Full transcript: Writer and political lightning rod Lauren Duca on Recode Media

Her Teen Vogue column about Trump and gaslighting catapulted her career.

On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, journalist Lauren Duca talks about her trajectory from her college paper to having a column in Teen Vogue that catapulted her into national attention. Her kerfuffle with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson increased her Q-factor even more, and the essay that started it all, “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,” written before he even took office, is, she says, “still true” today.

You can read some of the highlights from the interview here, or listen to it in full in the audio player above. Below, we’ve provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversations.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.


Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me. I’m part of the Vox Media podcast network. I’m here at Vox Media headquarters in New York City. By the time this episode comes out, Code Media will be over. I was promoting Code Media for many weeks, now it’s done, so make sure to go to recode.net for all our coverage. There’s videos, there’s podcasts, write-ups of the interviews. It’s an amazing event, I can tell you that now, even though I’m talking about it in the future. Go read it. I want to say thanks to everyone who came.

Okay, that’s the host promotion of the event that happened. Here’s the thing that’s happening now. I’m talking to Lauren Duca, live, in person.

Lauren Duca: Hi.

Hi, Lauren.

How are you?

I’m excellent. I’m delighted to meet you in person.

Thanks.

I’ve been reading about you for a year plus.

That vast 15 minutes before I got in here.

How do people … No, no, no, no, no. A year ago I said, “We’ve got to get Lauren Duca on the podcast,” then we missed our window. You are the person who rose to national consciousness for writing a single article for teenvogue.com.

That’s true.

Everyone knows the article, but tell us what the headline of the article was.

Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America.” It’s still true.

It is the definition of a viral piece of content.

Oh, gosh. You know, there’s like numbers on it, and I had thought, based on the numbers that I had been taught at HuffPost that I had gone viral before, but my joke about this is it’s like an orgasm, when you know, you know.

You knew.

This was very different. It was a good tidal wave. I mean, the sheer magnitude of reactions. I still kind of haven’t gotten over it. It’s still kind of going.

That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re talking about it.

Then there was the Tucker Carlson incident.

Then there was Tucker.

And then Tucker Carlson kept a light alive for you for many months.

Yeah, he’s done follow-up pieces like my violent tweets. I’m a part of a violent left turn.

That is what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how you rocketed into public consciousness. A lot of people’s lives have been changed by Donald Trump. A lot of people in the media business, it’s been a good thing for them. Obviously, there’s a whole threat to democracy and threat to the press. For a lot of people in the press, their career has been made by Donald Trump. I think you are sort of maybe the best example of that. Is that fair?

That’s nice. I think that it definitely is unnerving to acknowledge that fact. It’s very bizarre. I talked to Jon Lovett about this when I did Pod Save, the idea that like suddenly you have this success and this giant platform, but it’s commenting on fighting back against this horrible, awful thing, and it’s just … There’s not really ever any joy in it.

The Pod Save interview guys are a little bit in that boat.

Similarly, yeah. Also, people who have been taken off into notoriety, rightfully so, but like because of the way they’re helping people to make sense of this moment.

I want to talk about all that, and I want to go back and explain how you got there, but just so we’re clear about what you’re doing now, you’re writing for Teen Vogue? There’s a monthly column? No?

There’s a monthly column and some other big projects.

Some other big projects that I can’t talk about, all right. Secret projects.

They’re TK.

That’s a journalism shorthand. That’s good. All right. I’m glad I didn’t break an embargo. What were you doing before people learned about you from the gaslighting story?

That’s a great question. I think back on the before times, which I think a lot of people have that experience in a lot of different ways post-Trump, but I wanted to be kind of a scientist of pop culture. I would kind of cheekily say I wanted to do like comedic anthropology, just kind of deeply reported soft-cultural journalism.

You were a journalist.

Yeah, that was my long-term goal was just doing more of that, you know.

You were living in New York?

Yes, and I was writing really cool pieces.

A couple of years out of school, right?

Yeah. I worked for the Huffington Post at first. So, for some examples, I had also a column called Middlebrow at HuffPost, which was pop culture analysis. The thing I like to emphasize is that I think that that kind of really paved the way in a very clear … It paved the way for me to be writing about politics, because I was doing these breakdowns of sociopolitical issues using larger-than-life figures of pop stars, and my characters were Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian, and it was parsing through all of these different iterations of modern feminism and what does empowerment look like and what does exploitation look like. These giant figures were kind of like taking ownership of the term in a very literal way when I was writing between 2013 and 2015.

Can I take one or two sentences …

Let me finish my thought, which is that …

Oh, I feel like Tucker now.

No. … that now I just think that I’m doing that same thing but my characters are politicians, and it’s just working in a different space and making things accessible. That’s kind of the work that I continue to do just in a traditionally political setting, but it was always political.

Waiting. Okay, now.

Sure.

