On Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, Grantland died. After four years, the sports and pop culture website’s time has come to an end. In its short existence, Grantland became known for its wide range of longform journalism and blogging. Despite its cult following and consistent high-quality writing, Grantland was doomed from the start; its legacy, however, will live on.
Although Grantland is dead, the style of writing that it pioneered within the cross-section of sports and pop culture will continue to live on through its former staffers, as well as the generation of writers that it inspired. The problem with Grantland however, was that it was always going to be temporary. Any time that an unprofitable enterprise is created, its days are numbered. Only ESPN’s vast profits could prop up a vanity site that lacked a true purpose. Once Disney, the Worldwide Leader in Sports’ parent company, decided to respond to its declining subscriber base by cutting ESPN’s budget, it was inevitable that Grantland would soon be cut as well—especially after founder and former editor-in-chief Bill Simmons was ousted in May.
Grantland refused to play the game that many other digital-only news organizations have been forced to given the changing economics of the industry; rather than mindlessly chasing page views, it focused on trying to create writing that was incredibly passionate and smart. Compare this to Bleacher Report, a sports website that dwarfed Grantland in terms of pure page views but is infamous for its flashy slideshows; Vox, which has created a burgeoning media empire by providing explanatory content that leverages clickbait; or BuzzFeed, which is still little more than listicles and GIFs. Indeed, Grantland stood out from its digital-only peers in its unwillingness to oversaturate the internet with shitty content.
Everything created at Grantland was seemingly done with a deeper purpose. Even Andrew Sharp’s #HotSportsTakes—which, if read at face value, might be perceived as poorly written—was a satirical critique of the many journalists whose half-assed rants spewed logical fallacies. The shorter writing on Grantland was analytical and incisive; complex, yet relatable. Writers such as Zach Lowe, Bill Barnwell, and Katie Baker all possessed an impressive ability to take the incredibly dense minutiae of the NBA, NFL, and NHL, respectively, and explain the game to readers. The longform journalism, written by the likes of Jonathan Abrams, Jordan Ritter Conn, and Brian Curtis, was both inspiring and thought-provoking. It often showed the human side of sports and pop culture, or explained the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of entertainment.
Grantland was never interested in playing the same game as everyone else in an operational sense either. While other publications—including Grantland’s parent ESPN—thrived on the 24/7 news cycle, Grantland didn’t publish on weekends. The site rarely chased the scoops or incessantly added to the rumour mill that has characterized entertainment journalism in recent years. This method allowed the site to bring together an immensely talented group of writers, staffers, and editors, and provided them with an ecosystem to write about the things they loved in an insightful and engaging manner. It inspired a generation of writers and reminded readers that original analysis and reporting, as well as an unique voice, were the most important ingredients for impactful journalism.
In a way, Grantland had outsmarted itself. By eschewing other methods of revenue generation and continuing to operate at an immense loss, it was always going to be a thorn in ESPN’s side. It was an elitist’s publication whose founder, Simmons, was arrogant and self-indulgent. From ESPN’s viewpoint, the decision was simple: It could kill the site and its losses while still retaining the stable of talented writers who had developed under Simmons’ tutelage.
Readers are becoming more used to reading the standard writeups that simply repackage content from other sources. If the voice is non-existent and the style is bland, a publication will lose any readership it gets from engineering headlines to increase clicks in the long term. This is the same reason that the New York Times is able to get one million digital subscribers—a large swath of readers is looking for journalism that adds value. Grantland may be dead, but its existence proved that quality will always live.