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"Actually, Slatepitches are good!" is still a Slatepitch.

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I feel like you nailed a root cause here: "Articles are consumed decontextualized from their publications, so nobody knows what anything is anyway."

A big reason media outlets have converged into a mass blob of "parents are not okay" is because "parents are not okay" does great in SEO and social media content algorithms. It's impossible to maintain a distinct identity when nearly all of your content is consumed divorced from source of publication, which also explains why the NYTimes has hung on - it's big enough with enough gravity to avoid having its work consumed fully independent of other platforms.

My hope lies in podcasts and substacks. I miss slatepitches too.

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Yes, everyone chasing essentially the same SEO high is a big factor here

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I don't know anything about actual SEO, and you worked at these places so I defer to you, but -- "okay" seems like a weird SEO play. Are people really searching for things like "are parents okay this pandemic"? I'd think the "okay" is more to catch people's eye on Twitter.

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The actual SEO answer is typically to niche down to a category you can complete in, eg don't be a fitness blog be a fitness for dads who play soccer blog

I suspect the homogeneity of media is more driven by social media and what gets traction there. A product of both algorithms and human nature.

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My worry about substacks is that among the ones I've sampled - even the ones from authors I like, I worry I have a good handle on their opinions already and so I'll learn something interesting but I might be bubbling myself.

The comment sections help at least.

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I liked comments sections in the 2010s but a lot of interesting ones are now gone or closed except to like-minded people and/or paying (same thing) subscribers.

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It’s weird though— you’d think a true contrarian take would get more clicks? Has there been a canonical “this pandemic has been great for me” take?

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I’ve had a pretty good pandemic. And I’m single. But I am on the introverted side, and I don’t like bars (I do like dancing, but that doesn’t involve talking to strangers).

The early months were pretty miserable. Trying to get that damn Netflix movie browser thing synced up so you could remotely watch a movie with friends you never saw in person was a bad substitute for the real thing.

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My partner and I got to relocate to a city with great biking and great outdoor eating and drinking venues because we were both teaching online at our suburban university, so that was great, until we had to go back in person.

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The pandemic is definitely the best thing that has ever happened to my slightly-neurotic indoor cat. She gets to sit in my lap, or drag a toy into the kitchen when I'm working to try to distract me (which is often kind of welcome).

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Not to disagree, but how has this changed in the last 15 years? It's not like SEO wasn't a thing then?

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15 years ago, internet-native publications hadn't gotten big enough to be an important part of the media ecosystem. Aside from Slate, the publications Matt talks about in this article were all print newspapers or magazines. So while some people were certainly doing SEO in 2007, very few reporters were thinking about SEO when they came up with article ideas or wrote headlines.

This started to shift in the early 2010s with the rise of web-native publications like Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Vox, etc. These publications made a concerted effort to optimize their editorial processes to maximize search and social traffic. The first few publications that did this were able to grow quickly and gain market share from other publications. But by the late 2010s their techniques had spread to the rest of the news industry, leading to the homogeneity you see today.

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What a Slatepitch

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Exactly.

The only editorial now is Facebook

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MY is better than the entire Times opinion department put together. Douthat, Brooks and Krugman are all good but never go as deep as MY does. When Douthat reels off a slew of mellifluously worded examples, MY drills down and explains things. The other Times columnists are too hand wringing and officious to even read.

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Agree completely. Though I’ll defend Douthat, moderate atheist that I am, because his contrarian takes are one of the few reasons (the recent hiring of John McWhorter being one of them) I haven’t cancelled my NYT sub. The liberal opinion machine is chasing after the same group of very left, very college-educated types, people who carefully curated their classes to nurture all the biases their sub-tribe prefers.

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Douthat fills the niche of a guy who writes a column, I read it, I shake my head and say "what a dumbass", and then I read his next column. And I mean that in a good way.

Keeps the mind grounded.

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The fiery hot take I'll serve up is that Douthat is one of the rare writers that I enjoy more on Twitter. He'll actually engage in good faith with some of the other top writers out there that'll keep the mind grounded, as you say, and Douthat Derangement Syndrome on Twitter can give me a chuckle from time to time.

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I think his work on The Argument revealed there's a trolly-side to Douthat that I appreciate - he would delight in just skirting the edge of what was acceptable in winding up Michelle Goldberg. As much as I love Jane Coaston, I really don't like the new Argument at all. Advocates or Experts just make for mindnumbingly boring debates where both sides just lob their stale talking points at each other.

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The new The Argument is so frustrating. Why they kept the same name is a mystery to me. The old one was three interesting personalities who bounced off each other in interesting ways talking about the subject of the week. Now it’s two boring activists reciting their talking points in front of a bored host. It’s not working.

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It's worse when you realise that Jane, Ross and Michelle would have been hilarious as well.

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I agree that The Argument is worse now and I feel bad about saying that because I really like Jane Coasten and she's an interesting thinker, and saying it means I prefer to hear pundits speaking superficially rather than experts talking. It's just that most of the experts aren't that impressive and aren't that good at putting forth interesting arguments.

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I think the issue is they're taking a pundit format and shoehorning experts into it. Maybe if it was something like the BBC's Moral Maze where pundits interview the experts before having a discussion about their conclusions at the end, it would work better

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What are Jane Coasten's interesting views? I don't get anything interesting at all from her podcasts. I'd be interested in getting useful pointers. I don't listen to the Argument because I get nothing from it.

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Football and Stalingrad.

Oh, and so contrarian takes you might not expect on some political things too, I'd guess.

