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I watched my husband ride the same seesaw in corporate. He is a super smart engineer and brings an unusual creativity to problem-solving. Doesn't matter how talented you are, though. If you don't play cultural politics the right way, or maybe if you just wear the wrong shirt or shoes one day, you are out. And no one will ever tell you what you did wrong so that you can learn and evolve. After 30 years in tech, he finally lucked out and landed a position in a start-up where they actually prioritize the humanity of employees. Leadership does this because of the CEO who is a pretty incredible human being. Because of this culture, everyone gives their all and the company is thriving.

Even there, a bad manager almost scuttled his prospects. But, I had advised him to find a mentor in the company and this mentor helped him to move away from that team — after which the manager was demoted (she was toxic to more than just my hubbie). So, there are pockets of rationality and decency out there if you are lucky enough to find them.

Hope you landed on your feet.

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Removed (Banned)Apr 12, 2022
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It is interesting that a lot or the traditional" mental illnesses" have the side effect of protecting people from neurotypical social hivemind cultthink.

that's.... a really interesting observation.

Also, after being on reddit for a thousand years, I don't think its only a neurotypical thing.

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Removed (Banned)Apr 12, 2022
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It’s interesting you highlight the performance aspect of it. I think the performance is there for everyone; autistic people just *know* it.

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I've been trying to figure this out for years: how can you be socially smart enough to participate in the social game, but dumb enough to not think critically about whether its a good way to act or not?

You think most people don't know they are performing?

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Removed (Banned)Apr 12, 2022
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Wow. You just encapsulated my life story: “You get a kid with a critical/reality based truth brain in a family of god botherers and they get fed up and leave.”

I guess that's why I'm here on substack among other independent thinkers and not harrassing people on twitter. I deplore the hive mind. To me, the scariest villian ever conceived in any movie or tv show is the Borg from Star Trek.

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I think most people lack self awareness.

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^^^^This!

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Apr 12, 2022·edited Apr 12, 2022

Cognitive dissonance is one hell of a drug.

As is the ability to rationalise.

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I want to say these are all good answers.

Honestly, some of this is me asking: why is my brain so weird? I've spent most of my life on the fringes of social groups, so its definitely a pain I feel. I don't think I'm more self aware than others - I make social mistakes all the time. Is my cognitive dissonance module broken?

Anyway. Questions and more questions.

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It's being in groups who agree with one another. My grandpa used to say 'A boy is a boy; two boys is half a boy; and three boys is no boy at all.'

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Love this. One of the ways I've stayed sane in this new online era is by opting out. Not on fb or any social media excepting LinkedIn (which is mostly tame) and last year, I gave up on reading news as well. I still engage infrequently in a story or two here or there. But, not as a rule—only incidentally.

I think the profit motive combined with lust for power combined with the sanctimony that is catalyzed on social media has killed the societal good will that used to exist in this country. The fact that "cult-think" has taken over is a symptom of this devolution. It doesn't capture everyone obviously. But, like Freddie said, it captures those who are ambitious; those for whom legacy matters; those who need to feed their egos.

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How can working in such an atmosphere not make you a literal paranoid? Not the best mindset to have as a reporter, it seems to me.

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Don't forget that there are many other forces at play as well. The business exists to make money. Being really good at your job still counts for something. People often communicate in direct and reasonable ways. The described behaviour is just part of the picture, not an all encompassing rule.

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"But I also want to nominate this dynamic, of never knowing if you’re in trouble but sensing that you are and facing career consequences because of it, as a ubiquitous feature of professional life in media."

This is how I felt in academia. Its how I now feel in government.

I think it's a quality in any field where social status and striving are more important than outputs. They want you to feel shame about what you don't know. But, they can't tell you what you did wrong, because you aren't judged by a set a rules, instead the ever changing opinion of the mob.

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I kept thinking about academia (my professional home) as I was reading Freddie's post.

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:) :) I didn't look at the heading, I thought I was reading Bari Weiss.

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I find academia sorta resistant to this, because the stuff I am teaching has a content base. I can readily find out whether someone critiquing my statement is full of shit or not. So long as my only ambition is to be good at teaching my content, the extraneous fluff can be ignored.

