Tuesday October 20th, 2015

ESPN president John Skipper, who graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in English literature and earned a master's degree in English literature from Columbia University, is a man who respects quality writing. I remember two years ago seeing him in Nashville during the women’s Final Four with his nose in a novel on his way back to his hotel from a restaurant. In the many interviews I’ve had with him, Skipper has often referenced specific Grantland writers he enjoys without being prompted.

I have no doubt Skipper is a fan of Grantland – he’s said so on many occasions – and he seems to be the only person with the power and inclination to clean up the mess that exists, if he even wants to clean it up. As James Andrew Miller – the most plugged-in reporter on ESPN working today -- wrote in Vanity Fair last week, Grantland faces more uncertainly than ever after an exodus of multiple staffers and others actively looking to jump ship following the departures of Bill Simmons and editorial director Daniel Fierman.

Wrote Miller: “Discussions on background with Grantland staffers past and present (ESPN executives associated with Grantland declined to talk on the record or on background for this column) reveal that the site is beset by a climate of fear, a cycle of mistrust, and a belief amongst several that staff are “treated like children.” An overall lack of communication with management has been beyond frustrating for the staff. Many heard about [interim editor Chris Connelly’s appointment on their Twitter feeds—precisely where Simmons had learned of his Many heard about Connelly’s appointment on their Twitter feeds—precisely where Simmons had learned of his dismissal. Since its 2011 founding, Grantland has served as a channel for Simmons to expand the Grantland staff’s distinctive point of view to journalism and criticism, a no-fear zone within the ESPN empire. That privileged position can safely be considered history. There is fear now, not only for the survival of the staff—with still more departures rumored imminent—but also for the survival of Grantland itself, unthinkable as that may have seemed even a year ago

You can (and should) read the rest of Miller’s pieces here and here. It’s strange that ESPN has not made Grantland executives available to talk to reporters about the site, if only to assure the staff that what they are telling them privately matches up to what they put out externally. At that moment, to be blunt, things are a mess. One example: Last week Grantland’s NFL podcasters Bill Barnwell and Robert Mays spent part of their popular podcast praising five Grantland staffers who were leaving the site, including four who are joining Simmons. That praise was inexplicably edited out of their podcast by management, rightfully angering the podcasters. Grantland staffers took notice of what happened. That podcast has not aired since. ESPN declined comment on specific questions about the podcast, a pattern that has generally extended to questions about Grantland. “There’s a Kremlinesque aspect to them sometimes, and times when they are very cooperative,” Miller says of covering ESPN.

That’s the backdrop for this 65-minute podcast I did with Miller, the author of the best-selling book, Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN.

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