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She was on the Weeds, right? I, uh, thought she was useless? I always liked Klein and Yglesias better and felt vaguely guilty for that.

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According to her she’s a conservative, which I find confusing because I can’t tell her views apart from anyone else - at least as far as Weeds hosts go.

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I get his free substack and kind of like that as well

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I actually think like 1/3 of his columns are good-to-decent and don't make me react that way. Anytime he writes about abortion though....yeesh.

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McWhorter has been a great get for them. He brings (dare I say) diversity they couldn't get from any other POV

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His leaving Slate was my reason for leaving Slate Plus.

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I signed up again recently and he was part of why (Jay Caspian Kang is doing some good work and some other things made me hopeful).

I left after the Tom Cotton and Bari Weiss messes (not remotely a fan of either). When an opinion that’s held by 56% of the American public is so “harmful” as to be unpublishable, you no longer have any hope of being the Paper of Record.

Let’s face it, that dynamic is responsible for a lot of what Matt describes here.

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As a liberal atheist, I’ve felt way more respected by Douthat than by Nicholas Kristof. Douthat probably hates and fears people who think like me, but that drives him to take us seriously. Kristof thinks his readership are children to be scolded.

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As a sort of liberal atheist, I need Douthat to explain how normal Republicans think.

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Whatever Douthat is, I don't think he's a normal Republican.

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I think Douthat represents too much of a dying strain to fill that role well. I think he can present good versions of the religious right's cases on a number of things, but that's less and less of the right by year

Recently I've been trying out reading Hanania for that. He's got some good insights, and while he's not a normal righty in many ways I think he's a lot more clued into what drives them--plus he bites on the typical conservative outrage bait of the present day

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Ross Douthat is a WASP pretending/morphing into a hard-right wing traditionalist Catholic. I don't think he is anywhere near the normal Republican.

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

Maybe I just don't know Douthat well enough, but I never get the sense that he's just like really buttmad about the thing of the day

And completely unironically, I think that's important, because I think it's one of the most unifying features on the right today, consuming infotainment news that gets you pissed at your political opponents.

Which... is actually a take I'm cribbing from Hanania himself (https://richardhanania.substack.com/p/liberals-read-conservatives-watch) lest you accuse me of uncharitability towards folks on the right for thinking this

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

I’d say he Owns The Libs, but in a genteel way.

I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the WaPo oped stable, which is considerably more grounded, and has the one decent pro-Trump writer, Henry Olsen. He’s willing to write tough-minded pieces that aren’t total hackery.

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Douthat is not at all a normal Republican. He’s an old breed, paleoconservativism with an intellectual veneer. Stephens is the establishment Republican.

I do still like Kristoff, and I like Brooks more now that he’s become a Democrat. His columns are not that profound, but pleasantly wholesome.

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

I used to like Douthat, or at least find him interesting, but I feel like he’s written the same handful of columns over and over for the past few years. I still like Stephens for the solidly Establishment Republican takes.

I rarely read anyone else’s opeds, even from the writers I like. Young and Goldman are good, but again, pretty predictable. Klein is interesting. I like Bruni for solidly sensible center-left takes. The rest I find unbearable. I know he’s considered a giant, but I can’t stand Bouie.

For anyone who likes Douthat, I’d recommend Henry Olsen of WaPo, who is in the same vein, but on a wider range of topics.

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So, to paraphrase MY:

STOP calling Times op-ed columnists hacks.

Michelle Goldberg is INCISIVE

Jamelle Bouie is BOLD

Ross Douthat is THOUGHT-PROVOKING

Thomas Friedman

Maureen Dowd is PUBLISHED TWICE A WEEK

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I don't like the dig on Thomas Friedman but this is hilarious.

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Do people actually get something deep out of Krugman? As an academic, he produced a lot of incredible work, but I don't think his column meets the same standard (and most economists would agree...). He seems to just keep beating the same predictable drum of "GOP bad for economy." In a lot of cases he's right, but I still don't find it to be terribly interesting or insightful.

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He’s been at NYT for over 20 years, I think he’s said all he has to say many times over and is now going thru the motions

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

Which is a shame, because macroeconomics are way more interesting now than they have been in a long time. For most of the last decade, Krugman's (correct imo) take was, "Demand is understimulated. Congress needs to have a more aggressive fiscal response."

Now you have inflation, supply chain stuff, consumption of goods replacing consumption of services, decoupling with China, and maybe too much fiscal stimulus. There's a ton of cool writing on this from an academic and popular perspective. People like Emi Nakamura are using big data to bridge the divide between micro and macro. You have people like Noah Smith writing about "supply-side progressivism". Krugman seems to be downplaying the weirdness, which is fine. Somebody needs to do that, but he does seem to be stuck in the last decade of austerity fights. I do like his takedowns of MMT, though.

If you want good econ discourse, Twitter is a decent source, but it's filled with crap too. Fortunately, someone goes through that for you.

https://bestofecontwitter.substack.com/?r=fggz4

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Yeah, that's what I mean. He's clearly capable of high-level economics, and, one assumes, other forms of intellectual output. But he just seems to phone it in with his columns. Is he just too far away from primary academic research (or even reporting) to have any novel insights?

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I haven't read his NYT blog in a little while (does he still have a blog?) but I always found his blog posts to be better than his formal columns.

Krugman's best work, though, came when he was at Slate! It's funny to think that at the time, his reputation was as a hippy-puncher and he was seen as sort of a bete noire of the left.

He became a more hardline liberal when Bush became President, although it must be said that his writing on Bush in the early years of the administration was really excellent too. He very bluntly called Bush out on a lot of nonsense when few others in the mainstream media were doing that. This was when the "shrill Krugman" memes were popular.

