I have a friend — to protect the innocent we’ll call him “Larry” — who I’ve nicknamed The Truth. Yeah, I know. That’s supposed to be Paul Pierce’s nickname. But you know what, I’m pretty sure Larry might have earned it first. If Pierce wants his nickname back, he can come earn it. Until then, it’s Larry’s.
How did this nickname come to be, you ask? There has to be a story, right? And indeed there is.
Once upon a time, Larry was telling me about how he got his start in writing. He was in high school and a writer from The New York Times came to class one day to talk about the business. The writer asked every kid in the room if he or she was interested in pursuing a career in journalism. Every kid declined. Except one.
Amidst all the naysayers, the writer surveyed the lone student who volunteered his affirmation.
“So,” the scribe inquired, “are you any good?”
Without hesitation, the kid responded, “Yeah, I’m the truth!”
And thus The Truth came upon a pseudonym and a career in one moment of unadulterated confidence.
The funny thing about this anecdote, to me at least, is that it’s more than just a story to tell. A kid with the balls to proclaim himself the archenemy of all falsehood is not just a snicker-inducing tale of whimsy, but a microcosm of the industry that is journalism. If you plan on succeeding in a business that requires you to sit alone in a room and exude fortitude through a keyboard day in and day out, you better have some attitude to back your sh*t up. It might sound cocky. But it’s the reality of the situation.
I bring this up because of the uncertain journalistic times we currently live in.
The average reader may not be aware of this, but being a professional writer kinda sucks right now. It does. Newspapers have been failing for some time (you probably knew that much), prose has been replaced by YouTube videos, the attention span of the American consumer is getting shorter, and writing — real writing — is becoming a lost art.
Ad revenue can no longer fully fund media outlets the way it once did, which is leading to cutbacks in all forms and fashions. Good people are losing their jobs, talented people can’t find jobs, space once reserved for the genuine article in your favorite publication is now being sold to a sex pill company just to make ends meet.
At the same time, sites like this very one you happen to be reading are cutting into the professional mesosphere, providing free information and free opinions to whomever wants to listen. Some people call it the rise of the blogs, but it’s not that. Anyone can have a blog, and millions of people do. Most blogs have zero gravity with casual readers, though. Few get off the ground and prove relevant in any way.
But for those that do — the Deadspins and TMZs of the world — the impact is absolutely devastating to what we like to think of as “mainstream” media. Not only are these renegade outlets providing accurate information, they’re doing it faster and in a sexier manner than the old boys’ network.
And yet while these superblogs are accomplishing two very meaningful things — satiating a hungry consumer population and profiting through disgusting amounts of ad revenue — they’re simultaneously burning their bridges as they cross. What I mean by that is this:
While blogs are seen as direct competition to mainstream media, the superblogs of the world are becoming more like e-tabloids in their presentation of material. They gag you with headline after headline, only to disappoint you when it comes to actual reading material. For those of you who visit these sites, perhaps you’ve noticed that when you click through to an actual article, there’s nothing there. A photo, maybe. A few explanatory sentences. But that’s it. And therein lies the problem.
Superblogs have very nearly exited the world of journalism and established their own unique niche, leaving the door open for mainstream media to reclaim its throne atop the industry. Problem is, mainstream media is so busy dusting up the ashes of their burned-down house that they can’t capitalize on the opportunity. Sure, they could reallocate space to, you know, actual writing. But that would mean cutting ad space, which in turn would lead to lost revenue. Lost revenue means you can’t pay the bills, and if you can’t pay the bills, before you know it you’re out of business.
What journalism has become is basically an advertising arms race. He who has the most ad revenue wins. The writing doesn’t matter anymore, and the consumer just hasn’t realized that that’s a problem because, again, attention spans are getting shorter. Look up from your iPhone for a minute and pay attention, damn.
So what now?
There is a growing belief that, because of this niche carved out by the superblogs, long-form writing could be making a comeback on hybrid websites that incorporate elements of mainstream media and blog format.
What is long-form writing, you ask? Well, what you’re reading right now could be considered just that. It’s a style of writing that ebbs and flows and presents information in the context of a story, rather than in snippets or catchy ledes or images or viral videos.
And what is a hybrid media website? That’s a little more complex, but let me explain.
