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So Long Medium
This is where I post an overly dramatic takedown of Medium.com, brimming with thinly veiled anger at their platform, implying censorship and deplatforming and all sorts of mean nasty things on their behalf because they’re just so god awfully liberal that they can’t stand having a writer who is generally and mathematically pro-gun, nor one who writes critically about some of the goofy stuff under the hood with the modern Social Justice movement. This is where I pretend that my reader base follows me as closely as Matt Taibbi’s does him, or Glen Greenwald’s does him, or such. And I lambast everyone around me in dramatic effect while slamming the door.
But that’s all pretty much bullshit, at least in my case. I liked Medium, and they were good to me. Further, I think a closer look at my case might expose Greenwald’s case for being at least marginally bullshit too. One of his main grievances seems to be rooted in a failure to understand how modern media works. And since that was a major focus of the Handwaving Freakoutery (heretofore and hereafter “HWFO”) publication’s material on Medium, perhaps this post can act as a kind of a glue to hold that whole media argument together, using my experience and Greenwald’s public statements about his experience, as case studies. As this article evolves, you might find it applicable to Bari Weiss leaving the New York Times as well, or other similar instances which are sure to materialize over the next year or more across our evolving “Purge based” media evolution.
Medium and Me
I’m not a writer by trade. I only started “identifying” as a writer officially after I got my first print piece in RECOIL Magazine over this past summer, and even now I would never dream of trying to make money at it. Any asshole can be a “writer,” and when the market is flooded with assholes nobody makes any money. There are more writers than readers, so the money you make gets driven down to the margins, just like what happened with music over the last decade.
I do all this stuff for fun. I’m a civil engineer and stormwater hydrologist who mostly works for land developers to make sure they follow environmental rules while they pave paradise and put up a parking lot, so they don’t get sued for flooding out their downstream neighbor. I also teach, testify in court as an expert, revise floodplain maps, and the like. I do math. Math makes money.
Sometime in early 2018 the Great Facebook Freakout was about gun control, and as a gun owner who knows math I got tremendously angry that my friend network, who are mostly liberal, were so ill informed about the actual mathematics of gun ownership, gun crime, and gun death, and were being continually and brazenly lied to about guns by their media sources. But refuting the media requires effort - long responses that I would copy/paste into discussions, which nobody ever read anyway. To save some time, I cleaned one of these copy/pastes up into an article, and sought out a place to easily house it on the internet. I discovered Medium.
Medium had a button that said “make money by clicking this button” so I clicked the button.
And it went viral. The first thing I ever “wrote” as a “writer” was entitled “Everybody’s Lying About the Link Between Gun Ownership and Gun Homicide.” As of today it has 288,000 hits, and earned me $907.27 on Medium’s “Partnership Program.” In the last year alone, even though the article is now in the residual / evergreen phase of its earning cycle, Medium members have collectively spent 94 hours and 51 minutes, reading that one article. Not enough to pay rent, but still not bad for a random internet asshole. Way more than Facebook ever paid me.
Over the past six months, however, curious things started to happen under the hood over at Medium. I started getting a lot of new followers, but these followers seemed like blanks. There was never a “clap,” which is how you make your money over there, and the slugs of new followers weren’t associated with any traffic spike. They were ghost followers. The whole thing is eerily similar to how Ashley Madison had paid fembots to make you think there were more women on there than there actually were. I think Medium’s cooking the books to keep from losing writers, and might get exposed for it sometime soon. But even if they are cooking the books, that wouldn’t explain the relative loss in traffic my publication has gotten over there during 2020. A better explanation has to do with the sorts of people who subscribe to Medium.
In 2018, Medium was largely a place software developers and coders would post articles about how to do software development and coding stuff. A noticeable portion of their user base were largely libertarian leaning nerds, socially left, not opposed to guns, and like reading about statistics. Medium didn’t originally have a large editorial staff, didn’t focus on featured content, and was run much looser, like how Substack is run now. When they pivoted over to having an editorial staff, however, things started to change.
I suspect the article Medium chose to feature of mine, “The Surprisingly Solid Mathematical Case of the Tin Foil Hat Gun Prepper,” may have been the last non-lefty thing Medium ever put on their front page. Everything they featured since, for several years, came from the rabbit hole we now call “Woke.” That said, Jon Stokes and I from Open Source Defense still maintain a firm grip on the most popular gun articles over there.
But if you’re not Woke, or are slowly realigning yourself to the group of “actively anti-wokes” along the new emergent political axis, why would you pay a subscription to Medium? You wouldn’t. The traffic benefits of being on Medium slowly eroded for my publication because the echo chamber reading Medium tightened.
And that’s almost assuredly what actually happened with Glen Greenwald at The Intercept. Greenwald’s editors at The Intercept censored one of his articles critical of Joe Biden. Greenwald railed against this censorship claiming ideological bias. And that ideological bias was probably a true thing, I don’t know. But the mechanics of modern media organizations, where they play to a tight bubble because tight bubbles get the most clicks, basically force editors to do this. From a monetary perspective, the editors were doing the right thing. This ever-tightening echo chamber mechanic would still happen within our modern media system even if every editor were ideologically blank. It amazes me that an author such as Greenwald, who is deeply popular, very successful, and has been plugged into the media systems at every level for decades, doesn’t grok that.
In the end, I didn’t leave Medium because of some kind of horrible censorship issue. To date my stuff is still up, and hasn’t been cancelled, although who knows what will happen with The Purge in the next few months. And I’m thankful I published there, and I’m thankful they let me. It was a cool place to write stuff.
It’s just a less cool place now than it used to be.