Interview: Glenn Stout talks about new SBNation site

In February I drove five-plus hours to meet and interview Glenn Stout, series editor of The Best American Sports Writing and author of numerous books, for a profile I wanted to write. Stout was more than welcoming and willing to give me any and all the information I needed for the story.

While writing the profile of Stout — which took months because I wrote it whenever I had a few minutes after working one of my many jobs — a new project came up that he was asked to be involved in. I got an email one day explaining that there was something new, but it wasn’t finalized yet. Then I got a phone call and Stout told me all about a project he had been asked to work on for SBNation, the sports blogging network. He was ecstatic about the idea of working with writers on longform stories for the traditionally short blog post oriented site.

This was all great and well, but it didn’t find a place in my story, which ran in August on The Classical, one of my favorite sites on the Internet, so I held off on the idea of writing about Stout’s new project until it came closer to the site’s launch. Today is that day: the site launches and the world will be introduced to another longform oriented sports site, this time, though, it will be under the control of the man who judges sports writing every year for the preeminent collection. 

With that said, Stout and I passed along some emails about the new project. Stout graciously answered my questions about the what’s  and why’s of SBNation’s new project. Here is my interview with him:

Kevin Koczwara: Glenn, can you explain this project? What is it and what can people expect?

Glenn Stout: The general intention for SBNation Longform  (sbnation.com/longform) is to deliver a new story each weekday – a profile, a feature, an enterprise or investigative story, or a personal memoir or essay. One day each week will generally be commentary from SB Nation writers like Bomani Jones, and I am only one of several people responsible acquiring content.  I will be looking for the same kind of stories I look for as Series Editor for The Best American Sports Writing, stories that are well written, well reported and will have appeal both to sports and non-sports fans.  

KK: What makes this different from other SBNation projects?

GS: SBNation is primarily known for blogs that delivers news and opinion on a daily basis, something SBNation has done quite well and quite successfully; they have some great people on board. But what they haven’t done much of is true longform journalism - reported features and the like, the kind of writing you want to read more than once. This new page will focus on this kind of journalism, present it in a very attractive, forward thinking way, using video and other media when it makes sense to help tell the story.

KK: Will this new project interfere with your work on The Best American Sports Writing?

GS: No. I’ve always juggled multiple projects and for the time being I’ve set aside most of my own book writing to make sure that both of these projects can co-exist. I’m reading as much as ever for BASW, probably more, because I need to be keenly aware of what kind of work is being done and who is doing it. I’ll continue to work as Series Editor for BASW and don’t foresee any conflict; other Best American series editors work in the writing business in some capacity, and this is no different. I’ll take measures – as I always have – to insure that  BASW selections are made without regard to source or author. All stories I put forward to the Guest Editor are done blindly anyway, and the guest editor – not me – selects the stories that actually make it into the book.

KK: What made you interested in taking on this project?

GS: Beginning with the oral history I wrote, Nine Months at Ground Zero, over the past decade I’ve spent more and more time working with the words of others -  consulting with  book authors on a contract basis or informally, on an ad hoc basis with writer friends, talking story – how to approach a subject, how to shape it and write it. These are all issues I’ve thought about every day for decades as I’ve looked for stories for BASW. I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed this kind of work and gratified that others have found my input useful. This opportunity allows me the chance to do this on a larger scale.

After publishing millions of words of my own work, it is actually refreshing not having to think of all the words myself, and it’s a real joy to talk shop with writers and help someone turn an idea into a fully realized story, going back and forth and getting knee deep in words. I particularly like working with younger and lesser known writers  - seeking them out, helping them build a story, and, most importantly, giving them a chance. I’ll consider pitches and talk to anyone - if you have a good idea, know how to report and can write, I want to hear from you.  I won’t be responsible for all the content, but for the stories I assign I will be the editor; no one else. I like voices; work will not be edited into paste.

KK: Is there a market for another longform sports journalism outlet? And how will this site compare to others like Grantland and my personal favorite, The Classical?

GS: There is always a market for quality writing. We’re not trying to duplicate any other site or any other publication;  Grantland,  Sports on Earth, The PostGame, The Classical, Deadspin, ESPN and even magazines like Sports Illustrated are all doing something different. So are we. We’re not bound to the news of the day. I’m personally not interested in writing from the couch, or work that apes sports talk radio or exists just to create empty arguments, and we’re not posting twenty stories a day. I’m focused on one thing – making sure you’ll find a sports story worth reading and spending time with, stories you can’t get anywhere else, that you’ll share with your friends, talk about, download to your tablet to read again and want to come back tomorrow to see what’s next.  I think we’ll produce lasting work that will stand up to what any other outlet is doing and I’ll put our best up against anyone else’s. 

KK: Give me a taste of a few writers and their stories that will be making their way to the site in the first few weeks. Are there a few people should have their eye on?  

GS: I use a large definition of sports, so while there will be plenty of writing about traditional sports - football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer -  I’ve also taken stories on video gaming, horseshoes, and women’s hockey. What has been most  gratifying is the number of people who have expressed interest in contributing and who have said they want to work with me.  There will be names readers will know from The Best American Sports WritingMichael Mooney, Pat Jordan, and Elizabeth Kaye, for instance - as well as talented writers who have produced terrific work who many readers might encounter here for the first time, like Leander Schaerlaeckens, Alex Belth, Ashley Harrell, Matt Tullis, and Rachel Toor –  talented, accomplished writers who deserve to be read . To this point I could not be happier with the quality of work I have acquired.

KK: Is there anything else people should know about the SBNation page?

GS: I’m working my ass off to make it as good as possible, so are the writers I’m working with, and so is SBNation.