Freakonomics: A Football Outsider Answers Your Questions

Including a question of mine!


How did you wind up where you are? We know that Bill James did a lot of his early work while he was a night watchman at a bean factory, but what’s the Bill Barnwell story? — Jon

About all I can really say is that I had no intention of ever becoming a football writer, that’s for sure. I went to Northeastern University in Boston as a Computer Science major before I realized I hated programming, and ended up majoring in Media Studies. Although I liked to write, I actually consciously avoided journalism — I went to visit The Boston Globe for an interview and they explained to me that one of the last sports interns had to sit outside a hospital overnight and wait for Terry Francona to leave.

While I was in Boston, I wanted to join a fantasy baseball league so I found one on Baseball Primer, the sabermetric community site, and joined shortly thereafter. The commissioner of that league happened to be Aaron Schatz, who created Football Outsiders a year later. He’s now my boss. I started at the bottom of the FO organizational chart, doing data entry as an unpaid intern (although admittedly while I was sitting around doing nothing at my “real” paid internship), and I’ve seen my role in the company steadily expand from there. I graduated from NU in 2006 and took on a variety of post-grad liberal arts jobs — I was a concierge to the really rich and entitled holders of a particularly exclusive credit card, a tech copywriter, and I even wrote about video games for a while. I moved into a full-time role with FO in 2008.

I think what’s far more interesting, though, is that my job — and Football Outsiders — couldn’t have existed as recently as ten years ago. No magazine or newspaper would have underwritten the work that we do, even though there’s clearly a national market of people who are interested in our work and the concepts behind it. Whenever I read those articles about the death of the American newspaper, I always wonder about the jobs that have been created by the changes in the news media.

I’m always curious as to what makes writers and bloggers tick. I may have chastised Barnwell at some point for being an overly pessimistic Giants fan, but I appreciate his answer here. Thanks, Bill!


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