The headline to this piece was originally intended to be used on a piece about The New Republic last year. After Franklin Foer resigned (was forced out) and a number of senior editors also resigned in protest there were a number of sites which ran posts about the end of The New Republic. Of course it wasn’t the end. The New Republic is still going and the people there are churning out great stuff (as are the writers who left).
I thought of the headline (which comes from Broadcast News) because there seemed to be too much premature eulogizing. Publications and websites come and go, was what I thought, and the most talented people end up finding new places to work. It was easy for me to feel that way because I never worked at TNR, didn’t know anyone who worked at TNR, and rarely read TNR. I wasn’t losing anything.
Like many people, I was in on Grantland from its first day of publication. I was sort of in on it when Bill Simmons announced that he was starting a website; in because I was a fan of Simmons, uncertain because I didn’t really understand what he was trying to do. Still, I remember reading pieces on that first day, reading everything and starting to form an idea of what Simmons and the others were trying to do.
It’s fair to say that in those early days Simmons and the others didn’t really know what they were trying to do. Malcolm Gladwell and Chuck Klosterman were two of the early contributors, two of the early “names” that Simmons touted for the site. It’s with no disrespect to Gladwell and Klosterman to say that the real stars of the site ended up being people like Molly Lambert, Rembert Browne and Andy Greenwald. I was already aware of Jonah Keri before he went to Grantland but I had not heard of Zach Lowe, and I read everything both wrote. Steven Hyden was also new to me and it was great to read a music critic who seemed to know how to write just for me. There are countless others and I know I will forget a ton. (Louisa Thomas, Wesley Morris, Brian Phillips come to mind.) Plus Grantland published writers like Rachel Syme and Todd VanDerWerff who I have followed since.
Grantland turned out to be great. I’m not sure anyone expected it but according to everything I’ve read, Simmons was a good judge of talent and hired the right people. Simmons was the initial draw but what kept people coming back, even those of us who loved Simmons, was everybody else. I stopped reading Simmons regularly at some point over two years ago. I stopped listening to his podcast. When ESPN barred Simmons from the site in May, it didn’t change my Grantland habits at all.
But, as Alyssa Rosenberg tweeted, if you were paying attention then today’s announcement isn’t surprising. Getting Simmons out was only the first step. Writers and editors have left, including some that have been picked up by Simmons for his new venture at HBO. Browne announced he was leaving when his contract expired. The only surprise in ESPN’s announcement is that it will be a quick death instead of a long, slow decline. Maybe that’s for the best. (Note that ESPN announced it will honor all Grantland contracts and that the content will remain.)
I say maybe it’s for the best because we will remember Grantland for how excellent it was and not have to deal with its “post-Rising Springsteen” phase. We won’t have to see the best writers and editors leave the site and watch as everything that we loved about Grantland is replaced with content that resembles what our worst fears of what a Simmons vanity site could have been. Grantland is going out at or just past its prime and we should be grateful for that.
All the best to the writers and editors and everyone else who made Grantland so good and who don’t yet know what their next is. I’m hopeful that everyone will find something great.
The full quote that chose the headline from is as follows:
I can’t stand here feeling bad that I don’t feel worse. This has happened at every station I ever worked for.
I feel worse today than I did when all those editors resigned from TNR, and I assume I will feel worse the next time this happens, because there will almost certainly be a next time. Thank you to everyone past and present who made Grantland one of my favorite places on the web to visit. Good luck to all who need to find something new.
On the Monday after Grantland closed, Andy Greenwald shared some thoughts on Twitter. Here is a link to a Storify of those tweets.