What to Read: Caitlin Dewey is sending you links she’d Gchat you (but only if you were friends)
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s your Substack about in one sentence?
Links is a weekly roundup of new stories about culture and technology, curated by an aging millennial with increasingly low tolerance for nonsense and fads.
What was your intention when getting Links started?
Links started eight years ago, when I reported on digital culture for the Washington Post. My job was to drink from the internet firehose for 12+ hours a day, and it began to feel wasteful to stare into that void for so long just to churn out a single story or blog post. I had no real ambitions for this project. I was 24. But then David Carr mentioned Links in the New York Times, and it kind of blew up.
I don’t write about digital culture for my day job anymore. I took a long time off from the newsletter when I moved to another beat and, later, to another city. Then I got furloughed at the beginning of the pandemic and somehow convinced myself that a big project like relaunching Links would settle my dread, anxiety, and all-around existential jitters.
Since then, I’ve really gotten into the challenge of rebuilding my little community and carving out my niche in a space that’s grown wildly more crowded and competitive than it was in 2014. But I also have better taste and more perspective now than I did at 24. I think.
How do you choose which links to include, and which to leave out?
I save hundreds of new links a week from dozens of sources and then cull them according to a few criteria: Is this novel? Does it tell us something new? Is it written well? Is it a good fit for my readers, who are generally pretty online but don’t necessarily work in online media or tech?
At the end of the day, though, my only real standard is still whether the link is compelling enough that I would feel excited to tell my husband or a friend about it. That’s vague, but it does end up screening out a lot of tedious or trivial articles. When you see Links in your inbox, I want you to open it for two reasons. One: It helps you navigate this insane, metastasizing internet media environment we unfortunately find ourselves in. Two: It introduces you to new subjects and stories you’re excited to read about (... maybe enough to share with your own friends!).
My only real standard is still whether the link is compelling enough that I would feel excited to tell my husband or a friend about it.
Roughly how many “links” do you have read to put the newsletter together?
I have a very poor memory, and I share something like 1,300 or 1,400 links each year. So for the most part, I forget these articles shortly after reading them. But last December, I scrolled back through all the year’s posts to see which links stuck. Then I featured the stories that prompted me to think, “Oh shit, yeah, that was really good.” Everything about this newsletter is pretty literal.
Do you have any tips for writers getting started with curation?
I do think people appreciate Links because I try not to waste their time with it. I’m generally not going to tell you about the hot new TikTok trend that another trend will bury in 30 minutes. I also try to include stories and outlets that most people won’t have encountered in their usual internet wanderings. Don’t get me wrong: I love a big Atlantic or New York Times or New Yorker trend piece. But I also try to read (or, let’s be real, skim) the trade press, the academic press, small or international publications, blogs, other aggregators and curators and newsletter-writers, some media monitoring services … I don’t drink from the firehose anymore, but I’m still pretty deep in this.
What’s the plan for Links in the future?
I’m increasingly trying to use Links as a space for original reporting and analysis, as my schedule allows. In the past couple months, I’ve opened the newsletter with little pieces on weird lamps, anti-work, and Google Translate that all got really good feedback from readers.
By the end of this year I hope to introduce a paid tier to support it, as those intros are time-consuming. I’m brainstorming which premium features make the most sense for me and the Links audience. I want to send paid subscribers cards on their birthdays, because I unironically love physical mail.
Who’s another Substack writer you’d recommend?
Like everyone else on the internet, I love Today in Tabs. I don’t know how Rusty does it. For digital culture, I read Embedded and Garbage Day and Mothers Under the Influence. I like Edith Zimmerman’s Drawing Links. I am not a father but have recc’d The New Fatherhood to everyone in my life who is. Last but not at all least, if you’ll allow me one off-platform recommendation: Web Curios is a weekly treasure trove of obscure and fascinating stuff from all over the internet. It’s the best.