What I want to do is get just a sense of how you got into writing to begin with, because you’re a couple of years … You went to Fordham?

I did, 2013.

2013, so I’m always astonished by people who leave college and go right to New York and are writing and are working, because for me it took me a bunch of years to sort of like bumble my way into feeling like, “Oh, I think I could go live in New York and see if I can make it happen,” and, “How am I going to pay my rent?” and, “How is it going to work?”

It helps that Fordham is in New York.

So, you’re already in New York. It seemed like a logical place to go, and writing also seemed like a logical thing to do, because that always seems incredibly intimidating, from where I grew up, which is the Midwest, looking at New York. How would one find purchase there? How do you get started? How do you start writing? Flip side of things is maybe it’s easier than ever to start, because people will let you write for free on the internet, or for very little money. How did you crack it?

Yeah, everything … I think I was just running head first towards writing as a thing, and then a bunch of stuff happened. So I was writing for the paper at Fordham, literally lowercase “the paper.” It’s like the irreverent alternative newspaper, and kind of being a shit-stirrer there, honestly. I was just writing kind of … I was coming to terms with my feminism, and interrogating that through kind of op-eds and doing very proto-Troglodyte version of the kind of stuff I eventually felt up to doing.

Did you have a role model, “I want to be like so-and-so? This is the kind of writing I want to replicate?”

Yeah. You know, it’s funny because I liked different writers for different reasons, but I didn’t have somebody I wanted to perfectly emulate. I mean, at the time I was definitely head-over-heels for David Sedaris. I was a freshman in college, you know. We’ve all been there. Jessica Valenti was life-changing for me. She kind of gave me the definition of feminism, reading her work. Those are two radically different things.

That’s awesome. Jessica Valenti’s husband works over there.

Oh, hey. Hey, Jessica’s husband. I like, I guess, the way both of their work was that, you know, Jessica was making concepts accessible, empowering her readers with information, and then the just joy of David’s writing. I wanted to build a voice that kind of had this like righteous, ethical purpose to it.

Then, you get out of college, you think, “Where can I publish this stuff?”

I was publishing it in the paper and people were getting excited about it, and I think what made me realize it was good and possibly meant to be, was the kind of people that were noticing it. Bro-y finance guys, my unlikely friends, that just were like, “Wow, like I really see X issue differently because of you.”

Fordham dudes?

Yeah, and like guys who maybe wouldn’t have listened to me while we were drinking but like were reading my articles and being moved by them. It felt like the thing.

And then there was internships, I guess, kind of, that built into other internships. It started with, actually, Allure. I was like a delivery person, you know, for a summer, just …

That’s kind of the original internship. Get someone else food.

Well, no. No, no, no. I wish I was getting food. Tom Ford one time made a chainmail shirt and, I don’t know, it must have weighed about 50 pounds, and I just thought it was so hot, and you were trying to dress cute, you’re at like a beauty magazine, and I would just be drenched. I remember one time the internship coordinator was like, “Oh, it’s chilly in here.” I was like, “Yeah, do you have any deodorant?” It was hell. And then I guess from that I worked for the local paper in the Bronx, the Norwood News, so that was some actual reporting jobs and covering town halls.

The Kingsbridge Armory, which remains this empty, hollow, economic sin. It could be so much for the people of the Bronx, and like years ago as a college reporter I was distraught over this, and I have tried to pitch this to so many mainstream publications and everyone’s like, “It’s not really … You know, it’s not a big enough thing.” It’s like this languishing space, so that was Norwood News.

Then New York Magazine, which was a great internship. I will say … People always complain about internships, but they paid you some, not much, but they paid you by the hour, and I actually learned there. Like, they wanted to teach me how to do things, which was cool.

Internships are great if you can afford them.

Internships are great if you can afford them, so it was paid, so that was excellent. That’s how you can afford to do it, if they’re not free.

Yeah, and then even still, financials aside, what is someone going to do with the fact that there’s someone who wants to learn? Are they going to teach you there or are they going to send you out for food? Are they going to give you an opportunity?

They did. That was a very good one, and then I was a fellow at HuffPost. It kind of built out of that.

“Fellow” is like a next rung up, in between intern and …

It was basically an intern. They had chosen to call it something else.

I think Vox does some of those, as well.

Yeah, and then we’re back to my big thing about the Middlebrow, kind of, I think.

So, you did not find it difficult to sort of get through New York media? It seems like you bounced around, but always sort of up?

Yeah. No, it definitely went well. I mean, I think maybe I’m good at this.

That’s great. The gaslighting piece struck people for a bunch of different reasons. Like you’ve said in the past, a lot of them are condescending, like, “I can’t believe that Teen Vogue has a grown-up writing about these president things,” but it really is a fully formed voice.

Thank you.

It takes usually people a long time to sort of get to that, and this is all just sort of self-taught, and figuring it out, and writing, and?

