Isaac Saul, who told me his nonpartisan political newsletter Tangle brought in $190,000 in its first year, wrote recently that he came to Substack “specifically to avoid being associated with anyone else” after being frustrated by readers’ assumptions about his biases when he worked for HuffPost.
One of the writers who left Substack over transgender issues, Jude Doyle, argued that its system of advances amounted to a kind of editorial policy. But the analogy to a media company isn’t clear. Grace Lavery said she wanted Substack to broaden its definition of harassment, but said she didn’t think threats to boycott the email service over writers she disagrees with made political sense. She has had bitter public disputes with other Substack writers, including the journalist Jesse Singal, over their writing on gender policy. “Boycotting Substack because of Jesse Singal would be like boycotting a paper company” over a writer who has books printed on their paper, she said.
Mr. Singal compared Substack with the unregulated, decentralized internet of a decade ago. “In the golden age of blogging, writers hated each other but they went back and forth over each other’s ideas. Now, people call the manager all the time,” he said.
So the biggest threat to Substack is unlikely to be the Twitter-centric political battles among some of its writers. The real threat is competing platforms with a different model. The most technically powerful of those is probably Ghost, which allows writers to send and charge for newsletters, with monthly fees starting at $9. While Substack is backed by the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Ghost has Wikipedia vibes: It is open-source software developed by a nonprofit.
One of Substack’s biggest newsletters, The Browser, with 11,000 paid subscribers, left for Ghost last August. Nathan Tankus, an economics writer who is leaving Substack over trans issues, has also moved to Ghost. David Sirota, who runs the left-leaning investigative site The Daily Poster, said he was considering leaving for Outpost, a system built on Ghost, because “we want our operation and our brand to stand on its own.”
And it’s easy to leave. Unlike on Facebook or Twitter, Substack writers can simply take their email lists and direct connections to their readers with them.
Substack’s model of taking 10 percent of its writers’ subscriptions is “too greedy of a slice to take of anyone’s business with very little in return,” said Ghost’s founder and chief executive, John O’Nolan, a tattooed, nomadic Irishman who is bivouacked in Hollywood, Fla. He said he believed subscription newsletter publishing was “destined to be commoditized.”
It was, for Harper’s, a sensation, receiving 2.5 million views. The magazine — whose paywall is now more porous, but is still years behind the kind of digital subscription machine that drives The New Yorker and The Atlantic — grew its subscription base 13 percent and bounced back above 100,000 subscribers. It is still far down from a peak of 231,670 during the George W. Bush years, and so far from breaking even that Mr. MacArthur told me he hadn’t done the math of what it would take to get there.
The Harper’s staff, since Mr. MacArthur broke the union, is not a rebellious bunch. No current staff member would speak to me on the record about the magazine. But when the letter appeared on the website, they revolted, and in an emotional Zoom meeting on July 8 (they weren’t yet back at the office), Mr. Beha took responsibility for publishing the letter and defended it. A former Harper’s assistant editor who is now a New Yorker fact-checker, Shirley Ngozi Nwangwa, recalled that editors argued that regardless of its intent, the letter would be used “as ammunition against the racial justice protests.”
Mr. Beha also told the Harper’s employees they were free to speak up on social media against the letter; an editor responded that they feared Mr. MacArthur would fire them if they did. The next day, Mr. Beha wrote an elliptical email that didn’t mention Mr. MacArthur, but acknowledged that he had been trying to “make the parts of the office that are under my control as open, respectful and tolerant of difference as I could, while insulating my staff as much as possible.”
Harper’s didn’t publish the letter in print until October, packaging it with several scathing attacks on it and one signatory’s apology for signing. In an editor’s note, Mr. Beha wrote that the attacks themselves were an instance of the kind of debate the letter supported, and that “in that sense, even the letter’s loudest critics were in a kind of agreement with it.”
There are two ways to read the Harper’s letter. One is to see it as a rejection of elements of the protests against racism, and a direct rejoinder to claims that some speech is physically dangerous. That’s how it was read by many of the Harper’s editorial staff members who opposed it, and also apparently how it was read by Mr. MacArthur, who signed it.
Though he has contributed to Harper’s only twice over 40 years, Mr. MacArthur writes an occasional column in French for the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir. (In another Harper’s oddity, the column is translated back into English by someone else, then published without further editing on the Harper’s website.) There, Mr. MacArthur described the letter as “a public stand against political correctness and ‘cancel culture.’”Earlier this month, he denounced the “McCarthyism and mob rule” at work when The New York Times forced out a veteran journalist who had used a racial slur on a trip with teenagers to Peru. Mr. MacArthur wrote the word in full, “a matter of honor, as a matter of principle, to use it informationally like he did,” he told me.
