Inside the social media factory created by former Huffington Post cofounder Jonah Peretti—how they’ve cracked viral content, invested in original content, and made money:
“At around 5 p.m., Stopera published ’48 Pictures That Perfectly Capture the ’90s’ on BuzzFeed. ‘These pictures are all that and a bag of chips!’ he wrote at the top of the list. A BuzzFeed visitor with an appetite for ’90s nostalgia could scroll down, gawk at the 48 retro images, read the deadpan captions, recall Bob Saget, Tipper Gore, and Scottie Pippen, laugh at the crazy fashion, and resurface to the present day in a matter of minutes. It racked up 1.2 million page views.”
The Native literary community suffered a very public loss when author Sherman Alexie admitted to sexually harassing women. But Alexie was only one of the most visible indigenous writers. Many Native people have written strong literary work for a long time, from Leslie Marmon Silko to Joy Harjo to N. Scott Momaday. At BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen reports on the new generation who is redefining indigenous literature, and how these writers are reclaiming the means of production in the form of their own creative writing programs.
Traditional MFA programs are very Eurocentric, just as American commercial publishing is Eurocentric. Native American tribes have ancient oral traditions, proving again and again that there are many ways to tell stories outside the Western tradition. Now Native American writers have the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) MFA program to provide room to create art unburdened by white aesthetic standards. Founded in 2012, two-thirds of IAIA’s faculty are indigenous, and two of its graduates, Terese Marie Mailhot and Tommy Orange, have recently published searing books that have gotten people talking. In addition to education and encouragement, the program aims to “claim visibility,” because, as the author notes, “Many people in the US have never met a Native American; they don’t see or interact with Natives in their everyday lives. Natives aren’t characters in the books and films and music and art they consume.”
“One of the reasons I wrote a polyphonic novel is that I come from a voiceless community,” Orange told me. “And in a similar way, with IAIA, I want to usher in as many new voices as possible. We’re just trying to get to the baseline of humanity, and not be a textbook image that’s remembered and spoken of in the past tense. That’s where our urgency comes from.”
For Mailhot, Orange, and so many writers I spoke to at IAIA, it’s not just about the book deals. It’s about what they call Native Excellence — and creating a path to it with its own expectations and standards, instead of relying on those established by white academia or publishing.
“I think it’s a type of arrival, when you get to make those decisions for yourself,” Mailhot said. “It’s very different for indigenous people, and black people, and people of color, because we are so often told to doubt ourselves, and our aesthetics, and what we do, simply because some of us are not traditionally taught how to write. And even if we are, we are looked at as if we don’tknow how — that we’re not authorities of our own work. And I just don’t buy it anymore.”
Nicole Chung | Longreads | March 2018 | 11 minutes (2,845 words)
I am writing a book my father will never see. Not in its entirety, not out in the world. He got through about half of my first draft, my mother said, or maybe a little bit more, sometimes using a magnifying glass to read the manuscript I’d sent in 12-point double-spaced Times. When I heard this, I berated myself — I should have thought of that; I should have sent a larger-print version. “Honey, it wouldn’t have mattered,” Mom said. “He had to use the magnifying glass for all his reading, even the bigger type.”
Why didn’t I know that? Because I was far away, across the country. Because he didn’t read books on the too-rare occasions when we were together; he was focused on spending time with me. Because, while I asked about his health all the time, I never asked, specifically, how does he read these days? One more thing I hadn’t known about my father. One more thing to reproach myself for.
He did read part of my book. I think about that every day. He and my mom would sometimes read it aloud, together, chapter by chapter, working their way through it in the evenings after she got home from work. When my dad died suddenly, six days into the new year, they were still several chapters from the end.
Rahawa Haile | Longreads | February 2018 | 12 minutes (3,078 words)
(Spoiler alert! This essay contains numerous spoilers about the film Black Panther.)
By the time I sat down to watch Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, a film about a thriving, fictional African country that has never been colonized, 12 hours had passed since the prime minister of Ethiopia resigned following years of protest and civil unrest. It would be another 12 hours before the country declared a state of emergency and enforced martial law, as the battle for succession began. Ethiopia has appeared in many conversations about Black Panther since the film’s release, despite an obvious emphasis on Wakanda, the Black Panther’s kingdom, being free of outside influences — and finances.
