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Wouldn't You Pay To Watch Walter Cronkite?
On buying into Substack.
Recently I’ve been invited to purchase a share or two of Substack. I’m all in. If this becomes a reality, at some point I’d like to convert some of my Bitcoin. I know very well the value of the assets here. I believe Substack is what the founders of say, Cambridge University Press would found if they were in the realtime publication business. They are not, nor are many universities and it gets my goat trying to understand why.
Why, knowing how the public is underserved by the offerings of our current media establishment have universities defaulted? My most generous explanation is that they are unable to come up with a different business model. They are thereby captured by what has ossified into the best way they know how to fulfill their educational mission. Despite the fact that institutions like Claremont, Harvard and Stanford have various think tankery outfits, it’s all still very exclusive and editorialized. Substack is not. It is rather like the second coming of The Well, one of whose bylaws was “You own your own words.”
I’m a blogger since day one. I lamented the demise of the old blogosphere and I cynically observed the transformation of some of the best bloggers as they matriculated through new organs like the Huffington Post and Mother Jones online. I remember when the Atlantic was just getting started online. Crap. They should have known me before they knew Mr. Coates. As well, I paid close attention and wrote practically every day in the Fray of Slate, even as Mr. Kinsley disappeared into the hedges. It all seems so very long ago. Blogs emerged and became swallowed up by ever increasingly partisan media. At some point I figured out that there was something wrong with journalists.
The problems with journalism are twofold. The first is that its practitioners are mediated by media companies who work within a narrow conception of time. They still see time as money and consequently they are very stingy with it. The change in technology that has liberated us from the the constraints of broadcasting have not been well utilized. And Joe Rogan, of all people, has shown us how it’s done. Partly. His show is still for watchers rather than readers. The text part remains vital, but the long format that allows for the complex to be laid out was key. This he does and newspapers have not. Folks in the business have still not managed to get the data out there. Apache Iceberg will help. Then content will be for watchers, readers, analysts and researches as well. I used to read magazines, and they might but I don’t bother for the second reason.
Journalists are interpreters, and for my nickel, they interpret people who are better suited to speak for themselves. Granted, my love goes out to the likes of Christopher Hitchens, but the daily drone of “So what you’re saying is..” has worn me out. There is something about the human dynamic of relatively impoverished journalists and their productions engaging with the very intelligent or the very powerful or the very wealthy that distorts. They don’t seem to have what I will call a ‘British gentleman’s reserve’ about the process. Journalists of this sort don’t seem to possess the appropriate informed humility. This may be a consequence of the first problem - they don’t have enough time to give the appropriate consideration to their subjects.
Either way I’ve given up - sometime back in the 90s when Charlie Rose insulted Bobby McFerrin, I was done with it. I stopped watching and reading the anonymous news years before 9/11. I preferred, as I still do today, reading and hearing out people who engage ideas with more of their entire selves. Not people who feel as if you are being graced by their attention, sitting in their chair, in their studio in front of their camera staff, or on their imprint.
I don’t know who is behind Substack, but I do know that they have attracted exactly the kind of writers I’ve liked not the least of whom include Andrew Sullivan and Ted Gioia. I’m sure if they did more video and music, they’d have Rick Beato too. Or maybe not. I do know that as a writer, this is my favorite place I have ever published my work. All the new stuff goes here.
I was thinking that in time, if and when I run out of ideas, I will have my own ChatGPT-like creature trained on my entire corpus. It would be nice to have a machine that consumes and evaluates my language, my arguments, my contradictions and the flow of my thinking over time. I’ve despaired of having an actual contingent of graduate students perform that task, thinking I’d never do something so attention grabbing to merit all that. I’d have it consume my Substack as well as my Typepad, previous publishers of choice. But I never liked the idea of selling banner ads and buying AdWords from Google. Substack’s subscriptions are the right model for me. So I thank you again, dear readers for your contribution to Substack’s longevity and mine as a writer.
I’ve read some objections to the idea of investing in Substack. Yet all I can think of is how much I would pay to have someone like Walter Cronkite come back and tell the news. I might be happy with Brian Lamb, but I haven’t been for years. Having gotten out of the habit of expectations from TV, I only imagine a prior golden age. Well, specifically I recall Fred Friendly’s debates. They are apparently for sale at a dysfunctional website sloppily curated by the dweebs at Annenberg. See what I’m talking about?
All of that content has been relegated. I cannot imagine how the Substack founders would be hostile to history. I can’t imagine us writers urging them to, or letting them off the hook if they did. My Substack is longitudinal. I trust it here. I’m invested.
Continuing on the meta, I’m thinking that I will also enjoy Substack Notes. AFAIK it’s a Twitter replacement. I have more subscribers than I have Twitter followers, so that’s a good thing. On the other hand, I can’t Venn between the two sets and don’t know who’d be missing out. As it stands, I’m oversubscribed to Substack - I must be [half] reading more than two dozen. Maybe a bit of spring cleaning is in order. I certainly have several that I don’t want to miss but they’re not writing anything yet and others, like Adam Tooze, who throws out so much content I’d be swamped just reading him alone.
Still, I’d like to believe that this is clearly a writer’s and a reader’s domain and don’t really care if it gets to be on the order of 400 million names (including bots), like Twitter has. Still I feel a whole lot safer from trolls in here and I feel like I’m getting an adequate margin of free marketing. The point is, I like writing here. Still, I wish I could figure out if I am maximizing the impact I could have. Maybe I’ll spend more time on the meta.
Once again. Thanks for being here. I promise to continue.