I had a culture column at WIRED. And then I didn’t. Here’s what happened.

998027_602330943135114_482785048_n

Photo: an illustration by Eric Battle and John Jennings from Nnedi Okorafor’s The Book of the Phoenix. 

~

A month ago, with the Hugo fracas in full swing, an editor at Wired wrote me and said, “If you have something to say, you have the platform.” Given Wired’s enormous readership, what an incredible thing. I wrote the piece in an afternoon, they put it up, and it did well.

Shortly thereafter, the same editor said she and the Culture editor wanted me to write a column for them. Which was even more thrilling. And given that my op-ed had been about systemic bias in favor of white men in literature, I thought they knew exactly what they were getting with me: a commitment to changing the conversation around what’s considered newsworthy art. I wrote to the editor, “Boyhood or the new Avengers movie? I could give a shit. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night or Crumbs? Yes, please. And it’s not even that I’m actively boycotting the former. It’s that I just don’t care. They coast on the assumption that these are stories that matter to everyone; they don’t. I think it’s important to say that, repeatedly, out loud, and point to alternatives, until the alternatives become a new mainstream that reflects the actual world.”

So I asked my friends on Facebook to send me stuff to look at. I got an avalanche of amazing material. I sent off a list of pitches to cover art and artists I was really excited about, and tie it into cultural phenomena that Wired, being “the magazine of the future,” would have a stake in. For example, in light of Ferguson and Baltimore, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s idea in Americanah that the only way to heal a racist society was through romantic love. Or how U. S. institutional theatre is condemning itself to extinction in part by ignoring the vast majority of nonwhite theatrical forms. Or how my generation of women is rewriting the script by choosing singledom, which paves the way for queer relationship styles like polyamory to go mainstream. How all of these trends are shaping the world we live in, the future that we will live in, and the films and books and music that we make.

The response I got was, to paraphrase: I’m sorry, but we don’t do zeitgeist-type pieces, and we only cover pop culture. Why don’t you start with a one-off, and we can go from there?

I was really bummed—I thought I had a column?—but hey, maybe I just wasn’t pitching quite the right stuff, and I was still game to find common ground. So I wrote back, “Thanks for this clarification, it all really helps…Here’s a more general question that’ll give me a clearer sense of who to approach: Is Wired interested in helping decide what pop culture is in the first place? I’m just wary of reinforcing the usual biases of whose work gets attention and why. So I’d try to find a happy medium between artists that are household names and those who aren’t quite yet, but I think should be, and interview them about their upcoming work.”

I listed Scarlett Johansson (about what she thinks of Jeremy Renner’s “slut” comments), Genevieve Valentine (about making Catwoman bisexual), Diablo Cody (about her new film Ricki and the Flash), Zadie Smith (about her upcoming science fiction novel), Jeff VanderMeer (about the upcoming film adaptation of The Southern Reach Trilogy), Lupita Nyong’o (about her mysterious role in Star Wars), Priyanka Chopra (about transitioning from Bollywood to the U.S. in Quantico), and Meshell Ndegeócello, and Jane Campion, and Sofia Samatar.

I never got a reply.

I followed up. I proposed a piece on Nnedi Okorafor about her just-released The Book of the Phoenixprequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning Who Fears Death. I never got a reply to that, either.

So after a week, I wrote in and said, “I’m not sure what happened here, but I’m guessing we’re just not on the same page when it comes to culture. Thank you for your consideration and good luck with everything.”

I hear that the editor is a very nice guy, that he really does “get it” (“it” being problems of systemic bias, I imagine), that he’s just very busy, and that all people in the publishing world are often guilty of FTR—Failure To Respond.

I believe all of that.

But there’s “getting it,” and then there’s the desire to change, and then there’s the will to change, and then there’s the enactment of concrete actions to make the change occur. Like prioritizing writers who understand that “mainstream” means “white gaze” and want to change that. Like responding to them at all after you’ve asked for a column from them. Yes, FTR could just mean he was busy. But if he really “gets it,” he must understand that silence doesn’t mean the same thing to all people. Without a parity policy in place, there’s no way I can know whether he didn’t respond to me because I’m a woman who wants to write about a lot of women. In fact, there’s no way he can know, either. That’s how unconscious bias works.

