From now on, my online writing will be published on Substack. This is my full-time job now.
I first started writing for Rolling Stone in 2003 and will continue a relationship with my good friends there, contributing print features and also maintaining the Useful Idiots podcast with Katie Halper. I love Rolling Stone and have been proud to represent the magazine over the years. If anyone cares to know, I wasn’t asked to leave.
I’ve been thinking about this for some time. Having had experience with Substack – I’ve serialized two books here in the last few years, including Hate Inc.– I believe the path for independent journalists is in a subscriber-based model.
Compensation in news media traditionally involves a reporter working for a corporation or a wealthy patron, who ostensibly paid staff with revenue from advertising and subscriptions. This used to be necessary because delivering content was expensive and required additional labor: design, printing, distribution, marketing, etc.
Distribution is instant now, design can be automated, and there are no printing costs. The logical endgame is cutting out middle steps and having journalists work directly for readers. I think I.F. Stone, who did it with a printed newsletter, had the right idea. This should not only be sustainable, but the preferable way to go.
Down the road you may see me commissioning work from other writers and investigative reporters, and publishing their work in this space. This would be in the spirit of the Neither Side News idea I’ve talked about occasionally. For now, however, I’m going to focus on doing as much of my own reporting as I can, especially in this crazy time.
A quick note on why independent journalism is needed more than ever:
As I wrote about in Hate Inc., the news business in America has for some time been cleaved into two groups. Roughly speaking, commercial news outlets are right-leaning or “left”-leaning. I put “left” in quotation marks because the orientation of outlets like MSNBC or the Washington Post is not really “left” but “aligned with the Democratic Party,” not the same thing.
This dynamic accelerated in recent years. Because Donald Trump is central to the marketing strategies of most outlets – MSNBC crafts news for Trump haters, Fox for the MAGA set, etc. – political reporting is mostly shaded in pro- or anti-Trump directions. When breaking stories happen (the assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is just one example) outlets scramble in the first moments to find pro- or anti-Trump angles, because audiences have been trained to look for them.
I worried about where this was headed four years ago:
The model going forward will likely involve Republican media covering Democratic corruption and Democratic media covering Republican corruption. This setup just doesn’t work.
Reporting and arguing blame used to be two separate activities, but journalists in the Trump era are trained to narrativize everything, with the consequence that we’ve drifted away from complex issues and toward saleable, simplistic, sports-like controversies. Heading into the Covid-19 disaster, we argued about Bernie Bros, Lev Parnas, Russian Facebook ads, and a host of other things that don’t seem all that important now. I was guilty of this, too.
The media business as constructed is expert at mass-generating binary streams of hot takes and talking points, and selling ads to a public engaged by them. It’s great business: cable profits have soared. But it’s a lousy system for getting to the bottom of difficult subjects, and boy do we have a lot of those to deal with all of the sudden.
Having spent the better part of eight years covering the subprime crisis and its aftermath, I hope to focus in this space on the financial aspects of the coronavirus mess. The moment we’re in right now equates to September 2008, when the world was melting down and historic, transformational decisions were being made at light speed. This time around, I want to catch as much of it in real time as possible, and will do so here on Substack. My first article on the crash and the rescue response is coming out today.
I’ll also be covering the presidential race – still going on the road as I have for five campaigns now – and if and when life returns to normal, will dip back into a true crime project and other subjects. The longer-term goal is to show that this is a model that can work for independent-minded reporters, not just financially but creatively.
Please bear with me as I get used to being an editor again, in addition to a writer. For instance, for the bailout piece I have coming out today, I wasted a good half-hour trying to find an illustration by entering “rich greedy assholes” in a Getty Images search. I’ll need a few turns to work out those kinks.
For those of you who’ve been subscribers already, I want to thank you. Had you not shown support in the last few years, I would have been afraid to make this move. In return, I’ll try to produce as much as I can, especially during this crisis period.
This also means, however, that you’re my full-time job now, and I’m going to have to be less shy about asking for your continued help. For now, however, stay safe, and let me thank you again for helping me try a new way of doing the job that I love.