Not the Newsletter I Planned to Write

but now that's out of the way.

Hi. I'm back.

I haven't written to you for two weeks, if you didn't notice, and I wasn't sure when or if I'd return. But here I am, once again, writing to you. 

I'm not sure why I stopped writing. I hadn't planned to take a break, and it's not because I'm in a funk or feeling blue—I'm actually doing reasonably well in that department. I just didn't feel like writing, I suppose.

Occasionally I'm plagued by nothing to write about or too many things to write about that I can't decide which topic to tackle first, and either condition results in no writing. 

And while this was not the newsletter I thought I’d write, here goes…

Substack Controversy

There's been some controversy about Substack and their Substack Pro plan. It’s been reported that some writers/personalities who are perpetrators of hate speech are potentially being paid by the platform (the very one where this newsletter is hosted). Substack's content moderation policy is in question, too, because of this. 

I read as much as I could on the topic by a variety of writers, and while my usual M.O. would be to jump ship asap at the mere mention of inequitable policies and treatment of writers across a platform, I waited. Then I read some more and considered.

I believe the situation deserves to be laid out in some detail, especially if you are unfamiliar with it. Just know that it is a complex and multilayered issue, and my few paragraphs barely scratch the surface of the situation. Also, I want to say that the jury is still out for me. I will take this newsletter elsewhere when and if it becomes clear that I need to do so (based on my values and ethics). 

One of the loudest voices on the subject is from science journalist and fiction writer Annalee Newitz. Newitz claims Substack is a "scam" because they pay big-name writers, some of whose writings are harmful to trans people and cis women, and in essence misleading small fry writers into thinking that they too could make high six-figures from publishing a newsletter. 

Newitz argues that Substack is not a platform but a publisher and as such their refusal to name who the writers are that got the ginormous advances is a violation of journalism's code of ethics and transparency. 

Newitz watered down their two distinct, albeit related, arguments by combining them. One, anti-trans and anti-women writers are being paid for the garbage they spew, and two, powerhouse journalists are paid lots of money in a profit-sharing scheme where Substack and the writers/journalists involved, benefit.

Where this falls short for me, and I will only address the pay/equity part of the argument at this time, is that people like Anne Helen PetersenHeather Cox Richardson, and Judd Legum, who have huge audiences, deserve to get paid for their stellar and consistent writing.

Newitz’s premise is that these secret big money deals for highly visible writers is unfair. Sure, if we’re talking a level playing field, but we’re not. These writers were courted because they draw readers, and if they struck a deal with Substack, it doesn’t affect me in any way—unless Substack comes knocking on my door to offer me the same—and for that I will not hold my breath.

Was I Scammed?

Substack didn't scam me and I don’t feel left out, although I’m disappointed with them on several levels (maintaining a hierarchy in the form of a leaderboard, promoting already visible writers, etc.).

Despite Newitz's assertions, I wasn't lured to Substack thinking that a small time writer like me, should I choose the subscription option, would soon be pulling down $800k in subscriber-funded cash. 

I'm not new to writing, and I know that most writers struggle to make a living from their work. I'm also not living in a fantasyland where the old boys' publishing network doesn't exist (it does).

It's the sad reality of most businesses (Substack is a business) in late-stage capitalist America that few reap the rewards while many toil. And it's disheartening that most start-ups that could challenge the system are run by white Silicon Valley bros who call the shots around the internet—the one space where marginalized writers can actually have a chance of being heard.

Stay or Go?

If I quit, and if other writers whose voices I admire leave the platform (some already have, including a few of my favorite writers), then we give it over to the very people who keep the playing field so uneven. The more we strive to push away ideas, words, and opinions we don't like, the more underground those opposing voices go. Or they create and monopolize channels where their vitriol is broadcast, stoking the fire and fury of their fans, while the voices we agree with go on to create echo chambers of group think, as well.

Reminder: On whatever side your politics land, someone on the other end of the extreme wants to shut down your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs (as you want to do to theirs). As intolerable as some speech is, we need to practice civil dialogue even if others do not. Political discourse in the U.S. is damaged, but we can't repair it by cherry-picking who can and who cannot have a platform, as censorship goes both ways (as much as I hate to admit it).  

So for now, I'll stay with Substack, keeping life: examined free for anyone who wants to read it. And instead of the subscription model, which I have nothing against (writers and other creatives deserve to be paid for their work), I'll keep the Buy Me a Coffee option for those who want to send a cup or two my way. 

Thanks for sticking with me, dear reader, through writing breaks, tough conversations, and possible platform changes—I appreciate it! 

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Other writers to read and follow on Substack (to make this a more equitable, multi-perspective platform):

  • Insight, a newsletter for people interested in thinking deeply about the world’s hardest, most complex and vital puzzles by sociologist Zeynep Tufekci.

  • The Art of Noticing by journalist Rob Walker, who wrote, among others, a book by the same name (essential reading for all life examiners). 

  • Heated by Emily Atkin a newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis. 

  • The Audacity by writer and cultural critic Roxane Gay.


A FEW MORE GOOD LINKS

  • Speaking of Substack, my hero, the punk poet philosopher Patti Smith launched her Substack newsletter today (yep, she has a paid option—perhaps she got a huge advance?). If you know me, you know my love for Patti.

  • 2kmfromhome.com was created in March 2020 when the Irish government put restrictions on movement during the early days of the pandemic (2km). Want to know what 1km, 5km, or more looks like in circumference from your home? Maybe start an examination of all the streets within 2km? Great for lockdowns and just plain fun! :) 

NEXT WEEK: I’ll be writing to you from a new location—details, then! Stay tuned.

—> If you enjoy life: examined, please comment, subscribe, and share. And if you want to support my work you can Buy Me a Coffee. Thank you for your generosity!