Dear Medium: The Edition is bad, and your “popup anthology” is exhausting
Knock it off with the cronyism, celebrity authors, and identity politics.
Update: since I wrote this post, I’ve moved most of my work to my own member platform using Mighty Networks over at creativeonion.me.
It wasn’t always bad. I used to very much look forward to my weekly Member newsletter. It was full of interesting, unique things, with a carefully crafted note from the editor about what their focus has been on, and why they selected these stories. Several times, I discovered new writers who I’ve since very much enjoyed following — on the rare occasion that I see their posts, that is.
But, Medium Staff, I’ve got to be honest with you (could I do anything but?): your newsletter of the last few months have sucked balls. Increasingly hard. To the point where we need to talk about it.
1) Who the hell do you have writing these things, anyway?
When The Edition started, I was happy to see a familiar face on the byline: Matt Higginson, a member of the editorial team I’ve actually worked with. I found Matt to be a superb editor while working on my piece on public schools and gentrification last spring, and a pleasure to work with. I really enjoyed his feedback and his measured approach to editorial standards. Incidentally, I appreciated his carefully crafted and curated newsletters very much.
Which is why, around about February of this year, when I noticed The Edition had been written by some new dude who was part of the “Content Partnership” team, my eyebrows shot up.
Guess what that particular newsletter was about? If you guessed “plugging Medium’s new partnerships with mainstream publications like WaPo and NYT and The Atlantic which no readers seem to have asked for,” you’d be correct!
As if turning an entire newsletter into an advertorial for the mainstream media wasn’t bad enough, over subsequent weeks, I noticed newsletters being authored by Medium’s Marketing Staff.
Marketing Staff. They’ve started having Marketing Staff write their weekly Member newsletters.
Do…do Medium’s editors not have enough time to write The Edition? Is the main point of contact with members — the weekly newsletter — really such a low priority that you’re having your marketing staff write it? Is that who your members are to you — an audience to whom you can peddle your sponsored content du jour? Have you forgotten that we members are your direct customers, and currently your sole source of income — and also that we HATE sponsored content? (Remember when you completely changed your model and stopped serving ads? I do.)
Last week’s 4/13 issue might take the cake: it focuses entirely on an essay published by National Book Award finalist (read: an author who’s already been successfully published in print) Carmen Maria Machado, which belongs to — in a completely unshocking twist — Medium’s latest darling, the “popup anthology” Unruly Bodies. This anthology, which Medium has been incessantly promoting on its homepage and The Edition, is edited by — again, unshockingly — Roxane Gay, an author whose success in print publication has been well established.
No, I’m not linking to it. Because god in heaven knows it’s being shoved down Medium readers’ throats in enough other places.
The author of that Edition’s intro is Erin Spens, a “Freelance Writer”.
Say what now, Medium? Are freelancers writing your newsletters now? When did that happen? She must be pretty damned good, and a loyal Medium writer, to be getting a headline in The Edition — right?
She has 42 followers on Medium as of the time of this post. She’s not a member. She runs a boat magazine called “Boat Magazine”. She’s published exactly five posts here, the most recent of which is a q&a with some of the contributors of — you guessed it — “Unruly Bodies”.
I feel like I’m getting repetitive.
Her writing is tentative, and the structure of her sentences is rigidly uniform, like my work was when I was in my early 20’s and just beginning my freelance writing career. You know who I WASN’T blogging for when I was in my early 20’s with very little track record? The customer lists of major social media platforms.
When I was an in-house creative director, I didn’t let my marketing assistant write our blog, let alone our customer newsletter. Because our relationship with our customers was to be protected and nurtured above all.
What exactly is your strategy for building relationships with your writers, here?
Is it because Erin describes herself in her profile as writing about “Youth culture, diversity in America, arts+literature, prison reform”?
If I add “creativity, social and economic injustice, homelessness” to my profile (all of which are accurate), can I get you to promote MY brand?
If pulling in freelance writers to contribute to The Edition is the plan, then why on this good green earth wouldn’t you show loyalty to writers who have actively supported your platform? Why wouldn’t you pick someone like Brian Brewington, a writer who cut his writing teeth on Medium and has successfully monetized his work here — a fucking poster child for the Partner Program? Or someone whose works are universally loved and lauded — an experienced writer who’s been loyal to Medium, like Jack Preston King? Or a fiesty thought leader like Ezinne Ukoha?