But Mr. MacArthur’s columns don’t appear in the print magazine. Relatively little railing against cancel culture does. And indeed,there’s also another way to read the Harper’s letter, which is simply its plain language, which called for a “culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes.” That’s how Mr. Beha said he has strained to interpret it, and why he’s avoided taking Harper’s down an overtly reactionary — if commercially promising — path.
Literary figures and newspaper columnists across Europe have been arguing for weeks about what these decisions mean, turning Gorman’s poem into the latest flash point in debates about identity politics across the continent. The discussion has shone a light on the often unexamined world of literary translation and its lack of racial diversity.
“I can’t recall a translation controversy ever taking the world by storm like this,” Aaron Robertson, a Black Italian-to-English translator, said in a phone interview.
“This feels something of a watershed moment,” he added.
On Monday, the American Literary Translators Association waded into the furor. “The question of whether identity should be the deciding factor in who is allowed to translate whom is a false framing of the issues at play,” it said in a statement published on its website.
The real problem underlying the controversy was “the scarcity of Black translators,” it added. Last year, the association carried out a diversity survey. Only 2 percent of the 362 translators who responded were Black, a spokeswoman for the association said in an email.
In a video interview, the members of the German team said they, too, felt the debate had missed the point. “People are asking questions like, ‘Does color give you the right to translate?’” Haruna-Oelker said. “This is not about color.”
She added: “It’s about quality, it’s about the skills you have, and about perspectives.” Each member of the German team brought different things to the group, she said.
The team spent a long time discussing how to translate the word “skinny,” without conjuring images of an overly thin woman, Gümüsay said, and they debated how to bring a sense of the poem’s gender-inclusive language into German, in which many objects — and all people — are either masculine or feminine. “You’re constantly moving back and forth between the politics and the composition,” Strätling said.
Medium, the website that gives individual writers a platform and in recent years started its own online magazines, offered voluntary buyouts to all of its editorial staff on Tuesday as it announced it was scaling back its journalism.
During a monthly all-hands meeting conducted by videoconference, the staff members were also told that Siobhan O’Connor, the vice president for editorial since 2018, would be leaving the company.
Evan Williams, a Twitter co-founder who started Medium in 2012, explained in a long email to the staff after the meeting that Medium was “making some changes” to its publishing strategy. He said Medium would reduce the budgets of the publications run by the company and redirect resources to supporting independent writers on the platform.
Medium has struggled to find its footing with independent journalism. It began as a blogging platform, allowing anyone to publish, with the goal of building “a new model for media on the internet.” In 2017, the company laid off a third of its workers — 50 people — after Mr. Williams decided to turn away from ad-driven content. In 2019, the company ramped up its own journalism efforts with the introduction of OneZero, a tech and science publication, which was followed by others, including GEN (politics and culture), Elemental (health) and Zora (women of color).
in a statement on March 1.
A Medium spokeswoman said in a statement that the company remained “fully committed to high-quality editorial and to the open platform model that supports independent writers.”
“The voluntary buyout reflects changes we’re making to our editorial team to create a more flexible organization that focuses on both,” the statement read.
The spokeswoman said Medium’s content operation would be led by Jermaine Hall and Scott Lamb after Ms. O’Connor’s departure.
When it was my turn, it was well past 9 p.m. He looked over my papers, all my accounting of trying to make a life out of words. “Hmm,” he said, “hmm.” He told me I would owe a tax bill in the low thousands. I almost blacked out. “But,” he said gently, “that just means you’re successful. You’ve made this much from writing.”
My accountant taught me that even in a life of pursuing art, where uncertainty is built in, some care can be taken to make plans, to plan for success, not just wish to succeed, and in planning offer myself some ballast against nothing at all going according to plan. It’s a difficult lesson to learn — the lives of great artists are riddled with instability. But he also reminds me, every April 15, not to block my blessings, not to decide I already know how my artistic career will end, that life can surprise you with good things as well as bad.
How Has the Pandemic Changed Your Taxes?
Nope. The so-called economic impact payments are not treated as income. In fact, they’re technically an advance on a tax credit, known as the Recovery Rebate Credit. The payments could indirectly affect what you pay in state income taxes in a handful of states, where federal tax is deductible against state taxable income, as our colleague Ann Carrns wrote. Read more.
Mostly. Unemployment insurance is generally subject to federal as well as state income tax, though there are exceptions (Nine states don’t impose their own income taxes, and another six exempt unemployment payments from taxation, according to the Tax Foundation). But you won’t owe so-called payroll taxes, which pay for Social Security and Medicare. The new relief bill will make the first $10,200 of benefits tax-free if your income is less than $150,000. This applies to 2020 only. (If you’ve already filed your taxes, watch for I.R.S. guidance.) Unlike paychecks from an employer, taxes for unemployment aren’t automatically withheld. Recipients must opt in — and even when they do, federal taxes are withheld only at a flat rate of 10 percent of benefits. While the new tax break will provide a cushion, some people could still owe the I.R.S. or certain states money. Read more.