It’s interesting, because I think that I really appreciate that, because I do feel like I’ve had to kind of refine my views in a really public way this year, so that’s been hard. Because it’s one thing to know something and it’s another thing to be putting it out on a platform that at times is dragged by Fox News and a hairpiece. There’s danger, and there is risk, and there are bald-faced efforts to take me down. That is a level of stress that’s, aside from the death and rape threats, so it’s crazy. I’ve had to be really sure about everything I say and my ethics as a journalist and my political views and the way those things intersect, because I’m definitely both an activist and a journalist, and what does that mean? That’s tricky.

I’ve had to do it on a public stage. But, I’m really proud, and now I am like fireproof. I’m unshakeable. I know exactly where I come down. I have rules and logical proofs for how I conduct myself and how I do my writing and also what I share on social media. It’s something I’ve been really intense, and has been honed on a public stage, but I do think I have always been kind of strong-willed and really vigorous about gathering information and finding the way to be confident in expressing myself.

I think it partly comes from my parents voting for Trump, having that Republican background and being told my progressivism was silly and not something to be taken seriously, so I think I spent a lot of time before I was ever writing in any capacity, really, getting the receipts for why I believe what I believe, and that’s a lot of what I do now.

I think about this idea a lot, that if you’re trying to get into journalism, you’re trying to get into media, in some ways it’s easier than ever, because there’s tweet, blog, Medium. People will pay you to write. People will pay you not very much money to write. They’ll take your stuff for free. You can get access to a public stage really quickly in some cases, but then you’re on the public stage.

I have a very good idea what I was doing when I was 23 and 24 and 25 and 26, and I’m glad there was no camera, or at least nothing digitally attached. I still fuck up publicly, but I’ve had a long time to sort of like work out some edges and realize what the boundaries are and what things I can say and can’t say. For someone like you to be shot out in the media … We can go back to how you got to Fox News and all that. Again, it’s something, I think most people would really struggle with it. When you wrote the Trump piece, did you know immediately this was a hit? What was the gap between publication and “Oh, my god.”

Yeah. Well, it’s funny, because I have a standing desk because I have back pain. I was at my standing desk as if it was like a command center, just announcing when there would be another … Dan Rather had posted something, or whatever. Totally bonkers.

Was it immediately, like it went out and then, boom. What was the gap between it going out and it catching? Where did it first pick up?

I think it was a couple of hours. By the afternoon. I went out to dinner that night, and by that time I was like, “I have had a viral piece.”

It was people spreading it on Twitter, and then it went from there, or where did it pick up? I’m sure you were watching, right, on ChartBeat or something to that effect?

Not really, no. Now it seems silly that I wasn’t. No, I don’t really know. I don’t know. It was kind of … The thing is, I expected it to do well, so it was like almost sudden when I realized it was doing a different kind of well. It was like, “This is not just …”

Was it Dan Rather?

I think Dan Rather.

What was the indicator? Dan Rather reached out.

Literally, Dan Rather is what was going on. That was overwhelming. I mean, yeah.

Are you getting feedback from the Teen Vogue people? Are they …

Yeah. I mean, I’m kind of on for the weekend, so I’m the one that would have been giving the feedback.

Giving feedback to yourself, saying, “Great job.”

“Lauren, this is Lauren. We have a hit.” Yeah.

Is there a playbook for this like, “Oh, you wrote this thing, now …”

I think what’s very interesting is that then there have been a lot of other things that have happened. So that took off and then Tucker, but then there have also been smaller things, and I think ways that people have found my voice that have given me exponential growth even over the course of this year.

I find it cool to think of it in terms of numbers, which is before it took off I had 23,000 followers and then it was like double immediately after “Gaslighting.”

On Twitter?

To like 45 or something, and then after Tucker it doubled again, and then was 80 something, so it’s like literal exponential growth. Now, I have 400,000, just to give you a sense of how much “Duel of the Fates” plays whenever I open my mentions. It’s just the level of feedback from people who love me — and hate me. Every day has just been mounting, and people will come in … Maybe somebody will hear me on this podcast and decide they love or hate me, but there’s a lot of other little smaller things, none of which have been as big as “Gaslighting,” but it wasn’t just like this thing changed it. There’s been a building, and I’ve been having to navigate who I am while people are finding out who I am.

I want to ask you about Tucker. I want to ask you about Twitter. First, I want to hear from an advertiser. We’ll be right back.

[ad]

I’m back here with Lauren Duca. Of course you know I’m with Lauren Duca, because you listened to the first part of the interview and now we’re here. It’s not radio. It’s fake radio. We were talking about Tucker Carlson. We mentioned it several times. Again, I think if you’ve listened to this, at this point you know about the Tucker Carlson incident, but in case you haven’t, I want to play a clip of Lauren and Tucker. This is what, a week or so after the first piece comes out?

