Since launching in 2017, Substack has been touting itself as a “better future for news.” Their offering was simple: email newsletters with an option for subscribers to pay monthly fees for content – like Netflix for newsletters.
If you have something to write and a list of emails of people who want to read it, the thinking goes, there is nothing stopping you from making a living on your own. With a healthy Substack email list, freelancers are no longer beholden to flakey editors; staff reporters no longer have to be insecure about layoffs; small media companies no longer anxious about a tweak to an algorithm that would send them into oblivion.
All that the company asks for in return? A 10% cut of subscription dollars.
Substack’s vision is proving enticing. In the past 12 months, several high-profile journalists and writers have left jobs to go it alone with Substack: the New York Times’ Charlie Warzel, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, New York Magazine’s Heather Havrilesky.
The number of poets, essayists, hobbyists, cooks, advice-givers, spiritual guides who charge a modest amount for their newsletters is growing. In a year when US media lost thousands of newsroom jobs, the company emerged as a seemingly viable alternative for journalists and writers to earn money. But then, over the past months, several revelations about Substack’s policies have led many to question whether it ought to be entrusted with crafting a vision for the future of news.
The controversy began in response to reports that the company was luring writers to the platform through a program called Substack Pro, which offered lump sums of money – as much as $250,000 – for writers to leave their jobs and take up newsletter writing. Some writers were also offered access to editors, health insurance, and a legal defender program.
On the face of it, Substack Pro was simply offering writers the benefits that usually come with full-time employment. But the program was seen as controversial for a number of reasons.
To begin, the cohort of writers selected by the company remained undisclosed. This created an invisible tiered system dividing those who were actively supported, and those who were taking a risk in trying to build their own subscriber base.
According to journalist Annalee Newitz, this made Substack into something of a pyramid scheme. Some anonymous writers were destined to succeed while the vast majority were providing Substack with free content, hoping to one day be able to monetize. As New York Times columnist Ben Smith put it, Substack was surreptitiously making some writers rich and turning others into “the content-creation equivalent of Uber drivers.”
The second and perhaps more fundamental problem with Substack Pro was that it contravened the company’s claims to editorial neutrality. Since launching, Substack has insisted that it is not a media company but a software company that builds tools to help writers publish newsletters, the content of which was none of their business —like a printing press for the digital age. This differentiated the company from social media platforms, which organize content algorithmically to increase engagement, and media companies, which make active editorial decisions about what they publish.
In reality, though, Substack was doing both. They were using metrics from Twitter to identify writers with a proven ability to draw attention to themselves, and then actively poaching them. Substack’s founders, a journalist and two developers, said they wanted to provide an alternative to the instability of digital media companies and the toxicity of social media platforms. And yet, the company was actively choosing writers who had come to prominence through those channels.
Substack was, in other words, skimming the fat off the top of what they called a toxic media environment all while claiming to offer an alternative. In the process, the company inherited some of digital media’s most trenchant issues. After it was revealed that Substack Pro had signed controversial writers Glenn Greenwald and Jesse Singal, a number of Substack writers voiced their opposition. Substack tried to avoid accountability for their selections by maintaining a veneer of neutrality, claiming to merely be a platform not a publisher. They were trying to have their media cake and eat it, too.
The revelations about Substack Pro led to a broader conversation about the company’s content moderation policies. At the very end of last year the company clarified their position: no porn. No spam. No doxxing or harassment. No attacks on people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, medical condition. But the company also took the opportunity to assert their commitment to free speech. “We believe dissent and debate is important,” co-founder Hamish McKenzie wrote. “We celebrate nonconformity.”
Some saw this a welcoming invitation in what they perceive as an increasingly “woke” media landscape. Dana Loesch, the former NRA spokesperson, moved her newsletter from Mailchimp to Substack, claiming that the former “deplatforms conservatives.” Writer Andrew Sullivan, who has been criticized for his views on race and IQ, moved his column from New York Magazine over to the newsletter format.