Probably not, unless you’re self-employed, an independent contractor or a gig worker. The tax law overhaul of late 2019 eliminated the home office deduction for employees from 2018 through 2025. “Employees who receive a paycheck or a W-2 exclusively from an employer are not eligible for the deduction, even if they are currently working from home,” the I.R.S. said. Read more.
Self-employed people can take paid caregiving leave if their child’s school is closed or their usual child care provider is unavailable because of the outbreak. This works similarly to the smaller sick leave credit — 67 percent of average daily earnings (for either 2020 or 2019), up to $200 a day. But the caregiving leave can be taken for 50 days. Read more.
Yes. This year, you can deduct up to $300 for charitable contributions, even if you use the standard deduction. Previously, only people who itemized could claim these deductions. Donations must be made in cash (for these purposes, this includes check, credit card or debit card), and can’t include securities, household items or other property. For 2021, the deduction limit will double to $600 for joint filers. Rules for itemizers became more generous as well. The limit on charitable donations has been suspended, so individuals can contribute up to 100 percent of their adjusted gross income, up from 60 percent. But these donations must be made to public charities in cash; the old rules apply to contributions made to donor-advised funds, for example. Both provisions are available through 2021. Read more.
At the end of our first meeting, he said to me, gravely, “You are good at this. You are going to make money as an artist. You need to be ready for it,” and he told me what funds to put money in, which retirement plans to invest in, for the following year. I went back to him a year later, when I was getting married, and he gave me advice for my taxes then. He told me, poignantly, “Don’t get married on Christmas or New Year’s. It will ruin those days for you.”
By then, I had talked to him long enough to know that he had been married and divorced, and that he had seven adult daughters of his own, all trained as accountants — they helped him out during tax season. Sometimes I would call his office after negotiating a contract or finding out about a grant, and I would only get the machine. This was because, he’d explained to me, he took off six months out of the year to travel around West Africa to collect the art that I saw in his office.
The last time I saw him in person was the 2019 tax season. I was five months pregnant, my then-husband had just lost his job, and we were suddenly both living off a research stipend for a fellowship I had. He sat with us and assured us it would be OK. I was stressed about money, stressed about my baby’s future, stressed about how I was going to pay for my looming hospital bills. Talking to him was one of the few times during that turbulent pregnancy when I felt like I was being taken care of by another person, instead of taking care of everyone else — a gift for which I will always be grateful.
Last pandemic’s tax season was pushed back again and again by the catastrophe. I did my taxes in June on the back porch of the house I was living in during quarantine, paying a masked sitter $20 an hour for the privilege of talking to my accountant on the phone without a baby in the background. I realized my relationship with him is the most positive one I’ve ever had with a man over money. As I updated him on my pandemic year — marriage over, job offers gone, quarantining in another state — he only murmured sagely into the phone. He’d seen it all. “But I did what you told me to last year and paid my estimated tax,” I said.
“You listened to me?” he replied, with a fatherly warmth. “Of course,” I said. “None of my clients ever do,” he laughed. And then he said he’d set me up for 2021, because I’d followed his directions. It was one of my proudest moments in the hazy, heady year.
Kaitlyn Greenidge is the author of the forthcoming novel “Libertie” and the features director at Harper’s Bazaar.
The Drunken Canal is one of a handful of downtown media projects that have been sprouting in reaction to the dominance of giant online media, the homogenization of big social media platforms that make community feel global, not local (though they’d like it if you’d follow them on Instagram), and the overwhelming sense that nobody in media was having fun in the grim year of 2020. The Dimes Square local media include a pirate radio station, Montez Press Radio, that won’t let you listen on demand, and a “natural style” fashion email newsletter, Opulent Tips, written by a GQ staff writer, with no fancy formatting. Many of the most interesting new products are in print “because digital spaces are becoming increasingly more policed,” said Richard Turley, 44, the former creative director of Bloomberg Businessweek who founded another downtown newspaper, Civilization, in 2018.
The Dimes Square scene caught my eye because its privileged denizens embody a broader shift toward spaces safe from social media. The new Silicon Valley social audio app Clubhouse shares some of those values. And the choice of print has a political edge. The Canal’s first issue featured a “Sorry to hear you’ve been canceled” column composed of a list of names, with no explanation, “to keep you from looking foolish at a woke gathering.” (The second issue included an apology to the actor Terry Crews, whose name had been spelled wrong in the first issue and who had, in fact, not been canceled, in the publishers’ view.) A third recent newsprint project called The New Now, created by a co-founder of the magazine Paper, announces atop its front page that it is “Free of Charge” “Free of Advertising” and “Free of the internet.”