The piece was on the 10th, and Tucker was the 23rd.

First of all, Fox News calls and says, “Would you like to go on with Tucker Carlson?” You say, “Yes,” immediately or, “No”? How do you get there?

The funny thing is, Tucker Carlson is now such a giant, bloated thing in the public mind, but I barely knew who he was. I knew of the Jon Stewart “partisan hack” thing. I deliberately called him a partisan hack as an echo of that. That’s what I watched to get like pumped up to go on. I thought, though … I was hoping it was going to be … It was about Ivanka, the plane nonsense, and I just thought that was a lot of noise, and I was hoping to be able to move past his expectation, which I assumed was me defending her harasser because he was gay or some completely muddled logic of how liberals think, or whatever. I don’t identify as a liberal, but this is the context.

Then, I thought we would say, “Well, what is her power? How can we hold her accountable?” Rare, you know, rational discourse on Fox News, and he wasn’t prepared, so I think he brings in these lambs to slaughter, and he brings in what he sees as easy targets for him to kind of perform this bonkers like William F. Buckley at a frat party character.

So, you didn’t know exactly what his shtick was, but you knew him as Fox News so you knew what you were getting into. Did you have any hesitation about, “Well, I’m me and this is Fox News and, obviously, they’re going try to get some effect here.”

Yeah, I don’t think I understood how hostile. I don’t know how to explain how I didn’t know that, but I didn’t. I was actually shocked by it.

I think we have a clip of Tucker being hostile and you being shocked. Let’s go to it.

Tucker Carlson: What position that she holds do you disagree with?

I disagree with her providing a surrogacy for her father based on an empowerment of women, when that is an inherent disconnect between his campaign and his beliefs.

Tucker Carlson: You agree with her, but because she supported her dad, she is somehow fair game.

I did not say I precisely align with her …

Tucker Carlson: I’m trying to understand what you’re saying.

You’re not …

Tucker Carlson: What that she believes don’t you believe?

Tucker, you’re not trying to agree with what I’m saying, you’re shouting over me every time I speak. It’s incredibly unprofessional.

Tucker Carlson: I’m asking you a simple question …

You’re not.

Tucker Carlson: … which is …

You’re not.

Tucker Carlson: … why is she fair game?

You’re actually being a partisan hack who is just attacking me ad nauseum …

Tucker Carlson: Oh, I’m being a partisan hack.

… and not even allowing me to speak.

[end clip]

Okay. So, you didn’t know what you were getting into, then five minutes into it you figured out what you were getting into. You have the partisan hack line. It’s a 10-minute segment.

Which is long, by the way.

It’s long. It’s great, because then it’s got the split-screen of Tucker, and he’s so pleased with himself, and you’re there. Did you know when you got off that’s a thing?

Oh yeah. Well, so first you hear from the Pepes, first the Pepes come, you know. the alt-right.

Because they watched it live.

Totally, because they did it live, so I was worried at first. Once Media Eye picked up the clip then there was a conversation about it in which … It’s actually so amazing, if you look up this clip the way that they’re titled, like it’s just this beautiful sketch of confirmation bias. There’s ones where it’s like I had a stroke on national television, and then there’s others where I’m a feminist hero, and it just depends who made the video.

So, you get out of studio. You think, “I did well”?

No, no. I got out of the studio and I thought I’d had a stroke, and then once the Media Eye went up then I was getting the hero feedback, so it was definitely scary for a solid half hour. Actually, my literary agent saw it at first, or saw reactions to it in the immediate wake of it, and she was like, “Oh, God, what did she do?” Without actually looking at it at first before I could clearly enter it into the Twittersphere it was kind of worrisome.

So, you become famous for writing something online, then you become more famous for going on TV and fighting with the Fox News host, or defending yourself against the Fox News host.

Well, I don’t know that it’s fighting with him. It’s funny, because I had a friend tell me that he didn’t think I was giving my … He explained to me my own accomplishment, but I respected what he said, which was, he was like, “You didn’t just like demolish Tucker, you were able to make a point that resonated with people in an anti-journalistic, sexist, actively hostile environment,” and I was like, “I love that interpretation of it,” but I didn’t come up with it.

Again, did you have any experience sort of sparring on national TV, or no?

No. No.

Again, you really, you looked like someone who has done this a lot.

No, I hadn’t. I had not done it a lot. Also, I was shaking after. I mean, I was so … And, so were the people taking off my mic and stuff. I felt terrible, because as much as Fox News seems like the enemy, these are just people working their jobs, and they were all so … Everyone was very uncomfortable, and I was just trying to, you know, “Okay, well, thank you,” and keeping my head down, and then I got to the door and I was like, “Okay, well, Happy Holidays,” because it was 23rd and then I was like, “I’m at Fox. Merry Christmas!” at vaguely breakdown level. Bill-Murray-in-”Scrooged”-type of screaming.

