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I'm starting a weekly newsletter. Oprah says it's "better than a well-cooked Hot Pocket."
The Oprah thing I cannot confirm or deny; as far as I know it's just hearsay off the streets.
I can, however, confirm that yours truly will be writing his own weekly newsletter on Substack.
Why? Why indeed.
It just so turns out that there’s a long, long list of reasons why trying to make a living as a writer is not a very good idea. It’s no secret that writers don’t get paid well, but I'm not sure most people understand just how poorly paid they really are. I mean, we’re talking poverty, folks. Like, abject poverty. Poverty made all the worse when you consider how well educated most writers tend to be (this is in no way meant to be self-referential; I do not consider myself a traditional writer writer, more on this anon).
Some numbers and figures for emphasis:
U.S. newspaper circulation fell in 2018 to its lowest level since 1940, the first year with available data. Total daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) was an estimated 28.6 million for weekday and 30.8 million for Sunday in 2018. Those numbers were down 8% and 9%, respectively, from the previous year. Both figures are now below their lowest recorded levels, though weekday circulation first passed this threshold in 2013.
Newspaper revenues declined dramatically between 2008 and 2018. Advertising revenue fell from $37.8 billion in 2008 to $14.3 billion in 2018, a 62% decline.
Newsroom employment at U.S. newspapers dropped by nearly half (47%) between 2008 and 2018, from about 71,000 workers to 38,000. Newspapers drove a broader decline in overall U.S. newsroom employment during that span.
Layoffs continue to pummel U.S. newspapers. Roughly a quarter (27%) of papers with an average Sunday circulation of 50,000 or more experienced layoffs in 2018. The layoffs came on top of the roughly one-third (31%) of papers in the same circulation range that experienced layoffs in 2017. What’s more, the number of jobs typically cut by newspapers in 2018 tended to be higher than in the year before.
Americans have little awareness of the financial challenges facing local newsrooms, according to a late 2018 survey. A majority of U.S. adults (71%) believe their local news media are doing well financially, even as only 14% say they have paid for local news themselves in the past year, whether through subscribing, donating or becoming a member.
In terms of trying to be a novelist, the prospects are equally as grim, if not more so. Writing-related earnings by American authors have fallen to historic lows. The median income in 2017 was $6,080, down a whopping 42 percent from 2009. Just for added emphasis on how extraordinarily low that figure is (and because I’m not a fan of Bezos), consider that Jeff Bezos makes $152,207 every minute (or $2,537 per second).
The numbers above kind of make the idea of being a freelance writer, let alone a novelist, seem borderline masochistic. Ideally, I'd like to be a “stringer,” which is essentially a newspaper/magazine correspondent who’s not on the regular staff but is enlisted on a part-time basis (by a variety of major publications) to report on events in a particular place. I.e. - “Hey Brad, there's another renegade squirrel at West Point that keeps ambushing Cadets during low-visibility hours; we'd like you to go and see what all the hubbub’s about and then write a longform article detailing the experience. Sincerely, The Atlantic.”
But even if the financial outlook wasn't so dismal, the truth is I'd rather shovel manure than go through the process of becoming a “professional writer," because that particular route to the proverbial point B is paved with the kind of stuff I just can't stand, including our society’s kryptonite: Twitter.
Twitter is where the popularity hierarchy of today's writers is made manifest, a hierarchy essential to your professional advancement. Why? Because success in the field is almost solely dependent upon the degree to which other writers like you. That’s not an exaggeration, that’s simply how the modern media operates. And nearly every professional writer lives on Twitter 24/7, exchanging self-motivated flattery and endorsing one another’s performative tweets and posting frenzied jeremiads with the intent of punishing dissenting opinions (thereby expunging diversity of thought, and I don’t think I need to tell you why that’s a very bad thing), all while enforcing their insular community’s agreed-upon politics like Stasi agents.
Basically, your writing has little influence on your professional advancement, which is obviously ass-backwards, and as someone who takes a lot of pride in his work ethic, I want nothing to do with this stupid game. Not to mention that, out of necessity, your writing has to be pretty much the same as everyone else’s: advocacy journalism rooted in identity politics.
Before I go on, I feel like it’s important for me to emphasize that I don’t do politics, okay? I don’t pledge allegiance to a political party, I don’t watch cable news (or any TV at all), I don’t use any other social media besides Instagram (and 99% of the time it’s on my writing account), and I try to read every major print news source possible so that I have a more holistic understanding of things. I do not operate on the same wavelength that most people seem to be stuck on. And so when I start to veer into political territory, it’s not because I’m looking to push a specific agenda; I’m just writing about things as I see them, as intelligently and thoughtfully as possible.
