By Tim Backes, Senior Editor
Sports network ESPN made some headlines recently by deciding to suspend the publication of Grantland, a sports journalism website originally founded by renowned sportswriter and former ESPN employee Bill Simmons.
Grantland became highly respected over the past several years for its commitment to long-form sports journalism and analysis in an era in which online sports reporting has begun to rely heavily on clickbait and “lighter” pieces. The website provided in-depth looks into sports and pop culture subjects, with popular columns ranging from analyzing the Xs and Os of some of the most important NFL games of the week to critical reviews of “Game of Thrones” episodes.
In a statement October 30, ESPN officials said “the legacy of smart long-form sports story-telling and innovative short form video content will continue, finding a home on many of our other ESPN platforms.” However, many who are critical of the network’s decision to shut down the website believe it’s indicative of a company-wide shift toward more digestible blog and article writing. Even though Grantland attracted upwards of 7 million views per month, ESPN apparently no longer believed the effort put into the site was worthwhile.
Following trends in digital content writing
Those who follow ESPN closely are likely not very surprised at the decision. ESPN.com recently went through a full redesign that allows viewers to more quickly navigate through short pieces by scrolling to the next topic, rather than clicking through from the main page. Within the past several years, ESPN has also started pushing more social content curation, with full blogs, articles and TV segments devoted to what athletes are saying and posting on social media.
Thus, the closure of Grantland is in keeping with a several years-long trend at ESPN of favoring short, digestible, rapid-fire content over long-form, in-depth articles and reporting.
This trend is actually a microcosm of what we’ve seen with digital content in general. Most people who read article and blog content online are looking for something that’s easy and fast so they can get the information they need and move on. Part of this is the nature of online browsing, where there is so much other content instantly available with the click of a mouse. Another issue is the rise of mobile browsing, with smaller screens and shorter browsing times creating a need for correspondingly shorter, more efficient content.
Although ESPN may say publicly there is still a “home” for long-form storytelling and content writing, the suspension of Grantland is just the latest sign that fewer people seem to be looking for it, and marketers might need to be able to adapt to deliver content in smaller doses to readers.
Tim Backes is a senior editor with ProPRcopy, one of the nation’s leading copywriting services for businesses and organizations across nearly all industries.