Very Fine Day #21: Terry Nguyễn
Terry Nguyễn is a staff reporter for The Goods at Vox.com, covering consumer and internet trends. She also writes about politics and higher education and has a bi-monthly newsletter on Generation Z called GEN YEET. It’s real good, I recommend it. We spoke for about 40 minutes about digital consumerism, working online in a multi-platform world, the post-algorithm switch media, and Gen Z.
VFD: So what have you been up to? Are you in New York?
Terry Nguyễn: Yes, I'm in Brooklyn. I just finished my last day of work and we have a three day weekend – so this is the last thing I have to do before I'm free.
VFD: Where are you in Brooklyn?
Terry Nguyễn: I'm in Crown Heights. It's actually a very popular neighbourhood in which there are too many journalists who live within this, like, two-mile radius.
VFD: Right, and how long have you been there?
Terry Nguyễn: Two years. So I actually moved here in August 2019 from DC and then the pandemic hit. And I've been here since.
VFD: So you were in New York for the whole of COVID?
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah, I was here except for the Winter when I went home to see my family.
VFD: Yeah, right. And what's home?
Terry Nguyễn: Oh, I'm from California. So it's like a big, across-the-country move. Sorry, whenever I talk to non Americans I'm just like… do they know what I’m talking about?
VFD: It’s alright, I'm technically American. I got American family… I know the six hour flight. Super familiar with it.
Terry Nguyễn. Ah OK, the accent threw me off.
VFD: Yeah, yeah. I've lived here all my life so I don't have a southern drawl like the rest of my family. But you grew up in California, then? Was your first move to New York?
Terry Nguyễn: So I went to college in California - I went to USC’s journalism school. And I finished school in 2018 and went to Washington DC for a series of internships. During that time, in 2019, I got hired through my senior editor at Vox and I moved to New York, promptly, in August 2019. It was a neat California to DC and then New York City move.
VFD: Did you go to DC because you wanted to do something with politics?
Terry Nguyễn: Briefly? Yes. But what kick-started my career was an internship at the Washington Post. And so I interned there for two years, like two Summers. I always thought I was going to start my career in DC but I had a brief interest in politics. I quickly decided that was too intense.
VFD: Yeah, and then you’re at Vox now right?
Terry Nguyễn: Yep.
VFD: I’ve seen on your profile that your beat seems to be, relatively, about consumerism.
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah, so our vertical focuses on consumerism and that’s my very broad beat, but I've sort of transitioned to covering - more specifically - internet platforms and how they influence people to buy things and how they influence people to use them.
So you might have seen the work of my colleague, Rebecca Jennings, she does more of the reporting on the culture on the platforms, and I do more of the tech but also consumer-facing thing. So I'm not doing very hard reporting of what's happening in these companies, but more on what decisions these companies make that bleed into day-to-day usage of these apps.
VFD: Have you done something recently that, like, is a good example of that?
Terry Nguyễn: Well, I recently did something on Snapchat. I feel like there's been a lot reported on Snapchat from the business end, and I think tech reporters – who are very in the know about the latest earnings report – really care about Snapchat and its developments. But for regular culture reporters I try to bridge that gap. They don't really think much about Snapchat, and so much coverage is devoted to TikTok and the culture that stems from TikTok. Yet Snapchat is this huge behemoth that so many teens use. It's like, American teens’ favourite app.
So I did a history and also outlined why Snap, culturally, seems irrelevant to a lot of daily users. There's a lot of jokes made about Snap on Twitter. And I know the headline that I picked was controversial, slightly, among tech people. But the public perception is confusing. And so that’s the soft story outline.
VFD: So why do you think people think of Snap like that? Is it just because “the kids are on it”? And journalists and older people are just like: whateverrrrrr.
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah, and also just the fact that there are very intimate relationships on there. Like, you wouldn't find people to snap on Snapchat, you're going to Snapchat your friend from high school or someone you know on Instagram really well.
I feel like it’s because Snap just doesn't produce culture. They did create this thing called Spotlight, which pretty much mimics TikTok. And yet, that's not a main function of the app. It's just another kind of feature they have in there. And Snaps’ main function is still messaging and it's kind of hard to be like: oh, there's a culture story here in this app where people message each other. There are no real trends that are coming out from it.