For others, though, Substack’s position on content moderation was alienating, demonstrating that the company had little interest in actively addressing some of the thorny questions about how to host healthy media communities online. Many have decided to leave and take their newsletters, and their email lists, elsewhere.
Of course, Substack Pro represents only a very small proportion of people using the platform to write. Most write brief letters for micro-communities from whom they ask for no payment. There is an intimacy in the newsletter format that is not available on social media. I love receiving the poet and essayist Anne Boyer’s meditations in my inbox every now and then. Likewise the occasional musings and book recommendations from writer and critic Joanne McNeil.
Substack does have an interest in helping these smaller-scale writers level up to taking payment from subscribers, though. Every dollar earned by a writer on the platform contributes to their revenue. For this reason, they have offered no-strings-attached grants, between $500 and $5,000 in cash, to help writers take more time to commit to building an audience.
The concept of creators earning money directly from a cohort of followers is certainly not new; Patreon, OnlyFans, Cameo, Clubhouse all work from a similar paradigm. Digital media might be moving away from a model where creators toil for free, trying to accumulate as many followers as possible and somehow earning a living through ad-revenue or product placement. We seem, rather, to approaching what Kevin Kelly calls the 1,000 true fans principle: if you find 1,000 people who will pay you for what you create, you can make a living as an independent creator.
But the company wants to do more: they want to be the future of news. In this quest, the company has become the nexus for bigger questions that will define the future of digital media. What is the line between a journalist and an influencer? Are readers consumers or fans? How do we create a shared sense of reality in a media landscape comprised mostly of individual writers and their loyal followers?
Despite the controversy, Substack will be part of this conversation.
Pic As Apple and Qualcomm push for more Arm adoption in the notebook space, we have come across a photo of what could become one of the world’s first laptops to use the open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture.
In an interview with The Register, Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, signaled we will see a RISC-V laptop revealed sometime this year as the ISA’s governing body works to garner more financial and development support from large companies.
It turns out Philipp Tomsich, chair of RISC-V International’s software committee, dangled a photo of what could likely be the laptop in question earlier this month in front of RISC-V Week attendees in Paris.
A slide from the RISC-V Week event in Paris teasing a potential RISC-V laptop coming in 2022 … Click to enlarge.
Tomsich teased the device at the end of a talk with Mark Himelstein, CTO of RISC-V International, about the software optimization work needed to mature the RISC-V ecosystem.
“The big question that everybody is asking themselves, and the one where I’m wondering, Mark, if we’ll be able to pull this off: will we see the first RISC-V laptop announced this year?” Tomsich said as he showed a picture of a black, brandless laptop that had a large question mark over it.
Tomsich then hinted at the potential specs of the laptop:
Tomsich shared the photo of the mystery PC while promoting a few milestones for RISC-V, including the March launch of the first portable RISC-V computer, modeled after Kyocera’s classic TRS-80 Model 100 “slab” computer from 1983. Tomsich also hailed Alibaba Cloud for getting Android 12 to work on its own RISC-V silicon, and RISC-V compiler support for Java through OpenJDK.
What could the RISC-V laptop be for?
We were able to extract the image of the mystery laptop from the slide to get a slightly closer look:
A photo of what could be a RISC-V laptop, as shown at the RISC-V Week event in Paris. Click to enlarge.
Unfortunately, there’s not much we can discern from this photo. The device itself looks fairly rough, pretty much a prototype, which means the laptop is likely being used for development and testing purposes.
However, there was one interesting detail that caught our attention: the bottle in the top-left corner of the photo. We learned from a quick Google search that this is a water bottle brand in China called Ganten.
Now, normally we wouldn’t care much about seeing a bottle of water, but we do know that, as of last summer, the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISCAS) was planning to build 2,000 RISC-V laptops by the end of 2022 as China looks to reduce its reliance on foreign tech giants like Arm and Intel amid ongoing tensions with Western countries.