The time I was waiting for him to respond was not a good time. The idea of having to convince a white man on a weekly basis that women and people of color and the art they make are “worthy” of coverage started to make me feel physically sick. Like repeatedly convincing someone that the sun rises in the east. Who the hell would want that job? A job we already have to do, for free, all the time, just to assert our humanity? I talked to my agent about it, who was really supportive, but referred to me as “powerless” in the situation. I understood what he meant—that I had no leverage with which to make this editor respond to me—but the word struck me, because I don’t feel powerless at all. I feel exactly the opposite: that they need voices like mine. That if they don’t take them, it’s their loss, not only morally and aesthetically but (in the long run) financially, and no one will wait for them to catch up with the new culture we’re creating. We’ll just go ahead and create it. And then who gives a fuck if they cover it or not, because by then, it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll be relevant anymore.

I’ve talked with other writers who’ve had experiences with Wired. My experience is not unique. So as far as I can tell, they don’t cover the future. They produce a white male fantasy of the future. Which isn’t surprising. But I’m still allowed to be disappointed. Because for awhile there, I thought someone was telling me, “If you have something to say, you have the platform.” And I was going to take it.

~

Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | The Girl in the Road


113 Comments on “I had a culture column at WIRED. And then I didn’t. Here’s what happened.”

  1. Don B says:

    outstanding turn of events. not for them tho.

  2. You’ve perfectly articulated why I eventually cancelled my subscription to Wired. I was forever reading articles about a future that failed to have anyone like me in it.

  3. julierwrites says:

    I’ve definitely had this issue before pitching to editors as well (although I hadn’t been offered a column!), and it’s incredibly frustrating not to know if they ever intend to respond to you. I would have decided it wasn’t worth the effort after a couple of ignored emails, too.

    This goes a long way toward explaining why I find myself reading so little of Wired’s content. For the record, I enjoyed the Hugo piece and if you find an alternate platform for the ideas you’ve mentioned in this post (even if it’s just writing about them on your blog), you have at least one reader who would show up.🙂

  4. John Buie says:

    Make that at least *two* readers… this particular old(ish) white guy will read your stuff wherever you happen to publish it.

  5. Paul Deblinger says:

    It’s not just Wired, it’s the morass of American publications that deify pop culture. I got an MFA in creative writing from Bowling Green State University, the university that legitimized the academic study of pop culture. To be honest, I never thought it was a great idea to have people writing PhDs about Hot Wheels. That one program at Bowling Green has metastasized to many programs and has changed not only the academic world but general critics everywhere in the media. Film criticism has changed from reviewing important films to reviewing films that have big stars and money. Web sites such as ESPN’s Grantland have equated pop culture and sports to culture. And their “too cool for school writers” take such a personalized view of the world it is hard to figure what is up and what is down. I think there is a place for publications to focus on pop culture–like People, Us, etc. Now too many publications that should be involved in serious cultural communication shift to vapid pieces about pop culture. I am convinced that a large part of the circulation drain in the print media world is not due to internet competition but their own shift away from serious commentary to lightweight bullshit. I am sorry you lost your opportunity for a public forum–I was looking forward to it, but I am glad you will remain in a more serious world.

  6. Kristen Rademacher says:

    I am a high school librarian who will be cancelling my upcoming renewal of our Wired subscription based on your fabulous article and points raised. I have linked this blog post to all my English and Social Justice teachers who I know cover units on inequality in our pop culture. Just wonderful stuff and keep writing and talking and basically yelling until people listen. We are listening and the country needs your voice.

  7. Wow, just wow. You need to write those pieces because I know I and many other would read them…and a conversation that needs to be started would get started.

