Type of site
|Sports, Popular culture|
(former; now redirects to ESPN homepage
|Current status||Shut down|
Grantland was a sports and pop-culture blog owned and operated by ESPN. The blog was started in 2011 by veteran writer and sports journalist Bill Simmons, who remained as editor-in-chief until May 2015. Grantland was named after famed 20th-century sportswriter Grantland Rice (1880–1954).
On October 30, 2015, ESPN announced that it was ending the publication of Grantland.
The site featured contributions from Simmons alongside other sports and pop-culture writers and podcasters including: Holly Anderson, Mallory Rubin, Katie Baker, Bill Barnwell, Rembert Browne, Andy Greenwald, Bryan Curtis, Kirk Goldsberry, Steven Hyden, Michael Weinreb, David Jacoby, Jonah Keri, Chuck Klosterman, Molly Lambert, Mark Lisanti, Zach Lowe, Robert Mays, Davy Rothbart, Sean McIndoe, Brian Phillips, Charles P. Pierce, former NBA player Jalen Rose, Shea Serrano, Andrew Sharp, Louisa Thomas and Mark Titus. Former contributors include Men in Blazers duo Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, Tom Bissell, Lane Brown, Jason Concepcion, author Dave Eggers, author Malcolm Gladwell, Justin Halpern, Mark Harris, Jay Caspian Kang, screenwriter of the movie RoundersBrian Koppelman, Juliet Litman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Morris, Chris Ryan and MacArthur Award-winning novelist Colson Whitehead.
In May 2015, ESPN's President John Skipper told The New York Times that ESPN would not be renewing Simmons' contract, effectively ending Simmons' tenure at ESPN. Later in the month, Chris Connelly was announced as interim editor-in-chief.
Dr. V controversy
An article written by Caleb Hannan and published on the Grantland website in January 2014 received considerable criticism from the transgender community. Hannan's article was about the Oracle GXI golf putter and its creator, Essay Anne Vanderbilt, referred to as Dr. V. It treated Vanderbilt's transgender identity in the same manner as a number of scientific qualifications that Vanderbilt had fraudulently claimed to hold, suggesting that Hannan considered Vanderbilt's gender identity to be untruthful as well. Before the article was published, Vanderbilt committed suicide.
After initially dismissing all criticisms and drawing even more fire, Grantland's editor-in-chief Bill Simmons published a response to the criticism, acknowledging errors made by Grantland and Hannan, including Hannan's outing of Vanderbilt to one of her investors and Grantland's "collective ignorance about the issues facing the transgender community in general, as well as our biggest mistake: not educating ourselves on that front before seriously considering whether to run the piece". A profile of Simmons in Rolling Stone, published in April 2014, lambasted him at length over the Dr. V matter and incorporated criticism from senior ESPN personnel, but also included Simmons' defenses and disagreements with some of the harsher criticisms of the article.
Grantland shut down
On Friday October 30, 2015, ESPN officially announced the shut down 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.”  The closing of Grantland was met with harsh criticism of ESPN, from both former writers of Grantland and admirers of the site. Former Editor-in-Chief Bill Simmons called the shut down “simply appalling.” ESPN president John Skipper said the decision to shut down the site was not a financial matter and instead was done because ESPN did not see the value in spending the time and energy necessary to continue the excellence of Grantland.
Grantland's closure was seen by many as another blow against long-form journalism. Huffington Post writer Justin Block writes, “In an era ruled by bite-sized content and dumbed-down click-bait journalism, Grantland's defining characteristic came at odds with sustainable finances.”Grantland's articles were often long form and usually not instant but measured reactionary pieces, a trend not common in today's media landscape. Grantland was considered by some to be the highest-quality work under the umbrella of ESPN and received critical acclaim, but its financial success has been widely debated.Grantland received 6 million unique visitors in March 2015, a number that some people believed could not support a staff of 50 writers, editors and IT personnel. The shutdown was also coming at a time of relative financial uncertainty for ESPN. In September 2015, ESPN laid off 300 employees or approximately 5% of its workforce. It has also been widely reported that in 2015 ESPN lost 3.2 million subscribers due to consumers abandoning traditional cable packages.
Content and legacy
Grantland was known for its long-form journalism and award-winning writing. Its sports journalism pieces often had a strong focus on sports analytics and data analysis, referencing and pulling data from sites like Football Outsiders, Baseball Prospectus, Synergy, and ESPN.Grantland wove statistics into part of the story and made the analytics understandable to the average sports fan. As Stephen Carter from the Chicago Tribune put it, "This was sportswriting for grownups." These pieces would also often include a data visualization representation. Some have concluded that Grantland's closure represents a trend in today's media business that unless you are one of the biggest web properties or smallest one-person “micro sites” it's tough to be economically viable.
Simmons started a new media venture in 2016, The Ringer, which, like Grantland, focuses on sports and pop culture. A number of former Grantland employees, including Sean Fennessey, Chris Ryan, Mallory Rubin, Juliet Litman, Craig Gaines, Bryan Curtis, Ryan O'Hanlon, Danny Chau, Riley McAtee, Joe Fuentes, and Tate Frazier have joined the new venture.
