The Demise of Grantland Notes

(This is a companion to Jake’s feature on the main page.)

Here are some additional things to read on the demise of Grantland:

First, read Matt’s thing on the vocation of writing.

Todd VanDerWerff’s piece on the year the internet died is essential:

Take a look at your browser tabs if you’re reading this on a computer. Inevitably, you have at least a few that are weeks, if not months, old, things you’ve always intended to get to but just never have. Odds are these are so-called “longform” articles that will take a while to read. (Here’s one of mine, which I’ve had open since October: a GQ feature about “the last true hermit.”) A fair number of you are going to open this piece in a tab and just never get back to it.

These longform pieces are the pinnacle to which lots and lots of us writers and the websites we work for aspire. They win awards. They garner attention from other journalists. They’re often why we got into this business to begin with. Even BuzzFeed turned out to be using all those cat GIFs as a Trojan horse for a lot of great investigative journalism.

And I don’t want to suggest, even inadvertently, that nobody reads these longer pieces. A well-written, well-reported longform piece can break out as well as anything, as Gawker found out with (among many others) its influential, over-9,000-word essay “On Smarm.”

The problem is scale. A larger, general-interest site can’t be built purely atop longform, because longform takes time — both for writers to produce and readers to read. Therefore, as both Buzzfeed and Gawker realized early on, well-done longform could be the steak, but it couldn’t be the meal. (Grantland perhaps realized this too late.)

Why can’t sites make enough money from advertising? Because most advertising online sucks.

Cillizza on why Grantland mattered to journalists:

But it is disappointing. Why? Because Grantland represented an ambitious leap into the future of journalism on at least two fronts.

The first was that Grantland, at least as imagined by Simmons, focused zero time on the “what” of journalism.  The site was unconcerned with writing about the score of the Golden State Warriors-Portland Trailblazers game, for example. It left all of that to ESPN and the roughly billion other people and sites trying to break news one millisecond before everyone else.

Instead, Simmons focused Grantland on the “so what” and the “now what” of sports, movies, TV and pop culture more broadly. Instead of writing about the score of the Warriors-Trailblazers game, Zach Lowe, Grantland’s main NBA writer, would produce a detailed breakdown of why Steph Curry’s movement without the ball was so valuable to his team. It would have reporting, analysis and personality in it.  It told you why the game mattered. It told you what might come next — and why. Ditto Andy Greenwald on TV. Ditto Chris Ryanon, well, anything.

What is web writing in 2015 anyway? RELATED: Facebook is eating the internet.

Occasional Mere O contributor Chris Krycho discussed some of these issues on his podcast.

Freddy deBoer is hilarious, also mostly right:

The mix changes; Grantland is some more sports and a little less news and whatever intern is currently writing the “Bill Simmons” column. Slate is a little less sports and a little more politics and Troy Patterson endlessly writing the word “gentleman” into his Mead notebook in cursive while admiring his new glasses in the mirror. New York is a little of everything with some soothing noises to remind New Yorkers that they are very very important. The revamped New York Times Magazine is a lot of the same edited by people who think you can get more sexy Millenials to your website by adjusting the kerning on your font. The Atlantic is a lot of the same plus Ta-Nehisi Coates plus Coates’s creepshow commenters asking him to forgive their sins. Business Insider is a lot of the same only written for the illiterate. The New New Republic is the same stuff written by every non-white male Gabriel Snyder could find to exorcise the vengeful presence of Marty Peretz’s farting ghost, and thank god for that, plus Jeet Heer with an essay made up of 800 numbered tweets. Buzzfeed is a lot of the same only if life was a Law & Order episode about the Internet from 1998. Salon is the same stuff but every single piece is headlined “Ten Things You Won’t Believe Rethuglicans Said on Fox News” regardless of content. Vox is a lot of the same stuff plus a new-fangled invention called the “card stack,” an innovative approach which allows webpages to “link” to other pages. The Awl is a lot of the same stuff brought to you by the emotion sadness. Gawker is a lot of the same stuff, cleverly hidden across 1,200 sub-blogs along with several thousand words of instructionsfor how to read the site that are somehow still an inadequate guide. Vice is a lot of the same stuff written by that guy you knew in high school who told you he did cocaine but seemed to only ever have that fake marijuana called Wizard Smoke you could buy at a gas station. Five Thirty Eight, I’m told, exists, although whenever I try to open it my browser seems to show me a strange lacuna into which the idea of a website was, once, meant to congeal. But one way or another,  you could take 90% of what each of these sites publish and stick it on any other, and nobody would ever know the difference.

I’m sure some people will think I’m talking poop and saying these sites aren’t good. That is not the case. I’m saying that they are all as good or as bad as whatever piece I am reading at the moment. Writers are good or bad, and much more, writing is good or bad. But I no longer know what a website means as an identity, unless that identity is a specific subject. I know what Guns and Ammo is. I know what Road and Track is. (I know what Redtube is.) I don’t know what Fusion is. I’m not saying there’s no good work. There’s lots! I’m spoiled, we’re all spoiled, people do good work. All of these places regularly publish stuff that I admire, that I enjoy, that I think is good. (OK not Business Insider.) But that’s the only designation that matters: good. The rest is a matter of logistics and who gets that week’s John Oliver video traffic.

There is still money in news though. You just have to do sad things to get it and ad blockers make the problem worse.