The thing about writing a great blog post is that it’s often a combination of things that make it work: a rhythm, a style, and the ability to hit for the cycle. Not every single post will hit at the same level as the others.
And with all that said, as I dive into this award category, it’s important to note that many newsletters are basically blogs at this point. That is not a criticism of the form so much as accepting reality.
To me, when I look at a newsletter like Today in Tabs, a classic of the form that returned after a half-decade hiatus this year, I can see the lineage of Suck, classic Gawker, The Awl, and numerous other websites that would be considered traditional blogs. If I was giving an award for Best Blog in this email, Today in Tabs would probably win, as it’s my favorite newsletter. Rusty came back strong this year.
But the award is Best Blog-Style Rant. For that reason, I probably need to explain the category a bit. I sort of look at strong blog-style takes as being the kinds of things that gain their power from that rhythm, that reach beyond the story they tell and add something new in the process. And often, those takes need something to drive reactions.
And as a result, the thing that really stood out to me as putting bloggers and newsletter writers on their A-game were never-ending stories, often on insider-y topics that appealed to narrow niches, that seemed to offer a lot of opportunity to build on traditional reporting and say something new. This year, we had at least three of those stories that blew up the media ecosystem, but (importantly) were largely nonentities outside of it. Here’s a summary of the first two:
- The drama at Basecamp around the company’s “no politics” policy, which led to a significant reduction of its staff. Casey Newton owned this, but the reason he owned this is because he did some really great reporting that transcended traditional blogging.
- The drama around Substack’s seeming acceptance of controversial opinions on its platform, which led creators to leave. A lot of great blog posts were written about this (I hope that this Tedium post got on some people’s lists), particularly this piece by Annalee Newitz that seemed to capture the heart of the debate.
The third, which you might guess if you’ve been reading MidRange throughout 2021, was the tale of Ozy’s business model that was seemingly built on a cascading array of lies. This was a story that Ben Smith—formerly of BuzzFeed, currently of The New York Times—introduced people to, and the tale expanded into conflicts left and right, desperate attempts by CEO Carlos Watson to save face, stories of poor working conditions, and useful self-reflection. (A good rant/analysis generated by this whole conflict comes from Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day.)
A name that kept popping up in these stories is Eugene S. Robinson, a longtime Ozy employee who was fired in the months before the site fell apart in a very public fashion.
Eventually Robinson, a veteran musician and creative force in his own right, lost his job essentially because he ran a personal Substack at a time literally every writer on the internet had a personal Substack, and fittingly, he wrote the coda of this whole saga on said Substack, in a post titled “OZY Rules: The House Negro Gets It in the End.” The key lines:
You know I’ve had many bosses over my life but I’ve only had one boss who looked like me, and curiously, this was the worst boss I ever had. In fact some of the African American employees felt that there were two OZY’s. The white OZY and the Black OZY, where like America, employees were treated worse.
The great thing about America though has to do with the mechanics of the melting pot since by the end everyone there was treated like shit. Good, decent people struggling to do a difficult job under the worst circumstances while the CEO and the COO recklessly ran a game so audacious that the story has drawn almost immediate film interest.
In a year when a whole lot of people said no to crappy bosses as a part of the Great Resignation, Robinson (who has a book about street-fighting to his name) was set up to throw an uppercut by circumstance and a media ecosystem that suddenly was ready to notice his talents, and he didn’t miss.
Ozy is nominally still around, despite the Goldman Sachs drama and the lawsuits that ensued. But as an entity that people should take seriously, it’s finished. Robinson, who worked long hours for years and saw numerous creative opportunities extinguished in favor of soul-sucking busywork and never-ending interview shows hosted by his former boss, got the last word.
And fittingly, he wins this award. How could he not?
Anyway, see you in 2022.
Analyzing an Ultra-Viral Site: Tom Neill, who built a very popular single-serving website about a ship stuck in a canal, explained his process in a Substack post that punches well above the weight that posts like this usually hit.
New Gawker Writer vs. Substack: Gawker, which came back from the dead this year, deserves notice in this category, even if it isn’t the same Gawker we once had. This Claire Carusillo essay on how her Substack subdomain was nearly stolen is a solid example of New Gawker finding its voice.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 53 seconds