Yeah, I have the adrenaline going now just thinking about it.

Merry Christmas.

It seems like that’s the occasion where you go, “I need a drink,” and you go have something that involves liquor and an ice cube. Is there is a thought at some point, “Oh, okay, I’m on the trajectory. The next step is …” What’s the thing above this? Or, “How do I extend this?”

Well, no, no. I just want to write, and people have offered me a lot of weird things, and crazy things, and, oh God, I wish I could say … Well, some network asked me if I wanted to be — this is recent, people are crazy — if I wanted to be an extra in an insane asylum, like in a movie. They were like, “It’s a movie about a powerful female journalist, and wouldn’t it be fun for you to have a walk-on bit?” I’m like, “In an insane asylum?” Like, they’ll literally make mugs of that in the Breitbart store. Like are you, “What!?” There’s always these weird …

And there’s TV things. I want to write, and I have a kind of storytelling I want to do and a kind of a particular kind of work I want to do. If there becomes an opportunity that fits for doing that work organically I will do it, but I really …

It took me a long time to remember that just because I’m young doesn’t mean every time somebody in a position of authority calls me in for a meeting, I do not need to take the meeting. I learned it in this really violent way, which was I was being rushed all over town for people like just being like, “You. You, what’s happening with you?” Like, “Certainly you know who we are at X, like, legacy publication.” It’s like, “What’s happening here? What are you even offering me? What are we talking about?” I think because I’m a young woman people think that they can just be like, “Get her in here, see what she’s about,” and then make me feel like I’m being tested, when I, you know, sat on the delayed stupid subway to get here, whatever. Anyway, it’s not a big deal. It’s cool, but it’s also I was confused by it and I was disoriented by it.

One such meeting, I was lost and I couldn’t … Like Google Maps was not being my friend, and I went into this building to ask directions and it was like this artsy building with these like glass walls, and this beautiful, mean woman didn’t want to talk to me at all, so I spun to run out of the place and I went right into the glass door, like a bird, and I split open my nose. The funny thing about when you cut your face is that you bleed a lot, so it was finally … I ended up being fine, but it was so much blood.

Then, I still went to the meeting, which is so crazy to me, in retrospect. I was on the street and I just have blood flowing out of my face and I just like don’t realize how bad it is. I’m trying to get someone to tell me where to go, and then I end up, they like give me ice at reception, and I’m holding ice on my nose, which is still bleeding, just like sitting across from some important someone at a desk just like, “I need to find my center, and this is a mess.”

By the way, you worked at Conde Nast, right? You are working at Conde Nast, so it’s not like …

No, freelance.

You’ve been exposed to that world, right?

Yeah, but I didn’t understand.

But not this way.

Well, I mean, I think when you’re young, like when you’re at the start of your career, you’re very much like writing is hard, and there is this sense of it as a starvation economy, and it’s very hard to get a gig and work, especially coming off of freelancing for a year, but it was not as easy as it is now. You’re used to being like, “I want anything they’ll give me,” and it took me a long time to kind of transition out of that, like, “Take the meeting, take the phone call,” and sit back and figure out what I want instead of having people tell me what I want.

Because I think that it’s easy to get swept up in a lot of smoke and mirrors, and I realized I finally … I had an opportunity to be doing the kind of work I wanted to be doing. I didn’t want something flashier instead. It wasn’t A to Z. As long as I can keep writing, that’s what’s important.

I feel honored you took my call. I emailed you, actually.

Well, I love podcasts because you can actually breathe a little.

We’re breathing. We’re breathing. So, did you go to someone and say, “I need an agent, I need a manager, I need someone to guide me through this, I need someone to take the calls I’m not taking”?

“Gaslighting” came out of a book proposal, so I had an agent, and I wrote “Gaslighting” in the wake of the election. It took like two days of just a lot of coffee and a lot of wine, and I wrote this kind of like pop culture analysis of reported pieces on what I saw as factors of him coming to be, and then “Gaslighting” was the sample.

When that took off there became a lot of options with this book project, which is still something I’m working on, but it’s not formally announced. That for me was and is the primary focus. I also felt really good about the fact that I found somebody who believed in me and my work before everything took off.

So, you have a professional person you have a professional relationship with, and you can sort of route stuff through that person?

Yes, and my lit agent was in place before “Gaslighting,” so I really trust her. I feel like she actually has my best interests, and knows what I wanted before …

She knew you before you were Lauren Duca?

The before-times, yeah.

What about Twitter? You mentioned it a bunch.

Oh, God, have I?

Yeah, you said, you know, “I’ve watched my Twitter followers increase over time,” and you’ve talked repeatedly about what a cesspool it can be, and threats. One of the themes the last couple years in the coverage I’ve been paying attention to is the power of Twitter, and how unpleasant it can be especially for women to be on there, how threatening it can be. A lot of people have quit Twitter. I just read a piece by Lindy West from the Times saying, “I’ve been off Twitter for a year. It’s been great.”