You may have heard about Grantland.com, a brand new website created by the esteemed Bill Simmons. Simmons, for those of you who don’t know, is an employee of ESPN.com and arguably the most renowned sportswriter in this great nation of ours. Unlike many of his cohorts, Simmons employs a long-form, narrative style that is punctuated by a casual, everyman tone, along with pop culture references that would make VH1 proud.
Regardless of who he is or isn’t, Simmons’ writing style is appealing because it’s easy to read, easy to get, and easy to digest. You don’t have to think too hard to enjoy his articles, but that’s not to say they aren’t smart, because they are. What Simmons does well is convey intellect in a non-intellectual fashion. He can simplify the most difficult topic you’d want to learn about so that even a child could understand it. He’s like what WikiPedia ended up being for your college study career (Ohhhh…that’s what gentrification is. Got it. Thanks, WikiPedia!). This is really what gives him his edge.
So back to this new venture of his, Grantland.com.
On a daily basis, this website of his is being scrutinized by almost everyone in the business of sports journalism. Why? Because as Simmons goes, so go the masses. And what does that mean? Well, for one thing, Simmons is one of those pioneers that, for years, has straddled the fence between mainstream media and the blogosphere. He’s an accredited journalist, and yet he writes in a conversational manner, much like a blogger would. Grantland is a collection of Simmons disciples, handpicked by the man himself, devoted to transcending media and, in essence, seizing the niche vacated by tabloid superblogs and left for dead by newspapers and the like.
Should Grantland succeed, it would bring about a new style of journalism that would combine elements of mainstream media (accredited journalism in an unrestricted, long-form format) with elements of a blog (relaxed tone, edgy material, uncensored language) to give consumers the best of both worlds (shout out to Miley Cyrus).
The power of this one website alone is completely unprecedented.
First of all, this is the type of media that could legitimately put the mainstream out of its misery. A successful Grantland would spawn imitators, and those imitators would hire talent away from newspapers, leaving gaping sinkholes in an already-decaying field. No talent, no ads, no money, no business. And that would be the end of that.
Second, this could effectively unite the network of talented bloggers that know what the hell they’re doing when they write. If those bloggers began to work for start-up media conglomerates, the only bloggers left would be all those no-talent ass-clowns that spread their crap all over your Twitter and Facebook feeds all the time…wait. Hopefully you directed yourself to this page and didn’t click through from, you know, Twitter…or Facebook.
But that’s neither here nor there.
You know what I’m talking about. There are enough “writers” out there who give legit bloggers a bad name. People who think they’re reporting the news when they can’t spell half of what they type and have a third-grade vocabulary to supplement their shaky grasp of the alphabet. Yeah, dude, everyone’s interested in your sh*tty game recap. Why read the AP when we’ve got you, right?
Instead of having thousands upon thousands of worthy blogs percolating in the nether reaches of the web, all those scribes might end up under one domain, blessed with the freedom to shoot from the hip, all while collecting a paycheck and giving a big ol’ middle finger to the fans of the mainstream. Generations of individuals who have slowly steered themselves away from the feeling of dead trees between their fingertips would find a place to go for actual reading material, and even the tabloid-seekers would find value in the racy subject matter.
So what’s the point in all this, anyway? You’ve dragged us this far, give us some meaning. I get it.
This whole diatribe came to fruition when I was talking with my friend Larry. We’re at interesting points in our lives, crossing paths if you will, but headed in different directions. He’s a columnist seeking the liberation of a blog-type atmosphere, and I’m a blogger seeking the security of a columnist’s career. Unfortunately, because of the constraints of the industry, neither of us can easily find what we’re looking for right now. That could all change, however, with the advent of a Grantland and a shift in how the business operates.
Thing is, you can’t just be a kid with an attitude who wants to be a journalist anymore. Journalism, as a whole, is sputtering. Or at the very least, going through an extreme metamorphosis.
But even for those of us, myself included, who know that they’ve got the potential to do this, it’s a test of patience. There is a severe dependence on the titans of the industry to manipulate the outcome of the game in order to better the chances for us all. And in the end, no matter what action we try to take or how we feel about the situation, it’s become the reality of the biz.
And so…we wait.