Additionally, Simmons has launched a podcasting network, featuring shows re-purposed from the Grantland network, including The Watch with Ryan and television critic Andy Greenwald and his own podcast The Bill Simmons Podcast.
Ryan and Greenwald will also host a Game of Thrones re-cap show on HBO modeled after their Grantland podcast "Watch the Thrones" and produced by Simmons.
Simmons debuted a weekly show on HBO, titled Any Given Wednesday with Bill Simmons, on June 22, 2016.
- ^Crupi, Anthony (June 9, 2011). "Bill Simmons on Launch of Grantland.com and How Sponsors Will Keep the Site Free". Adweek. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- ^ ab"ESPN Statement Regarding Grantland". ESPN MediaZone. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- ^Guthrie, Marisa. "ESPN President John Skipper on Bill Simmons: "It Was Business"". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 21, 2015.
- ^Chase, Chris. "Bill Simmons will be replaced at Grantland by Chris Connelly". Ftw.usatoday.com. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- ^Levin, Josh (January 19, 2014). "Digging Too Deep". Slate.com. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- ^Klinger, Lauren; McBride, Kelly. "Lessons learned from Grantland's tragic story on Dr. V". Poynter.org. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- ^Kahrl, Christina (January 20, 2014). "What Grantland Got Wrong". Grantland.com. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- ^Hannan, Caleb (January 15, 2014). "Dr. V's Magical Putter". Grantland.com. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- ^Simmons, Bill (January 20, 2014). "The Dr. V Story: A Letter From the Editor". Grantland.com. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- ^Tannenbaum, Rob (April 29, 2014). "Bill Simmons' Big Score". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- ^"ESPN Shutters Grantland, Effective Immediately". Vanity Fair. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
- ^"Vanity Fair". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on February 2, 2015. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
- ^"ESPN Closing Grantland Is The Dumbest 'Smart' Business Decision". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
- ^ abcReed, Jon. "The fall of ESPN's Grantland – an enterprisey take". Digimonica. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
- ^Bonesteel, Matt (2015-10-22). "ESPN layoffs will gut the network's production staff". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
- ^"ESPN's Problems Are of Its Own Making -- The Motley Fool". The Motley Fool. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
- ^Hobson, Will; Bonesteel, Matt (October 30, 2015). "ESPN shuts down Grantland months after parting ways with Bill Simmons". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
- ^ ab"Oh ESPN, why did you have to kill Grantland?". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
- ^ abBort, Ryan (2010-04-21). "Bill Simmons Announces New Website, The Ringer". Newsweek.com. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
- ^Samer Kalaf (2016-02-17). "Bill Simmons's New Site Has A Name And Some New Hires". Deadspin.com. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
- ^Pedersen, Erik (2016-04-04). "Bill Simmons To Produce For 'Game Of Thrones' Aftershow On HBO". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
- ^Michael O'Connell (2016-04-26). "Bill Simmons' HBO Show, 'Any Given Wednesday,' Arrives in June". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
Every journalist has worked on a story that started out being about one thing and ended up as something else entirely. That’s what happened to Caleb Hannan, who got curious about a weird-looking golf club he found on YouTube and started quizzing the inventor about her far-out scientific theories. Hannan’s essay for Grantland, “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” documents the writer’s eight-month journey to unravel the truth about Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt. In the end, as the piece twisted to a horrific conclusion, Hannan never quite figured out what his story was about.
If you haven’t read Hannan’s story yet, you should—I’ll be here when you’re done. In brief, the writer discovered that “Dr. V” was a con artist. She lied about her educational and professional credentials to Hannan and to a man who gave her $60,000—cash that investor never saw again. In the course of his reporting, Hannan also learned that Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt “was born a boy.”
Hannan eventually sent Dr. V “an email trying to confirm what I had discovered.” The inventor got very angry, tried to get Hannan to sign a nondisclosure agreement, and wrote him a note saying that “his deportment is reminiscent to schoolyard bullies.” Not long after that, Hannan writes, he got a phone call informing him that Dr. V had committed suicide.
Over the last few days, Twitter has bubbled over with arguments about what Hannan did and didn’t do. At one extreme are the people calling Hannan a murderer, alleging that a trans woman killed herself because she believed a reporter was about to out her. At the opposite pole are those who say Hannan did what journalists are trained to do: report out a story until he unearths the truth. Jason Fagone, a writer I’ve worked with and respect very much, wrote that Twitter was “aggregat[ing] anger against a young reporter for his hard choices on a difficult story.”
Dr. V was a con artist and a trans woman. Hannan conflates those two facts, as if they both represent a form of deceit.
The journalists defending Caleb Hannan can relate to his experience. If you’re looking at the Dr. V story as a fellow reporter, you can understand that this must have been a difficult assignment—“impossibly difficult,” in the view of writer Brandon Sneed. Hannan’s subject was a liar, and it took him a very long time to piece together her life story. In a certain sense, Hannan accomplished what every writer wants to achieve: He vacuumed up an avalanche of information, and he sorted out what was true and what was false.