  8. Peggy says:

    You should try the Baffler. They’re far more zeitgeisty than Wired has ever been.

  9. what are “Zeitgeist-type pieces?” editor sounds like a wanker.

  10. Sam Chupp says:

    I’d love to read those articles one day. Please, if you get them published, let me know where.

  11. oshvat says:

    I loved this article and will hunt down the piece on the Hugo’s. I’m also sorry to here about the Wired thing, I have subscribe online on my nook and this would have been a nice breath of fresh air in a magazine that at times I don’t love as much as I did, hope to see you get a chance somewhere else and I will be there to read.

  12. oshvat says:

    I hope you don’t get 2 of these, wasn’t logged in. I’m sorry to here this happened with Wired I usually enjoy it though for articles more like yours which have become few and far between. It would have been nice to hear about things outside the usual one that I have seen the going toward. I hope to see you elsewhere soon so I can read these articles and am making sure to follow your blog. Keep up the great work.

  13. Paul Wilson says:

    I thirst for recommendations for as much art and culture as I can get. I would have been a regular reader in order of that article in order to be made aware of books or movies that aren’t normally talked about, (though I think it’s unnecessary to go after Boyhood). WIRED made a huge mistake by not sticking with their promise. I hope your column finds a home that deserves it.

  14. highvis says:

    Hi. Your list of potential topics is infinitely more interesting and exciting than the list I see daily (and breeze right over) in my Wired newsfeed. Just the shove I needed to unsubscribe from them, and to look out for your future writings. Give us an RSS feed and it’d be a lock. Good luck.

  15. Wes says:

    I’d rather read what you think about anything than what somebody else thinks you should be thinking and writing about…

  16. Jennifer says:

    First, I want to read those future articles of yours. Second, this is the reason why I have largely abandoned periodic print media. I want honest, frank discussions about contemporary culture, and how we all make our way through it. ‘They’ only offer me the literary equivalent of Mardi Gras beads.

  17. jamjarhead says:

    Dadich made an error in judgement. FTR is a real phenomenon but total bullshit. Clear, timely communication is essential for an editor.

  18. ghettomanga says:

    YOU’RE HIRED! Report to the offices of GhettoManga Quarterly at 10am Monday Morning, and I’ll…

    Wait. I don’t have an office.

    Or money…

    Or…

    Nevermind.

    Anyways, I applaud you for trying to work with ’em. Their loss. You are what they need, but they’re not resigned to that yet.

  19. Nile says:

    Yeah, Wired. Grew up with the excitement of the internet, and now it’s kinda…

    …Middle-aged.

    And like most middle-aged middle-class suburban men, it’s got the house and the respectable job and the friends and the interests and the values it’s always gonnna haven.

  20. barbtaub says:

    I don’t find Wired that topical any more. Your list of topics, though, I’d be so happy to read!

  21. Leah says:

    I can readily identify with your frustration, and I’m sorry this happened. I’ve also had similar experiences with editors, and you make a fabulous point about not just writing work, but the “gig economy” in general: when you’re working on a project by project basis, it can be incredibly difficult to determine whether an idea was shot down for completely valid reasons, or if there is some unconscious bias at work.

    On a slightly separate note, I’ve actually had an extremely difficult time getting my work accepted by feminist publications, which has become quite disheartening to me. It makes me feel like I’m not following the “right” kind of feminism, and like my experiences as a poorer, mixed race woman aren’t as valid.

  22. Julie E. Byrne says:

    craze. really glad to hear the story, Monique. I hope WIRED pas auf & all the other “cultural institutions” you are calling out.

    xoxo

    From: monica byrne <comment-reply@wordpress.com> Reply-To: monica byrne <comment+egbg4lbvrw–7xk9woban5o@comment.wordpress.com> Date: Tuesday, May 19, 2015 11:02 AM To: Julie Byrne <julie.e.byrne@hofstra.edu> Subject: [New post] I had a culture column at WIRED. And then I didn’t. Here’s what happened.