The downtown media rebellion often looks back to the 1990s, when the model and actress Chloë Sevigny embodied an edgy new scene in a New Yorker profile, just before her star turn in the explicit 1995 movie “Kids.” Ms. Sevigny, now 46, is a running preoccupation — The Drunken Canal has featured her stylist, Haley Wollens. Ms. Sevigny told me she’s “flattered and hoping the kids rally for all of us.”But the more recent seeds of the current scene are in the podcasts that helped put a strain of left-wing populist politics that’s as hostile to Hillary Clinton as it is to Donald Trump on the political map — in particular, one called Red Scare, whose co-host, Dasha Nekrasova, lives near Dimes Square. Ms. Nekrasova, 30, said she admired the spirit of The Drunken Canal although, like many of its admirers, she hasn’t actually been able to get her hands on a copy. She plays a crisis P.R. person in the upcoming season of “Succession” and has directed a new feature film rooted in theories about Jeffrey Epstein’s death. The new Drunken Canal includes the prediction that “DASHA will become the new and better Chloë Sevigny.”
The unsafe sex of “Kids” scandalized 1990s New York, but the best way to get a reaction from the 2020 New York media was by bragging about having indoor parties. The writer and publicist Kaitlin Phillips, 30, who occupies a spot close to the center of a map of downtown personalities, became mildly notorious on Twitter for advertising a blasé attitude through the worst of the pandemic last spring.
My office at home is pretty well equipped. I have a desktop computer and a printer and whiteboards I installed with the ambitious idea that I would use them to map out projects. There are shelves holding various editions of my books, some of which I can’t read because I don’t speak Hebrew or Farsi or Turkish or Polish. There are shelves with reference books and galleys and other books related to various projects. I have a home studio for recording “Hear to Slay,” the podcast I host with Tressie McMillan Cottom.
Most days are spent staring at people in little squares on my computer monitor because now that everyone is at home, people have found all kinds of excuses to have meetings. I have ring lights for events and television appearances because there isn’t much going to studios anymore. Also, vanity. Once in a while, a hard case of audiovisual equipment is shipped to my house with a laminated instruction card providing the necessary direction for using the equipment. Once in a while a camera crew comes to the house wearing their protective gear. They stand six feet away and I peer into a video monitor, talking to a producer somewhere else.
Almost every day I marvel at how the world has adapted to the pandemic. I thought I was done doing public events, but at some point during the summer of 2020, events moved online and now I am back to doing several events a week, sometimes in places that would not otherwise be able to bring me to their school or town. I enjoy live events, but doing them virtually is not the same. When I walk out onstage and see a thousand people cheering, the energy is absolutely electric and unexpected. It’s surreal because I’m just a writer. It’s magical because I know that we will have an experience that can’t be replicated.
And I miss the signing line, where I could spend a few minutes with readers, hearing about their lives, seeing that my work mattered maybe a little. Now, I make myself presentable from the waist up, and sit at my desk in basketball shorts, and when the event is over, that’s that.
Most of my friends with more traditional jobs are working from home, too. They’ve created office spaces in their houses. They hang out with their pets, their children, their partners. They get their work done, just as well as they did before. And a surprising number of these friends don’t seem to want to return to the office. For those without school age children, there is time to handle the business of running a home while handling the business of doing a job. They can bake and run errands and garden between work tasks. There is no dressing up in work drag. Bras and pants with buttons and ties and high heels and a full face of makeup have been abandoned. There is no more commuting — all that time in a car, clenching the steering wheel, inching along. There is no more trying to get work done while being interrupted every 10 minutes or listening to a co-worker yammering endlessly.
But a lot has been lost, too. For all the faults of the workplace, there is a certain camaraderie that comes with life in an office. A good meeting can be energizing in a way that is hard to replicate over Zoom. We can’t head over to our favorite work friend’s office for some coffee and gossip when we need a break. It’s all Slack chats and emails and phone calls and then, whatever happens at home after work, without any distance. The work-life balance has imploded for better and worse. In many of the Work Friend letters I receive, I can see how that implosion has changed how people feel about their work.
There is a lot of unfulfillment — people who are bored in their jobs or who simply hate what they do or they hate the people they work with but cannot see a way out. A lot of women deal with condescending bosses, pay disparities and a lack of accommodations for motherhood. A lot of men are trying to figure out how to navigate the workplace as cultural norms change. People from all walks of life want to know how they can make their companies more inclusive and how to address institutional racism, or they resent these efforts because they feel wrongly implicated.