At long last, I am embarking on a long-desired project, the completion of my first novel.
I have been writing for nearly as long as I could read. Before my 30s were defined by my love for photography, I spent much of my teens and 20s writing. Most people do the majority of the writing in their lives as children, whether they be book reports, essays, or other class assignments. Continue reading →
The loss of Grantland is profound. In an age of terrible content-aggregating websites like Bleacher Report, Huffington Post, Bustle, and others, Grantland stood out for it’s commitment to well-written content without gimmicks like listicles, slideshows, and click-bait. Bill Simmons (ESPN-supported) hired amazing writing talent. A new dawn in writing seemed to emerge, when a vanity website was able to lure a Pulitzer prize winner (Wesley Morris), but to me the bigger story was the emergence of relatively obscure writers like Zach Lowe and Bill Barnwell.
Zach and Bill quickly became among the best of the NBA and NFL writers in the entire country. They possessed a talent for bridging the divide between the observation crowd and those committed to analytics, bringing a complete look at their sports that nobody was pulling off.
So what was the issue with Grantland, beyond the loss of their founder, leader, and tour de force? The unfortunate answer is that the site simply wasn’t profitable. ESPN seemed willing to let it’s vanity site continue while supporting one of it’s most expensive personalities, but without Bill Simmons at the helm, that support immediately waned.
That’s what makes the demise of Grantland particularly sad. Those gimmicks, listicles, slideshows, and click-bait are making a lot of websites profitable. It could be that a site of the size and scope of Grantland was simply not feasible given today’s internet economics. And it could follow that the market for writers could be continuing to contract, leaving the low-paid bloggers and content farms to provide the bulk of the writing output.
This, my friends, is sad and tragic. The loss of Grantland is a loss for all of us.
Bill’s rise from writing a blog (when such a term was yet to exist) to the most influential sportswriter in the country was astonishing. I came to know Bill Simmons’ writing when his articles were appearing on ESPN’s Page 2 alongside industry hall-of-famers like Ralph Wiley and David Halberstam. Yet, it was the Sports Guy hailing from Boston that constantly caught my attention and were the articles I couldn’t wait to read. Here was a guy writing in the same way my friends and I looked at sports, as a passionate outsider. I didn’t mind the constant Beverly Hills 90210 and Karate Kid references either. His writing spoke to me, made me laugh several times an article, and on the days he published were the first thing I looked for on the ESPN website. Yes, back then, Bill published on schedule.
It wasn’t long before Bill was the featured writer on the ESPN homepage, eventually sharing that real estate with longtime SI writer Rick Reilly. Except, Reilly was clearly mailing in his articles, while Bill was constantly pumping out fantastic content.
To me, his greatest articles were his NBA Trade Value columns, his amazing and often hilarious NBA Draft Diaries, and of course, the mailbags ending with, “Yep, those are my readers.”
His writing approach was always accessible to regular fans. My favorite was his competition with his wife one year betting NFL games against the spread. She won, picking random teams for random reasons, and it was something we could all relate to.
Bill SImmons was a driving force behind the remarkably well-produced 30 for 30 series, which started as a way to celebrate the Worldwide Leader’s anniversary and became an outlet for serious but interesting looks at the phenomenon of sports and it’s affect on our culture.
I remember the Sports Guy cartoon, and how bad they were. Still they made me laugh.
Who can forget Bill’s Celtics Chants Twitter account that ended up with an entire arena in Boston chanting “New York Knicks” every time Lebron went to the free throw line in the playoffs? Bill’s influence was absolute.
I never found podcasts to be particularly interesting until Bill Simmons and ESPN launched the B.S. Report. It was nothing more than an outlet for Bill to talk to his friends (Jack-O, House, Cousin Sal, list goes on) but Simmons had the gift. The podcast was funny, interesting, and like a great television show, there was a lot of character development. It eventually became the biggest podcast on the internet.
Bill Simmons found his Mount Everest when he eventually launched Grantland, a website devoted to the long-form and his interests in sports and pop culture. The site launch was highly anticipated and the work was immediately good. In a world with no shortage of truly awful sportswriting, Grantland offered something different. Zach Lowe and Bill Barnwell in particular were indispensable, writing about the NBA and NFL with analysis that couldn’t be matched elsewhere. Bill Simmons not only was part of something great, he built it and brought in other greats to work with him.
I believe that Bill’s foray into television was the beginning of the end. Like Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann before him, he was now the star of the network and his decision-making bordered on arrogant. Who can forget the WEEI rant that got him suspended from social media?
How about the clear disagreement he had with Magic Johnson that he immediately denied? Bill’s rebuttal was that Magic was coming in to do a B.S. Report podcast that next day. By the way, that podcast never aired. Or his extremely public feud with Doc Rivers on his Celtics departure, going so far as to condescendingly call him Glenn on Twitter? It became clear to me that Bill lost his way when he completely mangled the publication and response to Caleb Hannan’s piece on Dr. V’s Magical Putter. An editor dedicated to their craft doesn’t allow that piece to air.
Bill Simmons’ name-dropping got increasingly tired. The worst was a column where he casually mentioned texting with Kobe Bryant, the Satan to his Boston-loving heart. He also began using his most humorous lines on Twitter, then completely recycled the same lines in his articles.
