So Grantland was officially shut down by ESPN this week. Some people think the long-form sports and pop culture website got a raw deal from the Worldwide Leader, while others were surprised it didn't happen sooner. And then there was Twitter, which flipped out about the Grantland news — but to be fair, Twitter flipped out about Twitter this week, too, so maybe you shouldn't put too much weight on that group's opinion.
I don't feel strongly about Grantland; I liked the site and I love long-form journalism, but I also understand the media is first and foremost a business. The media is also an insular institution, and things that make members of the media flip out (like websites shutting down) are not quite as important to readers outside that bubble.
One particular take on Grantland did catch my eye, though, and I think it matters for sportswriting: it's this piece by Awful Announcing on the "Kardashianization" of sports media. That first section is a hell of a hot take, and it rests on some flimsy arguments, but it develops into a thoughtful piece with a unique angle linking Grantland's demise and the coincidental rise of TMZ Sports.
I bring this up because it's November, the Rockies are doing nothing, the Hot Stove hasn't started, and now is the perfect time to explore some tangentially-related sports topics before baseball news takes hold over the winter and spring. If not now, when? But I also bring it up because this 'Kardashianization' of sports media impacts what you read about the Rockies, on this site and elsewhere.
Here's something about me: my full-time job is at one of the most infamous entertainment gossip sites in, well, the history of the Internet. (I love it, by the way. It's nothing like what you probably assume.) Part of my job duties there involve being the only staff member running the show on weekends; I see up-to-the-minute statistics on exactly what stories people are reading, where people are clicking, and what people are sharing. Guess what?
The Kardashians are king. There's a reason I half-jokingly refer to them in my Twitter bio. They do absolutely nothing, and people click on it. They give boring quotes, and people click on it. And when something big happens, people really click on it. Collectively, they are the most popular news stories on the site, by far, and it's not even close. I mention this so you know a little more about me and my expertise — please don't think less of me! — in order to combat the idea that dumping on the Kardashians is somehow a productive angle on media criticism.
There's a reason Grantland died. (Actually, probably many reasons.) There's a reason TMZ Sports partnered with FOX Sports 1 on a sports pop culture show. And there's a reason Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless are on First Take every day. There's a reason sports media has been, as Awful Announcing pejoratively describes, "Kardashianized" — and that reason is really simple. It's because people want it. People click on it. And to those in charge — those writing the checks — that's all that matters.
So while it's easy to be the high-and-mighty person raining down 'holier than thou' upon the Kardashians, or the pop culture side of sports, or ESPN's First Take, all that dismissive energy misses the simplest, most important fact in the entire equation: the frivolous stuff grabs eyeballs, and in turn, attracts advertisers.
It's the same reason so many outlets have so fervently gone the route of the hot take. As fragmented as sports media has become, there are thousands of sites, channels, and shows aiming for a finite number of clicks in a finite number of time. Depth and nuance are a slow burn, but the hot take brings instant reaction. Take a hyperbolic position like, say, calling on the Monforts to sell the Rockies; that's a strong angle and if you're a good writer it'll get a reaction. Who cares if it's also superficial and unrealistic?
We don't drop hot takes for the sake of doing it on this website, and I'm really proud to be part of a team that produces thoughtful content. (And it's not just us, there are plenty of thoughtful sites and individuals covering sports.) But for goodness' sake let's be real: we just ran a post comparing the Rockies to Justin Bieber. (And guess what? A lot of people clicked on it.) Before that, we published a bunch of Fight Club GIFs that relate to the Rockies. (A lot of people clicked on that, too.)
That's because people like dumb stuff, sometimes. You do, and I do, too. There's no point in policing that, or sending you on a guilt trip for liking mindless stuff every so often, or admonishing the 'Kardashianization' of sports media, because all of that ignores the fundamental free will of people actively seeking out that content in incredible numbers.
There is something you can do, I suppose. If you hate the 'Kardashianization' of sports media, or if you're tired of the hot takes (no, the Rockies won't sign Zack Greinke, and no, the Monforts will not sell the team), vote with your clicks. Let media outlets know with your eye balls, and your time. If it's too Kardashian for you, don't click it. Don't leave the angry comment on Facebook. Ignore it. If enough people ignore enough crap for enough time, rather than openly admonishing those who do click on it, things will change. At a certain point, it will impact the media's bottom line.
That may not be enough to save a respected outlet like Grantland, but it will slowly change the sports media landscape to be less focused on First Take, and more interested in producing deep, nuanced thoughts on the intersection of sports, culture, and society. Or ... maybe Stephen A. and Skip will thrive on television for the rest of eternity.
Also: I am still compiling fan interviews in response to this popular post from last week; the final piece will run on this site on Monday, November 9, for those interested.