My insufferable paternal grandmother once banned ketchup from her house because she thought it beneath her family (and didn’t like the taste); I believe this to be one of the many reasons my otherwise erudite father and his offspring love smothering things in this “low class” condiment. A recent Slate piece by Christina Cauterucci, just as ridiculously snobbish, also leaves me reaching for the Heinz.
Talk about a vapid take.
This is not the first time The Skimm has come under fire from the folks at Slate, a company whose holiday gift guide last year included kalimba thumb pianos. Insomuch as The Skimm is polished and concise, wields an impressive amount of influence and presents itself as palatable to young chic #womenwhowork, Cauterucci is of course correct. But that’s about where the similarities end. Ivanka Trump surreptitiously leverages her power to sell books that equate rich people’s schedules to slavery; The Skimm is baldly post-partisan and transparent about who their investors are, occasionally even highlighting their much deserved negative press. Ivanka Trump is a powerful advisor to one of the least popular presidents in history; The Skimm is a valuable resource for millions of everyday Americans.
I’ll admit: I don’t even read The Skimm that often. I’ve subscribed for years, but as someone who is paid to read, write, edit and absorb the news, I often encounter the stories Skimm covers elsewhere first, like on Twitter, and dive deeper into the stories I’m interested in before The Skimm’s email hits my inbox. But I’ll also admit that I’m spoiled in this regard — how many of us get paid to stay on top of the news? — and truly believe they provide a valuable service.
Cauterucci’s biggest error is that she conflates summarizing and condensing the news with being patronizing. She never actually critiques the stories The Skimm chooses to highlight, but rather the cheeky tone and fact that the newsletter is “painstakingly neutered of political slant or analysis.” Isn’t that exactly what you want out of a news roundup? She never says the Skimm is fake news — just that it doesn’t make the news inaccessible and serious enough. She doesn’t like The Skimm’s slogan: “there’s a lot of stuff in the world. It’s confusing.” But really, who would beg to differ?
As another Slate staffer wrote in a bygone era, “there’s really nothing weird or lazy about wanting a concise briefing on current events, something powerful people get in the form of news roundups from underlings and reports from experts, all of the time.” And as Albert Einstein famously noted, if you can’t explain something simply, you do not understand it well enough. For all its snark, The Skimm does a good job of condensing the news of the day and allowing their readers to, well, skim headlines efficiently. I’ve edited a daily email newsletter (shoutout to Jewish Insider), and believe me: it’s hard work. It’s hard to know what stories will resonate with your audience, how to condense big stories into small grab graphs, how to balance “vegetables” (things your audience should know) with “dessert” (things you know they’ll read and/or click on). Contrary to what Cauterucci’s piece might lead you to believe, the founders of The Skimm, Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, are former producers for MSNBC and NBC — this is hardly their first rodeo.
The Georgetown-educated Cauterucci is also painfully tone deaf to both “real America” and “America that brunches.” To Cauterucci, the “dangerous people” who enabled Trump’s rise to power are not only those who are purportedly “turning their attention away from their Birchboxes” (what?!) to read The Skimm, but also those who — and try not to wince — “exist in the narrow space between shut-down coal mines and Waffle House parking lots.” To her, the real danger isn’t Trump’s policies, but rather The Skimm for condensing them and their readers for having the gall to consume their news efficiently.
As The Skimm might say, I can’t even.
Of course, it’s also problematic to imply there’s much overlap between Skimmers and Trump admirers. I’ve spent a lot of time inside Red State Waffle Houses, and in my experience the patrons there are way more likely to be listening to Fox News than scrolling through The Skimm on their iPhones. Conversely, it’s silly to suggest that loving upper middle-class indulgences or conventional femininity implies you’re an article-skimming Trump supporter. Why do I have to vote for Ivanka Trump just because I like shift dresses and brunch?
Finally, The Skimm isn’t competing with major news outlets: it’s competing with everything else that occupies a person’s time, like Netflix and dirty dishes. And Cauterucci’s insinuation that Skimm women are flighty and disinterested in educating themselves for any meaningful reason is like the old fogies who decry millennials for eating avocado toast while bemoaning the death of the diamond industry. “The Media” is varied and vast for a reason — not everyone serves or consumes media the same way. Enjoying content other than (or in addition to) longform analysis doesn’t necessarily mean readers are vapid. It might mean they are doing actual things like caring for kids or saving the environment. It should also be noted that The Skimm sends, according to Foster Kamer (managing editor of Mashable), a “shitload of traffic” to the news organizations it links to. “Castigating people for getting to those news sources because you find the medium disagreeable,” he adds, “is elitist bullshit of the worst stripe.”
Ivanka Trump has come under fire because her worldview and personal brand are out of touch with the rest of America. Ironically, this attempt to tar a popular newsletter with the same brush reveals not Skimm’s Ivanka tendencies but rather how out of touch Cauterucci is.