5 min read

[SUBSTACK ARCHIVE] Well, well, well... Look what the media layoff dragged in!

Not to be a Calvinist about it, but this feels a little predestined.

[taps mic] Is this thing on? More importantly, is anyone around to listen? I suppose the open rate on this email will reveal that in due time!

Hi, I’m Aria (she/her)! In case you forgot. Or maybe you’re one of the couple dozen people who have subscribed since I last sent one of these, in which case: Welcome! I’m glad you’re (still) here.

The subject line says it all: I got laid off 3 weeks ago.

It was both unique and entirely unremarkable all at once. The unique: I made it almost 8 years in the media industry without ever experiencing a layoff. Periods of unemployment? Yes. But getting laid off? That’s new. I’ve compared it to jury duty: it will happen to you at some point! Everyone’s number gets called eventually. The quotidian: My 9 coworkers and I weren’t even the only media layoffs that week1.

It’s no secret that the first quarter of this year has been a bloodbath on the scale of the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. In that respect, I am another nameless and faceless extra whose untimely demise was only worth 2-3 seconds of screen time. Collateral Damage Background Actor #347 reporting for duty! Where’s the craft services table? Do you think the costume department will let me keep the boots?

I’ll have more to write about my layoff — and layoffs in general — soon. But for now, I wanted to use this space to remind y’all that I am alive and well…? Well, I’m alive. What comes next? I have no idea. But this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been thrust into something where I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I’m starting to realize at the ripe old age of 32 that that’s just called “life.”

“OK Aria, losing your job sucks, but what’s the future of Labor Pains as a result (byproduct?) of all this?” Glad you asked, Hypothetical Audience Member! I was in Baltimore for NICAR last week (shout out to the NICARians who subscribed off the strength of a 5 minute conversation near the registration desk) and two people gave me some much needed wisdom while I was discussing getting laid off and what I would like this newsletter to become.

One of them told me you can’t get hung up on being “bad” at something that you want to be good at, because being bad is how you get better. And that you can’t compare yourself to what you think is the absolute peak of your field because you don’t have those resources at the moment. The other person told me, “The best words you’ll ever write are behind the crappy words you haven’t written yet.” All of those statements seem so obvious as I’m typing them out, but there’s a lot of daylight between knowing something and internalizing it.

I have a lot of time on my hands right now, which means I can research, report and write to my heart’s content instead of putting all of my thoughts down on paper as half-finished sentences and opening [redacted] tabs that stay in my browser window for [censored] weeks at a time. I don’t have any valid reasons2 to talk myself out of writing and publishing anything. It’s all in my head, and my head is terrified of being bad at something publicly. But if I want this to be the real deal — as Stringer Bell would say, “…a true fuckin’ business” — then I have to make peace with the fact that some of it is going to be… not great. Not saying I’m gonna go full Daily Mail, just that not everything is going to be breaking new ground. But I’m committing myself to setting aside that fear in favor of just trying. Trying to be good and accepting that some of it may be bad. But bad within the limits of ethical behavior. Because again: I’m not going full Daily Mail.

The best words you’ll ever write are behind the crappy words you haven’t written yet.

“What does this vague plan for improvement mean for me as a reader?” Another great question! The answer is threefold.

  • In the super immediate future, meaning the next week or so: Nothing.

  • In the near future (by the end of this month): I’m going to activate paid subscriptions3, and I’m moving over to Ghost.4

  • In the more-nebulous-but-still-not-too-distant future: Radical transparency. Are you familiar with Defector’s annual reports? It’s one of my favorite things about that site (aside from the comments). The media industry is facing dual crises of dwindling reader trust and revenue. I don’t know enough to say that those are inextricably linked; I’ll leave it to brighter minds to study that and get back to me. But I do think “Where the hell is my money going?” is a valid question for almost any intangible subscription-based good or service. Defector’s annual reports have answered that question to my satisfaction, and I intend to emulate that but take it a step further: Labor Pains readers will be able to see the newsletter’s cash flow statement at the end of the year. The spreadsheet is pretty empty right now, but with your support that can change. If you have questions, I will supply answers. When I launched last August, I told people I wanted to operate in the vein of public media. “Just because your parents didn’t donate to PBS doesn’t mean you couldn’t watch Mr. Rogers or Arthur.” Labor Pains is registered as an LLC in Illinois — so decidedly not a nonprofit — but that ethos of accountability still stands. I don’t have a 990 you can pull like you would for your local PBS affiliate, but approaching journalism as a public service means that the public gets to see your stuff.

So that’s what I hope the future holds for Labor Pains: more reporting, more writing, less fear, less hesitation, more of me getting into other people’s business and being transparent about how this fledgling news business works.

If you’ve stuck with me this far into the newsletter, I want to say thank you. For subscribing. For opening. For reading down this far when you could be sending Kate Middleton memes to 5 different group chats.5 I don’t take it for granted, and I’ll be back in your inboxes soon.

In solidarity,

  1. The media layoffs I remember for the month of February, excluding my former workplace: The DC bureau of the Wall Street Journal, Sirius XM, the Intercept, Law360, the Texas Observer, NowThis, Paramount, Warner Music Group, Consequence, Bell Media in Canada, Fatherly at Bustle Digital Group and Vice. I’m sure the list should be longer, but my brain only has so much capacity for processing multiple disasters at once.

  2. Note to self: Rewatching season 2 of Rock of Love and the first 4 seasons of Archer on Hulu is not a valid reason.

  3. In keeping with the promise made in my email footer, people who have pledged their support will receive emails directly from me in the coming days to inform them of the upcoming change.

  4. Substack has a Nazi problem. I don’t want to be a part of it. There’s no denying that the platform’s network effect has had a positive impact on the growth of many newsletters here, including ones I subscribe to. It’s part of why I chose to launch here. But ethically I can’t stay.

  5. Seriously, WHERE IS SHE?! I’m not a monarchist, I’m just morbidly curious. Did her BBL go horribly wrong? Did William have an outside baby? Inquiring American minds want to know.