Making Sense of the “New” Medium

With the platform’s latest pivot, I need to figure out its value. And mine.

I have been writing steadily on Medium for about a year and a half now. When I started, I dibbed and dabbed as I tried to figure out what this platform was and how I wanted to use it. I eventually ditched my blog and decided to use Medium as my “home”. It was an obvious choice. While I worked to figure out how to get people to my lowly little website Medium sat there with a ready-made audience, a fairly polished design, and an easy way to share my work outside the platform.

Then LEVEL happened. A publication aimed at men of color thirty-five and over. I’m a man of color thirty-five and (way) over! I was beyond fortunate to have my work featured there a number of times. And it was more than just getting paid to write which is awesome of course; it was getting to work with an amazing team that includes Jada Gomez, John F. Kennedy, Peter Rubin, and Jermaine Hall. Oh! And my wife Aliya King Neil. I got actual feedback about my writing which while not always easy was supremely helpful.

Now, with the platform going through a transformation I, and other writers like me, find themselves trying to understand Medium’s new direction while sorting out our own.

I first learned of Medium’s impending changes via an email from one of my editors. “I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the letter that Medium CEO Ev Williams sent to our company, and what it means.”

I didn’t know there was a letter. After reading it twice I still wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. Except for this, “ For the foreseeable future, we will focus that talent on supporting independent voices on our platform. This means identifying writers — both already on Medium and not — and offering them deals, support, editing, and feedback to help them tell great stories and find their audience.”

As an “independent” writer this sounds wonderful. The internet is oversaturated with writers itching to find a way to be heard, to be supported, and to be paid a respectable rate when possible. It also means hearing all kinds of promises, getting your hopes up, and seeing those promises fade to vapor.

Medium has faced criticism for pivoting away from it’s publications which many argue weren’t given enough time to develop. But, this brings up an important question. Should we view Medium as a source of journalism and other literary endeavors or as a tech company?

The answer to this question should inform us all as to what standards we should hold Medium. Is it The New York Times or is it YouTube?

I think we know the answer.

At this point, I am a Medium beta tester. I’m taking part in the experiment that hopefully will help Medium find itself and, more importantly, tell me who they are. In the meantime I’m also trying to sort out my path as a writer.

I was talking to my wife about all of this and the dilemma I find myself in not only due to the state of Medium but the state of the writing industry as a whole. I explained that I found myself in an either-or situation. Either I double down and hope that Medium’s new emphasis on individual writers pays off, or I pitch to other publications and hope for the best.

My wife asked, “Why not both?”

There are currently millions of writers sending pitches to thousands of publications. Editors are breezing through them with the vast majority landing in the trash bin. Of those that get picked for publication, the writers will likely get paid a rate that is mediocre at best. It’s an unforgiving cycle. Pitch to get a byline and a few bucks and use that byline to pitch something else and get a few more bucks.

Getting a byline as a freelancer is time-consuming. More accurately, it’s a high effort/low reward situation.

Do I get on that hamster wheel or do I roll the dice with a platform that pays a metered rate in hopes that I can build a following to make it all worthwhile? All the while maintaining ownership of my work.

Can the Medium star be a thing? And if so can I be among the first? Or will the platform be refined on the backs of “small” creators for the sake of pitching bigger names later? It is tech, after all.

For now, I’m putting my eggs in the Medium basket. This platform has garnered me the most consistent level of growth out of any of my other options. That growth, however, has come with the aid of its publications and its editors and dedicated staff. While shifting focus away from those things to individual writers should provide a bump in growth in the short term, I hope that the baby isn’t thrown out with the bathwater.

With all that in mind, if you are reading this and don’t follow me, please do. If you aren’t a subscriber to the platform, please become one. If you are an editor, hit me up.

Writer (duh). Bylines @LevelMag @thegrio @NBCBLK. Co-creator of the Good Talk Podcast Network. Don’t forget to add me to your Medium email list!

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