I only feel the tension when I turn away from that - to selling books, or being honored at conferences, or trying to change institutional policies, etc. Then after a period of gloom I remind myself that I have a secure job teaching verifiable content to people who will use it to save lives, and only a fool would let any other ambitions overshadow this.

However, it would be cool if everyone bought my books. Is there an ETA on that 'promote your stuff' open thread, or did I already miss it?

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Removed (Banned)Apr 12, 2022
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Depends on tenure. The definition of the rubber room is that you keep on getting paid but you're just not doing anything. To a lot of people that sounds like the perfect job.

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Removed (Banned)Apr 13, 2022
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Buy a pistol. Problem solved.

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founding

This behavior is common in general--it's rare for people to confront each other directly, especially in white collar professions. You can be on everybody's shit list without knowing why, and the aggressions are just subtle enough that you can't force people to acknowledge them.

I recently found out that my boss was mad at me for a few weeks because of something she misheard. It literally wasn't true. So for weeks, I sensed her displeasure and felt nervous and shitty about it, but it didn't come up until she finally said something unambiguously rude. This allowed me to finally initiate a conversation, and it was resolved quickly when I presented evidence that it wasn't true... but it could have just festered forever if I hadn't said something.

I imagine these dynamics are worse in any field where status is more important than what you produce, like you said. In this market, journalists are a dime a dozen and easily replaceable. Reputation is everything in academia--people aren't judging your actual scholarship aside from whether it got published.

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It's so strange, because you think any reasonable person would see how unhealthy it is to work in this way.

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Years ago, I was skimming through a religious history text book at my local community college library. I'll never forget the last sentence in the book: “People don't want truth. They want reassurance.” Wish I could remember the title.

Anyway, it stuck with me—most likely because I value honesty. Telling the truth has landed me in more trouble. People hate you for it. It's like we all have masks and don't you dare expose the reality underneath or painful retribution will follow. Instead, you are supposed to engage in game playing and a dance of lies. This is the true price of shame in our world - we never see each other for who we really are. Only our chimeric selves.

I have this book on my nightstand pile but haven't gotten around to reading it yet : https://www.amazon.com/Private-Truths-Public-Lies-Falsification/dp/0674707583

“Preference falsification, according to the economist Timur Kuran, is the act of misrepresenting one's wants under perceived social pressures.”

I would argue that the psychosocial dynamics Freddie describes in this article have parallels to woke culture with all of its posturing and genuflection. No mystery then that our communications- and education-focused institutions are the ones driving this cultural rout.

The thing that gets massacred in all of this is trust and social cohesion, which leads to a weakening of the social fabric. Jonathan Haidt touches on this in his recent article in the Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/05/social-media-democracy-trust-babel/629369/

I am grateful to you Freddie, for being frank and unfiltered - at least to some degree. It is so refreshing - an oasis in a world of illusion - and why I continue to subscribe.

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Strange question. Because I like to deal with reality, not supposition, not illusion. When predicated on facts, my resulting choices and actions will create a better reality for myself.

It sounds like you may not value honesty. Why not?

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Removed (Banned)Apr 12, 2022·edited Apr 12, 2022
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Yeah, but armies and organizations adapt and adjust. Putin has purged the upper ranks of his intelligence agencies and the armed forces and now the Russians are settling down for a long term stay.

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Removed (Banned)Apr 12, 2022
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Apr 12, 2022·edited Apr 12, 2022

I think Covid really highlighted how much people dislike ambiguity. They don't want to hear that masks, handwashing, social distancing, etc, might be ineffective because that creates dissonance. They don't want to hear about potential side effects of the vaccines because that creates dissonance. They don't want to hear how terrible lockdowns and school closures are for people because that creates dissonance. I never realized how few people are interested in the truth until the last two years. That is why speaking your mind - even when you are clearly right - is often unwelcome and makes you unpopular.