While interviews with Coogler reveal he based Wakanda on Lesotho, a small country surrounded on all sides by South Africa, it has become clear that most discussions about the film share a similar geography; its borders are dimensional rather than physical, existing in two universes at once. How does one simultaneously argue the joys of recognizing the Pan-African signifiers within Wakanda, as experienced by Africans watching the film, and the limits of Pan-Africanism in practice, as experienced by a diaspora longing for Africa? The beauty and tragedy of Wakanda, as well as our discourse, is that it exists in an intertidal zone: not always submerged in the fictional, as it owes much of its aesthetic to the Africa we know, but not entirely real either, as no such country exists on the African continent. The porosity and width of that border complicates an already complicated task, shedding light on the infinite points of reference possible for this film that go beyond subjective readings.
Minda Honey | Longreads | February 2018 | 12 minutes (2,955 words)
One week into the new year, my friends assembled in the cellar lounge of an upscale restaurant to celebrate my 33rd birthday. On that frigid January night, we drank fancy cocktails made with bourbon, made with bitters, made with things that don’t seem like they go together but do. Music meant to be forgotten even as you’re listening to it played in the background beneath our chatter. I leapt from my seat, tugged down my short dress and flung my arms around each friend as they arrived. My friends kept my drinks coming all night and properly admired the way my 33-year-old cleavage still defied gravity in the most spectacular way. The group who turned out that night represented nearly every phase of my life from childhood to high school to college to career to the other cities I’ve lived in, but in that amateur episode of “This is Your Life” the romantic partner I longed for had yet to make an appearance. Many of my friends in the small city I call home paired off years ago. I’m always the one without a date to every party, even my own.
A girl I’ve known since we rode the bus together in elementary school offered to give me a tarot reading. She settled on the couch across from me and I cut and shuffled the deck as instructed. She flipped each card over and carefully placed it down on the small round table between us — 10 in all. First was the Wheel of Fortune, perhaps commentary on the success I’d seen over the past year as a writer, and last was the Queen of Wands, maybe insight into my passion for nurturing community and my ambitions for the upcoming year. But it was the middle card that interested me most. When my friend turned over the sixth card, the card that predicts what lies ahead, it was an older white man with a long white beard seated on a throne, The Emperor. “Oh, interesting,” she said.
She foresaw a man coming into my life. He would not be a young man. He would be a good influence. Maybe business, maybe love. I wondered, would he be the man I’ve been waiting for? Like many women, I’d thought by 30 I’d have found The One. Had there been a candle to blow out, my birthday wish would have been for the perfect man for me: an educated, financially stable, liberal feminist. A man who was a manifestation of my politics, of all the things I believed in.
In 1896, a Tennessee publisher named Adolph Ochs became the majority stockholder of The New York Times, and in a short few paragraphs under the heading “Business Announcement,” he outlined his plans for the paper. One sentence, burned into the brains of journalists throughout the intervening century, announced his aim for the paper “to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect or interests involved.”
Without fear or favor. This was, and remains, a good guiding principle for this profession. Journalists young and old heed it regularly. You swallow your fear of a powerful CEO or politician, dial a phone number, ask the tough questions, and demand a real answer. You force yourself to examine your own biases, to not fall prey to the likability of a subject or a source, to not assume there are good guys and bad guys, and to meet every question with clear-eyed scrutiny.
These are ideals, and by definition, we don’t always meet them. But we strive, and on our best days, we succeed.
That’s exactly what Newsweek reporters Celeste Katz and Josh Saul, and their editors Bob Roe and Kenneth Li, were doing when they investigated why their office was raided by investigators from the Manhattan District Attorney on January 18, quickly turning around a story. Saul and Katz dug into their own company’s finances and history after determining that the D.A.’s investigation was related to the company’s finances. They questioned many people, including the company’s CEO, Dev Pragad, who recently touted record numbers for audience and revenue. Bob Roe, interviewed in the story in his capacity as the magazine’s editor-in-chief, acknowledged the raid had understandably set people on edge, but added, “We’ve got to keep doing our job as long as we can, and part of that job is reporting this story.”