Over the last few years I've found his columns to be most interesting when he gets involved in intra-left debates, like during the presidential primaries. But that doesn't happen often.

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Agree about how good Krugman was at Slate. And since we're talking about Slatepitches, the greatest one may have been by Krugman while writing there: https://slate.com/business/1997/03/in-praise-of-cheap-labor.html

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Sep 2, 2022

So...Krugman wrote that on Slate, something that was very similar to what Matt wrote 16 years later on Slate, except that Matt got attacked considerably more on the subject.

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Totally agree. I was in trade policy at the time and loved his work. I think I've read fewer than five of his NYT columns.

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I don't know if he's written about his rationale lately, but he used to do it a lot during the Bush years in response to the "shrillness" accusations. Basically his point was that he still thought there was stupid stuff on the left, but the right was the far bigger threat since their views had captured an entire party (one that, in fact, had a trifecta at the time), whereas the worst left-wing stuff had no chance of actually being implemented at scale. It's tough to argue with that logic as far as it goes, but I think what he's missing is that being overly predictable and one-note is counterproductive to his stated goal - that is, if you want your writing to be useful to the cause of defeating what you see as the greatest threat, then paradoxically, just attacking that threat all the time defeats the purpose because you won't persuade anyone.

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Great observation. When I started my career working in policy, the conventional wisdom was that watching stuff like the Sunday political shows was useful until you knew what everyone would say before they said it. Then you could stop.

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He has a newsletter where stuff like that gets shunted in to

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When I was first introduced the NYT opinion section, I always found him to be the most boring for this reason. However, a lot of people are really engaged by "GOP bad for the economy" writing, so I regularly have to deal with getting his articles linked to me.

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I agree.

I find Douthat's theses to be provocative and generative, but he doesn't put in the hard work of actually substantiating anything. Even his books are very intellectually un-rigorious. Maybe he's not actually very smart and just has a particular POV?

Brooks strikes me as similarly dilettantish. His perspective is dignified and decent, but un-challenging and lacking in rigor. Just being "right" all the time isn't good enough. Try harder!

Krugman is actually very smart. But he doesn't put in the effort. His pieces are popularizing, which has it place (obviously on the Opinion Pages), but can't he do what great professors do and give us a little depth, too?

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Brooks has been having a late middle age crisis in print and often writes about integrity, ethics, etc., which is laugh out loud funny from a guy who ditched his wife to marry his intern, who just happens to be hot and thirty years younger than he is. Oh, the decency!

However, Brooks is worth reading because he’s actually changed his mind on some stuff, eg laissez faire economics and redistribution. I want to country club Republicans to be more like Brooks.

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

I didn't know that. He was already an intern at the WSJ before she was born... Yuck.

So, I guess he's got all the virtues as well as the foibles of the old, elite WASP(-adjacent) world that he grew up in and stands lonely defending!

I do think that Brooks gave us some enduring ideas in his prime. His "Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There" was zeitgeisty, if not especially rigorous or fact-based.

He didn't benefit from going on record as admiring Obama, which was ideologically unorthodox, but consistent with his worldview (Obama still stands as the best example of embodying self-control, small c conservatism, and family values to sit in the White House in the last 30 years). His support for gay marriage was also on-brand but out-of-step with the GOP at the time.

His "The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake" piece in the Atlantic was provocative in the same way that Douthat can be. Even as a non-Conservative, I can appreciate his somewhat counter-cultural focus on extended family ties and community in an atomized era where "family values" are just tribal markers at worst and a glorification of the isolated, nuclear family unit, at best.

By contrast, his more recent old-man grumps against marijuana legalization and lazy tirades about "cultural Marxism" brainwashing The Kids are neither fact based nor zeitgeisty.

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always worth mentioning in this context that Brooks once taught a guest course at Yale, called "Humility", in which the reading list included... his own book

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Brooks is less qualified to teach at Yale than I am. He doesn’t hold a doctorate of any kind, not even a JD. Wtf.

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

It seems Douthat views his job as producing content that makes Republicans who don't like Trump feel OK about continuing to vote Republican. Hence the consistent stream of to-be-sure/what-aboutism/seriously-but-not-literally as the GOP descends further into the anti-democratic abyss.

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Douthat does a good job of explaining center right opinion to people who think differently. His political instincts are astute, I don’t share his preference for large families and Roman Catholicism, but his religious views are more normal than mine, and I don’t want to live in a post christian echo chamber.

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I completely disagree. Ross is a rare example of a writer who writes to a mostly hostile audience with the intention of persuasion. One reason why he is a good columnist.

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I mean Douthat’s primary topics are religion and culture, which have nothing to do w/ that

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

Except when he decides that the correct course of action is for the (charitably) 30% of the populace who are seriously religious and share his conception of American culture to force that conception on the rest of us, lol.

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

Isn't that true for every writer? Cosmopolitans want to enshrine cosmopolitanism in the law too.

The problem with Douthat's philosophy is that Catholic Conservatism is a bad philosophy

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

I guess, but to me, even if they're roughly equal in concept, enshrining a basically liberal conception of human rights and the freedoms of the citizenry in law makes for a hugeeeee difference in degree.

While I have my points of contention with the current cosmopolitan strain of liberalism that seems to run newsrooms (when the woke nutjobs aren't anyway), they're not proposing to force a large majority of people to do and say things they don't wish to do or say in service of some imagined past.

The wokeists and the reactionaries are basically the same thing, with a different underlying ideological matrix.

