BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield. OK, you've been hearing a lot from The New York Times's Taylor Lorenz. No wonder her Internet culture beat has yielded some of the most zeitgeist-y stories in recent memory. Not just the ones we've talked about today. From the unionization of online creators, to the Redditors behind Gamestop’s run on Wall Street, to the exploitation of young TikTokers in their California content house sweatshops. Like I said, she's hard to avoid. If you look at your news feed, there is Taylor Lorenz. I think if you open your fridge, there will be Taylor Lorenz. Even if you tune in to a cable TV hatemonger...ich.
TUCKER CARLSON Lots of people are suffering right now, but no one suffering quite as much as Taylor Lorenzs is suffering. People have criticized her opinions on the internet and it destroyed her life. Let's pause on this International Women's Day and recognize that. You thought female wingers had it bad, you haven't talked to Taylor Lorenz. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD What Fox is Tucker Carlson harassed her about for two consecutive nights, in effect inciting his right-wing viewers to do the same. Was Lorenz's recent plaintive International Women's Day tweet about exactly such harassment. The violent threats and vile smears against her posted on the very social media she covers. Most for the unforgivable sin of being a prominent woman covering social media and tech. If you remember Gamergate of the 2010s, that is part of Lorenz's everyday reality. Along with her front row seat to damn near everything.
TAYLOR LORENZ I've been on this beat for over a decade. I've been covering this stuff and I've been a public Internet personality since 2009. I covered tech from the user side, so I cover fandoms and people with huge platforms and powerful tech companies as well. And then, of course, I have to maintain my personal brand online. So, what's so complicated is just the rate that things change. And, you know, it's like Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible, where he's trying to, like, creep through that room of lasers or whatever, that's kind of how it feels being on the Internet every day.
BOB GARFIELD Earlier in our discussion of the influencer scandal and David Dobrik, we spoke to Kat Tenbarge of Insider, who described being scooped on her own reporting by the so-called content creators that she had approached to interview about her developing story. There's a kind of opposing mirrors aspect of that.
TAYLOR LORENZ Here's the thing. You have to assume that any content creator that you interview is recording you and is going to use that for content in their vlog. So when you reach out to people or you tell them something, they're going to post about that, and they're usually going to do that immediately after you hang up the phone with them, no matter what you tell them. That's such a challenge with covering this industry.
BOB GARFIELD Kat Tenbarge also told us that there would be no influencer beat, no social media, business and culture beat without you. Are you like the Ida B Wells of social media?
TAYLOR LORENZ Oh, my God. I can't believe she said that, I'm going to cry. That's so nice of her. I worked so hard to make this a beat and to make people understand how important this stuff is. We all take inspiration from people above us. I was hugely inspired by Jenna Wortham's work covering technology in a more cultural and human way and Katie Notopoulos who I think covers online communities in such an incredible way. And then there was people like Rae Votta, who I think she works at Netflix now, but she was doing incredible reporting on YouTubers, back 10 years ago, too. So there's a lot of women that have paved the way for this beat.
BOB GARFIELD Before you got to the Times, you worked for The Hill, The Atlantic, Daily Beast, Insider, a trillion other publications, as far as I could tell.
TAYLOR LORENZ Hey, I've had a million jobs.
BOB GARFIELD But holy hell, you came to all of these gigs, not from journalism school, but from social media itself. You're a native.
TAYLOR LORENZ Yeah. I mean, I discovered media and journalism from Tumblr back in 2009, Tumblr was my gateway to everything on the Internet, and people sometimes are like, oh, you're successful now, because I was the youngest woman in executive level management at the Daily Mail. Like, I was managing a team of a dozen people around the world assigning stories and editings and running social. We were the first media organization to sign terms with Snapchat Discover. Before I worked in media, I ran social for Verizon and worked on a bunch of other clients and did huge campaigns that I think people just don't know, and aside from that, I built my own brands like I really found like an audience on Tumblr. That's how I developed, I used to flip Instagram accounts and sell them on Kik. I just have been in this world for a really long time now, and so that's why I think a lot of these younger reporters think of me like a mom, because I've just been here for a really long time since 2009 at least, which is not even that long. But it is when a lot of this stuff started to really emerge.
