To point out that there were some critics even before the launch of the website Grantland.com on June 8 would be like saying …
We can’t come up with the proper pop-culture analogy. Maybe one of the Grantland writers could do better.
These were snipers, actually. Really snarky, bitter, feisty, cynical snipers. If that’s the nature of the Internet beast — to slap down the competition, send out a bad buzz and hope it’ll go away — it’s too early to tell.
But it’s out there, festering.
Scared about a new form of sports journalism taking shape, invading your ADD territory? Petrified by the muscle of ESPN behind it all, giving it time to find its voice and, perhaps, actually working?
== Sam Eifling of the Columbia Journalism Review: “Simmons wouldn’t be my first pick to lead a literary renaissance, even if he has managed to assemble editors resembling an Algonquin Round Table as envisioned by an airport Waldenbooks … Grantland “likely will rise or fall on the appeal of its guiding persona. … At best, Grantland so far is jaunty revelry for the sporting life and for culture at large. At worst, it threatens to go down as the Manhattan Project of navel-gazing.”
== Nicholas Jackson, an associate editor at The Atlantic: “Bill Simmons won’t keep his mouth shut. And that’s probably the reason he has become one of the most successful sportswriters of all time. … But that doesn’t mean that the 41-year-old is going to make a good website editor, which is a title that he’s adding to the growing list — columnist, bestselling author, husband, father, podcaster, executive producer … I think the new site is doomed, and I suspect ESPN’s executives will recognize that in only a month or two even if they refuse to admit it until millions of dollars have been spent. … Yes, Grantland’s ‘murderer’s row of talent’ is (‘HOLY SH*T’) impressive, but that’s just another reason why it’s going to fail. These people are way too expensive for what Simmons is trying to do.”
== Tom Scocca of Slate.com: “God bless anyone who goes on an aggressive editor-and-writer hiring spree, and good luck to all involved, but really. ‘Grantland.’ As in Grantland Rice. What, was ErnestHemingway.com taken? … Who is Simmons trying to win over with this? This is an actual mystery. Are the romantics who still worship Rice as the founder-saint of modern Quality Sportswriting going to appreciate the tribute, coming from a guy who carved out a niche writing about Teen Wolf and porn stars? Is the wised-up generation that sees Rice as a ponderous cornball, a huckster with a purple ribbon in his typewriter, supposed to be impressed? Outlined against a yellow-white June sky, the Three Consulting Editors rode again. In dramatic lore they are glibness, naivete, and ironic lowbrowism. Their real names are: Gladwell, Eggers, and Klosterman …”
Deadspin.com’s staff seems to be the most irritated, posting almost daily something Simmons related. But also making some points such as: “So far, the single most baffling thing about Grantland: Who cares what (a certain writer feels) … It’s like someone replaced the clear glass in the press box with a one-way mirror, pointed inward. Watch the writers watch themselves.”
One reader of Deadspin.com posted a comment about the site, calling it “an elitist publication splattered with ads for Subway sandwiches and Klondike bars.”
What would you read for a Klondike bar?
Kelly McBride of the Poynter Review Project, which is the defacto ombudsman for all going on at ESPN, wrote recently that while Grantland “is crafted for the ‘too-school-for-cool’ crowd, with a dream team of writers,” it is in need of people who have to “sharpen their focus and develop some self-discipline if they want to keep the audience engaged in long(ish)-form literary journalism. At its best, Grantland is clever and funny, for smart people who want to be intellectually challenged and entertained at the same time. At its worst, it is a bunch of hyperbole and aimless columns that lack a clear focus. …”
There are some more forgiving, understanding, open minded. Compassionate?
“Others have criticized the writing and the site itself for lacking a coherent vision,” wrote Tony Manfred of BusinessInsider.com (linked here). “For them, Grantland is what happens when a collective of writers are rich and successful enough to see their half-baked ideas come to life. In the 24 hours since the website went live, one thing has become clear: Grantland is the new establishment in American sportswriting.”
