By Konnor McIntosh @easymoney_mac
On a typical 2008 day for a pre-teen sports fan, one could be found watching endless loops of Brett Favre retirement news on ESPN or Yankees-Red Sox games every Sunday.
This may sound like a waste of time to many, but it was enjoyable to those who took inspiration from listening to and reading the best in the sports business such as Stuart Scott, Adam Schefter, Bill Simmons and Colin Cowherd. Today, with new on air talent and online writing personalities, the ESPN of old feels like a distant memory.
While still the go to stop for sports news. ESPN’s decline didn’t just come out of nowhere. Warning signs about controlling executives led to the departure of big names such as Dan Patrick, Cowherd, Bayless and Simmons, and this along with an unsustainable business model relying on expensive cable packages forced ESPN to recently layoff around 100 more employees according to Deadspin.
The people they laid off signaled a big direction shift and warning sign to people who are trying to enter the Sports journalism industry: If you do actual reporting and writing, we don’t have a place for you.
To start, there was a time about three to four years ago when ESPN prioritized longform journalism. Bill Simmons, who launched the ESPN-affiliated site Grantland, featured some of the best longform writers including Jonah Keri, Zach Lowe, Danny Chau and Shea Serrano and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Wesley Morris.
While many pop-culture/sports blogs are trashy, Grantland was the standard for quality writing featuring a good mix of the old-school and new-school writing styles.
So why was it shut down? Not because of budget, according to ESPN President John Skipper: “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.”
What this would later mean, as shown by the layoffs, is a more expanded presence with digital personalities, specifically on social media platforms with a lesser emphasis on true reporting.
What Skipper failed to realize is that former Grantland personalities such as Serrano, Lowe, Keri and Simmons himself all have a major social media presence and that they frequently interact with users, especially when one of their new stories pop up.
While Lowe still works for ESPN, he is one of the last remaining people to survive in the longform style.
Even the Men in Blazers, which is a two-man soccer show led by Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, drove more viewers to be interested in soccer in the 2014 World Cup on ESPN, left for NBC Sports Network and remains popular on social media during soccer season.
In addition to Grantland, Simmons spearheaded the creation of ESPN’s critically acclaimed 30 for 30 series, highlighting the best and most polarizing stories over the past thirty years.
It was a form of oral storytelling based on the best journalism had to offer- making real connections, getting amazing, reliable information and making it a great viewing experience.