Bill also stopped writing. He published occasional mailbag columns, many of them rushed and lacking thought. His hallmark as a personality seemed to leave the station. The podcasts continued to be excellent, but I can’t tell you the last time I read and truly appreciated a column. And contrary to what some people say, Bill Simmons can write. His column on losing his beloved dog Daisy (The Dooz) was magical, and spoke to the soul of every pet owner that lost their best friend. But those wonderful columns have appeared to be history.
His last suspension for calling Roger Goodell a liar (I listened to the podcast before it was pulled) seemed over-the-top even for ESPN. What Bill said was fairly uncontroversial, and believed by the vast majority of the sports world, but ESPN has built a huge problem and conflict of interest. ESPN wants to be a huge broadcast partner to the entire sporting world, but also keep it’s journalistic talent intact. When those worlds collide, the result is rarely pretty. Bill responded by loading up his Instagram with various images of him relaxing and playing golf, sending a very insubordinate message.
I wonder how this next week will shape out and what his response will be. Bill has little to worry about beyond disappointment and embarrassment that he is being shipped out from the Worldwide Leader. He is very wealthy, and in his next destination (or destinations), he will be paid handsomely. The question now is where does he want to take his career now that the Bill Simmons ESPN divorce is upon us.
He could go back to dedicating himself to writing, and there will be an active audience for it. Bill will find another podcast network to join. Those will keep him popular, even if neither medium is likely to come close to approaching his current salary figure. There are some television opportunities, particularly on TNT, so it’s possible he could be mixing it up with Ernie, Steve, and Charles soon. Fox Sports is a possibility, in that they are a deep-pocketed entity looking to buy market share, but does Bill want to start from the bottom? For all of Katie Nolan’s immense talent, which Bill recognized when she was on his podcast, she has yet to really build a significant national audience.
What is the next chapter in this Bill Simmons ESPN story?
Most unlikely: Bill stays quiet and out of trouble. Privately, he finally speaks to John Skipper and they truly clear the air. Away from the media, some negotiation begins in earnest and before the end of September, ESPN issues a press release that Bill Simmons is coming back after all.
Not very likely: Bill launches a new Grantland, either with venture capital money or through another sports media partner.
Possibly: Bill starts freelancing for Deadspin, the filter is off, and he can finally pen his “Is Roger Goodell the Anti-Christ?” article. Please let this be true.
Likely: Bill leaves ESPN and Grantland immediately. Grantland continues without the same spark and enthusiasm. The site’s freelance contributers write less, and a sizable portion of the staff leave for greener pastures when their contracts end. The site is there, but without the same influence. Bill splits his work between a media property with NBA access (Turner) and another influential sports website (SI, Yahoo! Sports). He has less ability to dream big and work on new and innovative projects like he did at ESPN. Several years down the line, like Keith Olbermann and Jason Whitlock before him, he returns to the Worldwide Leader.
The Photographer’s Guide To Joshua Tree National Park will be coming out next month! On behalf of my co-author, Jeremy Long, I am very excited for the first edition release. The Guide will be available in multiple formats, Ibooks, Kindle, Nook, and a PDF edition. All should be readable on the device of your choice.
This is the point where finishing the guide becomes extremely stressful. Text must be completed, and then proceed through multiple revisions. Image placement will need to be just perfect. Every detail must be looked at, and most importantly, the book needs to be released. I am a perfectionist, and the quest for that perfection often results in little work completed. I am very much looking forward to the completion of the guide so we can proceed to the next one.
In about six months, I am planning to co-author my first book, the Photographer’s Guide To Joshua Tree National Park. My co-author and lifelong friend, Jeremy Long are extremely excited to bring this project to fruition.
Speaking for myself, I can’t wait to finish this guide for artists and photographers everywhere to enjoy. I am also quite nervous. Good artists are endlessly creative, but good artists who are smart also know how to bring a project to completion.
This goes against my perfectionist nature. Left to my own devices, I have no doubt that I would spend an eternity writing, rewriting, rearranging, redoing, starting over, and spinning in circles. Putting this guide together with a partner gives me a person who can push me to do my best work, but also work toward a defined result.
Partnering is very important. Nobody really makes it on their own. Even Ansel Adams had Alfred Stieglitz and Ed Weston. Ask any successful photographer and artist, and they will tell you that partnering and networking are crucial to being successful in their field.
This isn’t my strong suit, and I need the help. I can write pages and pages about carefully planning to shoot a scene in the best light, but thinking about networking with others and building relationships is lost on me.
This book makes me ponder my personal strengths and weaknesses. One of the keys in partnering with others is to find people who can help you with your weak points. Ideally, your strengths can then be a source of inspiration and mentorship for others as well. Don’t go it alone. Make the success of your friends and colleagues part of everything you do.
If all goes well, the Photographer’s Guide To Joshua Tree National Park will be the culmination of the efforts of two people with different expertise and strengths. We will seek to build a guide that provides the motivated photographer some tools to begin building a strong Joshua Tree portfolio. The book will not be exhaustive, because that is impossible. We are excited to bring this project to you and hope it is a welcome addition to the photography field.
I have started this new blog to offer a regular opportunity to communicate with those who share my interests in art, photography, writing, and travel.
I plan to use the blog for quick posts that will be much shorter than the Articles I plan to write on the website and longer than I want to post on my Twitter account, something right in between. I imagine that some of the short blog posts will eventually evolve into Articles and I hope this will stir creativity for me and my friends who read my work.
I look forward to sharing with you my thoughts, opinions, ideas, insights, and adventures out in the world, and in doing so I hope you can share too.