    Monica Byrne posted: ” Photo: an illustration by Eric Battle and John Jennings from Nnedi Okorafor’s The Book of the Phoenix. ~ A month ago, with the Hugo fracas in full swing, an editor at Wired wrote me and said, “If you have something to say, you have the platform”

  23. You posted: “Or how my generation of women is rewriting the script by choosing singledom, which paves the way for queer relationship styles like polyamory to go mainstream. ” Do you have anymore thoughts on this subject?

  24. Make your own magazine! I’d read it

  25. wishfinger says:

    I would have loved to read what you had to say on those pieces you mentioned. Indie stuff is amazing. How hard would it be to start one’s own publication? Are there any already out there that you have tried to get in touch with?

  26. Oenonono says:

    Meh, it doesn’t hurt them financially. They don’t yet have all straight cis white men reading Wired. When they do they then expand into gay cis white men. Then straight trans men. Then gay trans men. They haven’t even considered cornering the straight cis white woman market yet. Change can’t happen overnight. Just be patient, they’ll get to people of color eventually.

    End sarcasm.

  27. waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw nice

  28. […] I had a culture column at WIRED. And then I didn’t. I talked to my agent about it, who was really supportive, but referred to me as “powerless” in the situation. I understood what he meant—that I had no leverage with which to make this editor respond to me—but the word struck me, because I don’t feel powerless at all. I feel exactly the opposite: that they need voices like mine. That if they don’t take them, it’s their loss, not only morally and aesthetically but (in the long run) financially, and no one will wait for them to catch up with the new culture we’re creating. We’ll just go ahead and create it. […]

  29. Rae says:

    Just, ugh.

    Although I didn’t know Nnedi Okorafor came out with a new book, so excited to hear that!

  30. Wired is for middle-aged white nerdy-types. It began its life catering to them, and it has a foundation of readers squarely in that demographic. It is true that it forecasts the future through tech, culture, and politics, but it does not forecast the broad future; it speaks to the subculture at its core. I personally don’t subscribe to or engage with Wired because they are too narrow in their scope.

    I hope your voice is heard by many.

  31. The Nrrdling says:

    That’s really disappointing to hear. I always worry about the tech/”geek” culture mags and websites because they tend to trend that way. I know the white male was their only vocal clientele, but that’s changed drastically and Wired needs to learn to move with it.

  32. Lourdes Mint says:

    The thing that bugs me most about your story is also the thing that surprises me least and the thing LEAST likely to change. “FTR,” especially in a situation like yours, in which a relationship of sorts had already been initiated (by them, no less), is not only rude (even when people are THAT busy), it’s also foolish & shortsighted because you never know if/when that table may turn. And it’s so easy to avoid, even if you have no intention of taking things any further! I suspect cowardice, too, here. I bet you freaked the guy out! I like how you kept your head.

  33. Stacy Esch says:

    Reblogged this on POPCULTURE ENVIRONMENTS and commented:
    A run-in with Wired Magazine

  34. regilson1 says:

    It’s people like you who truly shape the future, not companies and their corporations. Unfortunately, they are the ones with the platforms for now. Keep shaping your voice and enjoying the journey growing as a writer. You’re doing great!

  35. […] Blogger Monica Byrnes describes her run-in with Wired Magazine […]

  36. BAP Blog says:

    This makes me feel good about my decision to start trusting 1st hand accounts – posts, articles, and narratives from unconstrwined writers. They are selling, but I ain’t buyin’.

  37. BAP Blog says:

    I.e. 1st hand accounts as primary, over and above corporate media

  38. […] I’ve talked with other writers who’ve had experiences with Wired. My experience is not unique. So as far as I can tell, they don’t cover the future. They produce a white male fantasy of the future. Which isn’t surprising. But I’m still allowed to be disappointed. Because for awhile there, I thought someone was telling me, “If you have something to say, you have the platform.” And I was going to take it. […]

  39. […] I had a culture column at WIRED. And then I didn’t. Here’s what happened. […]

  40. normapadro says:

    Hello. It’s so sad that in this century where everything is suppose to be so advanced that things like these is still happening. I hope you will find success in everything you do. Always remember that the comments of some will never be the same from others. Great success to you and our next generation.

