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Our Year of Discontents
What this little community of journalists and readers means to me.
But in light of there being basically no news this week and almost everyone logged off and trying not to work, I figured I’d take a few graphs up here to talk a little bit more about what, in my opinion, it is that we’re all doing here.
I spend probably more time than is productive thinking about the future of journalism. Part of this is because I’m not sure I fit in well with the industry’s traditional structure and yet would still like to pay my rent, but part of it is that the practice, as a whole, is struggling to adapt to the world that we now live in.
The problem that I think about a lot at the moment is scale. If Substack has proven anything, it’s that journalism, like any other form of content creation, is something that a small number of people can make a large amount of money off of. To put it more simply – for a select few who provide just the right product and hit just the right audience, you can create a brand and a flourishing career out of Substack (or YouTube, or Patreon, et al.) This is a good thing, but suffers from two problems. First, it doesn’t work for everyone. The number of people who are making pocket money or side-hustle money or no money at all from diligent and hard work on Substack and other platforms is far, far greater than the number who pay all of their bills from the fruits of their blogs. The future of this industry needs to involve ways to subsidize and support and develop the points of view that don’t rise to the top through algorithms or pre-existing audiences or whatever else it may be from the long list of variables that determine success. The second problem is that journalism is a collaborative process. Sure, there are probably magazine feature writers who can go off into little rabbit holes once every six months and come out with a brilliant story, but the daily process of gathering, analyzing, and commenting on the world as it is is best done with others.
We don’t have all the answers yet, but Discontents is something, at least, that has helped me with both of those problems. Luke, Derek, and several others have been experimenting with bundled subscriptions to their newsletters, trying to inspire solitary growth become collective gains. If you’ve been to almost any of our individual blogs recently, you’ve probably noticed other authors’ names popping up behind bylines on sites they don’t run (Shane writing for Luke’s blog this week is a perfect example). I don’t think the future of Discontents ever has us all sharing an office space, working in a corporate hierarchy, or even sharing profits equally among members (you can look to smaller units like Discourse Blog for systems like that), but I hope that it does something to recreate the experience of a newsroom even as we all pursue our own work, free from bosses and other distractions.
And this group makes me better every day as well, even if it’s just the shitposting that goes on in our Discord and group DM or a one-on-one gut check with one of the writers I’ve met through here when I need advice on a story that’s on their beat. We may not be shouting over cubicles in some glass and brushed steel temple on 42nd street, but the sausage is still getting made with a lot of pairs of hands. Who knows what we’ll cook up next year.
Welcome to Hell World
Today Discontents’ own Shane Ferro sits in at Hell World with a piece on a judge in New York City ordering a person released from Rikers Island for an Eighth Amendment violation, something that, to say the least, is exceedingly rare.
“It’s not enough in a writ like this for a person being held on Rikers Island to simply testify to what goes on inside. Honestly, nobody cares and nobody is going to believe them,” she writes.
“Unfortunately, the news here isn’t actually the deplorable conditions, but that a lawyer was able to get enough proof of it, and a single judge was brave enough to actually release a person because of said conditions… By and large judges do not want to know what is going on in the jails that they send people to. It complicates their job.”
That one was sent to paid subscribers only but I’m opening it up for a while today for all to read. Please throw a few bucks in the tin to help me pay for our great contributors and to make sure you get every piece in your inbox. Your support is very much appreciated. As a reminder if you subscribe to a year of Hell World you’ll also get a free six months paid subscription to Foreign Exchanges by Derek Davison and Forever Wars by Spencer Ackerman.
Last week I published a dispatch from Chile on the significance of the victory of newly elected “millennial leftist” and “big time Deftones guy” president Gabriel Boric by Fernando Silva.
If anything, the victory of Boric wasn’t just an individual accomplishment, but the embodiment of the long and difficult process that has been the return to democracy in Chile. He represents a desire to finally erase the legacy of violence and oppression that has tainted so much of our national history. Millions of Chileans may now be looking at the future with hope, as the national project for justice keeps taking shape both in his government program and, more importantly, in the new Constitution. The path ahead will not be easy, and any of these processes could be hijacked by the entrenched interests of the ruling class. But at the same time, the Chilean people have proven over and over and again how hard it is to extinguish their desire for social justice. This fight doesn’t just belong to Gabriel, but to all citizens wishing for a fairer tomorrow.
Coming this week at The Flashpoint, a review of the work we’ve done this year and a preview of 2022. Plus, I’ll talk to writers Jeet Heer and Edward Ongweso about 2021 in politics in tech.
Today, a piece on media bias focused on how news reports are allowing the LAPD to escape blame for killing a 14-year-old girl last week.
Fourteen-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta was trying on a quinceanera dress at a Los Angeles Burlington Coat Factory when she was killed by police December 23—but you might not know that depending on what media outlet you turned to for the story.
“Teen killed in a Los Angeles store after a police officer's shot penetrates wall of dressing room, officials say” read CNN’s print headline. The network’s HLN channel blamed a “suspected police bullet.”
Thanks for reading in 2021. See you on the other side.
I’m taking a break so I don’t have anything to bring to the party this week. I just wanted to wish everyone Happy Holidays and to thank you all for supporting Discontents throughout the year! See you in 2022!
All Cops Are Posters
Hi all! Just popping in with a few festive dispatches—this year, I wrote about Christmas copaganda, specifically why you might have seen your local police department post a quasi-horny photoshoot of their officers “arresting” the Grinch. (If you’re a real glutton for punishment, feel free to check out last year’s holiday dispatch about cop-themed Christmas trees too). Come for the photos, stay for the castigation of local news sources that cover this shit uncritically. Happy holidays!
Image by Dafne Cholet/ Flickr