What is the easiest and fastest way to make money as a writer or journalist? Many will tell you it’s taking on freelance copywriting work at advertising agencies or pivoting to film and television. But actually, there’s one simple trick to get you more money, or at the very least more recognition, than most middling writers could possibly imagine: very publicly quitting your legacy journalism job because it’s too “woke” and starting a Substack newsletter.
Leaving a writing job in a huff to join the truth warriors of the newsletteratti has worked incredibly well for well-known journalists like former New York Times editor and columnist Bari Weiss, Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald, former New York Magazine writer Andrew Sullivan and Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias.
Usually, this approach only works well for people with name recognition, but one fellow Canadian has proved you don’t even need that to be hoisted up as a free speech warrior as long as you type the correct words in the correct order.
On January 3, journalist Tara Henley, who says she worked at the CBC as a “TV and radio producer” over the last decade, published a letter to her new Substack, titled Lean Out with Tara Henley (Lean Out is also the name of a book she published in March 2020). The post was titled “Speaking Freely,” with the subtitle, “Why I resigned from the Canadian Broadcasting Company.”
The letter went viral, and in parts of Canada she trended on Twitter for two days along with the slogan “defund the CBC.” Within hours, she became the free speech anti-woke it-girl du jour, with her follower count tripling over the last few days. The piece got retweeted by Greenwald, who praised her description of the “repressive environment where liberal-left ideology and woke pieties dictate ‘reporting.’” Weiss also retweeted her, saying, “Welcome to the wilderness.” The leader of Canada’s Conservative Party Erin O’Toole said he would love to “sit down” with her and hear her thoughts on how to fix the CBC.” But what did she actually have to say?
The highly praised piece details how “for months” she had been getting complaints from readers and viewers about the CBC, where she’s allegedly worked since 2013, the growing number of which eventually led her to resign. Importantly, it appears she didn’t “resign” from any type of permanent employment. When I emailed the CBC for comment, chief of staff Chuck Thompson provided this statement:
“Tara Henley was a temporary employee who worked in Vancouver and then Toronto as an associate producer for some of our local and regional radio shows. She also wrote a books column for the Ontario syndication service.”
Still her piece went on to say:
People want to know why, for example, non-binary Filipinos concerned about a lack of LGBT terms in Tagalog is an editorial priority for the CBC, when local issues of broad concern go unreported… Or why, exactly, taxpayers should be funding articles that scold Canadians for using words such as ‘brainstorm’ and ‘lame.’
What Henley is referring to are two different pieces. One is an article that ran in the summer of 2021 titled, “How non-binary Filipinos reconcile their identities with their language's lack of LGBT terms,” which by all standards is a normal and well-reported piece of journalism about language and colonialism. The second is an article about some of the origins of common phrases, which scolds nobody but instead provides context about the evolving meanings of certain words in the public discourse. Henley goes on to write about her experience working at the CBC:
When I started at the national public broadcaster in 2013, the network produced some of the best journalism in the country. By the time I resigned last month, it embodied some of the worst trends in mainstream media. In a short period of time, the CBC went from being a trusted source of news to churning out clickbait that reads like a parody of the student press.
A cursory look at Tara’s previous work shows that she fought hard to combat this kind of cultural Marxism propaganda with pieces such as “5 zen things to do in Vancouver, Canada's epicentre of chill” and “The most breathtaking bike routes Vancouver has to offer” and “Six surprising lessons we can all learn from early retirement gurus.” I can only imagine she narrowly avoided being silenced at every turn.
In fact, if you spend even twenty minutes looking through Henley’s journalism career, you’ll see that her bread and butter isn’t news or current events at all. So when she writes about “causing strain” in a story meeting with her “views on issues like the housing crisis,” I wonder exactly when she became an outspoken advocate for such issues. Over the last two years, Henley has not once even tweeted about the housing crisis, an issue that the CBC has covered extensively in just the last few months. Almost all of her past stories across multiple Canadian publications are about books and the publishing industry, something she later says in her letter was the “through line” during her 20 year career.
Indeed, Henley has very successfully covered Canadian books for years. In one piece, a profile of the musician and writer Vivek Shraya, who wrote the book I’m Afraid of Men, Henley writes:
Shraya’s latest outing, I’m Afraid of Men, is a similarly slim, accessible work that explores a compelling topic: her fraught relationship with masculinity. Her experiences as a queer trans girl, she writes, place her in a unique position “to address what makes a good man.” It’s why we’ve gotten together today in this artsy Lotusland neighbourhood to browse books, drink coffee and talk men.
Surely her commentary on the housing crisis was cut. Either way, it sounds an awful lot like Henley dabbled in the kind of culture writing she claims is usurping “local issues of broad concern.”
Henley’s rebranding as a free speech warrior is especially interesting in light of a different piece she wrote in late October for The Globe and Mail on how Substack is “changing the writing game.” In it, she interviews Bari Weiss about how lucrative the newsletter platform has been for her. Clearly, she learned a lot.