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Yeah, but have you considered that wanting substantiation is itself, a sign of a decadent society?

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I mean, contra that piece, Douthat was right about the election. The “coup” had no chance of succeeding and was generally pathetic. People who think otherwise don’t understand the dynamics of the conservative legal movement—Trump filled the bench with a ton of David French readers who think the few really MAGA judges you can find in Texas and Louisiana are distasteful and embarrassing.

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This comment is very Douthatish. Sure, the capitol was overrun by people chanting hang Mike Pence, and we don't support beating cops with fire extinguishers, but it wasn't actually serious.

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…the Capitol was overrun by a bunch of people who mostly took selfies. And even if it succeeded in killing Mike Pence or whatever, Trump still would have lost. It was bad but there was no serious prospect of election tampering as long as literally every judge in the country kept rejecting election challenges.

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If you try to rob a bank, but you suck at it and your plan makes no sense and you don't get any money and you're immediately caught, the FBI doesn't let you walk away. You go to prison for 20 years.

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

Like I say, this seems a determined effort at missing the point by people who don't want to recognise they're voting for a party whose leader is trying to turn America into a competitive autocracy like Hungary and Russia.

I think it's revealing that you wrote "killing Mike Pence or whatever". Killing the Vice President because he refuses to overturn the election is not some minor detail!!

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Krugman was a personal hero of mine and reading his writing on IS/LM is what led me into economics in the first place. Reading his work since Trump won has been really depressing for me.

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NYT columnists are being asked to write for a much broader audience, and not get overly technical or lost in minutiae. Matt is able to write thousands of words about farming vs. agriculture or whatever because he's writing for a niche, loyal audience. I mean, obviously I like that, I'm here as a paying customer, but it's kind of apples and oranges. You can read the articles Matt has been occasionally publishing in Bloomberg or the one he published at NYT more recently and see a pretty clearly different writing style, I think.

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I've scanned all the comments and I don't see anyone qualifying your take by pointing out that Michelle Goldberg is really great. She's really great!

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Feb 18, 2022·edited Feb 18, 2022

I think Ezra Klein's column is the exception here and the only reason I'm keeping my Times subscription. But he did migrate from Vox and basically worked with Matt for a decade(?) so he's by no means a counter-example to your point.

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Klein is like Matt after castration and partial labotomization.

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I’d say “like Matt if he was very committed to doing a Mr. Rogers bit”.

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This is somewhat related:

Games journalism has gone through more or less the same process in miniature. There was a time a few years ago when, if you were a weird PC gamer into indie stuff there was a whole publication of talented writers basically catering specifically to you (Rock Paper Shotgun). If you wanted your video game writing with a side of lib/left politics and culture writing you could get that pretty easily too (Kotaku). You could get really in-the-weeds technical and design talk with behind-the-scenes details (Polygon). There were a few different publications about consoles for different audiences. Etc.

While all these places do still try to hold on to their identity, you can still find weird indie games on RPS for example, there has been a ton of homogenization. Part of that is SEO chasing and feeding the algorithm, part of that is that every games journalist spent too much time on Twitter and decided they also wanted to write self-important left-wing culture analysis for their work so they basically turned their outlets into knock-off Kotaku, and now Kotaku isn't nearly as entertaining for doing the same thing because it feels tired and overdone and they don't even reliably piss off Gamers(TM) anymore.

I think the future of online media is a dual model of SEO-chasing homogenized slurry for most people, who will be happy with not following particular publications as much as just clicking on interesting links, and premium publications that cater to a much smaller, wealthier audience of people who want particular, distinctive voices. Unfortunately that latter situation is much more expensive than the way things used to be but at least we got SB out of it.

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I think a lot of the issue here (also seen in sports journalism) is that since politics and culture seem really important right now, and seem to be a part of everything, lots of people who write for a living are going to want to write about that.

Also, there's a big audience for certain kinds of journalism, like games or sports. And so people who really want to write about everything are going to be able to find a job there but not elsewhere.

Finally, lots of people don't read "news", but want to hear a bit about current events/culture/etc. So if you only read game news sites, you don't necessarily mind hearing a bit about other stuff.

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"I think a lot of the issue here (also seen in sports journalism) is that since politics and culture seem really important right now, and seem to be a part of everything, lots of people who write for a living are going to want to write about that."

To me there is more of a fundamental business angle here. For the purposes of generating social media sharing, it's more lucrative to lean into angles that touch on questions related to politics and identity than to do pure aesthetics and "art for art's sake." Even if you alienate a bunch of people with your hard-edged takes, you also secure enthusiasm from others.

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From a business perspective, it's better to be loved by 10% and hated by 90% than to be viewed with indifference by everyone.

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This makes total sense to me because you can get the 10% to pay while the 90% won't. Which makes all the outlets moving to try and grab the same group is really weird. If you can get everything that Vox, Slate, etc. have to offer plus a whole lot more from the NYT, then why would anyone go to the former?

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> So if you only read game news sites, you don't necessarily mind hearing a bit about other stuff.

I think this is way off, and the person who "doesn't read news" gets pissed when news they don't care about (obviously) gets shoved into an article about a topic they do care about.

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I think that varies. What I'm thinking of is people who don't read the NYTimes but do watch comedy-news, like the Daily Show. Or who like Defector/Deadspin. Or who get their news from TikTok.

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Ah ok. I was thinking more of the people who clearly read these sites and get mad enough to complain in the comments when other topics get pushed that they don’t like. Probably the “missing middle” fallacy for me here.

