P092: Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Might Lose

Last Friday, ESPN shut down Grantland, the sports and pop-culture site founded by Bill Simmons, former star for the network and editor-in-chief of the site up until his splashy termination this May. Lots of people were mad and/or angry – check out Monday’s Today in Tabs for the full rundown – but to me the most interesting piece was Chris Cillizza on Why Grantland Mattered to Journalism. Cillizza makes the case that Grantland was “an ambitious leap into the future of journalism” for two reasons:

  1. They were less focused on reporting the “what” of a story, focusing instead on the “so what” or the “what now,” and
  2. They didn’t restrict their writers to particular beats, allowing them to stretch beyond their ostensible areas of expertise.

Sound familiar? Whenever someone asks me why a guy who makes websites for an ad agency is going deep on glance journalism, independent media, domestic terrorism and soccer, I tell them that I’m making an ambitious leap into the future of journalism.

All kidding aside, Grantland and its writers was a huge influence on this publication and it will be dearly missed. The hole left is huge and for any one person or publication to try and fill it is madness. But Cillizza notes with some optimism:

“I — and I think lots of other people — tend to look for thinkers, reporters and tweeters whose sensibility is original. Who they work for is less important to me than how they go about doing their jobs and what they produce. I love Justin Bank when he tweets about the future of digital journalism but I also love it when he tweets about pro wrestling. In fact, I love that he tweets about journalism and pro wrestling.”

I agree with this so hard but my practical side knows that there’s no money in that, at least not today. Indie media exists primarily as a series of modern experiments in patronage and it has pretty much always been that way. Lots of money with no strings attached is the time-tested recipe for unfettered creative output and you don’t have to think any harder than daydreaming as you drive past a Powerball billboard on your way to work to know that’s true.

Was Grantland ahead of its time? Undoubtably – and when ESPN got tired playing Sugar Daddy to their ungrateful prodigy, the balance of power shifted and Grantland was gone. But when recounting this tale to future generations, let’s not forget that Grantland showed us what a modern media property can be: smart, funny, wide-ranging and clear-eyed. Today, Grantland is reduced to a bunch of words on a screen, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron