So! Right now on the parts of the internet mostly occupied by People Who Work In the Business of Content (or as known by their Hebrew name: Media Schmucks), there’s a fiery debate raging, mostly through the dumb art of white-hot takery, about a critical issue for this terrifyingly weird and abrasive moment in American history:
An email newsletter.
Yes: And you thought [INSERT LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE] was important. But you were wrong.
The email newsletter in question is called The Skimm. It’s a daily digest of news and internet links, written—like so many email newsletters to come before it, and that will come after—with a specific tone, for a specific audience. The Skimm has become wildly successful, due in no small part to that tone, which is conversational, and casual, and flippant, and cheeky.
SEND THEM TO THE GODDAMN HAGUE, right?
Anyway, because People In The Business Of Content need to keep the Content Sarlacc Pit good on the noms, they’ve managed to take something as innocuous as an email newsletter—one, it’s worth mentioning, that doesn’t take a partisan slant, nor one that spreads factually inaccurate news, nor one that acts as propaganda outlet for any specific cause—and make hating it something of an en vogue cause of sorts.
On Thursday, this reached fever pitch when that favorite outlet producing stories to share on Facebook almost exclusively for your one cousin who went to Brown—Slate Dot Com—threw down a scalding ball of content heat. Headline:
Let’s be clear:
– Ivanka Trump is arguably the most influential person to the most divisive, jingoistic, alienating leader this country has ever had, whose ambiguous agenda (insofar as it can be gleaned) is to fool people into thinking she’s America’s lone progressive savior who can influence the American President, when, in fact, she just wants to sell more bangles and will continue to perpetuate the status quo of power in America right now as much as she possibly can—a status quo that seeks to alienate almost everyone on this planet who doesn’t look like Donald Trump (or, for that matter, Ivanka, though even that’s a stretch).
– The Skimm is an email newsletter.
Now, if you’ve never read The Skimm, and you’re now primed to expect it to read like Redbook as edited by Joseph Goebbels, you would be sorely mistaken.
Here are some of the examples of the absolute scourge to society that is The Skimm, as employed by Slate’s Christina Cauterucci, who’s leading the current charge against them:
“Former President Obama came thiiiss close to military intervention. Until everyone said ‘whoa whoa whoa let’s talk things out.’”
“You’re still hearing a lot about Michael Flynn. Right…who’s he again?”
“Everyone can agree on one thing: no one’s happy. Both parties blame the other. And voters blame Congress.”
From The Skimm’s “WTF Is Going On With Russia” explainer: “There are many, many questions that remain unanswered. The only thing that’s for sure at this point is this is a very tangled web.”
Is this nuanced, detailed language? It is not. Are readers of The Skimm bound to get full, high-definition color pictures of the news, as it’s happening, from The Skimm? They are not.
But is The Skimm leading what Cauterucci characterized as a “terrifying” group of “people who don’t take pride in their ignorance, per se, but who also don’t particularly care about gaining a nuanced understanding of politics and policy,” who can inflict serious danger on our country?
No, it’s not.
A few points Cauterucci glazed over that are worth visiting:
– The Skimm links out. Readers of The Skimm are given a choice, at the end of every piece of news they read, to click on a link related to that news.
– Because they link out, The Skimm is connecting an audience of people who might not have otherwise read that bigger, more detailed material. If, say, The Skimm actually decided to forego the links that accompany all of their newsletters, they truly would be creating a reductive space to make the news dumber for people who might not get it in many other ways. Instead, they’re leading their readers into other stories, showing them the way into more detailed, thorough, and substantive pieces of news.
– Castigating people for getting to those news sources because you find the medium disagreeable is elitist bullshit of the worst stripe. In the first stories linked out on The Skimm today, clicking will send you to filings by the Associated Press, CNN, and The New York Times. Those are three absolutely stand-up news outlets who’ve done critical reporting work over the last few months—work that acts in favor of preserving both our democracy and continues to reassert the importance of a free and truthful press. Any way people get to this work, the point remains: They get to this work. If The New York Times were printed on the back of a liter of Mountain Dew or on the inside of a pack of Virginia Slims, I’m okay with people getting obesity and lung cancer so long as they’re reading what the Times has to say about Michael Flynn as opposed to, like, Breitbart. Speaking of which…
– Making an issue out of something as facile as not loving the tone of a publication you think is dumb and reductive is uh kinda counter-productive in this moment in media. The Skimm isn’t linking out to Breitbart. The Skimm isn’t spreading fake news on Facebook out of a Russian trolling mill. The Skimm isn’t giving voice or amplification to hate speech. The Skimm isn’t Fox News. The Skimm isn’t InfoWars. The Skimm didn’t create Pizzagate. The Skimm isn’t even employing Bret Stephens! In media, in 2017, taking issue—and specifically, this issue—with The Skimm rates low and scrapes the bottom of a very, very petty barrel.
– And in case you’re wondering, yeah, people click. I’m not about to give away our own metrics for the sake of this incredibly dumb issue, but we can assure you: The Skimm sends a shitload of traffic to the places it’s linking to. The Skimm’s readers do in fact read. We’ve seen it once or twice. And anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a link from The Skimm would attest to this. Also, oh yeah: There are far more ostensibly unsavory places to get links from, that bring as much (if not more) traffic (to places like Slate!) that nobody’s writing hot takes about, because it’s just not as counter-intuitive to hate. Ahem.
But finally, and maybe most importantly, all the people who are throwing a fit about The Skimm (A) work in media (B) aren’t actually reading The Skimm on a daily basis. This is kind of like complaining about how bland the food is at a restaurant you never go to. The Skimm isn’t for people who work in media. The Skimm isn’t for people who spend time Tweeting about The Atlantic‘s latest cover story or being mad about the latest L’affair Something Dumb Jonathan Chait Said. The Skimm is for people who don’t know what an RSS feed is and don’t care. And it’s also probably for people who don’t normally read The New York Times, or AP filings, but who—because of The Skimm—may now be compelled to do such a thing.
[And The Skimm definitely isn’t for Slate readers, LOL. Though maybe it is these days?]
Anyway, The Skimm is just the latest dumb hot take issue of the day, and because everything old is new again, here’s Alyssa Rosenberg, writing for (yes) Slate in 2012—five years ago, when The Skimm first launched—in defense of The Skimm:
There’s no reason why any of us should be ashamed of getting a general lay of the land that gives us time to focus on the things we are passionate and deeply informed about. […] If we all looked at our quick reads not as a way to pretend we’re polymaths, but as tools to engage with people who know more about any given issue than we do, and to get more out of our conversations with them, we’d be better off. Whether you’re a man or woman, being smart isn’t always about knowing the answer. Often, it’s about identifying the right question.
And that’s the crux of this: Someone out there taking umbrage with the idea that someone who’s currently uninformed doesn’t inform themselves (with accurate information, no less) in a tone that doesn’t engage with their own sensibilities, in the same language as those sensibilities. That’s just kind of mean-spirited. It’s taking an ostensibly innocuous stand that only actually serves to drive people away from the information any intelligent person would want them to have access to, or be guided to, under the guise of heroic posturing that claims a moral high ground—that claims to be on the side of intelligent people, on the side of right.
Which it’s not. And it takes us away from focusing on more important things, too—forms of actually villainy.
Which actually, come to think about it, sounds a lot like…something Ivanka Trump does!
Anyway, to reiterate, and in sum, the only people who care about The Skimm and place a moral judgement on it work in media and write hot takes and are thirsty for retweets, and you should ignore this argument, and read the news however the hell you want, so long as it’s honest and true.
Let us never speak of this dumb take again.