The Classical: New Details About The Site All Of Your Friends On The Twitter Are Talking About
The new sports site The Classical, which is currently accepting donations on Kickstarter to help make its future launch date a reality, features a lineup of writers that will attempt to scratch an itch you might not even know you had. This itch is for discussions about "critical theory, punk rock, and Kevin Durant."
In other words, it will offer a "wide-ranging conversation" about sports (and other things), and will have longer pieces than you'd find on other sites. We know, we know: "Sports + Pop Culture x High-Ass Word Count" sounds an awful lot like Bill Simmons' recently launched site, Grantland. And while we can't say that The Classical is like Grantland because, you know, The Classical isn't actually a thing yet, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if it was.
This is because the guys behind it are good at what they do. The site already boasts an impressive roster, with writers who have written for "the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, GQ, The Nation, Yahoo! Sports, New York Magazine, Vice, Pitchfork, and more." (Some names we will throw out, if you like to take a quick Google detour: Bethlehem Shoals, Lang Whitaker, Eric Freeman.). They are a collection of blog-savvy sports writers who have loftier goals than the average blog-savvy sports writer, and they are working on a project together.
Naturally, we were curious. We exchanged emails with WSJ, Vice, Awl, and Can't Stop the Bleeding writer David Roth about the new site. Since the site will feature many, many words, we decided to send him emails with many, many words. He answered with even more words.
What follows is a ton of words about The Classical.
SportGrid: First of all, who narrates the video on the Kickstarter page?
David Roth: I have to check with Tom Scharpling on that. But for a placeholder answer let's just say that it's either Gene Hackman or... I am actually pretty sure it's Gene Hackman. (Actually, Shoals informs me that it's Robert Cuthill, who also did the voiceover for The Cat Whisperer).
[Ed. Gene Hackman's reps did not return our calls]
SG: What was the impetus behind The Classical website? Did someone come up with the idea and pitch it around to everyone else? Were you all just drinking at a bar complaining about executives getting in the way of what you wanted to write about?
Roth: I've actually never met any of the people on the masthead in person. But I think all of us, in different bars at different times, have come up with this idea. And by "all of us" I don't just mean the people on The Classical's Kickstarter page -- I mean everyone who tries to write in an intelligent, slightly off-kilter way about sports. The NBA Playoff blog we did at GQ was kind of a dry-run for this in a sense -- Tom Scharpling wrote for it, and so did Lang Whitaker and Eric's Nusbaum and Freeman; Nathaniel and I were more regular contributors. It was fun and it worked and that experience made the prospect of doing it bigger and for real something that was a lot less barroom bullshit and more something that could actually happen. But before that, the actual impetus for The Classical, I think, was Shoals (and almost everyone else) getting laid-off at FanHouse. He started calling different people, talking to people who understand business and people like me, who habitually overuse adjectives. We all did the same, and are still doing it -- that's kind of the most fun (or at least the least-harrowing) part for the time being, is thinking about writers we want to write for us, and asking them to do it.
Speaking for myself, with very rare exceptions I've never been all that frustrated with higher-ups, but I've been lucky to write for some really great editors at the mainstream-y places I've worked for, and also to write for webbier venues like The Awl and Can't Stop The Bleeding, which gave me a lot of room and trust to do what I wanted. But yeah, there's some "Let's just do it ourselves" behind what we want to do; that's a big part of why we're using Kickstarter, too. The sports conversation is kind of narrowly proscribed, even with all the opening-up that the internet has offered, and I think I speak for the rest of the team in saying I'd love to help change that. We aren't going to be turning away pitches because they're too abstruse or obscure or hard-to-sell-ads-against, I promise, and I think the site will be way better for that.
SG: Your Kickstarter page discusses a couple of full-time editors in the first year. Do you know which writers will be brought on full-time? Do you already have a publisher lined up you can talk about with us?