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I think “ambiguity” is the key word there, and I think it clashes a bit with the idea that “few people are interested in the truth.” I think the problem is that we are *too* invested in the truth (and I am very much counting myself among that number), because ambiguity fucking sucks, and the truth is often ambiguous. For my part, knowing the truth - that, for example, high-quality masks made of specific materials, when properly fitted and worn, can effectively reduce a given amount of disease transmission risk for a limited period of time - did not put my mind at ease the way “any cloth on your face makes you safe” did. But the latter let me just put the damn cloth on and step outside, while the former was a conclusion it took 18 months to get a scientific consensus on, and which retroactively made all my personal masking decisions look pretty dumb.

I’m probably projecting onto others here, but in terms of the mental toll having to constantly weigh all the evidence took on me, it honestly wasn’t about wanting to avoid dissonance - it was wanting to commit to whatever belief allowed me to get on with my life and reduce the number of daily decision points I had to engage with. It was about setting a prior that let me off the hook for evaluating my every action according to a deeply ambiguous risk metric. We absolutely dislike ambiguity, as human beings, but at some point we give up and start treating a less ambiguous conclusion as true, because the truth doesn’t help us decide what to do. The people who decide vaccines have zero risk of side effects and anyone who says so is lying are rejecting an ambiguous truth, but in the same way people do when they decide that the risk of side effects is so great that anyone who gets vaccinated is stupid.

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One of my professors used to say "people make decisions because they feel like it, and no other reason!" While I think he overstates his case a bit, my experience is that most often people decide what conclusion they like, and then find the facts / arguments that support that conclusion and raise the salience of those facts and arguments, while reducing the salience of the facts and arguments that produce a conclusion they do not prefer.

I really like the way you've described this phenomenon (or at least a particular type of this phenomenon): it's about what enables you to make a decision, even if the data supporting that decision are pretty ambiguous. We must enable ourselves to somehow come to terms with a likely imperfect decision based on murky facts, or we need to learn to sit with insecurity about the rightness of our decision.

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miscommunication ... the CEO of our company sat down next to me on a 3+ hour flight. We were able to discover most all of our troubles are due to miscommunication between her, my boss, and I.

When we finally connected the ideas to the worker, all the issues worked out.

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likewise, this is how I felt in my first career, and its how I felt in my second career, and its how I feel in my third career ... most likely all people feel this same way all the time.

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then why do people keep doing it to each other?

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They don't have to be doing it to you for you to feel that way. I saw an article this year about how people in general underestimate how much other people like them. I'm always doing that to myself.

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Apr 12, 2022·edited Apr 12, 2022

There's a sense in which this is largely just normal (albeit shitty) human behavior, but it seems to me like the dynamic is much more destructive when it's in a field where so much of the work is freelance/contracted. The papers don't need to actually fire you, because you were never hired. They can just stop replying to your emails.

edit: I recall that this is actually the explicit line the Guardian took when they iced out Nathan J. Robinson, which was extremely revealing coming from what is generally considered to be a "left-wing" paper.

(And also, I'm loath to defend NJR - who is an annoying spaz - but whatever you think of his personality or politics, he is a reasonably talented and prolific writer. IMO, the fact that someone at his level "needed" (his words) the 15k/year income he was making as a Guardian columnist tells me all I need to know about this garbage industry.)

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Not reaching back to someone in a lower position is a power play, a type of punching down. It's mean girls behavior. Ignoring people makes them invisible. And what we want most is to be seen; to matter. That's why it hurts to be brushed off with no explanation. It's also why we have to master not taking things personally if we ever want to move forward.

A gracious professional would at least close the loop. However, this trait appears to be on the wane. How we communicate with and treat each other matters because it creates the world we live in. Apparently, the PMC has decided that they are above the pale and can act any way they choose toward those with less power. In blue collar parlance, their "shit doesn't stink." They don't have to be decorous. But woe betide anyone below them on the pecking order that abrogates decorum!

The worst part of all of this is that these same elites who profess to be "our betters" claim that their inherent superiority by virtue of education and social status gives them the right to set the tone (rules) for our culture; for the lower classes. And, yet, they are behaving like a bunch of feckless monkeys. One could argue the cure is worse than the disease (and I am definitely not a fan of the hyper-religious right).

