Grantland is the new website edited by ESPN’s Bill Simmons. Among the first articles to be posted there is “The Greatest Paper That Ever Died”, the oral history of The National, a sports daily that existed for a brief and shining moment about 20 years ago.
Never mind that the paper lost $150 million in less than a year-and-a-half, it boasted a stable of brilliant writers and their anecdotes about that journalistic experiment are filled with wisdom and warnings for writers, whatever their field or genre.
Sf authors will tell you that short stories and novellas make different demands on their skills. Here’s how one former National writer colorfully described a comparable problem:
Pierce: I don’t think I ever had a story idea turned down at The National. Long-form narrative is always what I’ve wanted to do, but I went to the Boston Herald because of the money. I spent years there writing tabloid-length sports columns — 500, 600, 700 words — and was really bored. Working at The National was like working for SI, only working for SI on a daily basis. I always tell people, did you see Bridge on the River Kwai? Where they put the guy in the box, and they leave him in the box for a week and a half or something, and they open the box and he can’t walk anymore because he can’t remember? That’s the way I felt when I sat down to write my first National piece. Holy God, I’m going to write 3,500 words again. How do I do that?
Another alum admits one of The National ‘s handicaps was its writer-based prose:
Correa: Our editorial staff wrote a lot for the editorial staff. Instead of writing a daily newspaper, they were writing a magazine that was impressing other writers…. The guy I would love to have reached was Joe Six-pack, and Joe Six-pack didn’t need to read how the GM of the Mets reminded the writer of the Phoenicians. My immediate reaction was the guy reading this paper thinks the Phoenicians play in Phoenix.
The article is a great read – it’s a bonus if you know sports, of course.