VFD: Have you been doing that the whole time you’ve been at Vox?
Terry Nguyễn: This beat? No, actually, I started very general. There was a period of time - if you scroll back long enough - where I was writing travel stories. And then COVID hit and that was a very important thing to know.
I started just experimenting and doing all sorts of stories: I did a lot of college-related stories, like college closures during COVID. But I became really interested in the creator economy within the past year or so. And I think I have slowly pivoted my reporting to approach that topic, but in a more consumer-focused way.
VFD: What do you think of that term: creator economy. I feel, like, weird about it. Tingly about it.
Terry Nguyễn: Like you get chills?
VFD: Yeah, well, I don't know. I think it's because I've started seeing Facebook and other billion dollar platforms be like: The creator economy! Here’s how we're embracing it! And you just… it’s like: no.
Terry Nguyễn: Well first of all, I think it's a good buzzword. But I don't think it's an accurate term to describe this. It's just so broad and there's so many types of creators, and we've kind of morphed lifestyle influencers into photographers and artists. It’s just a huge market.
I feel like when you talk about the creator economy there has to be an asterisk that this is the future of work. And that this relies on freelance gig work. And, y’know, as someone in America who is aware of our policies around health care and policies around paid time off and child leave, it is kind of concerning that there hasn't been a larger labour discussion around this, because I feel like the creator economy is kind of less-elevated compared to the gig economy right now. But it's very easy to see how those two have parallels and we should be aware of that as reporters.
VFD: Why do you think it's less elevated?
Terry Nguyễn: Well, all of these platforms you mentioned, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, they're embracing this term “creators” and treating it as this elevated hobby – this sort of “turning your passion into work – so that you don't have to work”. It’s like: oh, you already have expertise, and you're a creative person!
And I think that sort of language disguises how it's essentially still work. These people have various forms of income, whether that be sponsorships directly from fans, or from doing side projects with other companies, and that sort of broad creative term kind of disguises that.
VFD: Yeah, it's scary. There’s nothing that makes me feel older. And I like to think I'm not old. I'm 28.
Terry Nguyễn: Oh my god, you're still young.
VFD: Ha, thank you, but nothing makes me feel older than the creator economy and the way I think about it in the context of my own work. Just being like: is it gonna be a cultural thing? Will there be all these young kids looking at me as an old man going to work nine-to-five. Fucking loser getting on the bus to work…
I mean, I can make a YouTube account, I guess. You have your newsletter, right? That's probably your toe in the water of the creator economy.
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah I’m totally going to monetize that. And my Instagram. I'm going to be an Instagram thot. But no, seriously, it's free.
So many people have asked me in the past six months if I want to monetize it. And I'm like: No, the day I will monetize it you know what happened. I'm just kidding. I'm in a very secure job.
VFD: You said before that you went to journalism school, right? Is that from childhood dreams of being a journalist?
Terry Nguyễn: No, I actually wanted to be a writer. I knew about journalism from Hemingway and Joan Didion - like that was the thing they did to make money so that they could write novels. And so I always thought: oh, journalism is the practical, monetizable skill. Joke's on me and everyone else about that.
Writing is kind of like the thing you can do on the side. So yeah, I actually did not know much about journalism when I got into journalism school, which is kind of crazy. I feel like a lot of journalism schools do this: they accept kids who can barely write and then are like we will shape you into a journalist. And I have other thoughts on that.
But yeah, I did not know much about journalism. I didn't know what a lead or nut graf was. And I learned it all in like three years.
VFD: What are those “other” thoughts you have? Like, what are your other thoughts on the structure of journalism education?
Terry Nguyễn: Oh, my gosh, I feel like undergrad is less nefarious than a Masters programme. I mean, I'm glad that these institutions are about learning, or supporting, journalism, but I do think that signing on should come with a caveat that you could be unemployed. And like, you need to know how to freelance. And it’s hard to make a stable living. I just didn't think that was taught at all when I was in journalism school, which is a little disappointing.
VFD: Yeah, I think there's a weird thing in that. I was invited to one of my old classes once and then my lecturer never talked to me again because I was like: You don't have the right to do this. But everyone's telling you that you do.
It's really weird. I don't know why journalism is folded into that thing of: I went to school, I did the hours, I should get the job. And I'm just saying this out loud and realising that I'm going to get destroyed on the internet for these words. So that's fun.
OK, so journalism school, into Washington DC, into New York for the last two years. When COVID was happening and you realised that the travel beat was less, let's say, fluid than it has probably ever been before… Was it a quick decision of: OK, we need to find something else. Or did you try and make it work? Or it was just organic and you found other things to write about?
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah, it was really all hands on deck when COVID hit. Before COVID was a “disease” in the US, which started in March, I was doing these incremental travel stories being like: Oh, you can't travel to Europe, Europe is shutting down it's travel borders. Pretty much doing COVID-adjacent stories.
Like, people were buying a tonne of shit. I don't know if you remember that people were literally going into stores just buying every kind of beans they saw. So there was a lot of consumer stories there. I wrote a lot about toilet paper.
And yeah, it took a while because I think during that time the TikTok beat that my colleague was on really took off. And we were still figuring out when it was going to be acceptable to talk about influencers and shopping. During the first two to three months it was very fraught and I think everyone tried to cover it as seriously as possible. And then the Summer hit and that was when I was able to do more fun stories.
But I wouldn't say this beat that I read about so much now really formed until November or December. I think the creator economy and discussions around it really amped up towards the end of the year when we started seeing so many reports about how much money Onlyfans and Patreon brought in. So I think that was kind of the moment when like: Oh, this is an emerging beat that I can write about. I wasn’t, like, on top of it, there were a few other reporters, but I monitored it and looked for macro trends, which I like Vox for because you can write about things from a big picture lens and not have to follow it little by little.
VFD: What do you think are the trends going forward with the creator economy, then?
Terry Nguyễn: Well, I think you're gonna see a lot of big platforms allow creators and influencers to sell their own merchandise. TikTok just integrated that. And so everything is going to be very shoppable online. At the same time, though, I'm really interested to see how real life is going to affect our usage of social media. That's just something I'm constantly thinking about: Are people going to unsubscribe to Substack? Are people going to listen to podcasts less?
You can't ever really know how people's digital behaviours are going to be, but I'm pretty sure that the future of work is in the creator economy forever. And that makes me a venture capitalist.
VFD: Oh totally. Very inspiring. A lot of investment opportunities in the future.
Terry Nguyễn: Oh, yeah, if only I had the money.
VFD: When I think about if I had your job… Does it ruin your experience of the internet? And these platforms? Because you're so aware of the way that they’re trying to take things from you and that it's not a two way kind of thing.
Terry Nguyễn: Oh, yeah. With Instagram, totally. I see these ads and I know what it’s trying to do. I've actually stopped logging on to Twitter.
I recently came back from vacation and Twitter was the first one to go. I'm in my whole life for summer. Instagram is hard. I have a hate love relationship with it. But I've recently actually started using TikTok a lot more and I’m very confused by that. I feel like there's just so much happening on there that I have a little bit of FOMO if I miss the latest update. I still use them. I'm trapped by them. But I try to post less to be mysterious.
VFD: You’ve got to keep the image up, right? I'm a slave to Twitter. Unfortunately, it's breaking my brain. Well, it has broken my brain. But tips! Tip jar! Cool.
Terry Nguyễn: Well, I can’t use that, I don’t think. I think a lot of newsroom journalists can’t…
VFD: Oh, of course. That'll be an issue with ethics. Do you think that's gonna happen – will there be a clash between the ethics of running a newsroom and journalists being like: I know my worth as an individual. I mean, it kind of did happen, right? With The New York Times, I think, a few months ago, when people who worked there started leaving for Substack.
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah, I think there are people who are more eloquent and who can more eloquently predict this. But I do think that they are – combined with this burgeoning union movement we're seeing in digital media – I do think people are more willing to negotiate what they're able to do.
Once there is one newsroom, one common newsroom that allows someone to enter or retain rights to something, or open their tip jar, I think people will take that opportunity to go to their newsroom and be like: This is happening. Why can't I have that as well? So I do think there's more momentum to negotiate. And yeah, there's a lot of star power that has gone, or left, or they're doing something else. Good for them. I still feel like there's a gap. There's a huge gap. I don't think I have enough followers yet to monetize. I probably could but it would be a level of uncertainty that I don't want to think about.
VFD: Yeah, yeah, I was speaking to - not to name drop all the way through - but Charlie Warzel from the New York Times who is now on Substack. I talked to him for this.
