This is the last time typing “thoughtcatalog.com” into my browser window, and I’d like to tell you why. I wouldn’t feel compelled to write about this topic unless I cared about the content and future of this website.
In truth, I’d be extremely surprised to see the article published, since it may seem counterintuitive for TC to present the readers with material that challenges the premise of the website. However, should you have the opportunity to read this, I hope some of my points can help start a productive discussion about what Thought Catalog has become, where it should be going, and how you can meaningfully contribute.
I first started reading Thought Catalog about two years ago, after a particularly brainy and intellectually-curious friend of mine pointed me to a few articles. I remember being so excited at an opportunity to wade through all the clutter and ADD bullshit the internet throws at us every minute, and dove head first into the articles. Like any curious “just-turned-20-something,” I made my way through the entire “love and sex” section within a few days, and enjoyed it way more than I’d be willing to admit to my friends. In a world flooded with Cosmo sex tips, Men’s Health laconic advice, and tons and tons and tons of internet strangers offering just the right tips (often for money) to please your partner, the Thought Catalog articles offered a welcome reprieve from the mess. The writers gave room to a candid, thought-out discussion of sexuality that invited debate and compromise. In addition, the very quality of the writing was very good. Ryan O’Connell was at his best. Some articles were graphic and discussed sex in an unashamed-yet-classy way; others were reflections on the meaning of sex. Some were pure entertainment, but well done. I still have a few of these articles bookmarked: “How to Have Sex With Me One Time” “How To Date A Loser,” “The Definition of Love,” and others.
Aside from the sex, which–let’s be honest–draws a lot of us in, there were lots of other posts on growing up, moving out, generally being a 20-something, and so on.
It may sound just like what the website is now, but there’s one major, crucial, difference: Thought Catalog used to have a real, authentic voice. There were lots of posts whose premises I disagreed with; posts on social issues, personal views, politics–but there was one thing I could be sure of: the article would be well written and thoughtfully articulated. In fact, in the “About” section of TC, it used to state that contributors were generally previously published in established online and print publications. It certainly felt like it.
Sadly, these days are behind us. The unraveling started with a few inconspicuous Reddit articles. The material seemed strange at first, but I figured that if somebody is curating it, it’ll still be worthwhile reading. However, opening Thought Catalog to submissions was a risky, and ultimately poorly executed strategy.
It fundamentally changed the identity of the website from an online magazine to an open forum for discussion. Up came the intrusive ad banners, and it became apparent that Thought Catalog is now a vehicle for monetization. That, in addition to a real lack of curation has resulted in what the website is today: a cluttered, hormone-driven mess, no different than the rest of the internet. While certain submissions are indeed of excellent quality and are well thought-out, they are lost amongst the hundreds of fluff pieces published every week. Thought Catalog used to put up five, eight new articles daily. Now they must publish at least triple that amount.
All of this would maybe be acceptable if the curators had some accountability and reason for what gets published, but it certainly seems that driving traffic and making money through ads are what drives the site. Thought Catalog has become the bastard child of Buzzfeed and Reddit, with most articles starting with “12 reasons she won’t…” or “23 people on the best/weirdest experience…” Articles on heartbreak and growth, which used to be carefully selected, have been replaced with an onslaught of sob stories from anyone with a computer screen and some time. Everyone experiences heartbreak–but not everyone has the talent to write about it publically. Articles are riddled with grammatical errors and misspellings. There was one article–“11 Reasons Why Dating In Your 20s Is The Best”–that was literally just a list, word per letter: 1.Oh 2. Wait 3. Now 4. That 5. I 6. Think 7. Of 8. It 9 , (yep, just a comma) 10. It 11. Isn’t.”
That’s it. That cut it as an article.
Why am I writing this? It is not to bash Thought Catalog, strange as it may seem, but to express my frustration (and hope) for this once fantastic place.
I anticipate some of you may say well, if you don’t like it, leave! I’m certainly on my way out, but I wouldn’t be writing out this tirade if I didn’t think Thought Catalog had something truly special: a place where the BEST of us 20-somethings, the ones TRULY gifted at telling stories could sum up our experiences and show the rest that we are not alone.
Tighten up the moderation.
Cut out all the Buzzfeed-style lists.
Stop copying off Reddit.
I would never call myself a writer, but make sure that the people that are getting published really are. Otherwise, you’ll lose us.
Your audience and all the great thoughts that used to make Thought Catalog special.