How to have a career as a journalist in 2022
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Over the weekend, a fight erupted on Twitter between current Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman and former Times social-media reporter Taylor Lorenz. The short version is something like: Lorenz was quoted in an Insider story about Times policy around outside projects saying "The longer you stay at a job that restricts you from outside opportunities, the less relevant your brand becomes.” Post reporter Jacqueline Alemany said it was "cringey" to "earnestly refer to 'your brand.'" Haberman then accused Lorenz of attention-seeking behavior, and it sort of continued from there. (Elizabeth Spiers's write-up covers it, if you need more information.)
Read Max is "team Taylor Lorenz" on this one, partly because her original point is correct, partly because I don't have a lot of love for the cable news-contract types who were tittering about her indelicate use of the word "brand," but most importantly because Lorenz is a paid subscriber to Read Max. A little-discussed subscriber benefit to this newsletter is that I will take your side in all disputes against non-subscribers. (In disputes between two paying subscribers, I will take the side of whichever subscriber is paying me more.)
Rather than further litigate the dispute, however, Read Max will engage in some of the service journalism for which it is so widely and deservedly beloved. Welcome to the Read Max Career Corner.
How to have a job as a journalist in 2022
It might help to have a little bit of historical background to understand why we're even having this conversation. For most of the 20th century, journalism was a lucrative government-subsidized industry designed to guarantee steady employment to alcoholics and neurotics. During the Cold War era, James Jesus Angleton would personally assign any Harvard and Yale graduate who was too stupid to join the CIA to The Washington Post, The New York Times, or (in the most hopeless cases) Condé Nast. But by the 1990s, faced with mounting costs and declining budgets, the CIA stopped covering journalists' bar tabs, and instead began investing most of its money and talent behind important new agency projects like Google and Mark Burnett Productions. This is called neoliberalism, and it's why it's much harder to maintain steady employment in newsmedia in the 21st century than it was in the 20th.
For the average journalist there are really only three paths to a career stability and longevity: One, leave journalism entirely for a sane and well-compensated profession like corporate communications, where you can spend most of your time waiting for Zoom meetings to start and writing things like "Fact check: According to internal research from Amalgamated Lead, Inc. the jury is still out on whether or not lead is 'bad' for humans." Two, become an editor and/or manager, though this is only really recommended if you're an ambitious sociopath, or if you need health insurance for more than one or two months a year. And three, develop a recognizable brand.
But what brand can you safely develop? Brands like foreign correspondent, data journalist, and Thomas Friedman are increasingly less relevant to the job market in 2022. Mid-career journalists seeking a smart, safe career path should be mindful of the trends in journalist brand development. Read Max Research has crunched some figures and come up with five journalist brands we believe have reached their peak and have limited upside, and five journalist brands we can recommend as growth choices for early- and mid-career journalists.
Transforming your journalism brand
👉 If your current brand is "anti-woke guy,” try becoming ".eth guy." There's real market saturation in the anti-woke space. How do you distinguish yourself from your successful peers and competitors? Becoming a web3 guy is a good high risk/high reward alternative. Dot-eth guy is an incredibly embarrassing brand to have but it might make you a millionaire.
📵 Instead of tweeting: "As a liberal, I have no choice but to take a stand: #JeSuisJKRowling"
👌 Tweet stuff like: "A lot of people don't understand how moving and emotional it is to own a Anime Slut Feminism NFT. Let me tell you how it helped me get over my divorce. Thread."
👉 What if your brand is "woke guy"? Amidst political reaction and general editorial boredom, big publications are less interested in woke journalists. Try something more innocuous, like "drink water guy." The most popular sections in the surviving media outlets are health-and-wellness articles for aging boomers and underdeveloped millennials about key issues like "How to walk in the snow." The reporters who write these will soon be the most powerful people in journalism.
👎 Instead of tweeting: "I need to apologize for my recent tweets on the subject International Women's Day. First of all, I didn't realize what the 'Azov Battalion' was. (My bad.) As for the follow-up tweet about Zionism, [1/]"
🚰 Tweet stuff like: "A lot of people think the best way to drink water is to sip it out of glass. It's a bit more complicated than that. For my latest, I talked to 10 experts about the best method of drinking water. [1/22]"
👉 If your brand is "misinformation guy," try pivoting to "war guy." The thing about misinformation is, it won. No one cares anymore that this or that photo was actually from 2016, or that it would be "unfeasible" to nuke Russia using a jet with a big "CHINESE JET" sign on it. On the other hand, "knows what a MANPAD is" is a great brand. This kind of guy doesn't get much heat in peacetime, but when a war ramps up you can write literally anything into a thread and it will go viral (n.b. you will probably end up making most of your money from the CIA but that's about the most stable employment you can hope for in journalism).
🧐 Instead of tweeting: "This image suggests that there are two Spider-mans. In fact, it's a still from a 1967 episode of the Spider-man cartoon in which someone else dresses up as Spider-man. We believe the image originated in Russia."
🚀 Tweet stuff like: "Lots of attention being paid to the failures of Su-25 (built for CAS, worthless against moden SEAD) but based on current intel the difference-makers are the T2s. Below video via Telegram."
👉 If your brand is "shitposting socialist guy," it's time to pivot to "guy who subscribes to Adam Tooze and Matt Levine and says stuff like 'capex' casually." This is the big new way to be smart about the economy. Just four or five years ago, it was easy to be a smarter than 90 percent of mainstream business and economics reporters. Now, if you want to be taken seriously you need to know what "repo" and "dollar swaps" are. Seen a lot of growth of this brand over the last couple years and I think there's more to come. First step is learning how to pronounce "Keynes" correctly.
🙊 Instead of tweeting: "@JoeBiden show feet sweetie"
📈 Tweet stuff like: "lol [screenshot of some incomprehensible Bloomberg terminal chart]"
👉 If your brand is "ponderous IDW guy," try "art-scene trend-watching schizoposter." The market for pretentious truisms is shifting away from overeducated conseratives and toward adderall-addicted artists. If you ask me it's a tragic indictment of our culture that we traded Carles for a bunch of self-serious downtown kids with Substacks, but it seems to be what Zoomers want. Stop pitching columns about how Marcus Aurelius can teach you how to live a good life and start a substack called, like, XxMorpheusxX that tracks trends in menswear from the perspective of Julius Evola. No one will understand what you're doing but eventually multiple publications will cover you because they don't want to "miss out."
🙅♀️ Instead of tweeting: "The ontology of the Woke religion is such that Hegel is the deus pater and Marx the messiah, their struggle emerging in an existential auto-da-fé of Gramscian proportions."
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