He made a really interesting point that it's always just the same people. The same people that had an audience from the blogging era moved to Twitter first and then they just got a big audience on Twitter. And now they're just moving to Substack. And they're just porting their audience the whole way over. There's actually very few comparatively new people on the scene here, which is really depressing and fun to think about.
I just find that the way journalism works now, online, seems not sustainable. But I think the unionisation probably helps a lot there. And yesterday, was it the New Yorker union that got a win?
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah, The New Yorker union.
VFD: Yeah, that's good. It's such a strange thing because in Australia we're essentially two media companies.
Terry Nguyễn: Wait, which ones?
VFD: Well, Murdoch.
Terry Nguyễn: Oh, yeah.
VFD: So that comes with everything he does. And then Fairfax and Nine Entertainment. It’s a similar conglomerate I guess. Most people, especially youth that go into media in Australia, end up as either rural reporters or just get told to churn and write a lot of content for very little money.
Do you feel like that stopped a bit in the US? I feel like I'm seeing that less from young reporters over there: Writing eight things a day.
Terry Nguyễn: I think that's slowed down. Because I think somewhere around 2015-2016 people were like: Oh, this no longer works. But I definitely think there are a cohort of people slightly older than me who went through that era and hated it.
I'm not gonna name drop any publications but there are certain places where you, as an entry level worker, or a junior writer, have to meet a quota and you have to publish x amounts a day. And the stories have to be short and quick. And there are places where you have traffic goals and subscription goals and it's kind of the same thing but probably more formalised because digital media has gotten slightly smarter about what to put out there rather than just 10 things a day.
But I would say there are more places that rely on entry level talent compared to a place like Vox. I think I am in a very great position for someone of my age, who graduated college and was able to get this gig, because if you look at how frequently I publish – I work on multiple stories at a time – but I have a more flexible publishing calendar. And that speaks volumes to quality as well. It's not just the quantity.
VFD: How do you approach your work, then? What's the research approach? Because I have noticed that a lot of the things you cite are quite often research texts or quite heavy, dense things. And you'll also dig deep, beyond a decade in the past, and reference how this mirrors that. I know that's not a long time, but you'll go back to the 2000s and talk about how we’re in a similar situation. So what is your research approach there?
Terry Nguyễn: I actually read a lot of random books about modern consumerism. And sometimes that comes up and I'm like: Oh, I can put this in. But I do spend a full day or two doing research. I don't call a lot of people. I actually wish I had the opportunity to do longer pieces, because I do think I cite some research, but it's not as deeply looked into. I spend most of my time writing as I research – It's not like I spread out them in separate days or something like that.
But I would say the average time for a piece would be around three days, including like edits.
VFD: Are you doing that from home at the moment? Are you guys in the office?
Terry Nguyễn: Oh, I'm remote right now.
VFD: Do you struggle to focus?
Terry Nguyễn: Oh, my gosh, yeah. I work weird hours. Sometimes I wake up super early and I write from 6am to 9am. I turn it in and I'm done. And then sometimes I stay up really late because I took a long walk outside and got distracted. It's really bad.
VFD: Do you ever find that you're asked by all older people – and by older people, I really mean millennials and up – to be a “Gen Z soothsayer”. To just be like: what's happening with the kids?! Because that's something I feel like is getting asked a lot of young reporters now. Like: can you translate… the kids?
Terry Nguyễn: I do a lot of Gen Z pieces. But I think there's a way to do it thoughtfully and intentionally rather than being like: This is the latest trend.
I think I'm about to age out of it. Like, I straight up think that within the next year I will have lost touch – and I'm quite young. So I don't think I can keep reporting on teenagers. I think they move too quickly. And they scare me and are very, very smart.
But yes, I think people have been better at asking about that. I think in 2018 or 2019, when I started my Substack, there was this hunger to understand youth culture. And I think with a pandemic, everyone was at home and everyone was on TikTok. And so I think a larger number of people became exposed to teen culture, so the questions are no longer as urgent, I guess.
I've tried to distance myself from that label because I think I'm going to age out of knowing what true Gen Z is, because I'm very much on the cusp.