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Right, if you don't agree with the writers' perspective you'll get mad. But the metro young college grad who agrees with Vox but only reads video game news (or sports or TV or ...) is a fairly substantial demographic.

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There's a lot of politics-adjacent stuff happening in gaming right now as well, especially regarding working conditions. It'd be really hard to write an article about an Activision-Blizzard game right now while ignoring the elephant in the room, and it's a genuinely a hard problem to solve.

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> It'd be really hard to write an article about an Activision-Blizzard game right now while ignoring the elephant in the room, and it's a genuinely a hard problem to solve.

Hard for whom? As a reader, I find it pretty annoying to see every article that's obliquely about Activision or Ubisoft feature a pro-forma "to be sure, this company FUCKING SUCKS".

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Maybe I'm now out of step with the zeitgeist, but in other narrow-topic forums (like the aforementioned sports or gaming), I've met up with people for a beer a few times over the years, and it is a sincere point of pride for me that to a person, they've commented that until actually meeting me, they had no idea what my politics were.

Because when I'm talking about sports or gaming, my politics aren't the goshdang point!

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Rock paper shotgun, avclub, polygon, even the wapo’s game coverage quite literally does this. I can’t stand it. It’s like, if you feel this strongly, don’t cover their products!

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Maybe I'm unfair, but I don't get this argument. So shouldn't worker-rights-related issues like crunch or issues like sexism at Activision Blizzard not be talked about in games media? Those directly affect the quality of the product! (See: Cyberpunk and crunch).

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It's not that they shouldn't be covered, it's the incongruence between 7-10 paragraphs of basically regurgitated press release and then, at the end "by the way there's a big lawsuit against activation for sexual harassment stuff and we totally believe the women". Like I said above, if you feel so strongly about these issues, covers those and don't cover the products they are releasing at the same time!

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Hockey had a big story of writers jumping on an alleged racist incident that turned out to be a lot more complex than people thought at first, and there didn't end up being more than a peep from a couple of them about how they situation evolved. It was very disappointing to see them jump into the social justice angle and then quietly slink out when the case became something other than heroes and villians

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Yeah well but then the issue is just bad journalism, not the topics covered. Good journalism would be able to explain how the quality of product is affected by things like crunch and sexual harrassment. I think Kotaku does an exceptional job there, for instance, as do people like Jason Schreier. But the issue with video game journalism is that it tends to attract hobbyists, not Jason Schreiers. The result is incongruent garbage like you said.

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Yeah, I read plenty of football journalism and I see this pop up all the time. Especially on Twitter, when writers get really fired up about some intersection with their subject matter--especially on discrimination and social justice matters.

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

I think Gamergate played a big role here as well. Video games are still a maturing medium, and just as you really started to see lots of people branching into different areas and taking the medium seriously as an artform, like movies, there was a giant culture war over it. That made everybody mad, polarized, and scared to stick their neck out too much. When a writer criticized Cyberpunk 2077 for being particularly unfriendly to epileptic people and gaming accessibility in general, a bunch of trolls sent her flashing videos to trigger her epilepsy.

Gaming journalism has long been not that much more than advertising for new games, which isn't bad by itself. I don't want to waste my time and money on a game I don't like. However, Gamergate came at a time when people were getting fed up with developers paying for good reviews and gaming journalism was branching out more. Then awful, far-right trolls fucked everything up.

There's still cool discourse on games, but a lot of it is on Youtube. Jacob Geller and Game Maker's Toolkit are really good for it.

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Yeah Yahtzee Croshaw is clear an example of someone who has resigned him some of his non-PC/non-woke tendencies due to a desire not to be seen as a rightist.

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I think an awful lot of this was YouTube. An awful lot of people found the video format more profitable or more interesting, and that hollowed out a lot of traditional games journalism.

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I think this is an underrated take. Along with the growth of good, cheap home video cameras and editing making it feasible for people at home to create high quality videos. A lot of stuff is just a lot easier to digest in a visual format. And a lot of people hate hate hate reading.

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

A commenter on Jalopnik the other day pointed out in the article about their only two good writers leaving is that what would be really great is if there was a Defector-style video games site.

For those unaware, Defector is Deadspin alums who started a subscription-based sports writing site after Deadspin chased them all out after the most recent acquisition. It's pretty good. I don't necessarily agree with their politics, which tend to be the same kind-of-facile modern twitter leftism you mentioned, but the writing is good and the sports-related insights can't be found anywhere else.

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I thought I'd find Defector a lot more useful than I have so far, I hardly visit there at all. Perhaps (the old) Deadspin really captured lightning in a bottle at only a very precise time. They went through their own evolution to get where they're at now.

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This is also very true. It's not a "destination" site for me like Deadspin used to be. I'll really only check it when there's some big sports thing, to see their take.

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I am a semi-regular reader of Jalopnik - I tend to binge read every few months - so I didn’t know about The Torch until I read your comment. He’s a really funny guy, so I’ll definitely check out Autopian.

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Torch was really all I read on Jalopnik after Tyler Rogaway left. No idea why he slummed it there for so long.

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“No idea why he slummed it there for so long.”

Free Changli, maybe?

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Well only a few years earlier you basically had the same issue where it was all homogenized in the magazines and websites. I think around the indie revolution, suddenly everyone got into game journalism +blogs, and then gamergate happened which created this huge amount of attention in the space. What truly caused the decline in my opinion was that the indie game journalism (and a lot of the indie games they covered) were never really good enough to justify the eyeballs in the first place.