Does this mean the mystery laptop is being developed by ISCAS? It’s too soon to say. There could be other RISC-V laptop developments in China, though the ISCAS project is the only one in the country El Reg knows of so far.
The only other public RISC-V laptop development we’re aware of is one in Russia, which is expected to have homegrown RISC-V laptop chips ready for devices by 2025, according to a report from last year. The country is now cut off from Arm and Intel due to its invasion of Ukraine, so RISC-V is probably its best option now due to the ISA’s borderless nature.
As for RISC-V laptops popping up elsewhere in the world, we shouldn’t expect commercial products for a while – though if you know of any, or can identify the machine above, please do let us know. We’re also more than aware of the RISC-V boards out there for developers.
Patrick Little, the CEO of RISC-V chip designer SiFive, told us earlier this year he doesn’t think system-on-chips using the company’s CPU blueprints will find their way into PCs until roughly late 2025.
There’s also the fact that much work is needed for the RISC-V ISA to provide the same level of software support and cross-platform stability that x86 and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Arm, provide for PCs now. ®
The new facility will create jobs for engineers, mechanics and support staff as Ryanair seeks to expand its fleet to more than 600 aircraft over the next four years.
Ryanair is opening its first heavy maintenance facility in Ireland at Shannon Airport, which the airline said will lead to 200 “high-skill” jobs in the region.
The airline said it will invest €10m into the “state-of-the-art” facility, leased from Shannon Group. This will support the maintenance of Ryanair’s fleet, which it is looking to expand to more than 600 aircraft over the next four years.
Jobs to be created at the maintenance facility include licensed engineers, mechanics and support staff.
“Ryanair creates opportunities for highly skilled engineering jobs, with our industry-leading rosters and the youngest fleet in Europe,” Ryanair director of operations Neal McMahon said. “Shannon is an ideal location with opportunities to attract, train and employ local talent to support this new facility.”
Ryanair has operated from Shannon Airport since 1986, opening a base at the airport in 2005. It has carried more than 17m customers to and from the airport to date.
The airline said the investment is a mark of its commitment to both Ireland and the mid-west region.
Shannon Group CEO Mary Considine added that it represents a “vote of confidence” by Ryanair in the future of the airport.
“Having Ryanair at hangar 5, one of 10 fully occupied hangars on our Shannon campus, is another significant boost for the region, creating high-quality jobs for local aviation specialists,” Considine said. “The resulting jobs and investment are also consistent with our strategic plan to increase economic growth and retain skills and talent in the region.”
Ryanair carries around 154m passengers every year on more more than 2,400 daily flights from 82 bases, with its fleet of roughly 470 aircraft. The airline said it has a headcount of more than 19,000 skilled aviation professionals globally.
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Older TikTok users are using the online platform, regarded as the virtual playground of teenagers, to defy ageist stereotypes of elderly people as technophobic and frail.
Research has found increasing numbers of accounts belonging to users aged 60 and older with millions of followers. Using the platform to showcase their energy and vibrancy, these TikTok elders are rewriting expectations around how older people should behave both on and off social media.
“These TikTok elders have become successful content creators in a powerful counter-cultural phenomenon in which older persons actually contest the stereotypes of old age by embracing or even celebrating their aged status,” said Dr Reuben Ng, the author of the paper Not Too Old for TikTok: How Older Adults are Reframing Ageing, and an assistant professor at Yale University.
Interestingly, said Ng, most TikTok elders are women who “fiercely resist common stereotypes of older women as passive, mild-mannered and weak, instead opting to present themselves as fierce or even foul-mouthed,” he said.
The immense reach that these older TikTok users have means they have the potential to transform negative age stereotypes that proliferate on social media.
“There is considerable evidence that ageist stereotypes preponderate among the young on social media,” said Ng. These prejudices reached an all-time high during the Covid pandemic, during which the deadly virus was labelled a “Boomer remover”.