VFD: What I like about your writing, too, is that it's not negative. Well, actually, you can tell me if you hate everything and tell me I'm wrong. But I think it's easy to think negatively about the internet, and about being on it, and about the future of young people who have to adapt to it. Would you consider your approach positive and a bit less end of the world?
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah, I think I’m just healthily sceptical. Like, I feel like my initial thought for some things are actually really, really negative. But then I try to course-correct myself and be like: the reality of that is probably somewhere in the middle of what some techie person is saying that is really positive versus my own end-of-the-world ideas. It's somewhere in the middle of that. So I don't know…
Can you ask the question again, sorry?
VFD: Oh just that your writing doesn't seem very negative. It seems like that might be a rough way to put it but it's easy to think about the internet negatively and being on it negatively. And how Gen Z is gonna fall into a trap where they sell themselves every hour of every day on every platform. But you are very good at constructing the reality of this situation, I guess. And being very upfront.
Terry Nguyễn: I think there still is this fear mongering tendency about the internet and what the platforms are doing to us, when in reality we’re all users.
And it's really easy to talk to a lot of creators whose full time jobs are going to be on the internet and see that as the doom and gloom of our future. But I think more people who are not quoted in a lot of articles are moderate users. There is a growing number of people who are on it a lot more. But I think people are intentional about it. I try to give people - in general - the benefit of the doubt. Until then, I'm probably proven wrong. We'll check back in five years, and we'll see.
VFD: How long do you take to write your newsletter pieces?
Terry Nguyễn: Oh, my gosh. I've been on a really weird publishing schedule because I’m exhausted all the time.
VFD: Oh I'm not calling you out. I'm not like: hey, you promised this! I just seems like a lot of work. It's very thoughtful. It's very well put together and it's very smart. It doesn't seem like something that you got home on Thursday and thought: I’m gonna just write about this.
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah, whenever I'm not writing it I'm definitely thinking about topics. And when I feel like it's ready I like force myself to sit down and spend a day or two writing it all out. It's kind of chaotic, because I think that if I wrote it as I went it would be a much easier process for me. But I kind of just sit there for six hours on a Sunday, which was my old schedule, and just type it all out. I'm one of those writers where I revise almost every paragraph I write, which is painstaking. I would not advise it. My brain is messed up.
And so it would take… a day or two.
VFD: One of the things you've written is titled something like “I don't want to be real online”, or something like “I'm against being real online”. And it's about this quest for anonymity you feel. How did you start feeling that way? And, like realising that you could put it into words.
Terry Nguyễn: I think there were a couple of things that happened that kick-started me thinking about that. I think one thing was Instagram Kids. And the other thing, I think, was an announcement that YouTube would pay people to post on its platform. I was feeling very nostalgic about the old internet and I came across an old Dropbox of my old screenshots from the mid ‘2000s and I realised that there was a period of time where you didn't have to be fully known on the internet. But I think as a reporter that is a requirement before you start your job.
But even for normal people… they’re just real on the internet. Like, they have their real names on their username. If I was not a journalist my username would be so stupid. Like, I could not have my real name on there. So I'm like: Why is everyone being themselves?
The internet used to be very anonymous and we used to love that anonymity. And now, people are literally becoming brands. They’re acting a certain way. On Mother's Day or something people will be like: I love my mom, but I acknowledge that not everyone might have moms. And I'm like: Just say you love your mom! It's not that complicated.
So it's like this weird person becoming brand thing, and I think that moment was when I was like: OK, I need to write about this. The title actually came quite late – I wrote it all out and I think of titles like retroactively.
VFD: Yeah, it was really interesting. So then what scares you about all that? I mean, what scares you in general, but what scares you about the internet and about your beat in particular? Is there a giant shadow or cloud anywhere that you're like: Fuck, this is gonna be bad.
Terry Nguyễn: No… I don’t know. I think growing up in this day and age and seeing my parents’ friends being radicalised - not just radicalised on Facebook – they’re seeking out this information on Facebook groups. But like: it's going to happen.
It's going to happen whether Facebook bans it or not. People have these ideas. I think it's easy to blame the internet for everything bad but it's also people who are actors in this game as well. It's not just the internet and the platforms. But nothing scares me. I mean, I probably am scared by actual things like climate disaster and fire season in California. But yeah, I don't know. It’s just online. If it gets too intense I'll just log off.