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I think we are discussing two different periods. The indie game journalism craze was part of the homogenization I'm talking about. There was a time when kooky indie journalism was the role of a very select few publications and the mainstream sites didn't care about or touch indie games at all. But you would get some sites which would do the mainstream games (like your Fallouts and Elder Scrolls and whatever else) from different angles. And you'd have some publications dedicated to certain genres. You had some that were designed for grumpy cynical edgy people to read grumpy cynical edgy takes. Etc. etc. So while there aren't that many people interested in reading indie games journalism, there were like three publications that reliably covered them so it was fine.

Then, the gamergate situation for whatever reason catalyzed homogenization where every outlet suddenly decided they were doing culture war takes about boutique indie games, and they never fell out of lockstep when that stopped being profitable and they all turned to whatever the hell they're doing now.

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I mostly agree, but if we're continuing to draw the analogy, those kooky sites weren't like big publications. If we're talking about the period where games writing was interesting and diverse and well read, I'd argue that it's just a few years before and after gamergate. I guess I wonder if without gamergate, it may have actually died out faster because I think with games, there actually isn't as much to talk about as we all hoped (coming from someone who thought games could change the world and who now feels like they may actually just be a net negative we'd be better off disengaging from, so there's my personal bias)

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I’d hope there’s actually good indie game journalism now, since we’re in an era where indie games are actually good, but it’s probably not in blog form. Maybe there’s good podcasts out there.

In the 2000s it was pretty dreary. Indie games journalists were just people copying Tim Rogers, but without knowing Japanese or having any writing skills. Literal independent games always existed but officially “indie games” were just reactions to 90s masculine FPSes, i.e. walking simulators about it’s okay to have feelings created by blue haired white people from Portland. So there wasn’t anything better to do than fight about things, really.

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It sometimes bothers me that I know vastly more about Kazakhstan and Burundi than I do about the gaming world, which is to say, nothing, except that I would sometimes drive by Riot Games here in LA and see their female employees protesting outside.

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Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

That's maybe not a bad trade-off. That stuff is important, even if it doesn't directly affect you. That said, I think if you're interested in getting casually into gaming, social media, particularly reddit, can be useful. Most of the big subreddits are crappy and filled with flamewars, but there are some good medium-sized ones. r/truegaming and r/patientgaming have some interesting discussion on current gaming, how people who don't have a ton of time to game develop their taste in particular games, and news about developers.

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I think that there are definitely a not insignificant number of people who are like you, they don't know much about games or the gaming world but they recognize it's a major culture industry and would like to be at least somewhat aware of what's going on.

Wonder if there's market space available for someone to do like an occasional gamer-software-tech world roundup newsletter for erudite outsiders.

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An interesting exception to some of these trends is The Economist. Unlike the welter of online ideological publications MY cites, I (and I imagine many others) still read the articles in their “root source”—the magazine just arrives via my iPhone, rather than print like in the past. And unlike the NYT opinion pages, The Economist manages to deliver opinionated content that doesn’t devolve into completely predictable “trending” groupthink. Yes, it’s generally neoliberal, but they take an issue-by-issue approach, and have changed certain views over time. All in all, this results in me trusting the Economist’s reporting more than just about any other publication.

(My local news outlet, Star Tribune, and the WSJ news desk are also up there—NYT is close, but when there’s a sensitive ideological subject I’ve grown to read NYT with an increasingly skeptical eye.)

I wonder what explains this? Dedicated paying base of “elite” subscribers? International reporters? Lack of individual author bylines (allowing the publication’s goals to take precedence over individual aspirations)?

Thoughts? I’m curious!

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I think "lack of individual author bylines" is significant, it reflect a strong and unique culture that is likely to lead to somewhat different outcomes to elsewhere

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Any other outlets that also don't have bylines?

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"when there's a sensitive ideological subject I’ve grown to read NYT with an increasingly skeptical eye"

This is the mark of abject failure.

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If you mean "This is the mark of abject failure," of the NYT as a whole, I disagree. I also skip over most of it's takes of "sensitive ideological subjects." However, this is because the writers that choose to cover that type of thing tend to be the kind of writers I avoid.

It seems unreasonable to penalize the NYT as a whole for keeping on some writers who publish popular but low value pieces. That's just part of being a for profit business.

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I disagree.

Fine, have your ideological headliner commentators be catchy and controversial.

But when your bog-standard, dime-a-dozen reporters, people who are supposed to be relaying facts and digging up information, are instead ignoring/minimizing or overstating bits and pieces of that information to fit a narrative, it's an unmitigated disaster for the body politic.

Sure, this sort of contortion is hardly unique to the NYT, but if the NYT is acting like just another partisan actor a la Fox, then who *isn't*?

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> However, this is because the writers that choose to cover that type of thing tend to be the kind of writers I avoid.

This is an interesting and correct take. I wonder why publications I otherwise like (NYT, WaPo) hires those writers in the first place? Judging by the reaction when NYT allows comments on those type of pieces, the median paid reader agrees.

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New subscriptions are attributable to catchy headlines?

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That doesn't strike me as correct, as someone who occasionally gets sucked in by clickbait and then gets hit with a paywall.

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I agree they’ve kept a distinct brand, but even the Economist has drifted left despite retaining a distinct tone. Particularly in the sections on the United States and the UK they are now at peace with the current welfare state and support “smart” expansions. So I’d say even they have not been able to resist broader trends in journalism, but because they have a subscription business model they have changed less.

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I think it’s because the Economist is UK-based - I think the ideological differentiation MY describes still applies there. And in fact, “the pandemic has been terrible in a specific way for single adults”, the take MY flags as missing from today’s media, is something I mainly associate with the UK-based journalist Marie Le Conte, though I can’t remember if she wrote it up for a specific publication or it was just something she’s been saying on Twitter.

