Internet Culture Media

Day 111 and The Attention Economy

I like media. When I first moved to New York I had big dreams of getting hired to work at Condé Nast. This was almost immediately crushed by the reality that I was of average financial wealth (I moved to the city with about $500 and lived in a women’s SRO), not from a noteworthy family and notoriously poor at respecting authority.

But I was lucky enough to arrive in the media capital of the world just as blogging was turning into a cultural phenomenon. So it turns out I didn’t need to work for some bitchy queens to get a toehold in the industry! I was also wise enough to realize there was absolutely no fucking money in media early on so I watched many of my peers climb the ladder in new media jobs without being a member of the media myself.

I found ways to make money on marketing, branding, e-commerce and new media businesses. It was a lot more lucrative. Consequently I now have a large number of media friends (disclosure time) without any of the cultural baggage of being in media. Unless you count the time I was the first person to livestream fashion week. Which I didn’t technically have credentials to do but it got covered in Women’s Wear Daily.

I’m really grateful I never got suckered into actually being in media as I’d probably be broke, miserable and exhausted. And then if I admitted I was exhausted I’d have a bunch of the older generation of media folks dunking on me for saying that. Which is how I got into a shitposting thread with Glenn Greenwald today. Who I think might actually be in on the joke about grifter click culture.

If you don’t work in media I think you’ve got an inflated sense of their power and independence. It’s actually hard to make any money so you are always living at the whim of executives and editors. Most of them got into the business to tell crucial stories (naive but like good) and are stuck living at the mercy of a business that isn’t that lucrative.

A lot of bad faith arguments get made equating institutional power to individual power, and while it’s true having the power of the New York Times behind you matters, it’s also true that any random blogger like me has more freedom to pursue ideas than a staffer at a newspaper. So I think it’s sort of a reflection of insecurities anytime anyone gets worked up about media power. Especially if you know better as some of the older media folks like Greenwald do. These beat reporter exist in hierarchies with bills. They don’t have the freedom to shitpost like me or Glenn Greenwald. We are wealthy and independent. Beat writers are fighting constant turf wars just to stay employed.

It can also be true that beat reporters have to fight a constant battle for attention and clicks in order to stay employed. This means we get culture warriors and posturing. But both sides of each debate are engaged in a kind of elaborate attention grift. So when Taylor Lorenz or Glenn Greenwald or Matt Taibbi sucker you in with a position on who is most virtuous the answer is whoever pays them. And guess who is paying? You and me. Our attention is getting monetized into all kinds of nifty revenue streams. I know this because that’s how I make my money. So next time you get worked up about the evils of media asking yourself why you are paying attention and who is benefiting.