Since that story, Saul and Katz collaborated on two more stories that held their own company accountable, joined by their colleague Josh Keefe: First, on the potential connection of a Christian group to the DA’s investigation; then, on the company’s married chairman and finance director stepping down from their positions. Katz also reported on the company’s chief content officer taking an immediate leave of absence after a past sexual harassment complaint against him was revealed by BuzzFeed.
Then on February 5, Katz, Saul, Roe and Li were abruptly fired. Articles by BuzzFeed, CNN Money, and The Daily Beast reported that staffers suspected the firings were retaliation for their clear-eyed and honest reporting on the company’s legal and financial issues. Another reporter, Matthew Cooper, tendered a letter of resignation to Pragad, criticizing the magazine’s “reckless leadership.”
“It’s the installation of editors, not Li and Roe, who recklessly sought clicks at the expense of accuracy, retweets over fairness, that leaves me most despondent not only for Newsweek but for other publications that don’t heed the lessons of this publication’s fall,” Cooper wrote in the letter, which he shared on Twitter.
Granted, we do not know for a fact why these four staffers were fired, but that is part of the problem. The company chose to use the convenient and common excuse of a policy of not speaking publicly on “personnel matters,” and given the recent actions within the company, it’s reasonable the remaining employees believe their colleagues were victims of retaliation. Not only is the company not outwardly saying otherwise, it’s also refusing to provide an explanation to its staff.
It is becoming a horrifying trend in this industry, where reporters and editors get fired for holding their company accountable in the exact manner in which we are meant to do our jobs. This happened at the Las Vegas Review-Journal after casino mogul Sheldon Adelson purchased it, and a similar situation occurred at the L.A. Weekly last year.
Investigating corruption is the job of an investigative journalist. For an investigation to be a fireable offense is antithetical to the industry’s entire purpose. This isn’t what journalism should be, and it’s dangerous. We can’t expect people to believe us when we say we are principled if we do not apply those principles to ourselves.
This is why certain reactions to the Newsweek firing were so appalling.
Yglesias’ Twitter profile states “bad takes and fake news,” so perhaps this tweet was simply an attempt at an example of the former. It is a very, very bad take. It is first and foremost unbelievably callous. Four people just lost their jobs and you respond by dismissing all of their work as well as that of their colleagues? It’s also simply wrong. Saul and Katz both have earned reputations as skilled and hard-working journalists, and up to their firing demonstrated a measure of bravery and principle that is admirable.
Anyone who cares about journalism should be appalled by the events at Newsweek. Everyone in this industry should speak out against it and make it clear these actions are antithetical to what we aim to do.
Our industry is terrifyingly volatile and currently under siege by the most powerful person in our nation. Ironic cool-kid tweets or petty “who cares” statements are worse than meaningless here. We would be best served by supporting one another in these times of upheaval and defending the values that help us produce good journalism.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Masha Gessen, Molly Osberg, T. S. Mendola, Alexander Chee, and George Murray.
When Alexander Chee’s father died at the age of 43 he didn’t leave a will. Instead, his estate was divided evenly among his wife and three children. When he turned 18, Chee was bequeathed a trust, and the first thing he bought was something he thought his father would want for him — a black Alfa Romeo.
In an essay for BuzzFeed adapted from his forthcoming collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, Chee recounts the nine years he spent spending the inheritance, often prudently — paying for college, grad school, and preparing for a life of the mind — and sometimes impetuously, like the purchase of the fast car his father would have loved.
For those nine years, I felt both invulnerable and doomed, under the protection of a spell that I knew to be dwindling in power. The Alfa broke down finally while I was driving from Iowa to New York City. I left it where it stopped, in Poughkeepsie, on the street in front of a friend’s apartment. That summer, newly released from graduate school, with no job and no prospects, I had no money to repair it or move it. Eventually the car, covered in unpaid tickets, was impounded and sold by the state to cover the towing and storage costs. My money gone, I surrendered to life without either the trust’s protections or the car. I know it was all stupid, and I was ashamed, and felt powerless in the face of the problem and ashamed of that powerlessness. But I was also tired of being mistaken for someone who was rich when I felt I had less than nothing.
I had believed I would feel lighter without the money, free of the awful feeling of having it but not having my father. And yet spending the last of it was not just like failing my father — it was like losing him again.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Aly Raisman, Joseph Williams, Jenna Wortham, Mayukh Sen, and Sirin Kale.