Saturday, October 31, 2015

Grantland Gutted: Examining ESPN's Proud Embrace of our Microwave Culture

While ESPN flails and flexes, even flummoxing their critics and supporters in a late-Friday takedown of Grantland, they continue to be peculiarly frank in their press releases. Official statements from mammoth organizations are typically synonymous with propaganda, but that's when you'll find ESPN, surprisingly, at their most forthright. Consider the following sentence, point-blank from the World Wide Leader:

 "Grantland distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun.” 

That’s about as direct and detailed as twelve words will allow, and yet ESPN has no problem admitting their ambivalence to those concepts. They played their hand, earlier in the statement, with this admission:

"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.

In other words-- an enterprising, artistic, thought-provoking venture like Grantland only offers niche-appeal, and we can’t figure out a way to monetize brilliant articles and podcasts, See, our company’s mission is to extract as much revenue as humanly possibly from millions of common-denominator humans. Humans that can be click-baited into half-honest headlines about a very select group of humans with obscene Q-scores called LeBron, Tiger, LeBron, Brady/Belichick, Serena, wait, did we mention LeBron? And we want HOT TAKES, perfect for retweeting, with the bombastic, brutal, and dumbed-down finesse that you’ve come to expect from Skip Bayless and Stephen A Smith. We’ll continue to cultivate our bottom-line content by staying married to the NFL and mainstream radio hosts like Mike & Mike, reinforcing stereotypes and catch-phrases made famous by our own Berman-infested television personalities .

In fact, ESPN’s communication style has evolved into such a high degree of blunt efficiency that some of Grantland’s staff learned their fate on Twitter, of course. Same for Grantland founder and former espyn-legend Bill Simmons. The public dismissal of Simmons last May by network president John Skipper, via The New York Times, was an unprecedented level of speech-directivity in the industry:

"I decided today that we are not going to renew Bill Simmons’ contract.

Read that again. If it sounds like he woke up, took a leak, let the dog out, made an omelet, and then scratched an itch to fire the most important figure at ESPN, well, that's exactly how it was supposed to sound. Skipper had no interest in massaging the message. Ruling the world from the MotherShip is succinct business, and ESPN can't be troubled with an expectation for class journalism. Moreover, ESPN doesn't even have time to pretend to be interested in it. The separation with Simmons and suspension destruction of his greatest achievement was a blind and naked testament to the power of a 21st Century media monster with eight channels in over 200 countries. Simply, the four-letter network boasts an unapologetic, disgusting confidence derived from pure size, scope and an unyielding belief in the 48-hour news cycle.