Roth: Right now, the plan is to have Shoals and I doing bloggy stuff every day, with the other people--and other writers we're still talking to and/or haven't met yet -- doing weekly or bi-weekly columns and the periodic longer essay. And we do have a publisher on board, although he prefers to work in the shadows right now. I can tell you he lives here in New York and has worked at a bunch of big-ticket places (Fox Sports, NBA.com, that sort of thing) in a managerial capacity, and that he seems very smart to me. And he has been a huge help with the first steps -- I don't know how to draw up a budget, let alone present things to potential advertisers, and my checking account and personal appearance attest to that. The $50,000 we're asking for on Kickstarter is admittedly a big amount, but it's what the publisher (and the other people we've talked to who would know) says is the minimum to get our development done the way we want and keep this thing running for a year or so, until we can get advertisers and sponsors on board.
SG: In a perfect world, when would you launch (you mentioned December of this year as a launch date-is that for a beta version only)?
Roth: Best case scenario, we'd get something up by the World Series--December is when we were going to get our chip clips and t-shirts in the mail, but the hope is that we'd get stuff going before then. We're going to start tumbling some stuff--old and new--before the fundraising campaign is over, but much of this is still up in the air. A lot of it. We'll keep everyone posted via The Twitters, naturally.
SG: In terms of what the site will be like, Deadspin has already compared you with Grantland, but according to your kickstarter page, you feel more like the Awl. Aside from Pete Beatty's reference to Colson Whitehead's Occasional Dispatches from the Republic of Anhedonia, can you differentiate yourself from Grantland.com and explain how you're more Awl-like?
Roth: This is a tough one to answer, mostly because we are not actually a site yet, which means any compare/contrast stuff is necessarily going to be pretty abstract. But the reason for the (aspirational) Awl comparison, besides the fact that many of us have written for it and all of us read and love it, is that they built their site organically--through engaging readers and creating a (spectacularly and implausibly friendly, intelligent and positive) community in the comments, and through keeping the quality of writing high and being open-minded about what they'll cover. What unites the stuff there isn't that it's all on a specific topic or series of topics so much as that it's written well and fits within a bigger, more amorphous aesthetic. I always get kind of queasy with the word "brand," but when people say that The Awl's brand is strong I think they mean that it is a site you can trust to be dope, no matter the topic -- you trust the writers and the editors to do good work; whether Maria Bustillos writing on David Foster Wallace or Julian Assange or Scientology or whatever, you'll read it because you know she's great and that the people editing it are making her greater, even if she (or Abe Sauer, or whoever) seems to be writing out of their usual comfort zone. We'd love to get there.
SG: Who is your ideal reader? Can you get more specific than just a smart sports fan, and tell us about how some essays will be commissioned by the readers.
Roth: The ideal reader is R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets. But, really, anyone who likes to read, and cares about both sports and things that are not sports. And the idea of having the readers commission essays... I don't remember who came up with that, I know it wasn't me, but I love it. Every writer works for his or her readers; this takes the abstraction out of that, and should also be a pretty fun challenge. One contributor is asking for an essay on what Jason Giambi does during the offseason. I assume she'll be cool with me making that up, but man I cannot wait to make that shit up.
SG: The domain name for www.theclassical.com is still for sale. Are you guys going to buy it?
Roth: Whole different (and even more quixotic) Kickstarter campaign there, my man. At the risk of stepping on the URL-squatter's I-won't-sell-for-less-than-five-figures grind, I think it's fair to say that unless Kanye West or A-Rod or a member of the Saudi royal family decide to put a bid in for that address, it's going to remain available. If the owner wants to donate it to the Kickstarter campaign, though, I'm sure we can throw him a few chip clips and such.
SG: Pick one professional athlete or musician that best represents what the classical is trying to do and why (and you can’t use The Fall)?
Roth: This is a really good question, and I'm going to see what the other ed-board people say. But I'll keep it athletical and say Chris Paul. Watching him play in the NBA Playoffs (RIP) reminded me of how great and strange he is to watch -- at some level he's just a great, tough basketball player, but the way he kind of probes and recovers and takes these odd angles is as boxer-ly as it is basketball, and it gives the games an experimental edge that even those featuring other great point guards don't. He plays a lot more in control than we'll probably be, but it's a nice thing to aim for.
SG: Aside from his surname commemorating the 22nd AND 24th U.S. Presidents, a nickname for the Macedonian King, and over 370 career wins, why threaten a 25,000 word essay on “Old Pete” Alexander? Is it even a threat when we’re genuinely fascinated with the idea?
Roth: I'm glad you're fascinated by it, because I'm pretty sure Tim Marchman was going to write it anyway.
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