I was so eager to read this profile of Nick Quah, who in the Newsletter Commentary Industrial Complex is known for pioneering the Podcast Commentary Industrial Complex via his Hot Pod newsletter, but when I clicked into it from the Study Hall newsletter’s hyperlink yesterday, I honestly felt my heart break a little because, well, this was the original headline:
The hed has since been changed to How Nick Quah Became the Podcast Whisperer — which, thank god, because the original was complete and utterly tokenizing bullshit — so I wasn’t sure if it was totally necessary to barge into your inbox today with laser beams still a’blazin from the eyeballs still. But I do want to point out, ICYMI, how terrible and othering that first headline is so that we all know for the record to NEVER PUBLISH SOMETHING LIKE THAT EVER AGAIN, but upon a few more reads, I think there’s still something about the tone of the profile that enrages me.
To be clear, I don’t know Nick personally beyond a few Twitter exchanges (sorry to inform you not all media Asians know each other but we are WORKING ON IT trust me), so I am not speaking for him, but let me just say (and obviously I am not trying to equate Deez Links with Hot Pod success, they are on different scales) if one day someone wrote about me and my passion project-turned-extremely-lucrative-business and framed it as ~HOW A NOT-WHITE DAUGHTER OF CHINESE IMMIGRANTS FROM, UGH, ILLINOIS — AND NOT EVEN THE CHICAGO-ADJACENT PART — SOMEHOW SUCCEEDED IN MEDIA~ I will tell you right now it would be the worst day of my life.
I want to think it’s just the one really bad (but like again, REALLY BAD) old headline that is tilting the way the rest of the profile still reads to me, but I can’t shake the sense that the piece’s entire tone makes Nick out to be some kind of dark horse outsider and just ripples with this barely contained bemusement around the fact that someone who doesn’t look like every other white male media entrepreneur on Digiday or whatever and who doesn’t live in a major metropolitan hub ??somehow?? succeeded against all odds.
For one thing, when describing Nick’s origin story in media, the article calls him “this random guy” at least twice, which…..no? He’s not? I mean, we learn that Nick went to a prestigious private university and was working an entry-level job in media when he started Hot Pod so……….I feel like that is actually the most typical kind of origin story you get in this industry? It’s certainly not random.
And then there’s this one line that goes, “By design or luck, Quah spotted that demand, and has cornered it,” which is A) a stupid fucking sentence because uhhhh what are the other options, divine inheritance? And B) demeaning as hell because I’m sorry have you ever read a profile of a white dude founder that implies that he probably was just suuuuper lucky?????
And then finally, there’s this mess of a passage that seems to be genuinely shocked that a non-white non-American-born person could have even HEARD of things like Top 40 music or the NBA, much less be so fluent in them as to make “breezy references”:
Quah was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s largest city and capital, and often mentions that he’s not an American — in between breezy references to everything from Carly Rae Jepsen to the NBA playoffs that suggest an above-average immersion in American pop culture.
I mean come on. COME ON. “Above-average immersion in American pop culture”? That’s unimaginably condescending and hilariously ignorant. If it wasn’t already clear why this profile seemed hellbent on writing Nick off as some rando outsider figure before, it’s made pretty fucking obvious here with this weird, gross assumption that someone who wasn’t born here should barely be expected to keep up with pop music, much less break into — and succeed wildly — in a very exclusive industry.
Compare this to Sara Fischer’s writeup of how the newsletter wave so obviously favors white men with established platforms, and you can’t not see how this is part of a more fucked up media trend that Newsletter Utopia is not immune from. At the end of the day, I’m a little personally horrified. All I wanted was to read a profile about someone with a background and identity similar to mine who’s built an impressive niche media empire. But this profile reduced Nick to a token at best and an interloper at worst. I meanm jesus christ. Is that what this industry thinks of people like us?
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Deez Links is a dailyish newsletter written by delia cai.