A member of the trans community, justifiably, would have an easier time seeing things through Dr. V’s eyes—to imagine how it might feel to have an eager reporter pry into your past, and possibly reveal your gender identity. I’d also venture that it would be impossible for a trans man or woman to read about Dr. V’s suicide without thinking of all the hardship and violence that so many trans people have lived through, and that many haven’t survived.
As much as we try to understand other people’s emotions, this is what empathy looks like in real life: It’s easier to relate to people who are just like us.
That’s not how journalism is supposed to work, though. Yes, every reporter strives to uncover the truth. But we’re also supposed to call on our reserves of emotional intelligence to comprehend the people we’re writing about. When someone like the New York Times’ David Carr, who is very much attuned to questions of journalistic ethics, tweets out Hannan’s story approvingly with no hint about the moral dilemmas it raises, it’s clear there’s a cavernous empathy gap between mainstream writers and trans people.
Hannan’s story, and the writer’s defenders, show the dangers of privileging fact-finding and the quest for a great story over compassion and humanity. One of the wisest comments I’ve seen over the last few days came from Steve Silberman, who wrote on Twitter that Hannan’s piece “has structural problems that turned into moral ones.” The Grantland story has the tone and pacing of a thriller. Section by section, Hannan lays out that Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt is not who she purports to be—that she didn’t go to MIT, and that she didn’t work in the defense industry. As part of that litany of shocking disclosures, Hannan also reveals that Dr. V—whom he never met in person—was born Stephen Krol. “Cliché or not, a chill actually ran up my spine,” he writes, explaining the sensation he felt upon deducing “that Essay Anne Vanderbilt was once a man.”
The fact that Dr. V once lived under a different name is not irrelevant to Hannan’s story—the name change complicated his quest to check up on her background, which I believe makes it fair game if handled sensitively. But presenting Dr. V’s gender identity as one in a series of lies and elisions was a careless editorial decision. Hannan makes no claim that her identity as a trans woman has any bearing on the golf club she invented or the scientific background she inflated. And yet it sent a chill up his spine. It’s this line that feels particularly inhumane. Dr. V is a con artist and a trans woman. Hannan, though, conflates those two facts, acting as though the latter has some relation to the former. It seems that, in his view, they both represent a form of deceit.
It’s impossible for anyone to say why Dr. V committed suicide. It is certainly way over the line to call Hannan a murderer. It’s also wrong to claim with any certainty that it was his reporting that pushed her over the edge, or to argue that it’s 100 percent clear that she was more concerned with being outed than with having her phony credentials exposed.
Even so, it’s very strange that the Grantland piece seems so incurious about the death of its subject. Though we’ll never know the answers, Hannan and his editors at least have a responsibility to ask themselves some difficult questions: What, if anything, should they have done differently? Should they have proceeded more cautiously once Hannan learned that Essay Anne Vanderbilt had attempted suicide before? Should they have published the story at all? (The Tampa Bay Times’ Leonora LaPeter Anton asked herself similar questions after the subject of one of her stories committed suicide. Her searching account is worth reading.)
I believe that “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” was a story worth telling, but this was not the right way to tell it. “What began as a story about a brilliant woman with a new invention had turned into the tale of a troubled man who had invented a new life for himself,” Hannan writes after describing Dr. V’s 2008 suicide attempt, at once revealing his ignorance about trans issues and his protagonist's utility as a fascinating narrative arc. When you reread the story knowing that Essay Anne Vanderbilt is dead, the whole thing feels cold-hearted. The subhead bills the piece as a “remarkable story behind a mysterious inventor.” The opening sentence notes, “Strange stories can find you at strange times.” Near the end, Hannan observes, “Writing a eulogy for a person who by all accounts despised you is an odd experience.”
Remarkable, strange, odd. These are adjectives that place some distance between us and what we’ve just heard. It’s not how anyone would talk about the death of someone they care about.
I don’t believe that Caleb Hannan and his editors were willfully callous. This is the kind of story, though, that breeds cynicism about journalists. It is a piece of writing that treats its subject as a series of plot points rather than a person, and that seems concerned with little else aside from propelling itself toward a dramatic conclusion.
It’s easy for Hannan’s fellow writers to believe in a colleague’s good intentions, to see how they might have made a similar mistake, and to explain to outsiders that journalism is a tough racket. It’s also easy to wave away Hannan’s harshest critics, the ones who say with no caveats or shading that this story killed Dr. V. But as writers have circled the wagons around Hannan on Twitter, it’s felt more like a support group than a workshop—you get the feeling that many journalists are more interested in what Hannan’s detractors got wrong than what they got right. There’s a whole lot of criticism, however, that’s impossible to dismiss, the angry words of people who believe the outing of a trans woman shouldn’t be treated as some kind of amazing twist. That’s an argument that every journalist needs to listen to and try to understand. It is the kind of story that’s worth telling.