  41. Reblogging on Talking Rights…

  42. E. Hollowstone says:

    Thank you from remaining true to your roots.

  43. […] From Monica Byrne’s blog […]

  44. freyajay says:

    Man I’d love to read everything you’ve just suggested for that column… sounds mint🙂

  45. […] I had a culture column at WIRED. And then I didn’t. Here’s what happened. | monica byrne (May 19): “I’ve talked with other writers who’ve had experiences with Wired. My experience is not unique. So as far as I can tell, they don’t cover the future. They produce a white male fantasy of the future. Which isn’t surprising.” […]

  46. I loved your pitch ideas, FWIW. Their loss.

  47. Reblogged this on Tana Daily Telegraph and commented:
    “…I’ve talked with other writers who’ve had experiences with Wired. My experience is not unique…” – original author

  48. REGINA Wright says:

    I have been solicited to renew my Wired subscription. I will not. I salute you for writing about your interaction with Wired. There is power in your words and your willingness to be open about your experience. Lastly, John Jennings is a wonderful artist with whom I had the privilege to attend college. Wired missed out on an opportunity to feature you and John. By doing so, they also cheated their readers.

  49. […] doesn’t actually want to hear about women or people of […]

  50. Reblogged this on wwwpalfitness and commented:
    A good read

  51. This conversation is so important!

  52. Road to Servitude says:

    It’s certainly a narrow view of culture; but it also seems kind of patronising and elitist. It’s as though “hey, the stupid sheeple who read our stuff don’t want to see anything that challenges their preconceptions, let’s play it safe cos it would just blow their minds.” I’m not some 19th century Whig or something, but I think it’s a deeply impoverished view of “human nature,” however defined, to assume that none of “us” (whatever “us” means) can move out of our comfort zones… excuse the cliché.

  53. serita20 says:

    Euphoric Express | Aspire ~ to ~ Inspire
    https://euphoricexpress.wordpress.com/

  54. I thought your ideas were fantastic. Engage with women who are know in pop culture (not air head MTV type culture thank god) and interview them with an interesting angle. As far as not replying after asking you to write a column is just plain rude!

  55. sonniq says:

    Maybe should send this post and the replies to the editor of Wired. If they hear it enough maybe they will change their stance.

  56. Syl says:

    Wow, just wow. I would’ve totally read those ideas you suggested for your column. It’s Wired’s loss, but it is certainly good to know how they treat their writers and audience.

  57. Tina says:

    FTR is a major problem in the writing/journalism world that I simply refuse to accept. I understand people are busy, but to me, it only makes you look unprofessional. I once wrote for a relatively new publication last year. In fact, now that I think about it, it was a total ripoff of another successful magazine. The “editor” and I just didn’t see eye-to-eye, which is bound to happen sometime. I, however, did not appreciate him telling me to write a piece then after submitting it, ignoring me. Is it wrong for me to hope his little shitbox goes under? Oh well.

    Start something of your own. I did and I’ve never been more empowered.❤

  58. such a refreshing post

  59. Danica says:

    There are methods to get heard but then you must invest not just your words and writing skills, not simply your time and research but financially. Let me know of The Beverly Hills Times interests you?

  60. badcrisp says:

    I too have experienced FTR, although on a comparatively insignificant scale. The only way to recover is to press on, I suppose.

    Good luck in future endeavours.

    Sincerely, white male.

  61. That is such a positive attitude and very inspiring. Good luck in your ventures.

  62. I am an artist, and I see so many initiatives and work worth talking about, I hope you get your platform! and if not, just enjoy 2.0 freedom and blog!

  63. John Seven says:

    Wish I could hire you to write the exact column you proposed for my blog. I agree 100% with you.

