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Bullet Points: the SSC lives, VC financial logic kills everything it touches, and the difference between new WIRED and old WIRED
I’m still in Paris. I really ought to log off and touch baguette. But I have an update to share, and a couple of article tabs that I’ve been itching to talk about for weeks now.
First, the update: Last week, I wrote a Eulogy for the Sierra Student Coalition. Since then, the Club has decided to reverse course. This Monday’s “close-out call,” where alumni and current SSCers were invited to share fond memories and say our goodbyes, was canceled at the last minutes. The SSC still faces major restructuring (details TBD), and it’s unclear how/whether they’ll get the engine running again.
But still! This is really good! I basically never get to write about good news on this Substack. And here we are!
The SSC lives on. Hell yeah. Long live the SSC.
Next, some links and commentary:
Alex Sujong Laughlin in Defector, on the collapse of Gimlet Media, “Gimlet Media’s Story Was Always Going to End Like This.” This one made the rounds a couple weeks ago. Still worth your time if you missed it. I’m placing this in the virtual filing cabinet labeled “big money ruins everything.”
I think it’s worth noting that Laughlin’s piece appears in Defector. For those who don’t know, Defector was set up be Gawker/Deadspin alumni. It’s employee-owned, with no VC funding. A bunch of excellent writers decided to pay themselves a fair wage without anyone investors demanding insane returns. They always seem to be having fun while doing quality journalism.
And look, it’s way too early to say whether the Defector model will last. But it has been long enough that we can absolutely say that Defector is good. Like, really fucking good. Certainly worth-the-money-you-pay-for-it good.
There was so much that was good during Gimlet Media’s heyday too. And heavily produced narrative podcasts might simply be more expensive than online reporting and commentary. (I don’t know the finances of those two industries, but I have to imagine the one with more moving parts is also more expensive.)
It’s possible that Gimlet’s options were (a) take VC money, adopt VC expectations, eventually go through a VC-induced death spiral, or (b) shut down much earlier, because it’s all just too expensive to produce.
It would suck if those really were the only two options, but <gestures wildly at the state of the world>.
Defector is a scrappy pirate ship. I’m glad we have that. We can have nice things on the internet. People can make a living producing them. But nobody can get rich off of them, and they might not last forever.
[Related: R.I.P. The Nib. The Nib was so good. It sucks that it is ending. But I hope everyone who played a role in it feels a sense of pride and accomplishment.]
Gideon Lichfield on Marc Andreessen’s latest essay (“Why AI Will Save the World”) — Marc Andreessen is (mostly) wrong this time. Again, this is several weeks old. But it’s one of the most careful dissections of Andreessen’s latest missive that you are going to find. And I think it’s particularly noteworthy considering who the author is. (This one goes in the “Silicon Valley ideology” file)
Gideon Lichfield is WIRED’s Editor-in-Chief. He took the helm a couple years ago, and released a new WIRED manifesto in January 2022 titled “Welcome to the New WIRED.” The manifesto pointed the magazine toward a middle position between reflexive tech boosterism and reflexive tech criticism. It’s a good manifesto — a break from the old WIRED ideology, but also a rejection of what many perceived to be critical overreach during the techlash years.
I personally don’t think the techlash coverage represented much overreach though, so I’ve watched with interest to see what direction the magazine would head. I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
Old WIRED would never have stood up in this way against someone with Andreessen’s stature. It would have run counter to the entire ideological project of the magazine. The Andreessens of the world — the VCs and entrepreneurs and engineers (Andreessen has been all three) — were depicted as the motive force creating a better tomorrow, struggling to overcome the lumbering, ineffective institutions of old so the new world could be born. They were hailed as conquering heroes, their failures attributable to meddling regulators.
And this fits into a pattern. Back in March, WIRED published its guidelines for the use of generative AI. To briefly summarize:
WIRED is going to keep using human writers, reporters, artists, and editors for all of its writing, reporting, art production, and editing functions.
There will be no AI-written or -edited articles, unless the point of the article is to discuss the strengths and limitations of AI writing and editing. (And, in that case, they’ll make it clear.)
They’ll treat the use of AI-generated prose as the equivalent of plagiarism.
They’re going to try out using generative AI tools for idea generation. They might use it to for the first step in brainstorming potential headlines, for instance.
They won’t publish AI-assisted art, except under narrow circumstances which will then be disclosed. Basically, if they commission an artist who uses AI in their creative process, the artist is free to do so and WIRED will mention that to the readers. But AI isn’t going to be replacing anyone.
These are good guidelines! Far more reasonable than what I’ve seen from other news organizations.
What was particularly striking was the response from WIRED’s original Executive Editor, Kevin Kelly:
I mean… “Gives up the future” is just a perfect old-WIRED coinage. It brims with confidence, but the harder you stare at it, the less it really says. It’s as though futurity were a quality that one could possess… Like there is some set of behaviors or activities that comprise “the future,” and WIRED is expected to embody, display, or advocate for them. (Or maybe the future is supposed to be a competition - a race that the magazine had once been winning, but would now most certainly lose.
And now WIRED is offering a long, detailed rebuttal to Marc Andreessen himself?!?
“Welcome to the new WIRED” indeed.
And look, sure, this is less significant to you (a person who presumably hasn’t spent the past five years mainlining old WIRED magazines) than to me (it seemed like such a reasonable idea for a research project at the time). But, also, it’s a useful indicator of how the times have changed.
Andreessen’s latest essay is sloppy. It’s tech-VC-ideology — the standard Everything-will-be-great, just-have-faith-in-Moore’s-Law-and-stay-out-of-our-way fare. Usually it falls to tech critics like me to point that out. It matters that large tech-media outlets like WIRED are saying so too.
Good for you, Lichfield. Keep it up.
That’s all for today. I’m going to go drink pastis and eat some delicious carbs. Thanks for reading.