Good for her.

It seems like you are still very actively engaged. I mean, clearly, I emailed you. You said you’d come on, and then you said you were upset because I wasn’t following you on Twitter, so I’m following you on Twitter.

Thanks.

Sorry to expose that. It’s great. You’re a great Twitterer. You’re great. You had a great Jerry Seinfeld joke, which synced up with me. I copied it down here. “I’m convinced that Jerry Seinfeld is the world’s most affable sociopath.”

He totally is.

It’s from Coffee with Cars, right?

It’s eerie almost. Twitter is … I’m obsessed with Twitter. I definitely need to be careful with how I expose myself to a lot of just frankly unnatural nastiness.

You’re a woman on Twitter, you’re engaged in politics on Twitter, you’ve gone on Fox News, so all these things that are going to incent the creepiest, most sort of awful people to sort of hover around you and harass you on Twitter.

Yeah, but I guess I want to emphasize, too, that like I do … Twitter is a huge tool in my career, and it got me a lot of work, it got me … The initial gig at Teen Vogue came from Phillip Picardi DMing me on Twitter, and now I independently have my own channel that doesn’t rely on a network, so I can be bolder and take risks and say things, and I don’t have to worry if I piss off some ass-covering outlet because I am working for myself. And I have a following that’s sizable enough that I will be able to continue to do the work in some capacity, which is really, really important.

So, you just said for Lindy West, “Good luck not being on Twitter.” For you, you think you have to be on Twitter. It’s an essential component of your work?

I think that Lindy West has been on the front lines eating shit from ugly, awful people for years and I respect her right to take a break, but I could never imagine getting off of it. I just think that the thing that pisses people off about me so much a lot of times is just that I’m speaking out at all, so I’m definitely not going to stop.

What are your survival tips and tricks and gambits?

I have a dog, and I listen to Donna Summer, and just cuddle her in the fetal position. No, I mean, there’s times when, honestly, it is awful, and I think that it’s something that is … It’s like, science doesn’t fully understand. We haven’t been humans online for that long, and the way this stuff affects us.

Even though the person behind the screen is going through this act of dehumanization, like of separating you from who you are to be able to say these impossibly awful things, you don’t have that same vent up, and so you actually feel that act. I think that that has been the most disorienting thing is that, almost in both directions, like the way people weigh in on what I say and what I do, from thinking of me as like an entity is really, really disorienting, and it’s just something that I don’t have … There’s nothing who can tell you like, “Here’s what it’s like,” when you’re disembodied from your true self for public consumption.

You know, it’s a whole … Without an apparatus, right, because there have been famous people in the past, but usually, right, they’re a movie star or they’re a something and they have teams and a thing that sort of put them out there. You’re solo.

Also, people hate them less. My mom actually doesn’t understand social media at all, but she shook me to my core with this comment where she said she saw Ed Sheeran on the “Today Show” or something, and he said he got so much crap on social media and he can’t take it, and she said, “Lauren, I thought of you and thought, ‘He doesn’t even have any political opinions,’” and I was just absolutely floored by that, because, “Yeah, Mom.”

Yeah, and he’s a dude, and he’s got a label with a manager, and he’s got a lot of buffer there.

Protection. Yes, yes.

You’re out there.

Right, and he’s making money.

I’m looking around here at your imaginary team. You’re here solo.

Thanks, Gretchen.

I was struck. I was going through your archives. You gave the commencement speech at Simon’s Rock, which I had to look up, at Bard. You’ve got an astonishing thing in there that you say, “It’s been four years now,” this was last year, “and I’ve hurdled over every item in my five-year plan.”

Yeah.

That’s an astonishing thing to be able to say.

Yeah, yeah.

Four years out of college.

I had no idea it was ever going to be like this, so yeah. I don’t know, it’s cool.

Have you thought through the next five years?

Do you think we have five years?

Yeah, I’m a relentless optimist, he said, smirking. Yeah, I think it’s gonna work out.

Yeah. I think that … No, no, I don’t know. Short answer.

Okay. You have more news to tell us about but not on this podcast, so we will follow your Twitter account. Instagram, Snap?

Never Instagram.

Telegram, no.

No. Just …

You like words.

Yeah, no. My dog’s really cute, you know. I feel like it would be a couple of days before she was drinking green tea, shitting all over the place.

I want to leave this interview on that note, because there’s nothing better than that. Lauren Duca, you’re awesome. Thank you for coming on my podcast.


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What did Barack Obama say at his secret sports speech in front of hundreds of people?

Attendees at Barack Obama’s speech at the Sloan Sports Analytics ConferenceBarack Obama spoke in front of several hundred people yesterday at a sports conference.

