Loss of site that mixed sports with pop culture just example of struggle journalists face in modern era of corporate control
When ESPN announced that Grantland — their groundbreaking sports and pop culture website — was being shut down, another blow was dealt against journalists everywhere who struggle to balance integrity with corporate interests.
The website, which was founded in 2011 by Bill Simmons, was put on the chopping block on Oct. 30, just a few months after Simmons’ contract was not renewed by ESPN.
Grantland was known for the mix of topics readers could spend hours sifting through. Detailed breakdowns of practically every major sport known to man could be found right next to articles about how Taylor Swift had climbed to her rank as America’s pop princess. There was nothing on the Internet like it and, for a time, it was beautiful.
Unfortunately, once Simmons left, the Worldwide Leader in Sports seemed to have very little interest in the Grantland experiment and left the great majority of the staff of the website hanging out to dry.
What has made so many people upset about this move, besides how the network suddenly laid off these employees with essentially no warning, is the loss of some of the only unique voices in journalism. In a medium where the Internet has made it possible for hot takes to be posted within minutes of any event, Grantland found a way to present readers with a fresh voice that also provided unique insight. Speaking from experience as a writer, that’s a lot harder to do than it sounds.
More disturbingly, it shows how little integrity seems to matter to one of the largest content creators in modern journalism. Simmons had never been one to hold his tongue when it came to being critical of something he thought was wrong. When he spoke out about the inconsistency NFL commissioner Roger Goodell showed following the leak of a video where Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was shown hitting his girlfriend, it was widely rumored that the network tried to silence Simmons because of its relationship with the league.
This relationship exists because of the odd pairing of ESPN and Monday Night Football — which is one of the NFL’s most lucrative ventures. Since the network airs the games every first night of the week during the football season, a conflict of interest worth millions of dollars is presented to the station.
Think of it like this: ESPN airing Monday Night Football would be like The Mercury getting paid by the university to specifically write articles about how great UTD is and never writing anything different. It just doesn’t make any sense.
This is just one example of the control that corporations have over journalism in general. Some individual or group that has millions of dollars at stake controls almost every major newspaper or magazine on the planet. ESPN showed that if the bottom line is put at stake, it has no problem throwing journalism out the window.
During my time at The Mercury, the influence that Grantland has had on my writing has been critical. I’m sad to see it go, but I’m more worried about what this means for the future of the profession. For years, journalists have been struggling to eat, much less to attempt to be adventurous with their careers. It often just doesn’t pay anymore to be a writer, and when news outlets turn their backs on content creators the way ESPN did, it goes to show just how ruthless they can be.
Journalism is an incredibly hard field to be successful in, but it’s one that’s still necessary for society. When I heard about how the staff at Grantland had been treated, I felt sad because I knew it was a blow to everyone who is still fighting to be a real journalist.
Instead of articles with substance, people are now consuming either borderline propaganda or entertainment masquerading as news. If we as consumers want to see change, we have to start actively reading the in-depth journalism that matters. If we continue to keep taking what corporations are giving us, they’ll continue to screw with journalistic integrity.