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Greetings From Wyoming 5 min read

Greetings From Wyoming

Jaw-dropping reporting about Instagram, plus the case against kids, more journalism bummers, and the joys of mean book reviews.

By Cary Littlejohn

Since I’m traveling and catching up with dear friends in the Wild West known as Wyoming for the first time in two years, I’m sending you straight to the links this week. 

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. I read a lot of news, but there’s rarely been a story that’s left me more gobsmacked than a recent investigation by the New York Times that showed the depths (and depravity) of mommy-run Instagram accounts that peddle their kids, too young to have an account of their own, as influencers. It’s every bit as shocking and gross as it sounds. The story itself is a wonderful use of digital storytelling, with gray squares with descriptions that might be found in alt-text descriptions representing photos of the children (so you can’t see and further exploit the children) but it leaves intact the comments and reactions that you’d see underneath the actual Instagram post. Some are disapproving finger-wags, but the vast majority are unsavory and more than thrilled the parents are posting the photos for their creepy perusal.
  2. Far to the other side of the spectrum on which “Create a social media account to pimp out my children for clout” is a pretty despicable extreme is the other extreme of “Kids? What if we just, like, don’t?” This essay in Harper’s makes the case against kids.
  3. Barber’s anti-kids essay in Harper’s sounds all the more reasonable when you read this in-depth explainer from Vox on those little cans of nicotine pouches called Zyns and strange cult of masculinity that’s arisen around the use of these little tobacco substitutes. Though she doesn’t quite know it, Barber’s essay is implicitly saying, “See? If you have kids, you could have one of these little idiots.”
  4. In a sad, sad tale for the journalism business, this WIRED story was totally compelling. It tells of a once storied newspaper whose online domain name had lapsed and was scooped up by company using AI to generate lots of clickbaity stories, using the newspaper’s name as a thin veneer of legitimacy.
  5. This Vanity Fair piece is a truly heartbreaking tale of a journalist leaving a stable gig for something seemingly too good to be true. And it turned out to be just that (I speak, of course, of The Messenger, which I’ve written about briefly before). What makes it even harder to read was how cautious she’d been and how doggedly she’d been pursued by the very man who’d play so carelessly with their futures in a terribly mismanaged new media venture that didn’t even last eight months.
  6. While out here in Wyoming, visiting my friend who’s now the editor of the paper we joined within a week of each other back in 2020, we learned of Vice laying of hundreds and effectively shutting down. And it definitely hit us in a weird way: him, the guy who was vaulted into leadership early after the editor/publisher who’d recruited us sold off her family’s paper; me, as the guy who’d left journalism for fear its instability and my desire to make a little more money despite my deep and abiding love for it. We’d started journalism at a precarious time, and it’s only gotten worse lately. And one can’t help but be saddened by that. It represents the erosion of cultural artifacts and entertainment, as well as a way of life and once-steady jobs. It was with those things in mind that I read this piece in The New Republic about how perhaps Vice’s downfall was that it became too big to maintain what had been appealing about it in the first place.
  7. From media ventures folding to something a little more encouraging: super-niche publications. I’ve raved about Racquet, the incredibly beautiful quarterly all about tennis, but through their email newsletter, I was turned onto this great essay on the disappearance of the one-handed backhand. At the end of the essay, it identified the author this way: “Allen McDuffee is a journalist and the creator of Court Theory.” It’s another great niche tennis publication, and I just really love to see it.
  8. Here are two pieces in conversation with previous recommendations I’ve made recently. This Airmail piece is another positive review of the new book about The Village Voice by no less than one of its most famous voices, and this Will Oremus review of Kara Swisher’s new book was said to be “just the kind of tough and fair assessment I prefer,” Swisher said on Twitter. “Accurate, with criticism I deserve and he reviews the actual book.”
  9. I really liked this review in The Guardian of Lauren Oyler’s new book of essays. It’s not a pan, but it’s not really all that nice, either. It strikes me as honest with a little bit of literary flair that makes for great criticism. The opening just made me laugh a little, giving a good taste of what’s to come. “Lauren Oyler is an American writer, very tall and very smart (or so I read).”
  10. Speaking of pans, this one from Slate’s Dan Kois was a great read. It’s of Michiko Kakutani’s new book, but in many ways, it’s about the fearsome former critic herself. The headline and subhead say it all: “Michiko Kakutani Was the Most Feared Woman in Publishing. What Happened? The former New York Times book critic was known for her devastating pans. How did she get so bland?” Kois pulls no punches, and it was delightful.

More From Me

Over on my blog, I’ve been writing about various topics of interest to me.

'True Detective: Night Country' Could've Been Better

An Entirely Unoriginal Take: That Tracy Chapman/Luke Combs Duet Was Awesome

'The Greatest Night in Pop': Pitch-Perfect and Tone-Deaf

To Hurkle-Durkle Or Not To Hurkle-Durkle?

Take Your Medicine

Culture Diary

Here’s a collection of what I’ve been consuming in the past week.

The legend for my list was stolen from Steven Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film,  Italics is a book, and bold is a live performance or show. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.

2/19: Feud: Capote vs. The Swans (2)(Hulu); CAPOTE (Tubi)
2/20: Top Chef, S17 (3)(Peacock)
2/21: Top Chef, S17 (1)(Peacock); POP’S GREATEST NIGHT (Netflix); MIKE BIRBIGLIA: THE OLD MAN AND THE POOL (Netflix)