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I think the Economist and FT also have a very different audience than the average publication because they still have robust magazine subscriptions due to being businessey magazines.

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I think the Economist is excellent, but honestly, too dense for me. I always get 20% of the way through and then feel like a failure.

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Auto-like for the Strib--I no longer live in the Cities, but I maintain my subscription.

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Yeah, I have mixed feelings about them - their tone of breezy certainty about very controversial subjects rubs me the wrong way. The main thing I’ll give them is they’re much better than e.g. the NYT at depicting foreign countries as dynamic societies with an interest in good governance, not just static alien cultures where occasionally people get slaughtered. And I wouldn’t say their tone on that stuff is flawless either.

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You have it easy. :p

At least they often get basic facts right about those places even if the analytical framework is subpar.

I cannot recall the last time I saw a China-specific article in any major publication that I thought was not absolute shit from top to bottom, shot through with basic evidentiary and factual errors, and with crap reasoning built from those flawed premises.

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When your own senior officials have GIGO problems, the foreign press is fucked.

But they're not even *trying*.

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So true, NYT has written some truly embarrassing articles on India and other countries haha. Good foreign reporting is hard to come by though, I subscribe to Foreign Affairs which is overall solid but is also a lot more left-leaning nowadays than I think a foreign policy mag should be (politics should stop at the water’s edge, as they say).

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Yeah, same for France. Their translations of French aren’t even great.

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That’s just because they’re British. If you want someone to write negative things about trans people, any other British publication will do just as well. I’m not sure why they’re always on about it but it seems to have something to do with mumsnet.

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How many times will we read the word, "trauma" today?

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I think unironic use of “trauma,” like unironic use of “woke,” is now fairly uncommon. The backlash is so mainstream at this point that the stuff that’s being published has changed.

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"Charles Blow [is]...really good". Do we read the same Charles Blow? Because "here is why white people are ruining everything for everyone everywhere" has gotten pretty tiresome after the 100th column in a row.

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I came here to complain about Charles Blow's piece "The Married Will Soon Be the Minority", but to Matt's point, it is actually a bit contrarian, and you know, maybe it's good that I don't agree with every opinion piece that I read. :)

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To be consistent with my criticism of Douthat, Blow's role at the NYT is to provide that content. It's a cast of characters, trying to serve every niche. Seems pretty commercially successful.

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RemovedFeb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022
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Edsall drives me crazy because he’s just an aggregator. His approach is to gather a bunch of emails from researchers with various political tilts and then dump them all into one column. I never feel like I have more clarity after reading his piece.

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Edsall just writes a list of conjunctions randomly broken up by links and block quotes.

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I was curious about the three mentioned so I went to their most recent NYTimes opinion pieces to check them out. I see what you mean about Edsall.

His most one links to 9 different academic papers, along with several email exchanges and news articles. I honestly found it a bit hard to follow what the through line was in all of them.

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I found that non-parents seemed to do better than parents. for the first few months of the pandemic. They filled their time with Netflix and new hobbies. Parents scrambled to find childcare, supervise remote schooling, and manage work commitments. As a parent of a 5 and 2 year old, I seethed when my childless friends described their new hobby.

But over the long term, I think my family has come closer together. We spent a lot of time just riding our bikes and going to Galveston on the weekend b/c there wasn’t a lot of kid programming and church was remote. We were forced to forge closer relationships with our neighbors and arrange play dates b/c aftercare was cancelled in the 20-21 school year. I found that parents in particular were pretty open and even vulnerable about struggling through the uncertainty. Those kinds of things are what is really valuable in life.

While my experience is pretty limited to white-collar families, I’m not surprised that parents’ mental health has fared better over the pandemic.

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I think one piece Matt misses is that some parents _right now_ are feeling more restricted than everyone else. Other people can just do what they want, since they're vaccinated and don't have any rules. For parents, especially parents with <5 year old kids, there are lots of rules, if you get Covid it's a disaster for day care, your kids aren't vaccinated, etc. So the current moment is hard whereas a year ago it was more similar to what other people experienced.

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I have a feeling that the real mental-health divide re the pandemic is not so much between families and singles, but between the economically secure and those on the margins who were scrambling to feed themselves and avoid homelessness, essential workers at constant risk of infection, etc.

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I might buy the part about "essential workers" but my understanding is the financial support the U.S. gave was very real and the "scrambling to feed themselves" margins got SMALLER during the pandemic.

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Count me as someone doing fine financially and miserable under the state of things. Not to dismiss the people who have it harder. But I know there's a lot of people like me who aren't fulfilled socially and our money can't quite fix the problem when so much of regular society is still on Zoom.

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I can sit at home and earn money all day, but my family live in multiple foreign countries that either didn’t or still aren’t letting me in. Of course that’s a reasonable choice for their vaccination schedules, but it’s not good for anyone’s emotional health.

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That's not what the study Matt cites says and it also doesn't really say what Matt suggests it does. It shows that a) parents were doing better before the pandemic, b) at the beginning they did worse, but c) they recovered more quickly. And, looking at the charts, the pandemic had pretty much the same average impact on all groups. Study excerpt and link to chart below.

