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On Writing on the Internet About Highered

The demise of one website prompts me to reflect on my own place here at IHE. 

November 3, 2015
 

“The world of Internet writing was already homogenous when I wrote my angry blog post in March 2011. It’s more so now—the weird people are ignored, or shunted back into the dim corners. When I landed the Grantland job, it felt like I’d been delivered from certain obscurity. To steal a phrase from Thom Yorke, I had jackknifed the juggernaut. It may be that I’ll soon slip back into the place that scared me so much, but at least I had a chance. The odds are longer now, and they’ll get longer year by year until we become a diverse array of faces who all think the same way. Grantland gave me a shot at beating those odds. Younger versions of myself now have one less shot, and that’s what we’ve lost.”

-- Shane Ryan, Requiem For Grantland

Grantland, a popular but not particularly profitable sports and pop culture website, was unceremoniously shut down last Friday by its corporate owners, ESPN. The news spread like the viral wildfire it deserved to be, and a surprising number of academics I follow were as sad and dismayed by the news as I was.

As I still am.

Somewhere in my virtual pile of unfinished blog posts, there is one on the weird and wonderful site that was Grantland and what possible lessons higher education could learn from it. It would have been insufferable, but I couldn’t help but take note of a website that paid its writers well to create unique and thoughtful content, no, articles and pieces of writing on their own terms. It didn’t worry about publishing at 7:30 a.m. Eastern, and instead published on Left Coast time. How could a website that so thumbed its nose at conventional wisdom and practices survive (spoiler: it didn’t) and what could we learn in higher education from it (spoiler: DIFFERENT IS BAD AND SO ARE FAIR WAGES)?

It was personal, too, though, my relationship with the site. One of the baseball writers was from Montreal and an Expos fan! They had a hockey writer who was a Leafs fan and was self-aware enough to know how sad that is! One of the music writers shamelessly spoke about liking popular music in the 1990s, like me!

But they also talked about race and gender and class in both sports and pop culture, in ways I hadn’t really read or seen anywhere else on the Internet. Or at least not anywhere that was trying to turn a profit and owned by one of the largest media conglomerates in the world (a running joke was coming up with different ways in articles about Marvel or Star Wars the authors could put in the disclaimer that Disney owns ESPN which owns Grantland and just about every other profitable pop culture product out there right now).

This was one of the two non-higher education related websites I went to daily, and more than once. There was a routine, and there were features I knew were coming. I’ll never know how they all collectively react to watching The Force Awakens in December, or even the reaction to the final games of the World Series. They were a community of, as described in the quote above, misfits from the internet who were brought together in one place, and we all benefited from it. Heck, in a lot of ways, we were a part of it, as illustrated by the writers who individually thanked every single person (myself included) who said kind words to them about the site closing and how much we were going to miss them.

When I read the piece linked and quoted at the beginning of this post, I finally realized why I was so heartbroken by the shuttering of Grantland – I am a misfit who writes on the Internet who has somehow found a home and an audience here at IHE and OMG WHAT IF THIS WENT AWAY TOO?

In 2010, I was blogging in my little corner of Eastern Kentucky and I wrote an angry blog post that I submitted and ended up on IHE, and then I ended up with my own space here on IHE, and it has literally changed my life. But this blog space here at IHE has always been a home and a space for misfit voices in academia. While the academic blog space with small but thriving, the mainstream higher education media was fairly homogenous. Putting adjuncts and community college people and people who talked about teaching and deans and, well, basically anyone who isn’t tenured at an Ivy or major public R1 or elite SLAC…It had been a space for me to read and then to be a part of that community, that my voice was going to get to be a part of it…

I am forever grateful for this space, on the front page of the website, for all of us misfit voices in higher education. Losing Grantland, while an imperfect parallel, drove that message home for me. I have not been shunted into a dark corner or forced to homogenize my writing. I need to remember that. I need to keep taking advantage of this space, this opportunity, to keep being a misfit on the internet. 

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