With the loss of Bill Simmons, his beloved baby, Grantland has been plugging along. ESPN named Chris Connelly, a former entertainment writer with Rolling Stone and ABC’s movie reporter, as the site’s interim editor-in-chief.
When Simmons was in charge, he insulated the staff from the machinations at ESPN, allowed them to grow, allowed them to pursue just about any story they wanted and through it all, the site gained a good reputation for longform stories with a mix of sports, pop culture with some politics thrown in. The site had Simmons’ touch.
But with Simmons gone, the staff which was brought in by him and nurtured by him faces an uncertain future. Grantland isn’t very profitable for ESPN and according to Deadspin, the staff fears that the corporate suits may either attempt to hire a big name to run the site or merge it with Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight and The Undefeated which recently lost Jason Whitlock as its editor-in-chief.
With Simmons, Grantland had a unique personality. He was the face of Grantland, but also its vigorous editor-in-chief. With Connolly temporarily in charge, staffers complain that he doesn’t understand the site’s purpose:
In private, Grantland writers and editors give contradictory appraisals of Connelly’s performance during the month and a half he’s served as EIC. Some say he’s been just fine as a band-aid; others describe him as a company man and unabashed star-fucker who just doesn’t grasp the purpose of the site. (Multiple staffers have told Deadspin of times that Connelly has meddled with pieces; while one person’s meddling is another’s editing, we’re told that articles are invariably worse off for his participation.) Either way, Connelly was screwed from the start. Simmons personally hired everyone on staff, many of whom are young and haven’t worked under anyone else. They were close with Simmons; he supported them, and gave many of them their first shot at a national audience. Whoever came in was going to face some skepticism.
Through it all, Simmons loyalists are beginning to look elsewhere. Deadspin says Wesley Morris who Simmons brought in from the Boston Globe in 2012, is in talks to join the New York Times. Others writers are looking to make similar deals with other employers making this look like a mass exodus when their contracts with ESPN expire.
ESPN president John Skipper has said that he is committed to keeping Grantland alive and untouched, but staffers feel otherwise. Right now, Grantland continues to plug along, but without its fearless leader and the man who helped bring the site to fruition, it faces a rather uncertain future.
Even if the site remains untouched, the staff will likely have a large turnover and whomever is the permanent editor-in-charge will have to bring many writers to replace those who have left and steer Grantland into some very choppy uncharted waters.