Substack

Substack is a subscription newsletter publishing platform best known for being the service of choice for anti-transgender journalists and media figures. The New Republic describes its power base as “white male contrarians with a talent for Twitter theatrics.”

Background

Substack was founded in 2017 by Chris Best, Jairaj Sethi, and Hamish McKenzie.

The platform’s strategy for growth was based on inviting the most histrionic verified Twitter users to create newsletters.

Substack Pro controversy

In March 2021, Substack revealed it paid advances for writers to create publications on its platform via a program called Substack Pro. The lack of transparency about this program and who had been paid led to widespread criticism.

Shortly before Singal’s 2021 book release, his Substack newsletter become a cause célèbre among the platform’s favored user base: “those who have already been well-served by existing media power structures.” The secretive Substack Pro program was accused of “perpetuating some of the industry inequities it claims to solve,” favoring these types of writers by luring them to the platform with large monetary advances. Substack had become the service of choice for several other prominent critics of the trans rights movement, “largely white, male contrarians with a talent for Twitter theatrics.”

On March 17, 2021, Adweek’s Mark Stenberg discussed Singal’s role in generating protests about Substack Pro:

Substack has drawn criticism for offering safe harbor to a number of writers, including writers Andrew Sullivan, Jesse Singal and Glenn Greenwald, whose opinions on issues surrounding race, transgender rights and censorship have been condemned by marginalized communities.

Stenberg, 2021

Singal has a long history of “sealioning,” a type of trolling via persistent requests, whenever his biased views about trans people are reported in the media. He will pursue all available avenues to get these reports modified to his liking or removed altogether. Following what Singal calls a “stealth edit,” his name was quietly removed from Adweek’s original text so it read “including some whose politics have been condemned by marginalized communities.” Even that was later removed.

Confirmed Pro deals

  • Matt Yglesias
  • Anne Helen Peterson
  • Casey Newton
  • Scott Alexander
  • Freddie deBoer
  • Nicholas Jackson
  • Ashley Feinberg
  • Grace Lavery
  • Alexis Coe

Unconfirmed/other

  • Glenn Greenwald
  • Graham Linehan
  • Michael Tracey
  • Jesse Singal
  • Emily Atkin
  • Lindsey Gibbs
  • Jude Ellison S. Doyle

References

Chang, Clio (Winter 2020). The Substackerati: Did a newsletter company create a more equitable media system—or replicate the flaws of the old one? https://www.cjr.org/special_report/substackerati.php

McKenzie, Hamish (March 12, 2021). “Why we pay writers”Substack Blog. https://blog.substack.com/p/why-we-pay-writers

Paulas, Rick (March 14, 2021) Who are the Substack Pros? Investigating Substack https://domstack.substack.com/p/who-are-the-substack-pros

Silverman, Jacob (March 16, 2021). Facebook Has Found a New Way to Ruin Media. The New Republic. https://newrepublic.com/article/161736/facebook-found-new-way-ruin-media

Stenberg, Mark (March 17, 2021). Substack Pro Leads to Departures From Platform, Opportunities for Competitors. Adweek. https://www.adweek.com/media/having-a-substack-feels-dirty-substack-pro-announcement-leads-to-departures-from-the-platform-opportunities-for-competitors/

Wiener, Anna (28 December 2020). Is Substack the Media Future We Want? The New Yorker. Retrieved 11 February 2021. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/01/04/is-substack-the-media-future-we-want