Nobody solves media except temporarily

 

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HANAA’ TAMEEZ 

It’s been a rough start to the new year for the news industry, between layoffsshutdownssales, and strikes at news organizations across the United States.

But even in the most chaotic times, there are bright spots cropping up that inform communities and celebrate the craft of writing and storytelling. A new podcast, Never Post, launched at the end of last month, aims to do that through telling stories about internet culture. The podcast is produced by a team of six and is owned by the people who make it.

For the first episode, host Mike Rugnetta gleaned advice for the new venture from a roundtable of independent media owners: Gita Jackson, co-founder and writer for worker-owned video game publication AftermathAlex Sujong Laughlin, co-owner and podcast producer for Defector Media; and Rusty Foster, owner and writer of the newsletter Today in Tabs.

The four talked about why they went indie, the traumas of working in legacy media, the pros and cons of working for yourself and in a collective, money, and work-life balance. Their conversation is funny, candid, and hopeful for a new era in journalism. The transcript of their discussion, edited for length and clarity, is below. Listen to the full episode here.

MIKE RUGNETTA: We wanted to talk to Gita, Alex, and Rusty about what they’re doing because they are all, in one way or another, doing what we want to do running independent media companies, organizations owned and run by the people who work for them with no outside investment, and that rely on direct support from audiences to do what they do. We think this work is good and important and necessary. We think it’s the future of this industry and probably a lot of others too.

Right now, Never Post is a news podcast, an independent audio publication, but we want it to grow into a larger scale, audio-focused media concern over time. And we want to do that ideally as much as possible through listener support. And so we wanted to have this conversation with these people, both to learn from them, from people we admire, but to also announce our intention, really our hope that these folks would be our peers. We like them, we look up to them, we want to work alongside and with them. So this first upload is us figuring out some of that.

The first question I asked was about how this moment compares to that mirror moment around 2010.

In a recent issue of Tabs, Rusty, you called this the “Awl Inflection Point” in reference to The Awl. You wrote that this is “where the tools to start a subscription-funded blog are cheap enough, and the pool of unemployed reporter goblins is deep enough to start generating a new cohort of publications.” The first thing I want to ask is what the last year or two has been like working in and around the media industry and, Rusty, since the “Awl Inflection Point” is your coinage, I would love to hear from you first.

RUSTY FOSTER: The argument that I made is that it was a dark time in media in 2009, 2010, but as one type of media was collapsing — mostly print and magazines — the tools online existed. Blogs were getting really popular. I think we’re seeing the same thing happening now. And it’s been a grim year working in media, a hard time, people just constantly losing their jobs.

Tom Scocca just wrote an essay for New York Magazine about how he got sick. He got a really bad, probably autoimmune disease. But the beginning of that [essay] was a lot about how he lost a job and was really scraping for money. I mentioned it in Tabs the other day got a bunch of responses that were like, “Dear God, if Tom Scocca can’t make a living in media, what hope is there for any of us?” Which is a fair point. So it’s been like that. It’s been grim.

But I do also sort of remember 2009, 2010, 2011. A lot of people were losing jobs until the rich guys started hiring everybody. BuzzFeed [News] launched and all that stuff happened. It feels like an in-between time to me.

RUGNETTA: Gita, what has the last year looked like for you?

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