Why you would highlight the works of a seemingly random Medium newb is completely beyond me. It’s distractingly obnoxious. And, I’m just going to say it: it smells of cronyism.
Speaking of which…
2) Quit promoting established and celebrity authors already
But, Marjorie, you might say — the latest newsletter was written by Medium’s VP of Editorial, Siobhan O'Connor herself!
Ah yes, let’s talk about the 4/20 newsletter, and Siobhan.
First of all: it’s 4/20, and not a word about the marijuana prohibition, or marijuana culture. Not a word about one of the biggest legislative lies this country has ever been sold, the incredible racial and economic injustices which have been wrought as a direct result of the Drug Act of 1971. Not a word about the way in which generations of black men have been criminalized and removed from their community under the banner of the “war on drugs.” Not one word about the powerful medicinal potential locked in cannabis which is being actively suppressed by pharmaceutical lobbyists who don’t want to sacrifice their own profits for citizens’ health and freedom.
From our runaway prison industrial complex and police violence to the opioid crisis to the protecting the basic integrity of our democratic freedoms, dismantling the marijuana prohibition is arguably one of the most important issues of our time. Yet it gets no acknowledgement whatsoever?
Dude, Medium…if addressing social injustice and solving the world’s problems is your agenda, you’re really missing the important issues, here.
Is some poor marketing person creating these newsletters in a vacuum, with no input or collaboration? Are Medium’s offices so tightly wound that NO ONE there smokes weed? Cuz that’s…frankly a bit concerning.
More to the point: Siobhan’s intro to the 4/20 newsletter focused entirely — YET AGAIN — on promoting an essay authored by successful print published author Malcolm Harris.
This has happened consistently since February: authors like Dave Eggers who have been well established in the publishing industry, and celebrities like Joseph Gordon-Levitt who were formerly strangers to Medium are suddenly thrust into the spotlight — along with their pet projects — as a benevolent gift from Medium Staff. “Unruly Bodies’” editor Roxane Gay has published exactly three articles on Medium, two of which are from “Unruly Bodies”. She’s clapped for one article — also in “Unruly Bodies”. Eggers made his first (of only three to date) post here at the direct request of Medium staff. Gordon-Levitt’s first post here was immediately followed by Medium’s promotion of his new media company “HITRECORD” (again, I’m not linking to it — it’s gotten enough press).
When I see The Edition pop up in my inbox, rather than looking forward to Matt’s thoughtful explanation of how and why he’s curated this particular collection of the best of Medium writers, I now grit my teeth and wonder what new Medium Editorial Staff or Content Partnership product I’m going to be sold.
Medium. Dude. You really don’t seem to be getting it. So I’m going to say this once more, as clearly as I can:
MEDIUM READERS VALUE MEDIUM BECAUSE IT’S A PLACE TO DISCOVER NEW WRITERS AND CONTENT THAT’S OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH — NOT BECAUSE IT’S A PLACE TO CONSUME NYT BESTSELLING AUTHORS AND CELEBRITY PROJECTS AND CNN.
If I wanted mainstream published works, I’d go to Barnes and Noble or flick on cable news.
Oh wait — I don’t have cable. BECAUSE I GIVE ZERO SHITS ABOUT MAINSTREAM NEWS.
Like it or not, I’m representative of the majority of your audience. A bit louder and crasser than the average, perhaps, but representative nonetheless.
3) Quit trying to convince me that I hate myself and others
“Unruly Bodies” is a shining, golden example of how Medium’s editorial bent has come to be driven almost exclusively by identity politics. No — of course I’m not saying the stories of larger women and their experiences aren’t worth our attention. What I am saying is that this kind of content is already quite prominently available on Medium, and that a steady diet of nothing but identity politics has made the platform anemic.
I could go through the last several newsletters, and pull titles as examples, but why waste all our time. If you’re a member — which is really who I’m talking to right now — you know exactly what I’m talking about. Women are disrupting this or that industry by merely existing in it. Bodies are being discriminated against by sugar, and marathons. Cyberpeople are all Russian bots — or they need to be nicer.
Here’s my thing: are body issues REALLY the most creative topic you could come up with for your first “popup anthology”, behind which you’ve thrown the weight of Medium’s promotional machine? Frankly, it feels suuuuper obvious to me. You might as well change the name “Medium” to “Therapy Platform.” Or “Safe Space,” maybe.
Sorry, that was a bit mean. I’m just getting really sick of this MO of identity politicking bullshit.
