Many newly launched newsletters these days come with some defiant statement of purpose — “I want to own my own thing” or “I want to be free from the tyranny of editors.”
I have nothing so grandiose in mind: in fact, I find the idea that the “future of journalism” is individually owned and operated properties supported through subscriptions to be rather terrifying and ultimately a dead-end for journalism as we know it today. Also editors are great, some of my best friends are editors. This post has been lightly edited (I can’t promise this for future iterations of the newsletter).
So, here we are. If you’re reading this and don’t know anything about me, I’m Matthew Zeitlin — I’m a freelance writer in Brooklyn who mostly writes about economics. I was a staff writer for BuzzFeed’s business section for several years and have written for New York, Barron’s, n+1, The Guardian, The New Republic, Slate, and several other publications.
My work for these outlets includes a long essay on WeWork and the contradictions of global capital, a reported obituary of the anarchist anthropologist and monetary thinker David Graeber, a pre-election examination of America’s two foremost election forecasters, and an entreaty to Joe Biden to learn some lessons from Donald Trump’s borrow and spend fiscal policy.
Politics, economics, business, it’s what I write about professionally, it’s what I tweet about, and it’s what I hope to deliver to our inbox (or, if you’re like me in how you interact with substacks, deliver to a stable webpage with updates in reverse chronological order).
But why substack? It’s not because they’ve offered me some kind of sweet deal or editorial staff or anything, I’m logging in and writing straight into the CMS like any other blue collar, lunchpail blogger.
As a freelancer, I have basically two ways of turning ideas into something besides a collection of thoughts in my head.
The first is that I write up a pitch to an editor I may or may not know, having that be rejected or accepted, and going through a multi-day process of refining the piece, writing it, getting it edited, and then waiting for it get published (this can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks). These pieces will often reach audiences I can’t reach on my own, have a half life significantly longer than a tweet, and most importantly, I get paid at the end of it.
The other option is the one I more frequently avail myself of: tweeting. This offers immediacy of publication and feedback that I find incredibly valuable. Not a few of the stories that I’ve been paid to write started out as a tweet an editor emailed to me and said “is this a story?” But it’s not just the ability to get your words in front of thousands of people instantaneously, it’s also the community: the access you get to the unfiltered thoughts of subject-matter experts, knowledgeable amateurs, and intriguing cranks is simply unmatched anywhere else online.
You will hear from people that Twitter is bad and they wish they spent less time on it. This view is half right — Twitter is, in fact, good, and it’s so good that I need to find ways to wrench myself away from it.
Twitter’s great strength is precisely in the lack of discipline it imposes on its users. It encourages the sharing of jokes, memes, and instantaneously sounding off on what just happened. It’s a great way of building an audience and establishing a rapport with people you wouldn’t have the chance to interact with otherwise.
What I’m hoping to do here is to combine that precious hybrid of community and individuality you find on Twitter with content that’s more crafted and considered than a typo-filled quote tweet about a recent appointment to the Obama economic team. Then you, the reader, email me about it, forward it your friends and even tweet about it yourself.
I also want to experiment a bit in what I write about at greater-than-tweet length. I’m really interested in literature, film, and the “big questions” of aesthetics and culture, but due to the journalism track I found myself on after college (and my never consummated plans to get a PhD in English), I haven’t had the chance to write about that stuff in a considered way. It’s something I hope to experiment with here along with all the economics and politics stuff you already expect.
But before any of that can happen, you have to read, subscribe, forward, share and tell others about this newsletter’s existence and how they need to subscribe to it. Thanks so much for reading, I’ll be in touch soon.