Daniel D’Addario, a writer for Salon, took Thought Catalog to task last Friday. In his article, “The Thought Catalog revolution: How trolling took over the Internet,” he criticized TC for being the harbinger of internet doom or, alternatively, simply lowering the bar on articles to a Dantean low. Here’s his primary gripe.
The current Thought Catalog aesthetic, speaking broadly — one that exists at the corner of thoughtless prurience and a nihilistic insistence upon mocking your prudish sensibility — is close to objectively bad.
This is ridiculous. Salon, you publish some great stuff, but this can’t be allowed to stand. Behold, the list retort!
1. TC does not set out to “troll,” AKA, welcome to the Internet.
TC, from what this writer can tell, strives to publish articles that do one thing and one thing only — spur discussion and sharing. That’s all, really. What’s more, TC is a platform, not an issue-focused site like Salon. In fact, there is no “Thought Catalog” in the sense that D’Addario means it. Writers at TC publish whatever they want, and the site goes where the writers and readers lead. It’s that simple, and it shouldn’t be a mystery to Mr. D’Addario, because Salon does the same thing, just in a different way (as does every content site).
Some do it with little success. Some are amazingly successful. The difference is that Salon is focused on politics and current events. TC has no such focus.
Headlines are the thing on the internet and, frankly, you want something eye catching, even if the headline isn’t an accurate summation of the article. This is how internet publishing works, and one thing that every internet writer I know realizes is that if you’re going to publish a flashy headline, then the article better be good. In my experience, and I’m by no means a hit leader at TC, people will not be disappointed with a flashy headline as long as the post is good. If it’s not good then, well, they’ll hate you for wasting their time. So, let’s just get over this idea that flashy headlines are the root of all evil. Heck, I had an article called “The World’s Worst Three Way” where commenters actually thanked me for executing a smooth bait and switch.
I have independence to craft either the worst headline ever or the best one. It’s not dictated to me. I can fail or succeed as I’m able.
2. Salon is guilty of the same thing it accuses TC writers of.
Here’s a recent Salon front page headline:
First, regarding that headline, yes, but it’s because the people Salon calls Progressives aren’t actually Progressives. They’re Corporatists who are socially liberal and could give a shit about the working people of the country. But I digress…
Second, this is exactly the sort of thing D’addario is angry with TC about… except it’s not about a 23-year-old’s sex life or 10 ways to roll down a condom. It’s about democratic (little d) politics. In other words, it’s supposedly something of import. Most of Salon’s readers are liberal and many of them probably consider themselves to be Progressive, which is why Salon has chosen the above “trolling” headline. The headline is going to make some of them mad and it’s intended to elicit an emotional reaction. Daniel, that’s exactly what you’re accusing some TC writers of doing. The only difference is that an article on the wimpiness of Progressives can hide behind the supposed elevated dialogue of its topic. The click-baityness is excused because the subject matter is supposedly “legit.”
I’m not buying it.
Once you read the article, you realize it has nothing to do with whether Progressives are wimpy or not, and everything to do with how rich Democrats are screwing everyone else. A good topic but not appropriate to the headline. However, it’s a good headline because it got me to click. That’s the point. That’s why this sort of headline isn’t actually trolling at all. It’s a benign bait and switch that leaves the reader more informed once they’ve read the article. That is positive.
3. Mr. D’addario’s article completely ignores the awesome that is TC.
To say that TC is all about lists about dicks and chicks for a quick entertainment fix is simply untrue. TC writers also publish articles that are full of awesome and that’s because they have freedom to write whatever they want. TC is the only site I know of that has the balls to publish articles both from writers like Jim Goad and Parker Marie Molloy without being fearful of alienating its target demo. I considered the eventual dialogue between those two to be one of TC’s finest moments. You won’t get that at Salon. You won’t get it at Buzzfeed or the Awl. You won’t get it anywhere else and it happened organically. It wasn’t planned. A bunch of editors didn’t all sit down and decide to address some specific cultural issue. It just happened. That says a lot about what TC is. There’s possibility at TC for complete surprises. That’s a big deal.
Mr. D’addario also apparently isn’t aware that TC publishes a lot of books, many of which are extremely good. “Maestro Mario” by Andrew Schartmann is incredible and Oliver Miller’s writing is some of the best the site or any site has to offer. Salon doesn’t do that. Buzzfeed doesn’t do that. The TC community is creating some great things, whether a casual visit to the site for the sole purpose of writing a name and shame piece reveals it or not.
The TC community has a lot to offer and much of what is offered isn’t published at any other site of TC’s size. Here’s two good pieces from last week that Mr. D’Addario would have seen had he bothered. Kara Crabb is a good enough writer that her articles make me viscerally jealous. That takes some doing. Additionally, Jim Goad’s article about his brother is something I simply can’t share enough. This is one article that simply broke me down. There are many more. So when I see a myopic analysis like the one Mr. D’Addario published in order to make an example of TC as the bad guy, I simply can’t believe it’s anything more than affected hand wringing and pearl clutching.
4. People Read What They Enjoy
Mr. D’Addario and others have a tendency to think that it’s the fault of all TC writers that they’re interested in articles they don’t want to believe they’d be interested in. Fine, but this leads to hatereading. If you’re not interested then you won’t read — that’s the bottom line. Lighten up on yourself a bit, or at least lighten up on TC writers as a whole. I enjoy what I do at TC and I think it’s valuable, so don’t generalize. Useful criticism is specific.
I also want to step in a bit and defend the writing of some my fellow authors at TC. The truth is that people’s lives are full and many are difficult, and reading a titillating article about sex or a list of what Redditors think about X is relieving. That’s not a bad thing. People like Mr. D’Addario can say what they want about Chelsea Fagan’s writing, but she speaks to a very real audience and I think she does so effectively. But not everyone is going to like the same thing and, from what I can tell, the people complaining about the “lack of good articles” on TC are the same people not reading the other great articles on TC. That, Mr. D’Addario and anonymous commenter, is on you.
For instance, my first article on TC was called ‘Why I Hunt’. A lot of people read that. Would Salon have published it? No, I think it’s likely they wouldn’t have. Would Huffington Post have published it? No. Does that mean it was bad, that it wasn’t valuable? Absolutely not. It was and is valuable and it’s a different slice of life. TC has variety like no other site because its authors are diverse and free to do as they wish. People should utilize it.
And to Alanna Okun, keep filling that jar.
5. To Repeat, TC’s Ideals
- Thought Catalog content should be fun, smart, and creative, i.e., entertaining, journalistic, and literary.
- The site should be beautiful and clutter-free.
- We believe all thinking is relevant and strive for a value-neutral editorial policy governed by openness. The more worldviews and rhetorical styles on the site, the better. We want to tell all sides of the story.
- We’re about today. But our mission is also archival. We want to catalog the times for tomorrow.
- We want to help shape culture by empowering you to share your ideas and stories with the world.
From what I can tell, TC’s writing community is hitting its mark.