I want to be clear that my criticism is NOT aimed at Roxanne Gay, nor at any of the writers included in the “Unruly Bodies” anthology, nor authors of those headlines included in recent newsletters. While it’s not my cup of tea, I believe Roxanne’s work, and the work she’s curated, is important. I believe every voice deserves to be heard.
I also believe that fat black female voices aren’t intrinsically more valuable than, say, a thin white male voice. Or that my relatively thin white woman voice is intrinsically more valuable than a chubby brown male voice. And so on and so forth.
Watching content get promoted on the basis of the authors’ race, sex, and body type rather than the merit of their content and ideas is just exhausting. Justify it with whatever race or gender or identity theory you want. This massive overcompensation — this swing to the side of the pendulum where we rank the validity of ideas by race and gender and ability— it’s not right, and I think we all know that in our bones.
These conversations will always be with us, and they should be. But we need some protein in our diet, and badly. To evolve, as individuals and as a community, we have to move beyond that stage of identifying our pain, and victimhood, and into a stage of responsibility — because there lies freedom.
4) You’re starting to act like an emotionally abusive boyfriend
Just as I was writing this piece, Medium emailed me this little automated gem: “It looks like you’re into matters of the self, so we rounded up a few of our favorites for you this week. Because you’re a member and an avid reader, we want to make sure you are getting the best stories in the topics that interest you.”
Check out these suggested titles:
Oh really? You thought that these titles would interest me, huh?
40 years of self loathing? How to become more LIKEABLE? Pinpointing my phobia? If I wasn’t neurotic before, I probably would be after reading these articles.
You know what, Medium? As shocking as it may seem, I actually already quite like me. No: I love me. #truestory
I also love my body — even though I haven’t always! Even though my body isn’t super fat! And it also isn’t super thin! And has stretch marks and mom belly but is generally ok, and I’m genuinely content with that! Despite the fact that I’ve struggled with body dysmorphia most of my life! But I worked through it and now I don’t, and I’m ready to talk about something else now, but you don’t seem to be ok with that!
Based on this unsolicited hot mess of self-hating self-help you’re promoting to me, you don’t seem to be ok with people being ok with themselves — or with other people.
Note: ALL these titles are Medium Features. These are clearly not suggestions that are tailored to me. These are stories Medium has specifically curated, and sent them to me under the guise of being “the best stories in the topics that interest” me. Despite the fact that this content is clearly not representative of my interests.
“Self” is not a tag I’ve ever followed, nor is self-help an area I spend time roaming — unlike Spirituality, Film, and Lit. I’ve never gotten an email offering me more stories in any of these categories — categories I actually follow, and actively read and write. I have not been perusing self-related topics lately.
So, Medium: not only are you serving me a barrage of negative identity politicking, but you’re lying by telling me you’re giving it to me because I like it.
I do not like this content. You know this. There’s nothing that would indicate I like this, and you fucking know it. If you want to send me content I like, why wouldn’t you suggest Featured articles like How the “Magic: The Gathering” Color Wheel Explains Humanity? Cuz that shit is my jam. That’s…why I run a nerd publication. Not a body dysmorphia publication.
Your Friends @ Medium: you are gaslighting me.
Medium Staff, if you’re sick of hearing my critical feedback, I promise that I’m more sick of doling it out. I invest my time and energy writing these little missives because Medium is my home, and my community that I love, and therefore it’s my job to nurture and protect it. Also my animus gets the better of me sometimes.
Siobhan O'Connor should not have been made editor of this platform. She’s a bad match for the culture and mission. Under her leadership, Medium is looking more like just another neo-liberal mainstream publication every day, while its loyal writers can’t get in front of their own audiences and readers scream their feedback into the wind (I appreciate the increased “new from your network”, but how about that expansion of your tax taxonomy, or any attention whatsoever to poetry and fiction?).
And while there’s nothing wrong with being a neo-liberal mainstream publication, that’s not Medium. That’s not who we are. That’s not our mission. We take the road less traveled. We ignite fresh conversations. We challenge narratives.
We don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. Fuck the Joneses.
I say all this as someone who is invested here. Who’s been here writing and running publications on Medium for years (literally: multiple years), and who will continue to do so for many more.
Maybe hire from within the organization next time, Ev. You’ve attracted a lot of talent here. Why not put your trust in it? We’re the ones most vested in your mission. After all: this is our home.
Please don’t shadow ban me for writing this, Your Friends @ Medium. Pretty please. I’d love to write something nice about the platform next time. Just throw me a bone, here. Help me help you.