There is no way through this morass. You have one option - go independent. It's more work because you won't have the connections or clout. But, it can lead to much greater peace-of-mind. I make really good money running my own little business because I don't worry so much about feeding my ego. That's the trade off—no glory. But, it's a good life and I'm not sorry I took this path.

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I think that this must be especially pernicious in fields where it is especially difficult to objectively evaluate someone's output. Especially if the criteria for evolution are also vague and constantly changing.

For academics in STEM disciplines, this is much ameliorated by the fact that your publications can be relatively objectively evaluated by well established criteria. Further, people do replicate your work and build from it and it quickly becomes clear whose work is replicable. The degree of follow up from your work and citation of it is also mostly not dependent toooooo much on who you are.

I feel bad for colleagues in the social sciences, where replication is so much harder even in the best cases, and in humanities. In these instances, interpersonal issues and politics seems to be much, much more dominant wrt success.

If you have "bad" politics and poor social skills you can still get ahead in STEM. I don't think this would be possible in 2022 in the social sciences or humanities.

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In my mind you’re a public intellectual far more than you’re a writer. Maybe that’s part of the issue?

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No shade meant toward either you or Freddie, but I definitely don't agree. IMO a public intellectual necessarily implies a mass engagement that basically requires committed use of visual media (cable news, televised debates, etc) to articulate (usually somewhat watered-down presentations of) their ideas. Freddie articulates his ideas almost entirely through his writing, which is read by a fairly niche audience. He never goes on TV, he only does occasional podcasts, he's not famous on any real scale. He's an "intellectual" in the most basic sense - which is to say, an intelligent and sophisticated thinker with highly developed opinions that he shares with the world - but that's true for many if not most writers.

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Cable news/televised is a very geriatric demographic. I don’t know that it’s required anymore.

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Apr 13, 2022·edited Apr 13, 2022

You could sub in a YouTube channel or something - visual media that reaches a mass audience far beyond what anything written would attain.

Edit: Except, now that I think on it *maybe* Twitter. But while tweets can have an unusually large reach for written content, journalists still tend to wildly overestimate its importance.

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I don't have any experience in media, but the constant sense of paranoia you write about sounds familiar to me from hearing interviews with contestants on shows I enjoy like Survivor and Big Brother, where the goal all the same dynamics of popularity and false friendships play out as people are forced to make alliances and then turn and vote each other out. Of course, these shows are for 39 days or a summer or something, and contestants talk about how difficult it is psychologically both being it and coming out of it. I can't imagine living in that for decades.

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I can remember when social media was exciting, now it just feels like a liability. When the eye in the sky is watching 24/7 and anything you say can and will be used against you the whole of social media just feels like a giant honeypot. The older I get the more I want to keep the low profile.

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Academic journals are peer reviewed usually blind reviewed. Measurement of writing and influence for university faculty is meticulous with all kinds of metrics and citation analysis. These are used for annual evaluations and promotion. It makes a difference where you publish, how often you are cited, where you are cited. It's a huge enterprise.

It isn't totally impartial but tries to be.

I can't imagine the pressure of everything in the non-academic media being so dependent on the opinion or attitude of someone you know.

But it's still writing.

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In my experience, peer review is about half-way real, the other half is people you know recognizing your work when it come across their desk and you've recommended them as reviewers, and then they recommend your work based on your pre-existing relationship.

You get frozen out of peer review if you don't recommend your friends for publication enough. They know.

I was literally told by my advisor on multiple occasions: We should view this manuscript well because they are our friends.

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Yeah, after a while it's kind of hard to review stuff in your field without knowing who wrote it.

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Fascinating, it does sound like high school but with an intense overlay of self promotion and preening. Journalists are douche bags.

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Apr 12, 2022·edited Apr 12, 2022

I went to college for journalism, but I never made it into the industry. Honestly, my skin just isn't thick enough to deal with that kind of drama-filled work environment. I'm in finance now writing correspondence letters to clients, and I'm generally happy with where I'm at.

If I could do it all over again, I'd avoid journalism and writing like the plague. It definitely would've made my 20s more enjoyable. But you live and you learn.

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A "correspondence letter" sounds redundant. What is it?

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Saved for my quotes collection under "superb aphorisms": 'It’s easy to not do things, but nothing is easier to not do than to not send an email.'

