Yesterday was tech reporter Taylor Lorenz’s first day at the Washington Post, and everyone is already jumping up and down and punching each other in the nuts over who can win the Little Bitch Olympics. If you haven’t heard about this, it’s probably because you’re off in “Ukraine donning flak jackets to deliver marmalade droppers to the front page,” as New York’s Shawn McCreesh wrote yesterday. Or maybe you’re doing something else. I’d like to be in the latter camp, but Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg has a gun pressed to my forehead and he’s screaming something about having a “very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.” So here we are.
To catch you up, let’s run down the main players in this spat. Taylor Lorenz is a famous journalist who covers tech and internet culture. Maggie Haberman is a famous journalist who covers Donald Trump. Shawn McCreesh is Maureen Dowd’s ex-assistant. We’ll come back to him later. Until last month, Lorenz worked at the New York Times, where Haberman still works. She quit to take a job at the Washington Post, which as we discussed, started yesterday. On Feb. 1, Vanity Fair reported that Lorenz felt that the Times did not understand her beat or take it seriously and that the Post had a better grasp of social media. On March 2, Insider (where Lorenz used to work) ran a related article, about people leaving the Times over its restrictions on outside projects. The piece included this quote from Lorenz:
Younger people recognize the power of having their own brand and audience, and the longer you stay at a job that restricts you from outside opportunities, the less relevant your brand becomes.
This quote bothered some of Lorenz’s past and future colleagues. A Post reporter said the word “brand” was “cringey.” Another said the phrase “influencer journalist” was “equally cringey.” A third weighed in: “The entire article made me want to dig a giant hole and crawl into it.” Where was Maggie Haberman in all this, you’re asking. She showed up a little later to tweet: “Is there something going on in the world other than the desire of some folks to get more attention?”
The fallout was an exchange in which Lorenz pointed out that the “attention economy” is her beat, that Haberman was expert in leveraging it for herself, and that ultimately, her point had been about media workers’ rights. Haberman sniped back in an especially catty way; former Gawker editor Elizabeth Spiers wrote 2,000 pretty reasonable words about it on Medium; and Shawn McCreesh rushed to defend the New York Times from the tweets of their famous ex-employee in a piece titled: “Taylor Lorenz Introduces Her Brand to the Washington Post.”
There is a lot of bad faith here. We have a star reporter, who left the biggest newspaper in the country for the other biggest newspaper in the country, claiming she isn’t taken seriously; prompting staff writers at the second paper to pile on their new coworker days before she starts, and to do so by mocking one humiliating word (brand) with an equally stupid one (cringey); only for the biggest star reporter of them all, a woman who tweets as much as the man she used to cover, to pop in and accuse the first of milking professional frustration for clout. That’s good stuff. Adam McKay may be optioning it as we speak. But McCreesh managed to squander this inside-baseball comedy hour by grandstanding on behalf of the pseudo-scandal's true victim. Who is the true victim here? For McCreesh, it’s the Times.
As the piece frames it, Lorenz is a “nearly 40” social-media hound who covers “spoiled brats'' and backbites her colleagues; who starts “beefs for no discernible reason,” but also actually has a reason, or agenda rather — namely, self-promotion and giving “that internet audience what it wants — conflict.” But here’s a question “these people never stop self-promoting long enough to consider,” McCreesh writes. “What if their brands are doing more damage to the institution instead of the other way around?”
Apparently, the rest of the Times’s hardworking staff are off in Ukraine filing drafts and trying not to suffocate from the vacuum bombs raining (allegedly) on their bunkers. I’m only slightly exaggerating (emphasis added):
There certainly was plenty of tension in how Lorenz approached her beat, and the paper often got dragged into it (and arguably profited from it, since it kept her stories circulating). She says it should have defended her more vigorously in her frequent scraps. (Meanwhile, the paper’s journalists in Ukraine donning flak jackets to deliver marmalade droppers to the front page aren’t tweeting about any of this tedium.)
I was going to say something like, “I’m over here choking on all this straw…. man argument!” But he raises a good point. Has Lorenz ever considered devoting her time to more important pursuits, like self-censorship on college campuses, or why affirmative action is actually bad, or that there are, in fact, Republicans in Pennsylvania? The good news for McCreesh is that he’s officially entered the applicant pool for Ben Smith’s old job. The bad news is that he placed second at the Little Bitch Olympics — unfortunately, we get the gold for writing this blog.