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.
Several key research areas have been identified by NUI Galway to work towards for 2026.
NUI Galway’s recently launched research and innovation strategy includes a €5m investment on support for its multi-disciplinary research teams as they grapple with several global issues.
The strategy, which lays out plans for the university’s next five years of research, focuses on six areas: antimicrobial resistance, decarbonisation, democracy and its future, food security, human-centred data and ocean and coastal health.
“As a public university, we have a special responsibility to direct our research toward the most pressing questions and the most difficult issues,” said to Prof Jim Livesey, VP for research and innovation at NUI Galway.
“As we look into the future, we face uncertainty about the number and nature of challenges we will face, but we know that we will rely on our research capacity as we work together to overcome them,” Livesey added.
The plan focuses on creating the conditions to intensify the quality, scale and scope of research in the university into the future. This includes identifying areas with genuine potential to achieve international recognition for NUI Galway. It also aims to continue to cultivate a supportive and diverse environment within its research community.
NUI Galway has research collaborations with 3,267 international institutions in 114 different countries. The university also has five research institutes on its Galway city campus, including the Data Science Institute, the Whitaker Institute for social change and innovation and the Ryan Institute for marine research.
Its research centres in the medtech area include Science Foundation Ireland’s Cúram and the Corrib Research Centre for Advanced Imaging and Core Lab.
The university will also continue to involve the public with its research and innovation plans through various education and outreach initiatives. It is leading the Public Patient Involvement Ignite network, which it claims, will “bring the public into the heart of research initiatives”.
France has hailed a victory in its long-running quest for fairer action from tech companies after Facebook reached an agreement with a group of national and regional newspapers to pay for content shared by its users.
Facebook on Thursday announced a licensing agreement with the APIG alliance of French national and regional newspapers, which includes Le Parisien and Ouest-France as well as smaller titles. It said this meant “people on Facebook will be able to continue uploading and sharing news stories freely amongst their communities, whilst also ensuring that the copyright of our publishing partners is protected”.
France had been battling for two years to protect the publishing rights and revenue of its press and news agencies against what it termed the domination of powerful tech companies that share news content or show news stories in web searches.
In 2019 France became the first EU country to enact a directive on the publishing rights of media companies and news agencies, called “neighbouring rights”, which required large tech platforms to open talks with publishers seeking remuneration for use of news content. But it has taken long negotiations to reach agreements on paying publishers for content.
No detail was given of the exact amount agreed by Facebook and the APIG.
Pierre Louette, the head of the media group Les Echos-Le Parisien, led the alliance of newspapers who negotiated as a group with Facebook. He said the agreement was “the result of an outspoken and fruitful dialogue between publishers and a leading digital platform”. He said the terms agreed would allow Facebook to implement French law “while generating significant funding” for news publishers, notably the smallest ones.
Other newspapers, such as the national daily Le Monde, have negotiated their own deals in recent months. News agencies have also negotiated separately.
After the 2019 French directive to protect publishers’ rights, a copyright spat raged for more than a year in which French media groups sought to find common ground with international tech firms. Google initially refused to comply, saying media groups already benefited by receiving millions of visits to their websites. News outlets struggling with dwindling print subscriptions complained about not receiving a cut of the millions made from ads displayed alongside news stories, particularly on Google.
But this year Google announced it had reached a draft agreement with the APIG to pay publishers for a selection of content shown in its searches.
Facebook said that besides paying for French content, it would also launch a French news service, Facebook News, in January – a follow-up to similar services in the US and UK – to “give people a dedicated space to access content from trusted and reputable news sources”.
Facebook reached deals with most of Australia’s largest media companies earlier this year. Nine Entertainment, which includes the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, said in its annual report that it was expecting “strong growth in the short-term” from its deals with Facebook and Google.
British newspapers including the Guardian signed up last year to a programme in which Facebook pays to license articles that appear on a dedicated news section on the social media site. Separately, in July Guardian Australia struck a deal with Facebook to license news content.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, designed to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, will not fly until the first half of next year at the earliest, as the manufacturing giant continues to tackle an issue with the spacecraft’s valves.
Things have not gone smoothly for Boeing. Its Starliner program has suffered numerous setbacks and delays. Just in August, a second unmanned test flight was scrapped after 13 of 24 valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system jammed. In a briefing this week, Michelle Parker, chief engineer of space and launch at Boeing, shed more light on the errant components.
Boeing believes the valves malfunctioned due to weather issues, we were told. Florida, home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where the Starliner is being assembled and tested, is known for hot, humid summers. Parker explained that the chemicals from the spacecraft’s oxidizer reacted with water condensation inside the valves to form nitric acid. The acidity corroded the valves, causing them to stick.