Thoughts from the Recorder: On Grantland

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I wanted to write about the World Series on Monday. I wanted to write a wrap-up about the culmination of the Royals journey, a journey that started last October and ended on November 1st with Kansas City sitting on top of the world. I wanted to write about the sheer joy of seeing a team come together, about the sheer joy with which that Royals team played baseball, about the fact that even in the most dire of moments, this team always felt like they would rise above everything.

But I didn’t. Because my heart was broken a few days earlier when ESPN announced that they were shuttering Grantland for good.

Sure, the writing was on the wall. Sure, this seemed all but inevitable once Bill Simmons departed ESPN for new waters back in May. Sure, many writers had left Grantland for other gigs. Sure, all good things must come to an end.

It still hurts. Even as I sit here and write this, I’m sore from the fact that I can’t have a column open on my tab for reading at home, at Starbucks, at work, on the bus. It hurts.

It’s not a death in the family, but it definitely is the loss of a way of life for me.

I started reading Grantland when it premiered back in 2011, back when it was a strange new thing that nobody really understood, that few of my friends knew what to make of. Over the years, it evolved, and I evolved with it. I would read box office recaps on Monday morning on the bus to work, or NBA Round-Ups in the spring, or TV recaps during the week about Mad Men, or college football previews.

It was originally about sports, and it was how I discovered Jonah Keri, who has become essential reading on baseball for me. It was where I reveled in the irreverent humor of Shea Serrano writing about…well, things that Shea Serrano wrote about. It was where I learned a bit more about hockey from Sean McIndoe, or about the intricate movements of basketball from Zach Lowe. I would not have the same joy of Puddles the Duck that I do if not for Holly Anderson’s obsessive love.

And then it was about movies. Mark Harris guested from time to time. Wesley Morris joined the staff, and wrote about movies with a grace and elegance that redefined how to write film criticism for me. Jason Concepcion wrote insightful and hysterical previews for upcoming films.

And then it was about music. I would not know half of the modern bands that I know if not for Steven Hyden – my recent play The Woodsman was inspired in part by a column he wrote about John Mayer and Jimmy Buffett.

And then it was about other culture. Charles P. Pierce writes for Esquire and may be more known for that, but his articles in Grantland were something more, touching on our national obsessions from the perspective of sports. His was a voice that reminded me of why sports, those silly games where grown men chase after balls on a field like boys, matter. And few pieces moved me more than Rembert Browne’s recapping of the descent into hell he observed on one night in Ferguson, Missouri.

Grantland touched everything – there were few topics not ventured into. And there were problems – notable problems that have been covered elsewhere. No site on the Internet is free from warts or from darker sides, and Grantland was a source of several terrible pieces from time to time. That’s the way the Internet works.

But there are two reasons that I mourn the loss of Grantland, one which touches on a fear of culture I have moving forward, and one which seems rather selfish on the surface and yet is a feeling probably shared by many.

The first is the death of long-form journalism as an art form. Grantland was notorious for never really developing the kinds of traffic other sites such as SBNation, Bleacher Report, and Gawker developed. There’s many reasons for that, but one of the chief complaints was that the articles were too long and nowhere near click-baity enough to draw in traffic. The average attention span of an Internet reader is roughly comparable to that of a puppy, it seems, and many readers would not have the time to scroll through 2,000 words at a time. But there was a market for it, and those readers of Grantland loved it. Sometimes, 2,000 words just aren’t enough. Hell, we struggle here at the Recorder to stick within a 1,000 word limit from time to time – I can’t tell you the last time that I stuck to that.

The second reason is that it feels as though I’ve lost access to an entire family of writers. Sure, everyone on the website was talented, and many will land on their feet. But at Grantland, they were all in one place. That’s what I loved – watching Shea Serrano and Bill Barnwell get into Twitter wars, watching Jonah Keri and Rany Jazayerli bounce ideas off of one another, watching the college football writers bounce their particular obsessions off of one another. Grantland read like a large family with multiple overlapping loves and obsessions gathering together to talk about culture. There are few other websites which I can compare that feeling to that aren’t unwieldy, sprawling, or collections of tiny posts that only provide fodder for comment trolling. Grantland had its standout articles, but it also read like a collection of tiny moments that all together made something beautiful.

I modeled the Addison Recorder the way I did because I wanted to create my own community of writers akin to Grantland. In the back of my mind, I think I even wanted us to be Grantland – running with the idea that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There’s a reason I call many of the writers here friends – we are friends, and when we meet, we cannot keep from discussing our articles and topics. Our Monthly Pop Culture round-ups are inspired by forums like the AV Club, but they are much akin to Grantland in spirit.

So yes, I wanted to talk about the World Series this week. I probably will. But I’m devastated that I won’t get to read Rany’s jubilant recap of the Royals ascent, or Jonah’s breakdown of why the Royals won, or anything about the upcoming Bond movie or the new Star Wars. It’s a loss that to my mind borders on the criminal.

Sure, that writing is out there/will be out there. Nobody’s going to stop writing – but I do feel for the writers who lost a full time gig doing what they clearly loved to do, and for the many staffers and editors who no longer have their jobs.

I want Grantland back. I want my morning column reading back. I want my commute home reading back. I want to learn about new bands, new movies, new athletes. I selfishly crave that. And it’s gone, and who knows if we will ever see its like again.

I’m sorry for not writing more about baseball this week – not that our body of readers is very large, or that anyone was really looking forward to it. But it hurt to write this week.

The worst part today was when I went to Grantland out of idleness this morning, expecting to find something, only to be reminded of the stark reality that all good things must come to an end, and another chapter of life has closed. Here is to the hope that the next chapter will contain writing that will carry on the torch that was lit by everyone who ever worked at Grantland.

Raise a glass to, and enjoy one last Wizard Party.

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If only for one moment more…

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook is the Editor-in-Chief and one of the original founders of the Addison Recorder. He writes about baseball, movies, and music, among other topics. He resides in a hole in the ground near Wrigley Field.

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