoring the tradition of the site.

I can’t build that audience by myself. And I don’t believe Uproxx met me halfway in that effort. It baffles me why the company stuck with a site just to disregard it. Uproxx generates the bulk of its traffic through Facebook and seldom ever linked KSK posts through its accounts. I understand that this site has its share of posts that are intentionally offbeat and not for everyone. That said, there is plenty of writing that is able to be shared with a wider audience without the risk of alienating or confusing anyone. When Uproxx last year started a general sports site, the generically named Uproxx Sports, the football posts on the new site were given clear preference over KSK’s. I feared KSK was being pushed aside and saw nothing to convince me otherwise. When I complained that KSK would often beat Uproxx Sports to covering a subject and still not have its post shared in favor of the latter, I was often rebuffed or outright ignored. If Uproxx Sports, which has a larger staff and more full-time employees, claims an NFL story before I can get to it, I’ve been told KSK shouldn’t cover it. KSK is supposed to be the football site on the network. A general sports site has a broad enough scope that it should be able to defer in one area. But it doesn’t. And all the emphasis has been behind growing Uproxx Sports even when it comes at the sake of hurting KSK. I would never claim that there aren’t things I could do better, but there has to be some semblance of support to succeed. There’s enough competition on the Internet as it is. Why should I have to compete with a site on our own network?

Back in May, I was ordered by several top Uproxx editors to remove a KSK post that gently made fun of Bud Light’s #UpForWhatever ad campaign. You can read it here, where it was reprinted by one of our readers after many were confused when the post disappeared from the site. It’s the most innocent goddamn thing ever. Uproxx’s reason for removing the post was that Bud Light had just made a significant ad buy on the network. KSK isn’t journalism, of course, though it’s still always operated with a separation between advertising and editorial. It’s also worth noting that no Bud Light reps actually complained about our piece. Instead, I was told by the editors that they might have been bothered by it and that was cause enough to get rid of the post. “You know how humorless those advertising people are.” What made this even more galling was this happened literally a day after Uproxx, in doing its weekly “JOHN OLIVER ENDS THE BLOODLINE OF [some topical societal ill]” post, praised the HBO host for his criticism of Bud Light’s advertising. How do you square those things?

A month later, two KSK writers put together a clever piece reacting to a new track by Uncle Ezra Ray, a ‘90s nostalgia-powered supergroup consisting of Mark McGrath, Uncle Kracker and Kevin Griffin, one of the members of Better Than Ezra. Just the kind of off-topic rant we do to pass the time every off-season. Even though the song was being roundly mocked on the Internet, not to mention by Uproxx as well, I was told not to publish the post by Uproxx editor-in-chief because he is a friend of Griffin. A second post mocking the song, he claimed, might jeopardize Uproxx’s expected access at a festival being organized by Griffin later this year.

One might say that these posts on their own are not germane to KSK’s stated purpose of football humor, though that argument ignores that KSK has always had a free-wheeling approach to making fun of culture. This site has a long history of riffing on news, culture, politics and just about any issue where satire works, which is basically most issues. Bowing to fears of offending advertisers or losing access felt like a betrayal to what KSK stood for. We’ve criticized other writers and sites for that very behavior. Condoning it would be incredible hypocrisy on my part. Make a gag about ethics in football humor if you want; KSK didn’t get this far by compromising that initial mission. Taken together with a lack of help promoting the site and being left out of the loop of Uproxx’s overall decision-making, the deletions served as a breaking point for me.

Uproxx took a chance on KSK seven years ago and for that I’m grateful. For a long time, under their auspices, we were able to operate with a tremendous amount of freedom. I wish it could have stayed that way. Ultimately, KSK just isn’t that important to what Uproxx is trying to do, and that’s fine. There are talented writers on the network and I wish them the best. I just don’t have it in me to try to intuit Uproxx’s goals while running a site that’s evidently a bad fit for that approach.

When I first informed Uproxx co-founder Jarret Myer that I was leaving, he made it seem like he wanted KSK to continue after my departure. Yesterday, I spoke with Uproxx’s EIC and he seemed less inclined to keep it alive. So I really don’t know what will happen with the site going forward. All I know is this is where I hop off. If KSK does live on, I genuinely hope it succeeds with a new editor.

I owe a truly disgusting amount of thanks to the freelancers I’ve worked with during my tenure as editor. These writers have been woefully underpaid for the quality of their work and the amount I have asked of them. There really should have been more than one full-time employee running this site. The last few years of KSK wouldn’t even have been possible were it not for these writers finding time outside of their day jobs and personal lives to contribute. There are also a few more purveyors of dick jokes along the way who deserve recognition. I’ve included blog handles in cases where the writer prefers not to be identified for privacy reasons.

So cheers to Trevor Risk, PFT Commenter, Old James, David Rappoccio, Spilly, RobotsFightingDinosaurs, StuScottsBooyahs, Sarah Sprague, Matt Ufford, Drew Magary, Jack Kogod, Flubby, Josh Zerkle, Big Sandy, Eric Sollenberger, BobbyBigWheel, The Mighty MJD, Tim Schavitz, and Footsteps Falco. Thanks also to Jarret Myer and Jerry Thompson for running things behind the scenes.

At the moment, it’s unclear whether I’ll have a job writing about the NFL during the upcoming season. Given how awful the league has acted in recent years, perhaps not giving it additional coverage isn’t the worst thing in the world. We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can always keep up with me on Twitter.

Thanks for reading.

[Door flies closed]

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