VFD: Have you always felt that way about older people and how they interact with online? Because we can’t control that - no one can control that- except for the platforms and the older people themselves.
Terry Nguyễn: Like how people interact with me online?
VFD: No, no, I just mean how generally, older people interact online and are more susceptible to the kind of propaganda spilling around. Just getting ripped off around every corner. This is your introduction to me being incredibly negative about everything, by the way. So apologies for that.
Terry Nguyễn: No, I didn't take you as that actually. It’s surprising. Yeah, I do worry about that. I do worry about kids being addicted to YouTube and being served weird Youtube Kids videos. And our data being used to predict our every desire. That concerns me.
But I feel like these are all just concerns that I wish were solvable. They're nothing that's scary and so out of the blue. I feel like reality is a little more scary. Maybe just because I've had very positive early interactions on the internet I'm still very optimistic about it. But I wouldn't say that it solves everything.
VFD: Yeah. It's like just like: log off, right?
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah.
VFD: I think about that Tyler the Creator tweet that's like: what is cyberbullying? Just log off. It’s more serious than that, obviously.
So New York's opening up, right? You can go outside! How's that going to impact what you write about? And do you think there's going to be much of a trickle over? What do you think we'll hold on to from COVID?
Terry Nguyễn: I don't think it'll change much. I might be able to do more trend party stories, they'll be really fun.
I would love to go and do more brick and mortar store reporting. Let me rephrase that. The Goods used to report a lot on the death of retail and how people would be able to go to a Casper store. Like here’s this direct to consumer brand that has a physical store. Is that weird? Maybe. So I want to do more of that. I feel like I didn't have the experience to do on the ground reporting. I would love to go on a reporting trip to LA or Miami. Wherever the VCs are.
VFD: LA, Miami, Colorado. A nice, cool, place. Well, thanks so much for chatting.
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah!
VFD: I'm trying to think if there's like anything else I had on my list that I was like super bugging about. But I don't think so. What’s your long weekend for?
Terry Nguyễn: It’s Juneteenth. I don’t know if it’s national – it might be a New York holiday. And it’s your Friday?
VFD: Yeah, I’m off to work.
Terry Nguyễn: What is your - I didn't do much research on you because I had a busy day today. But what’s your main gig?
VFD: My current main gig is I work for a VC-by-name, although it’s mostly a healthcare company. And I guess I’m thinking about content that isn’t advertising, and thinking about the internet. I sometimes find it impossible to explain without sounding like a huge dickhead. But I guess, I’m trying to predict the future of the ways we use content online. So thinking: Are people using videos more? Thinking about platforms and how we can use them as a company to make content. Thinking about whether it’s worth making a “Netflix of ‘x’”, which is a meme in itself.
But it's like: if you think about how healthcare is so expensive, and particularly seeing a specialist, a lot of those specialists and their knowledge, at least in a certain level, can be made into content. So that's one thing I think about. We're also focusing on sexual wellness a lot. Sex education. I don't know what the standard of sex education in the US is but in Australia, it's not great.
Terry Nguyễn: It’s probably better than the US. Different states have different curriculums. So if you're in like a Republican state, it's really shitty.
VFD: I mean, God, the American system in general is just like: what are they doing? Every time I go over there I’m like: Whoa.
What was your experience of college? Did you find college hard?
Terry Nguyễn: No. I don't even know what I did during college. I took, like, political theory classes. So I was reading a lot of philosophy. But then I was also working for the paper and that was the moment where I realised that the journalism degree didn't mean shit. Like, I was writing stories and it didn't count for my degree. And I wanted to just read theory all day and report and yet I had to go to class. Did you go to school in Australia?
VFD: I went to school in Australia - I went on an exchange to the US. And I just remember being so…
Obviously, American college culture is a whole thing unlike what we have. I went from having a semi full-time job, going to class when I could, and living at home, which is a pretty normal thing in Australia.
To like: everyone goes to this one bar on a Tuesday where the beer costs 25 cents. And everyone's drunk all the time. A lot of classes are pass / fail. I was just like: What is going on? And I've never done less work and gotten better grades. So that's what I think about US education.
It just felt like they valued participation and positivity and engagement, even if it's faux engagement. If the lecturer was talking and you were like: that's a really good point!
So that was a fun experience. I think I probably would have benefited from going to journalism school. I studied, like, film and media.