We don’t know what he said.

That’s because Obama’s session at MIT’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was off the record — conference organizers prevented attendees from tweeting, livestreaming or reporting on any part of Obama’s appearance during or after the event.

The penalty for breaking the rules, per Sloan: You couldn’t come back to Sloan.

Sloan is a conference dedicated to the Moneyball wing of sports business and fandom. It’s the kind of place you can go to see Nate Silver chatting with Steve Ballmer.

It makes sense that Sloan would want Obama to come and discuss “a wide range of subjects… from his most memorable moments in the White House, to his post-presidency plans,” along with Kraft Analytics CEO Jessica Gelman and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

But I can’t fathom why that talk would be off-the-record. I’ve asked a Sloan rep for comment; a rep for ESPN, which is the lead sponsor for the event, declined to comment.

It looks like Reporters For Sports Outlets You’ve Heard Of complied with Sloan’s rules, which isn’t surprising. Complying with rules of the events you attend is the kind of thing you do when you’re a Reporter For Sports Outlets You’ve Heard Of.

ESPN had a pre-write of Obama’s appearance (and obliquely referenced the off the record part in the headline, and spelled it out in the last graph), but nothing else. And if there was any coverage at all from Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report or my Vox Media colleagues at SB Nation, I missed it. Ditto for the bad boys at Deadspin and Barstool Sports. (Barstool does not like Obama’s portrait, though).

Still: It’s 2018. There’s no such thing as an off-the-record event, especially not one held in the United States, in front of hundreds of people with internet-connected phones, right?

Maaaaybe. Here’s a post from Justin McMahon, whose bio describes him as a student at UNC Chapel Hill and the CEO of Daily Insider, a fantasy sports site.

I’m not sure Justin was actually at the Sloan event, though some of his preceding tweets were about other Sloan speakers. I’ve asked him for more information.

And here are a couple from someone who controls the Twitter account for Women in Sports Tech, whose Twitter stream suggests they were also at the event:

@Simon_pouliot’s timeline has three tweets. This is one of them.

Alanna Astion’s bio says she’s getting a masters at UMass in sport management. This is one of the two Sloan tweets she published today:

And… that’s it?

All those people? Nothing else? Really?

If I’ve missed something, please let me know. And if you attended and want to share something confidentially, that would also be great. My email is on my bio page.

(UPDATE: Heard from one bold attendee who passed along this assessment of Obama’s comments: “It was the kind of stuff that you would say at a high school graduation. I don’t know why it would have to be off the record.” Thank you, bold attendee! Happy to hear from others.)

But to recap:

  • Anyone can go to one of Donald Trump’s private golf clubs and come away with photos of the The President of the United States watching TV, or discussing his North Korea strategy.
  • The last President of the United States spoke at a public forum yesterday where he may have discussed: the importance of playing team sports; his support for diversity in sports, and the need for reform in college sports.
  • But we don’t know that for sure, because there was a surprisingly effective media blackout.

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Twitter’s $70 million SoundCloud investment is officially wiped out

Jack Dorsey invested in the music streaming service in 2016; last year he wrote off the deal.

One more reminder that digital music remains a very, very difficult place to make money: Twitter has written off a $ 70 million investment it made in SoundCloud, the music streaming service.

Twitter put the money into SoundCloud in in 2016, via its Twitter Ventures unit, in a deal that valued the company at $ 700 million. Now Twitter, via its 2017 annual report, says it has written off $ 66.4 million it invested in SoundCloud because that money is “not expected to be recoverable within a reasonable period of time.”

Variety first reported the news. For context: Twitter generated revenue of $ 2.4 billion in 2017, and ended the year with $ 4.4 billion in cash and short-term investments.

Twitter’s SoundCloud writedown isn’t a surprise, since almost all of SoundCloud’s existing investors were crammed down in a last-ditch funding deal last summer, which also brought in a new management team.

But it should be a formal coda to Twitter’s on-off infatuation with SoundCloud. Two years before the investment, Twitter had looked at buying SoundCloud for more than $ 1 billion, but didn’t.

And it’s a reminder that even though consumers have embraced free and paid music streaming services, the companies that run those services generally aren’t making a profit.

For giant tech guys like Apple and Google who run streaming music as a side business, that’s probably OK. For standalone companies like Pandora and Spotify, that’s not (reminder: Spotify is planning on going public in the next couple months).

Meanwhile SoundCloud, which had been pushing a $ 10-a-month subscription service like the one Apple and Spotify offer, is changing its strategy.

The new plan, as outlined by CEO Kerry Trainor at our Code Media conference this month: Focus on a more limited $ 5-a-month plan, as well as a renewed emphasis on a subscription service SoundCloud has always sold to music creators, producers and other prosumers.

Here’s my Code Media chat with Trainor:


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What’s the science behind tech addiction?