Thus, parents living with children and people living with partners experienced similar well-being trajectories compared with people living without these close others. Although parents living with children may have initially experienced greater ill-being at the onset of the pandemic in one sample, these results also suggest that their ill-being recovered more quickly than people living without children.

https://journals.sagepub.com/na101/home/literatum/publisher/sage/journals/content/cpxa/0/cpxa.ahead-of-print/21677026211053320/20211118/images/large/10.1177_21677026211053320-fig1.jpeg

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I feel like insufficient attention is a given here to the structural factors. You mention how everyone visits via social media, so there's no way to have a brand. But also didn't everyone pivot to video and lay off lots of people only to discover that Facebook was lying? And isn't everyone aiming at the same algorithms on both the traffic generation and the ad sales sides?

One thing that is maybe odd, or maybe not, is that things have become more homogeneous at the same time that there are many more online outlets.

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Should've called this one The Strange Death of Liberal Slatepitch...

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Death of the Slatepitch: Here's What We Know So Far

Slatepitch: The Dead Thing We All Need Right Now

Is It Time to Cancel the Slatepitch?

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Death of the Slatepitch, explained

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Hearted because I'm reading, "The Strange Death of Liberal England" right now.

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In the broadest sense, good-faith disagreement seems to be evolutionarily unfit for the current state of our discourse. I'm not surprised that the slatepitch can't survive in an environment where loud people on the left have learned to code their counterarguments as "from my lived experience as a X, this is violence" and those on the right are similarly freaking out about how you are #canceling Dr. Seuss.

But this is bad! I don't know how we try to fix it. When people don't act in good faith or assume good faith on behalf of those around them, all sorts of stuff breaks in terrible ways.

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An acquaintance, who was an executive at Axios, told me the most profitable part of the business right now is paid for newsletters with statehouse news targeted at lobbyists.

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I have heard that the "State House News Service" fulfills this kind of role for state-level politics coverage in MA

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This makes sense to me as someone who used to read similar publications covering federal policy. I wasn't paying, of course, the office did, but those things cost many thousands of dollars per subscription.

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I’ve been reading you for 10+ years and this is the post that compelled me to pony up and pay for you. Nice work.

The true Slatepitch is the pandemic has been GOOD for parents’ mental health. It made parents focus on what’s actually important (keeping our kids healthy and safe) and not what’s not (work drama, blah blah trump whatever). That’s how I feel and I bet over half my parent friends would privately agree.

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Welcome to the Slow Boring club!

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My first real tastes of politics with much more depth than democrats good, republicans bad was reading the early 2000s TNR as a young teen. I never agreed with everything there but I really appreciated different points of view and having to think about the things I believe. I cancelled my subscription there years ago because it was completely indistinguishable from other left publications. I still want to get differing perspectives to keep challenging my views so I have keep searching out a wider range of increasingly niche viewpoints(Jacobin, Marginal Revolution, Volokh Conspiracy, etc.) because the same things keep happening. At one point, I read Redstate a lot. I almost never agreed with what they said but I thought they had about four writers that did a good job of at least helping my understand why republicans were doing what they were doing. It also became total unreadable garbage. I wish I didn't have to keep hunting for new websites.

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Coming from a slightly different angle, but I definitely concur with my experience of finding some jewels and then seeing them degrade over time. Be interested in any suggestions you might make now.

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On the audience side, I think there’s now a consumerist identity pressure to read only the right kinds of news and authors, and that’s contributing to blandness. I think part of this is social media - sharing is a kind of endorsement, regardless of disclaimers. And since I feel like my social circle will police and judge what I read about, I self-censor what I would share.

Back in the day, it was more of a badge of honor to read things you didn’t necessarily agree with - an act of keeping an open mind and keeping yourself intellectually sharp.

Totally agree about the guest blogging stints, and I found a lot of great writers of color that way that I still follow today. TaNehesi Coates, yes, but also Adam Serwer, Jeet Herr, Jelani Cobb, Jamelle Bouie, Oliver Willis. Lotta dudes on that list so clearly my media diet needs further diversification! This also made it very apparent how much legacy media outfits were just not trying to find interesting writers of color.

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I am a parent of young kids (we live in NYC and our youngest was born in April 2020) but I'd be much happier if media coverage focused less on our mental health and more on the FDA dragging its feet on authorizing the vaccine for young kids. I'm glad that the difficulties parents have faced has been so widely expressed, to be sure. It has been rough. But I actually agree with your assessment. At work, the people on my team who burned out during the pandemic were not the parents of kids young or old. It was single, childless individuals who lived alone. A family friend also had a severe mental health crisis, becoming near-catatonic, after she lost her job, which she had moved to a new city to in which she did not know anyone, in the middle of 2020. This is something that really does deserve a lot more attention than it has got.

The media environment's a funny place. The professional outlets differentiate at some times and converge at others, and sometimes it's the very sharpening of those differentiations—the hardening of the partisan line for example—that creates pressures for convergence within each division. But the amateur sphere is a huge, variable space with tons of points of view. And of course in the middle space are individuals such as yourself who are able to build enough of a personal audience base to retain some independence from the pull of their particular wing of the professional media space, and in fact have that audience in no small part because of that differentiation.

The success of things like the top Substackers creates a countercurrent which, to speculate, causes the wheel to turn again, by creating a pressure towards differentiation. A cyclical lens is probably appropriate to some extent, though we're not going back to some previous state otherwise; I don't think the NYT's new, big footprint is going away any time soon. Differentiation will be structured in a way where that's a given.

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You're right of course about the FDA

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But ONLY the FDA? ;)

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founding

This definitely struck me very early on in the pandemic. People who lived with children had one kind of mental difficulty; people who lived alone had another kind of mental difficulty; but those of us who lived either as a couple with no children, or as a household of a small number of roommates, generally did fine with that early lockdown period (I suppose unless there were significant relationship issues).

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