Everyone is on Substack these days. People like Heather Cox Richardson and Andrew Sullivan are making hundreds of thousands of dollars on the platform.
Early in the brainstorming process, we chose not to launch Current on Substack. Perhaps I will write more about that choice in another post. (I get close to explaining the decision in my conversation with Eric Miller in Episode 86 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).
As Clare Potter wrote in Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy, alternative media like Substack has been around for a long time. (I’ve been doing it every day for thirteen years at The Way of Improvement Leads Home). The kind of historical context Potter offers is essential to understanding Molly Fischer’s recent piece at The Cut: “The Sound of My Inbox.” Here is a taste:
Yet for all the ways newsletters encourage a sense of belonging, there can be a loneliness to their prose — a palpable lack of anyone else behind the scenes saying, Hmmm, maybe not. While Substack has made efforts to provide editing services, and some writers do take advantage of them, the fundamental fact of the form remains. Generally speaking, one person is the brand, the main attraction; one person worries their preoccupations ad infinitum. And when, for example, a writer spends two paragraphs referring to “Burkini Faso” instead of Burkina Faso, he does not inspire confidence. “Which topics need more coverage?” Matt Taibbi asked his subscribers in April. Since they were “now functionally my editor,” he was seeking their advice on potential reporting projects. One suggestion — that he write about Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo — swiftly gave way to a long debate among readers over whether race was biological.
Ideally, a writer and editor’s work together is an actual collaboration. An editor may be protective at times and productively adversarial at others, but either way, the relationship works best when it’s founded on mutual trust and shared power. An editor is, among other things, a surrogate for the reader. How can writers bridge the gap between what they want to say and what someone else understands? Eleven months later, a line from Anne Helen Petersen’s announcement of her Substack newsletter haunts me still: Writing a newsletter, Petersen wrote, meant she could publish “pieces that take ten paragraphs to get to the nut graf, if there’s one at all.” This came in the context of weighing what she stood to gain and lose in leaving a staff job at BuzzFeed. She knew the worth of what editors, fact-checkers, designers, and other colleagues brought to a piece of writing. At the same time, she was tired of working around the “imperatives of social media sharing.” Clarity and concision are not metrics imposed by the Facebook algorithm, of course — but perhaps such concerns lose some of their urgency when readers have already pledged their support.
Read the entire piece here.
Fischer’s section about collaboration is why we started Current and moved The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog there. Please consider supporting our work here.