Terry Nguyễn: Oh, very cool. That’s great. People have gone to film school and have made actually good movies from film school.
VFD: My intention was film, and then you realise: oh, there's even less job opportunities in this than there is in journalism.
And then I dropped out of uni to go work at BuzzFeed when I was 19.
Terry Nguyễn: In Australia? Sorry, just clarifying if you know anyone in the US.
VFD: Oh I probably do. I was part of the team that launched in Australia. So I was there for five years. I worked at the New York office for about two months in 2017 or so? That was like a very insane period of time where - I don't know if you were were working in reporting in 2014 and 2015…
Terry Nguyễn: I was too baby for that.
VFD: Were you working during the algorithm switch?
Terry Nguyễn: I remember the video thing where they were like: this was a lie.
VFD: Oh yeah. Which by the way, everyone knew. Everyone's like: oh, Facebook lied. But did you really think your video was getting 50 million views in 24 hours? Like, come on. It's your shame. You're lying to yourself.
But yeah, so I went from a two or three year period when I first started working where everything you wrote would just do insane numbers for no reason.
There’s an article I published to take the piss out of it and the headline was “Pickle”. And the dek was “pickle”. And then there was a picture of a pickle. And it got six-figure views and heaps of shares. It was just ridiculous. But I think when they make “The Social Network 2” - where Zuckerberg really doesn't look as trendy and smiley – that was a really smart, cold, 2D business decision to be like: we're gonna get all of these companies to completely leverage their entire business strategy around us existing. And then we're gonna be like: jokes! Now you have to pay us.
Terry Nguyễn: That's also why the creator economy is so scary. This has literally happened to major companies first, if you look at what being reliant on the algorithm does for you. Although I do wax nostalgia about how I wish I was on media Twitter in 2013. Because it seemed really fun to work for BuzzFeed. And now everyone hates it online. I don't even know why I'm there.
VFD: It's really weird too, being in Australia and watching. You're like this interloper. Obviously, it's the internet, so everyone knows everyone and you kind of have friends online. But then the New York media bubble, or the media bubble in general, is so stupid. And from the outside, it's so clear how it's war of the nerds. And there's nothing wrong with that. But it's just like: Guys, a little bit of context, please. You’re all just fighting around with smarmy subtweets where everyone knows who you're talking about. It's like: have a conversation. Go to a bar, have a conversation, and just like settle it out. But it's fun to watch.
The two months where I was working out of the US, I will say, it was an entirely different experience. It’s like having a different job, to do it in the US. Because our internet is a few hundred people. Not exaggerating. Twitter is probably 200-400 people. And then everyone else has just broken and they're watching cooked fake news stuff and turning into right wing conspiracy theorists, which is also happening in the US.
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah, that's crazy. If you ever are in New York… actually I don't know how travel is going to work. It's a crazy flight.
VFD: Yeah, I really love New York. I don't really sleep much and I like when everything's open.
Terry Nguyễn: I heard that stuff closes and people take lunch breaks – actual lunch breaks. I mean, I'm happy for them. But I would also be really angry and inconvenienced that they would dare take a lunch break.
VFD: Yeah, stuff closes at like 5pm. The lunch break thing, I don't know, I think in media it's your classic, romantic, Americanization of stuff where you're like: oh, US media is so wild. And all the big stories come out of there. And everyone knows everyone.
In the US, there's potential that within a month, if you have the right crop of stories, or you do the right crop of things, you can go from zero to hero and be a really big deal. That reality exists for everyone that works in the US media. A moment can happen that makes you suddenly worth twice as much money and suddenly have twice as much cultural impact. And you might not deserve it. But for whatever reason the machine works around you, right?
That doesn't really exist in Australia. We just fight over the dumbest shit. I'm not really part of it anymore and I haven't been for about 18 months. So I definitely have work / life balance now, which I recommend. I never realised I needed it until eight years of not having it.
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah I’m trying. I'm trying to go on vacation soon.
VFD: You're gonna go somewhere?"
Terry Nguyễn: I'm going to Portland for a wedding. And then I'm coming back here and just reading and cooking.
VFD: Sounds like a good holiday. Alright, well, thanks so much. Again.
Terry Nguyễn: Yeah, of course. This is great. Yeah, well, hit me up anytime you need anything.