“The strength of anti-age prejudices means the participation of older adults in social media is vital in ensuring that such ageist ideas are not left unchallenged,” said Ng, whose paper is to be published in the Gerontologist journal.
The paper looked at 1,382 videos posted by TikTok users who were aged 60 or older and had between 100,000 and 5.3 million followers. In total, their videos, all of which explicitly discussed their age, had been viewed more than 3.5bn times.
Ng found that 71% of these videos – including those from accounts such as grandadjoe1933, who has 5.3 million followers, and dolly_broadway, who has 2.4 million followers – were used to defy age stereotypes. A recurring motif was the “glamma”, a portmanteau combining “glamorous” and “grandma”, with videos including those of a 70-year-old woman joyfully parading around the streets in a midriff-bearing top.
Almost one in five of the videos analysed made light of age-related vulnerabilities, and one in 10 called out ageism among both younger people and their own contemporaries. Other videos positioned older users as superior to younger people. “I may be 86 but I can still drink more than you lightweights” says one clip. “I may be 86 but I can still twerk better than you,” says another, showing an octogenarian leaping up from a fall down the stairs with a twerk.
Analysis by the Pew Research Centre has found a remarkable uptake of technology by older Americans during recent years: in 2000, 14% of people aged 65-plus were internet users; in 2019, it was 73%. Only half of adults owned smartphones in 2014, 81% of those aged 60 to 69 have them today.
Emma Twyning, the director of communications at the Centre for Ageing Better said: “We need to see much more diverse portrayals if we are to truly shift attitudes and cast off negative perceptions of growing older. Social media is the perfect platform to do this and to call out ageism more generally.”
Stuart Lewis, the chief executive of Rest Less, said TikTok was the ideal platform for midlife influencers to take to the stage and defy ageist stereotypes. “Creators are encouraged to be original, raw and unedited – making it the ideal soapbox on which to stand if you want a space to debunk stereotypes and be your uncensored self,” he said.
Prof Fiona Gillison, from the Healthy Later Living Network at the University of Bath, who is leading work on challenging stereotypes about ageing, said the study was important. But she added: “There is a balance to be struck in challenging stereotypes about ageing while also accepting that it is OK to want different things from younger people as we grow older, and accepting that our interests and abilities may change.”
Ultimately, she said, people need to “take the stigma out of needing adjustments as we age while also challenging assumptions that can accompany these. For example that having a hearing aid somehow implies that we are ‘fragile’ or ‘infirm’ in other ways.”
The older users showcasing their energy and vibrancy
The 88-year-old Staffordshire man is TikTok’s wealthiest “granfluencer”, his videos apparently earning him about £134,000 a year. Grandad Joe has won 5.4 million followers and 156.7 million likes for videos including one of him giggling after his youngest granddaughter gives his grown-up daughter “attitude just like she gave me [when she was younger]”.
92-year-old Grandmother Droniak went viral, reaching 4.2 million followers, after laying down rules for her funeral including “Cry, but not too much,” “Bertha isn’t invited” and “Get drunk afterwards”.
Grandmaann2 lures viewers to her account with the strapline “I’m old so follow before I die”. Two million people couldn’t resist, and to date they have given her lip-syncs and comedy skits 63.5m likes.
Jenny Krupa, 87, has won 2 million followers and 93m likes since a 2019 video accidentally posted by her grandson, Skylar Krupa, titled “Perks of being old” reached 1,000 views in about 15 minutes.
The latest video for her 1 million followers shows 89-year-old Dolores Paolino dressing up in a Marilyn Monroe-type dress and telling Kim Kardashian she looks better in it than her.
Other videos show the grandmother from south Philadelphia wearing sequined jumpsuits and swigging from a bottle on her birthday, and pushing ice-cream cones into her grandchildren’s face.