During a profile of Simmons in the New York Times magazine (linked here), the so-called “Sports Guy” described Grantland as “what Miramax was to Disney, a boutique division with more room for creativity. It’s probably the perfect analogy, considering ESPN is owned by Disney.
We’ve had no problems with it so far. In fact, some of the best media-related pieces done in the last couple of months have been on this site — starting on Day 1 with what could be the prophetic story on “The Greatest Paper that Ever Died” by Howie Kahn and Alex French , borrowing 13,909 words, or about 30 screens, to give the oral history of The National all-sports newspaper (linked here). Add to that, Charlie Pierce’s remembrances of working there.
(And apparently, those yellow news racks are still for sale online … linked here).
It was followed by Chuck Klosterman’s piece on how to watch sports in today’s DVR era (linked here), and Michael Weinreb’s essay on how the Fox Box graphic has led to the demise of the “most ubiquitous phrase in the English language” (linked here).
That would be: What’s the score?
Those keeping score of Grantland might want to wait awhile. Be fair, at least? Let it breathe. Or shouldn’t we hold our breath?
That Simmons needed some 2,800-plus words to just write his intro to the site (linked here) isn’t that surprising.
But then, we’ve almost used up 1,000 words just to get to this point and may have buried the lead.
We have questions. And Simmons, via email, has responses:
QUESTION: The first two weeks in review of Grantland, on a scale of 1-to-10? Describe the feeling of a dad seeing his kid take its first steps here.
SIMMONS: For me the launch is a big blur – the day we launched, I was on an airplane flying from Dallas to Boston for a hockey game. The first three days I wrote off three straight Finals games (two NBA, one NHL) in two different cities. I actually finished my Bruins column in the back of a cab on the way from the airport to my hotel in Dallas. So to borrow your analogy, I missed my kid’s first through third steps.
I remember saying after we had been up for nine to 10 days that things had gone really well, and that we had somehow avoided that one disaster that seems to happen any time someone launch something. And then, I woke up on Father’s Day and our site was being pointed to a domain service. So you can never feel safe I guess. Regardless, I’m really proud of the first two weeks of content that we posted, as well as the quality of the writers we featured. Those two weeks played out exactly as I had hoped.
QUESTION: Can a website like Deadspin effectively send out a bad vibe about Grantland so quickly that you are forced to battle against it, maybe spend too much energy on that instead of focused on bigger picture, letting things settle, and finding an audience that isn’t really a Deadspin or BigLead-type of demo?
SIMMONS: We don’t care what people say about us. It’s a free country. We’re worried putting up quality stuff every day, that’s it. And by the way, we’re not competing with anyone else – everyone on the internet is wasting time all day. We just want to be one of the many places where they waste time.
QUESTION: One review that I think made some sense: We have long-form sites like New Yorker, or even Slate. But will readers of sports literature on the Internet embrace this as a ‘populist site’ content? Can it be too ‘high brow’ or is that not even a direction you’d go when people ask what the tone and direction the site will go? What are the thoughts about launching a site like this when sports, for all intents and purposes, kind of take a vacation this time of year .
SIMMONS: I don’t care about reviews – we’ve only been up for two weeks. It’s like reviewing the first bite of a hot dog or something. Anyway, I would never limit the scope of the site to ‘high brow’ or ‘long form’or any of that stuff. Once we get our two blogs going, our only goal is to have original angles and quality writing about sports and pop culture every day. That’s it. We just want to be entertaining. You can be entertaining in 700 words or 7,000. As long as people come to the site every day not knowing what to expect, I’m happy.
QUESTION: Will the fall be a truer test of the site’s impact when there’s that jump again with a World Series, NFL, college football, NBA start, etc.?
SIMMONS: The fall will be a better representation of what the site will ultimately look like two to three years from now, but really, July and August are better tests: Those are going to be dead months, there’s going to be nothing to talk about other than baseball, labor disputes and the latest round of cell phone dong photos. So we have a real chance to make an impact I think – if we keep coming up with good material when there’s little to read in general, we’ll gain some momentum I think.
Uh-oh, I just jinxed the two lockouts and now they’re going to extend through next May… forget I mentioned this.