“How to Break Up With Your Phone” author Catherine Price explains on the latest Too Embarrassed to Ask.

Last week on Too Embarrassed to Ask, we heard how the attendees of the Code Media conference were trying to mediate their various tech addictions.

But if you’re trying to use tech less, it might be helpful to consider: Are you really addicted? What is going on in your brain when you find yourself picking up your phone 12 times per hour?

“Our brains really like being distracted,” said Catherine Price, the author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone.” “We do not have a natural tendency to be able to focus on things, which makes sense if you think about it from an evolutionary perspective — there might be something that’s trying to kill you, so you want to notice if there’s movement in the periphery of your vision or whatever.”

Price told Recode’s Kara Swisher, The Verge’s Lauren Goode and — bonus guest! — Kara’s son Louie that she does support using the word “addiction” to describe how a lot of people use their phones. Referring to data about the five million users of the app Moment, provided to her by that app’s developer, she said tech is “triggering the same circuits and chemicals in your brain that typify addiction.”

“The average person is spending four hours a day on their phone, and that does not count phone calls or listening to music — it’s just times when the screen is on,” Price said. “To me, that was a really striking number. That’s a quarter of our waking lives.”

You can listen to the new podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Price mediated which Swisher — Kara or Louie — is more addicted to their phone, and offered some habits and tricks that everyone can adopt to develop a healthier relationship with their smartphones. She also explained some of the brain science behind what we commonly call “addiction.”

“In particular, we’re talking about dopamine, which is a ‘salience chemical,’” Price said. “It basically tells you when you’ve encountered something interesting that’s worth remembering and paying attention to. And that could be good or bad — some kind of emotional excitement or relevance.”

“So if you think about what happens when you check your phone, you are nearly guaranteed to always find something, whether it’s a text or an irritating email or a post that makes you mad or something that makes you happy, whatever — there’s going to be a trigger,” she added. “When that happens, your brain releases a little bit of dopamine, and that basically is teaching your brain that it’s important to check your phone, which makes you want to check your phone more.”

And if you’re already using your phone, for example scrolling through the endless waterfall of tweets in the Twitter app, that can be dangerous because there’s no-built in cue for your brain to stop seeking more and more short bursts of dopamine.

“I think of it as like if you’re binging on ice cream,” Price said. “Your spoon will eventually hit the bottom of the pint of ice cream, and that’s called a ‘stopping cue.’ It’s something that makes you stop what you’re doing and decide if you want to continue. You could continue if you got up and got more ice cream, but you’d have to be proactive about it. With social media feeds, there’s nothing like that. It’s deliberately meant to keep us going and going.”

Have questions about tech addiction or anything else that you want us to address in a future episode? Tweet them to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed, or email them to TooEmbarrassed@recode.net.

Be sure to follow @LaurenGoode, @KaraSwisher and @Recode to be alerted when we’re looking for questions about a specific topic.

If you like this show, you should also check out our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And finally, Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, such as the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara and Lauren. Tune in next Friday for another episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask!


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Snap is giving some small startups — including those from Y Combinator — free ads on Snapchat

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel

Snap wants more advertisers to help bump up its ad prices.

Snap is giving away more free ads.

Snap, which earlier this month announced a new program intended to woo away advertisers from rival sites like Instagram with free ad credits, is offering similar ad packages to startups associated with numerous Silicon Valley startup accelerator programs, including Y Combinator.

Other accelerator programs Snap is targeting: General Catalyst’s Rough Draft Ventures, First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund, Berkeley-based The House and SF-based Runway.

As part of the arrangement, companies that have either graduated from these programs or are currently completing them will receive hundred of dollars in free Snap ads, as well as early access to new ad products and some of the company’s creative tools for actually making those ads.

The hope for Snap is to build early relationships with some of the tech industry’s up-and-comers, but also increase the number of advertisers bidding on the company’s existing ad inventory.

Snap sells almost all of its vertical video ads through automated software programs that auction off ad spots to the highest bidder. Snap’s issue has been that many of its auctions don’t have much competition: There aren’t enough advertisers bidding for the ads, which means Snap advertisers are getting better prices, but Snap itself is missing out on potential revenue. Snap ad prices were down 70 percent year over year in the last quarter of 2017, CFO Drew Vollero said on Snap’s last earnings call.

This free ad credit program — and the one targeted at current Instagram advertisers — is meant to bring in more bidders and thus create higher prices.

It’s hard to imagine the new program will have a major impact on Snap’s revenue, at least right away. Accelerator companies are almost always incredibly small, and advertising is not usually a top priority. (Though with free ad credits, perhaps it could be.)

Instead, it’s a good way for Snap to develop early relationships with potential advertisers down the line. It’s the same reason other big tech companies like Google and Microsoft have offered free technology services to Y Combinator startups.


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