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ESPN Kills Grantland

ESPN Kills Grantland

Grantland is dead.

ESPN announced it was shutting down the site in a press release this afternoon.

“Effective immediately we are suspending the publication of Grantland.  After careful consideration, we have decided to direct our time and energy going forward to projects that we believe will have a broader and more significant impact across our enterprise.

Grantland distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun.  We are grateful to those who made it so.  Bill Simmons was passionately committed to the site and proved to be an outstanding editor with a real eye for talent.  Thanks to all the other writers, editors and staff who worked very hard to create content with an identifiable sensibility and consistent intelligence and quality. We also extend our thanks to Chris Connelly who stepped in to help us maintain the site these past five months as he returns to his prior role.

Despite this change, the legacy of smart long-form sports story-telling and innovative short form video content will continue, finding a home on many of our other ESPN platforms.”

The news is no surprise. The site has been hemorrhaging writers since founded Bill Simmons was ousted by ESPN five months ago: Wesley Morris decamped for the New York Times, Rembert Browne to New York magazine, four more staffers for an unidentified project with Simmons at HBO. But right up through this morning’s Alex Pappademas review of “Our Brand Is Crisis,” the site published some of the smartest, most ambitious criticism on the web, and it’s a shame to see it go.   

Much of Grantland’s coverage is beyond the scope of this site, but that’s part of what made it great: It seemed to insist by its very existence that there were people who were interested in both sports analysis and cultural criticism, and favored writers who could do both. It was a bet on longform, on freeform, on giving writers the tools (and the editors) and letting them follow their interests.

I’ve already seen a few people liken the end of Grantland to the demise of the Dissolve, but it’s important to note that what brought Grantland down was not the lack of an audience but internal politics: It existed in part because ESPN wanted to keep Simmons happy, and once they stopped caring about that, its fate was sealed. That’s not to say its ending isn’t equally as depressing, but it’s harder to spin this into some kind of death knell for culture writing in general. Immediate indications are that the archives will stay up, although the YouTube links to Pappademas and Morris’ “Do You Like Prince Movies?” podcast have been broken by corporate maneuvering surrounding the launch of YouTube’s pay service.

Being in the culture-crit business was an experiment for ESPN, and it’s hard to miss that element’s absence from the statement’s promise to continue “smart long-form sports story-telling and innovative short form video content.” A ESPN source flat out told CNN, “We’re getting out of the pop culture business.” But if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that great culture writing will always survive, although it may not all exist in the same place.

Here’s how contributors and readers are taking the news:

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