That’s how we keep the gate: Why independent writers don't need journalism's establishment anymore...

This edition is in honour of Chadwick Boseman. Rest in power, king

"It occurred to me… we don’t pay the promoter, the promoter pays us.”

With the news that Chadwick Boseman had died, I went back to watch his astounding performance as James Brown in 2014’s Get On Up. In one of many powerful scenes, Boseman as Brown explains how he’s going to break the payola system and get the gate (the ticket money paid at the door) by working with younger, smarter DJs that love his music and hate being paid badly by the establishment:

Because my diseased mind spends most of the time thinking about the media and because I was already thinking about a) how The Times management claims to want to draw a younger audience but keeps publishing opinion pieces that disdain everything younger people believe in and b) how private equity investors kill publishing companies, something in that speech chimed with me.

“… that’s how we get our show promoted — better, harder, stronger — and that’s how we keep the gate.”

Things like the service where I’m writing this newsletter — Substack — and payment processors like Stripe, which will work with one-person bands like me, are breaking down the system. As Wired wrote this week, newsletters are becoming publications where independent writers can make a living.

We are breaking the back of the old model where big magazine publishers and the major newspaper groups had a stranglehold on who gets heard. Yes, the blogging-era of the early-00s did that to some extent but it was hard to control the whole stack back then — you could write what you liked but to get paid bloggers often had to take offers to join establishment companies. Now you don’t have to do that.

“You’re entering a game when the rules are already set.”

The quote above is how it felt even in 2005 when I left university and began writing in the trade press. Getting up the ladder felt difficult and it was clear that rich kids and the kids of the connected had an advantage that could not be matched by plebs like me. But now, it feels like we’re in a new punk age. The board has been thrown up in the air even more by the pandemic.

It means the establishment organisations are in a state of panic, cutting jobs and flailing around for the next solution (for some it’s acquiring more youth sites, for others pushing hard into radio). But as they struggle, the independents and smaller collaborations with a nimble, puckish, punkish mindset can outpace them with excitement and smarts.

It’s not just newsletters. It’s Twitter accounts, Instagram accounts, TikTok accounts, YouTube channels and more. Journalism and independent writing can happen everywhere and make money. It doesn’t need big offices or floors of executives who know fuck all about what counts.

“We go to the young cats, the hungry cats…”

I am on the cusp of no longer being a young cat, but I’m certainly a hungry cat.


If you want to do something to help after the tragic news of Chadwick Boseman’s death, consider donating to Bowel Cancer UK