Back in late 2019, nearly all the writers for the beloved sports site Deadspin resigned en masse after butting heads with the private equity executives who owned the website.
After they left, there was lots of speculation about where those writers would turn up. Would they simply get new jobs, or would they band together to create their own site?
And then in July 2020 we got our answer: they launched Defector, an employee-owned publication that would be monetized mostly through paid subscriptions. To build the site, they turned to a guy named Austin Smith. Austin is the founder of an agency called Alley Interactive, and over the past decade he’s helped build and maintain the websites of many of the most well-known news publishers in the world.
I sat down and interviewed Austin about his career in media, what goes into building a good publishing platform, and why he’s recently begun working with news startups like Defector to help them get off the ground.