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Why Grantland's Failure Moves the Internet One Step Closer Toward a Desolate Hellscape

By Brian Byrd | Think Pieces | October 31, 2015 |

By Brian Byrd | Think Pieces | October 31, 2015 |

ESPN, following a grand tradition of shitty companies dropping unpopular news on Friday afternoons, announced yesterday that they will immediately suspend publication of Grantland, the sports and pop-culture site founded by Bill Simmons in 2011. This wasn’t exactly unexpected given Simmons’ acrimonious departure earlier this year, the site’s (and ESPN’s) recent financial woes, and its parent company’s current focus — idiotic blowhards flinging scalding takes at intellectually bankrupt paramecium — but it’s an ominous development on multiple levels.

Here’s the statement from ESPN PR, which I’m going to FJM a bit:

Effective immediately we are suspending the publication of Grantland. After careful consideration, we have decided to direct our time and energy going forward to projects that we believe will have a broader and more significant impact across our enterprise.

“No one with fully functioning medulla oblongatas watches our network anymore. We paid the GNP of a banana republic to acquire live sports rights, but viewers change the channel the second the game ends because they cannot stomach listening to our grotesquely dressed, vapid “experts” offer nonsensical analysis. It’s killing our ratings. We need to cater to sentient trash piles who consider sports talk radio the pinnacle of human achievement and who still think coaches should always punt on fourth down. That means more creating more shows headlined by despicable misogynist trolls who, in a just world, wouldn’t be qualified to work the mop at a jizz factory.”

Grantland distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun.

“Which is why we had to feed it headfirst into a wood chipper.”

We are grateful to those who made it so.

“So grateful that we told the staff one minute before the release went out. Or, in some cases, not at all.”

Bill Simmons was passionately committed to the site and proved to be an outstanding editor with a real eye for talent.

“We really respect the guy we fired for being honest about the walking diaper whose hand is so far up our ass it can pick parsley out of our teeth.”

Thanks to all the other writers, editors and staff who worked very hard to create content with an identifiable sensibility and consistent intelligence and quality.

“Again, there is no fucking place for that here. Tell me why LeBron James is literally a tampon for not carrying a collection of windsocks to the NBA title, or get in the goddamn bread line.”

We also extend our thanks to Chris Connelly who stepped in to help us maintain the site these past five months as he returns to his prior role.

“Make-A-Wish Guy.”

Despite this change, the legacy of smart long-form sports story-telling and innovative short form video content will continue, finding a home on many of our other ESPN platforms.

“LOL fuck outta here our next 30-for-30 is Stephen A. Smith and Floyd Mayweather sucker-punching female WWII veterans. While you’re waiting, check out our NFL Emoji of the Week brought to you by a quasi-legal unregulated internet gambling company on the verge of being shut down by the FBI.”

Even if you don’t follow sports or never visited Grantland, the ramifications of yet another top-notch website padlocking its doors should scare you. Grantland boasted an obscenely talented staff — Alex Pappademas, Mark Harris, Wesley Morris, Amos Barshad, Shea Serrano, Andy Greenwald, Molly Lambert, Holly Anderson, Chuck Klosterman, Bryan Curtis, Sean Fennessy, Rembert Browne — who produced award-winning content across multiple platforms, received substantial financial backing from ESPN, and drew 10 million unique visitors a month as recently as April. The site had resources, fiscal and otherwise, that most sites only fantasize about. Simmons utilized those resources extremely well. All that savvy management and Disney money kept Grantland alive for four whole years. Limp Bizkit’s reign as the America’s most popular band lasted five.
The realization that all your favorite websites perpetually teeter on the edge of insolvency is only slightly more terrifying than getting “Nookie” stuck in your head all weekend. Understand: the Internet is a ruthless frontier town operating on a broken business model that overwhelmingly rewards light, easy-to-digest, quickly forgotten content engineered to enrage and titillate. That’s as true in the sports world as it is here. I could throw up a “Game of Thrones is Worse Than Ass Cancer” post tomorrow and it would draw better than my last 10 pieces combined. Quality is a bonus, the comped dessert you’re offered because the chef left a used condom in your mashed potatoes. “Popular Content” and “Exceptional Content” is less a Venn Diagram than it is a binary star system. Occasionally the edges brush. But for the most part, short, emotional GIF-laden outrage listicles draw exponentially more traffic than a 5,000 word feature on how climate change is altering the Gulf of Maine.

Despite the occasional gaffe, Grantland consistently produced high-level content. Which makes you wonder why ESPN didn’t at least try to salvage the masthead. Network bean counters will point to company-wide belt tightening (while conveniently omitting that they spent $125 million on a new SportsCenter studio last year) and cherry-pick metrics to argue that Grantland wasn’t profitable (a fact Simmons concedes). But they could have trimmed staff, revamped the content or eliminated the television arm to cut costs. Shuttering Grantland and firing 300 mid-level employees won’t offset skyrocketing sports rights fees or curtail audience erosion. Truth is, ESPN shuttered Grantland because Grantland no longer fit ESPN’s brand.

Over the past five years, ESPN has willfully marginalized intelligent discourse in favor of fantasy football, indistinguishable debate shows and nine-hour pregame borefests fronted by anchors 30 years past their primes. Its brass consciously elevated Colin Cowherd, Curt Schilling, Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless, Lou Holtz, Mark May, Jason Whitlock, Darren Rovell and countless other “personalities” to undeserved positions of prominence, decisions that helped the four-letter attract the type of low-information viewer who enjoys listening to what these rabid carnival barkers have to say.

Grantland was the antithesis. Its writers didn’t espouse moronic takes at 200 decibels. They didn’t target the lowest common denominator. They didn’t embrace faulty metrics and antiquated thinking. They didn’t race to the bottom. And now they’re unemployed. If a well-managed, talent-rich website underwritten by a $50 billion company couldn’t successfully chart its own course, it’s natural to wonder what hope the rest of us have.

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