BOB GARFIELD Let's assume that the influencer economy and the culture continue to grow like kudzu. This will most likely result in many more reporters being assigned to the beat, and Insider where you once worked, where Kat works now, it's looking to me like TMZ and a trade publication of influencing wrapped into one. Is that what's next? Not just a beat, but an economy built around covering the economy of influence.
TAYLOR LORENZ Insider has absolutely changed the game because they've transformed this beat from something that people had to oh, we have our Internet culture reporter over here. This one person that we hired to do all of these stories and what Insider has done is really hired people on this beat and they have been able to break these huge stories because they have resources, and so in my ideal world, it would be like covering politics or anything else where you have a huge amount of people paying attention to this industry and the way that influence is shaping our world. That's just very undercovered.
BOB GARFIELD As a pioneer, you've experienced the agony and the ecstasy of this beat. I wonder what advice you would have for those who follow in your path. Not to suggest that you're, you know, on the cusp of retirement or anything, you're still in your 30s, but nonetheless, as the mother figure, what would you advise the kids?
TAYLOR LORENZ One, reporting on the beat, you're sort of going to be subject to a lot of these GamerGate type attack campaigns. And I think that any organization with Internet culture writers needs to be very adept at protecting their staff from harassment. There were a lot of people that were really great mentors to me over the years and like I mentioned, people like Katie Notopoulos, so I really want to be kind to people that are maybe looking at me like that. So don't be afraid to ask for help and also just don't get discouraged. Like my big fear, and part of the reason I'm so protective of a lot of younger reporters on my beat is I just know how hard it can be. And it's just not something that a lot of newsrooms understand or even peers in the newsroom will understand because it's this very unique emergent beat. Also, this is a beat that because it's so undercovered, there's so much opportunity to make a name for yourself because there's so many angles to this beat that are not being covered.
BOB GARFIELD This conversation began with a reference to GamerGate when in 2014 and 2015 gamer nros resenting women, writing games and reviewing games, lashed out with coordinated harassment campaigns and created the primordial swamp of the alt right. Do you have any idea why in 2021, the beat you're on seems to be covered predominantly by women?
TAYLOR LORENZ Well, women are the people that took this industry seriously and that is not something that male journalists have done. And that's not something that male editors care about. This is not the case at The New York Times, because I work at a paper that values this type of journalism, but a lot of other publications have no idea of how to cover this beat. And when somebody comes to them with the story, a lot of times that's met with this is not a story for us or, oh, this is too messy for us. Basically, not understanding the power and influence and importance that these people have in the world. That's why you see some of these stories not break through, and I'm so glad that Kat's story has broken through, because I think it's making the case for this beat. But I mean, look at all of the other YouTubers that have been very credibly accused of really similar things to David. So, I think it's up to the people who run these organizations to understand how to cover this stuff seriously. Looking at the inequalities and systemic racism and sexism in this industry and reporting on that. Not just reporting on the fluffy: wow, this guy got famous on the Internet. Can you believe it?
BOB GARFIELD Taylor, thank you very much.
TAYLOR LORENZ Thank you so much for having me.
BOB GARFIELD Taylor Lorenz is a technology reporter in Los Angeles covering Internet culture for The New York Times.
That's it for this week's show, On the Media was produced by Alana Casanova-Burgess, Micah Loewinger, Leah Feder, Jon Hanrahan and Eloise Blondiau and Rebecca Clark-Callender with help from Alex Hanesworth. Xandra Ellin writes our newsletter. Our show was edited... By Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Adrienne Lily.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Katya Rogers is our executive producer. On the Media, is a production of WNYC Studios, I'm Brooke Gladstone.
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