I’m sorry, but this is yet another blog post about Substack. Sort of.
Depending on who you ask, Substack and its many imitators are a godsend or the downfall of modern journalism. Really, it’s just a newsletter platform that pays some people money and gives independent writers a way to collect revenue from subscriptions. That’s it.
There has been a lot of opining (so much!) about how “the media” will survive losing the writers who have left their cushy jobs at NYT, WaPo, CNN, or Vox to go it alone on Substack.
It’s almost as if this has never happened before. Like back when people left newsrooms to start their own publications. Or to create blogs. Or do TV shows. But I digress.
Frankly, the loss of these voices isn’t a concern to me. As Will Oremus noted in Slate, many of these departing writers are not primarily known for their hard-hitting reporting anyway. They’re pundits, the sort of column writers that get invited onto cable news panels and podcasts. They’re also primarily white guys of a similar age that I probably couldn’t pick out of a lineup*.
This might be a crazy thought, but what if this is a good thing? I’m sure these folks’ columns masquerading as reporting get good pageviews, or else they wouldn’t have gone independent. But so what? I would bet that every newsroom that has lost some superstar white dude has many more talented writers and interesting personalities in its ranks that could become big stars.
Maybe if so many media writers and newsrooms leaders weren’t themselves white dudes of a certain age, they could see this opportunity for what it is.
The departure of these bright lights might free up some salary and oxygen for more women, journalists of color, and other underrepresented groups in the newsroom to get their shot at the spotlight.
That would require our biggest and most prominent news organizations to think creatively about assessing the skills and ambitions of their current staff and considering who they need to recruit. It can be done!
As for those underrepresented newsroom voices – get your newsletter and column pitches together now! It’s only a matter of time before the next [young, white male] journalist is tapped to be the next big newsroom star.
* Many of my friends (and my spouse) are white, male journalists. I can like them and also think they are wildly overrepresented in news, especially in the ranks of management. ✌️