  64. Sometimes I think that people get so caught up in their idea of what “the future” is that they miss what’s actually happening and what the real future is. Good on you for recognizing that mainstream is often equivalent to what is in the “white gaze.” As a person of color it means a whole heck of a lot because it’s frustrating to feel like the only legitimate experience is the white experience…and that its like pulling teeth to get people to understand that their experience as white person isn’t everyone’s experience.

  65. And it makes me happy when “white fokes” ‘get it.’ It really does because it’s so rare.

  66. Moar Noir says:

    Boo. What jerks. But never too late to start something new. The internet is your oyster…

  67. I would love to read one of the articles you suggested, they all sound awesome. I wonder whether Wired have any idea of the number of people your post is reaching. They are idiots for underestimating their readership.

  68. […] with the rebuttal is writer and playwright Monica Byrne, who had a culture column at Wired for about ten minutes. After authoring a piece on the Hugo Award debacle this year, a representative from Wired urged her […]

  69. Like you said, it’s their loss and it won’t be long until they’re left behind. Looking forward to seeing your stuff in the near future though!

  70. Reblogged this on AllOurRambles and commented:
    A beautiful article originally published on monicacatherine.

  71. gnureads says:

    That’s certainly a pity because those all sound like articles I’d enjoy!

  72. tossybear says:

    the cultures of the world should come together it would be neat to have a culture get to gather

  73. […] I had a culture column at WIRED. And then I didn’t. Here’s what happened by Monica Byrne […]

  74. I have similarly been in a situation with an editor where they had initiated the relationship and then pulled back inexplicably, failed to offer an explanation and ceased responding to my emails. It was so incredibly unprofessional that I sent a letter to the publisher letting them know how rude their editor behaved. Sure, editors are busy but as a magazine editor myself I always make it a point to respond to every email requiring one. It is sometimes more effort than it’s worth but if someone takes the time to write me an email I must have the courtesy to respond.

  75. Your kicker for this piece is killer. And if I can say this without insulting you, the people you have proposed covering are not so out-of-the-mainstream that they would have seemed obscure to cultured readers. I’ve been out of the arts and culture reporting for years and know enough about them that I would want to know more, and have it be topical. I hope someone reads this piece you wrote and picks you up.

  76. […] serious criticism met a wall of editorial silence. Until I read fellow writer Monica Byrne’s experiences with Wired magazine, which closely mirrored my own. I don’t believe Wired magazine is the only mainstream media […]

  77. It’s so hard sometimes, to stay true to who you are and still have any type of career.

  78. zoe318 says:

    Reblogged this on ontheshelves and commented:
    Great post over at Monica Byrne’s blog on her experience writing/not writing for Wired magazine.
    I think my favorite was the part that read, “They produce a white male fantasy of the future.” It’s rings very true about many other institutions.

  79. haarb says:

    Who needs wired?

  80. It is unfortunate that you had to experience it in this way, but maybe it has brought to the forefront of your mind what is necessary is a platform that gives this world exactly what it needs…progress and change?

  81. Reblogged this on youaretheworldtome and commented:
    So true.

  82. I agree with this…finely articulated

  83. As wishfinger suggests – set a goal to start your own publication

  84. LAnthony says:

    I hear you Monica. What I think we do is we start a competitor magazine and we do all the stuff Wired avoids, we out perform them and force them to buy us out, change, or die trying

  85. prachidhaka says:

    Reblogged this on readwhichnovels.

  86. yumscrub says:

    This is really too bad and their great loss. For your wonderful writer.

  87. […] might have read about how I had a culture column at Wired, and then didn’t, after I pitched a bunch of artists that […]

  88. Nathanael says:

    Imagine my surprise to discover that “Wired” is still a print magazine. There’s some sort of hypocrisy going on there, so perhaps I’m not surprised to see hypocrisy in the editing…

  89. […] how to get published, learning a new language, depression, what it’s like to be at TED, discrimination in pop culture criticism, grief, writing practice, trans students at all-women colleges, living wage, self-doubt, new […]


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