But you simply cannot deny that establishment media has dropped any pretense of bipartisanship in favor of a culturally extreme ideology stemming from the identity politics of academia. I’m talking about the deeply alienating niche political movement pushing the “woke” dogma and all its ancillary tenets. Even worse is the utter lack of objectivity. It's as if the industry decided Trump's presidency was such an unprecedented emergency that impartiality was discarded in favor of a socially and culturally extreme niche political agenda masked as advocacy journalism. They've abandoned any pretense of serving the entire country and decided that their only job is to advance a political movement that most ordinary Americans find deeply alienating and divisive.
Yours truly would have probably been game to try "traditional writing" (i.e. climbing up the greasy pole of journalism) within establishment media as it was during the early aughts. But now, with the industry's takeover by this strange brand of identity politics driven by the more radical members of the left—people who believe their worldview is so indisputably right that all dissent is dangerous "misinformation," and who relish opportunities to destroy reputations for amusement and power and punish those whose opinions deviate from establishment left-of-center orthodoxies, and who seek to regulate political discourse by defining anything right of spectrum as bigoted and illegitimate—now, I want nothing to do with it, especially given that the way I'm treated is going to be largely dependent upon whether or not I subscribe to the prevailing industry-approved politics. One of the things I miss most about both West Point and the Army is the utter lack of fucks given about anything other than your worth as you were able to demonstrate; you respected people until they gave you a reason not to. Your skin color, your political opinions, your hometown—nobody gave two shits about anything like that. And yet in the civilian world, things are the exact opposite. Frankly, I can’t stand it.
Anyways, that’s going to be a no for me, friends. Which brings us back to this idea of writing a newsletter. The hope is that somehow, some way, I’ll accrue a large enough subscriber base to continue doing something I believe is not just worthwhile, but capable of helping people. And I realize that sounds beyond grandiose, but here’s the thing. For reasons that continue to elude me, approximately 18k people are following me on my Instagram page (@brad.neaton.writes; n.b. — I’m infinitely grateful for each and every one). And, on occasion—though as of late it’s been more frequent as that number continues to climb at 50-100 a day—some of my followers will message me how much they appreciate my writing, or even go so far as to cite specific ways my writing has helped them get through some very dark days. Not to mention the people who read Because of Jenny and subsequently message me about how impactful they found the book, how it’s managed to change the way they see the world for the better.
Writing seems like something worth pursuing.
So, what will this little newsletter thingy feature? Likely some combination of the following, but keep in mind this could always change:
Culture Essays/Criticism: I’ll be the first to say that we do not need another “writer” whose “writing” is nothing but looking down at the world from a high horse while shouting in derision. But listen. Whether you realize it or not, the journalist class in this country has undergone an extreme cultural homogenization; there’s never been more conformity and less diversity of thought, and the result is a spectrum of voices in the mainstream media that’s embarrassingly narrow. And while I won’t dive into this at the moment, let’s just say that, at a minimum, my take on things will be markedly different. Idiosyncratic. Because in addition to not giving a shit about being a Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, I also don’t frequent the same airwaves as the majority of people and my social media footprint is tiny. Which means I don’t view things through the same prism as everyone else.
“From the Archives”: Links to obscure essays and longform articles I've collected over the years. My devotion to reading borders on the monastic. I mean, I read a lot—of everything. And there’ve been countless instances where I’ll be reading something and then 30 minutes later I’ve somehow gone done this Alice in Wonderland-like rabbit hole and ended up with several random articles or essays about some really interesting stuff. I’ve archived the best of these “finds” by collecting them in a folder on my phone, and it’s now a lengthy list of great stuff—everything from true crime to why our phones are prisons.
“If You Read Just One Thing This Week”: In every newsletter, I’ll include one article I’ve read this week from the news that I believe is worthy of being listed in this section. I realize that most people can’t read as much as I do due to other commitments, and so my hope is that I’ll be able to provide you with something worth taking a look at during a window of free time.
“Quotes of the Week”: When I was in high school I spent an inordinate amount of time in the library, and one of my favorite things to do was read the pages in Time, Newsweek, and The Atlantic that listed the most interesting things people have said that week, along with a short blurb beneath each quote to add context. I’ll do my own version as part of this newsletter.
Book Recommendations: Again, I read a lot, and I own a ton of books. I'll also be highlighting the books I'm currently reading, along with the books I'm interested in and hoping to read soon.
“Mental Health Break”: This will be something meant to take your mind off things. Basically something to make you smile.
In conclusion, I want to say that I prize free thinking, the open exchange of ideas and discourse, and a diversity of perspectives. Which is why I'm here writing this on Substack. Based on what I've read, it seems that more and more people are turning to alternative media in search of something other than dogmatic, rage-filled jeremiads written by college graduates of "elite" schools who think a persuasive argument is defined by a tweet that goes viral among people who already agree with you.
With Euphoric Recall, I hope to provide you with consistent, intelligent takes on a variety of topics, all of them analyzed through an aperture untainted by political agenda, ideology, the pressure to conform, etc. And I’d be honored to have you subscribe.
In the meantime, tell your friends!