- The Handbasket
- Allow myself to reintroduce ... myself
Allow myself to reintroduce ... myself
A little refresher on who I am and why I'm here.
Conventional wisdom is “don’t feed the trolls.” But I want to highlight an email I received last night because I don’t think the sender was actually trolling me. I truly think he meant every word.
I’ll let you read for yourself:
I think this man had a genuine expectation of what he’d be reading based on the story that introduced him to The Handbasket. Rather than admonish him for his audacity, or harp on the shameless paternalism of “I hope you give me a pleasant surprise,” I thought I’d use this opportunity to re-introduce myself to you, and help you understand what I hope to do here.
The Handbasket has covered a lot of different areas since its inception in June 2022: As a Long Island native, I’ve written a lot about Congressman George Santos; I broke the story about his history of dressing in drag, his ties to local school board members opposing a homeless shelter, and traveled around his district talking to voters at bagel places. I’ve also written about my Jewish identity and the spread of antisemitism, including the aftermath of the July 4th, 2022 mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, in the context of Robert F. Kennedy’s doomed presidential campaign and as expressed by Elon Musk. And yes, I dove right into the story of a police raid on a small town newspaper that made international headlines after I was the first to report the newspaper had been investigating the chief of police, following with continuing coverage of the flagrant first amendment violation. And peppered throughout have been one-off topics that have caught my attention because I thought they warranted a deeper look.
I also want to explain my working definition of “independent” journalism to make sure we’re all starting from the same place. To me, it means journalism that is free from corporate interests and that isn’t subject to the whims of news executives. It means journalism that is produced completely on my own, without the extensive additional resources of a team or large newsroom. It means story choices are completely my own, and dictated by both my interest in it, and my ability to access information that will make it compelling to my readers. It eschews norms and doesn’t adhere to a set formula.
In short, independent journalism means freedom—it does not mean alignment with independent voters, or the world view that journalism with a clear political point of view is inherently less valuable. It’s whatever I choose to make it, and any projections of what it ought to be are your own.
Having a Substack feels simultaneously like being on the cutting edge, while also trying to fit yourself into something that’s already been defined. On the one hand, being able to write about whatever I want in the exact way I want to and getting paid—though modestly at this point—is fantastically liberating. But on the flipside, in a post last week in which co-founder Hamish McKenzie declared Substack’s intention to make 2024 the “Substack election”, I was made acutely aware of the type of bedfellows I have here.
McKenzie listed off some of the most popular publishers who, in his view, would support his vision of Substack as an election news hub. While it included some writers who I admire—like transgender rights activist Erin Reed, historian Heather Cox Richardson, and political strategist Simon Rosenberg—it also included the guy who engineered the Critical Race Theory hysteria, a notorious transphobe, and perhaps most noxiously, Ann Coulter.
“With the election season ramping up,” McKenzie writes, “we expect even more people to turn to the voices they trust on this platform as it becomes more obvious that the Substack model leads to better work and better conversations than those that have dominated legacy social media in past elections.”
But it’s hard to be excited about the prospect of being at the supposed next frontier in media, when it’s full of such disreputable minds.
As just one example, Bari Weiss’ The Free Press was held up as one example of a trusted voice on Substack: Meanwhile, she published unsubstantiated allegations earlier this year from Jamie Reed, a former case worker at the Transgender Center at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, claiming the center was rushing minors into gender-affirming treatment. Parents of patients at the center immediately came forward to debunk the claims, and an internal investigation found no merit. Weiss never apologized or acknowledged the danger she caused for these incredibly vulnerable kids.
It seems the easiest way to achieve great success on Substack is to sell out, grift, and/or abide by the thinnest possible moral code, and that’s not something I’m willing to do to achieve growth here. I have, however, worked hard for the audience I’ve built, and much like Twitter, the idea that I should have to jump ship because some fascists and bigots want to take over doesn’t sit well with me. Why should we [writers of integrity] have to cede ground to them?
Part of what I hope to achieve here is to demystify the way media works. That just because someone goes on a national cable news channel doesn’t mean they’re successful, and that someone you’ve barely heard of may be making $50,000 per month here on Substack. The old rules of journalism no longer apply, but the age-old values of fairness and ethics still ought to.
My beat is anything and everything that’s interesting to me, which I believe comes through in my writing. The scoops are often what introduce people to my writing, but I hope it’s my careful analysis and the obvious care I give to my work that keeps you reading.
Whatever the remainder of 2023 and the year 2024 may bring, I’m going to evolve as best I can to prosper in this current media environment. And while I welcome your feedback, remember by goals and audience are much larger than just one person.