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Do you (or anyone else in the know) think this dynamic is also true of smaller, lower-profile publishing outlets? I have no aspirations to be a full-time professional writer, but have always dabbled in writing and am developing a few book proposals for regional publishing houses and University presses. I realize that even this type of publishing outlet may require some degree of self-promotion, and can work with that, but I would be less likely to move forward if I knew that I was looking at lots of social-media curation and currying of favor. I could manage a few local readings and things like that, but have neither the ability nor the interest to put a lot of work into managing a social media presence.

And yes, as others have said, I have felt an element of this in academia as well, though not to the degree you've described here.

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I published with a small outlet and it was understood that they would do no marketing whatever except maintaining their web site.

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Interesting. Thanks. Does that mean you had to contact retailers yourself if you wanted them to stock your book?

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My first publisher only bought the e-book rights, so yes, I would have had to arrange all that myself. The second one is putting out ebooks and paperback versions, and I think the paperbacks are in the printer's catalog - but I've never been close enough to being stocked in a bookstore to even think about trying, and it would pretty certainly have been all up to me.

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Excellent writers are always in demand. The talent to express ideas in both fiction and non-fiction forms at such a high quality virtually guarantees a market and with that a degree of ongoing success.

Having said that, if you do end up in a salt mine, please write an essay about your experiences.

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Lots of amazing things in salt mines--- "Deep Storage: An Archive in a Salt Mine" at Scholarly Kitchen--

https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2022/04/01/deep-storage-an-archive-in-a-salt-mine/

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Apr 17, 2022·edited Apr 17, 2022

Also this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wieliczka_Salt_Mine My wife and I worked at a university in that area ten (eleven?) years ago. The feeling of well-being that we experienced from visiting the salt chambers was palpable and inspiring. A salt high? Uwierz w to!

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Apr 12, 2022·edited Apr 12, 2022

Is it possible that part of it is that the media is currently composed of people who are very, very similar in terms of both socioeconomic class and culture and this happens to be a particularly neurotic group that might find normal communication difficult? Replying to people is something I often find difficult, I have probably lost a few friendships because of it, but luckily I'm not in a bubble of other anxious people and so all our various idiosyncracies even out to functional social relations. But I can't imagine how it is an industry where everyone seems to share such similar personality traits...

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Apr 12, 2022·edited Apr 12, 2022

One word that you are looking for is "Professional Managerial Class". MSM journalism is but an expression of the class power of that same PMC.

Another word that you may be looking for is "sociopathic".

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founding

I’m annoyed that the NYT may be ghosting you. This will be my new justification for paying a ‘student’ rate nine years out of grad school. If they ever get me on the phone (good luck) I’ll tell them I can’t pay full price for a paper that doesn’t publish deBoer.

Fortunately, you’re in a much better place than the vast majority of people working in journalism / short nonfiction. Most people with staff writing jobs couldn’t get 4,000 paying subscribers if their lives depended on it—they’re completely dependent on the good graces of the cool kids. I’d take your situation over theirs any day.

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I read the NYT via the library portal. you already pay for it through your taxes--why pay for it twice?

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Smart. There are also paywall hacks.

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Well said, Freddie. All of it.

I have been in some form of journalism for some 40 years now, and I've had this "rubber room, maybe, I dunno, I think probably yes" experience many times. I think I may be having it again as I type this.

That said, there is a force that pushes against the effects of reputational blobs: Sheer accident. A piece falls through, there is going to be a hole in the next issue, and suddenly *your* piece -- which has been moldering, held for a year -- looks lovely. The editor who always returns your emails goes on maternity leave, and no one else is that anxious about you one way or the other, so there goes that institutional connection. An editor who found you exasperating 5 years ago really wants an article on X, which you can deliver. So, um, that was then, this is now, whatever. IOW even as reputational anxiety dogs us, it's also true that institutional memories at most publications are short, and random events can rejigger our standing.

Medieval Europeans may have been onto something with their image of the Wheel of Fortune. You are bound to it. It takes you up. It takes you down. You glory in your abilities and worry about your standing. But the wheel turns as Fortune pleases.

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