Very Fine Day #19: Kat Tenbarge
"I'm super curious about looking at the abuses of power behind the scenes that rarely get talked about."
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“We had all of these professors who literally haven't worked in newsrooms since computers existed being like: you need to build a personal brand online. And that’s such a weird lesson to hear from someone who's, like, 70.”
Kat Tenbarge is an Influencer watchdog and reporter at Insider. She writes about the chaos of digital celebrity and holds the powerful figures of internet culture to account, something I imagine we will see more reporters doing in the years to come.
We spoke for around 40 minutes about growing up in Ohio, originally wanting to be a political reporter, what it was like to be awarded the White House Correspondent Association Scholarship by Donald Trump (“He was not that charismatic in person. It was kind of awkward”), how she approaches her beat, and what went into her biggest story to-date: an investigation on sexual assault allegations within one of YouTube’s biggest creator groups: David' Dobrik’s Vlog Squad.
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VFD: So, how has your day been?
Kat Tenbarge: It has been pretty good. I just did a story about a woman on YouTube…
VFD: Yeah I just read that.
Kat Tenbarge: Yeah, the woman just went live on YouTube for 20 minutes and raged out about it. So that was crazy to see.
VFD: So what was the deal? This was like a small YouTuber, who doesn't seem very well balanced, who seems to be abusing their family?
Kat Tenbarge: Yeah, there's a bunch of these figures who have gained infamy in the YouTube community and she's one of the bigger ones. They don't have a lot of actual subscribers but they're known for having bad reputations and just doing reprehensible things in their vlogs. And a lot of times they fly under the radar until a big channel or a news media source picks up on them, which is what happened with Shanny for Christ, because [YouTube] terminated her channel after I reached out.
VFD: Right, right. So then how do people find their videos if they’re not well-followed?
Kat Tenbarge: In this case it was a combination of a couple things that tipped people off to her. There's a slightly bigger, majorly controversial YouTube channel that she was a big fan of – to the point where that person would notice her and talk about her. And then she also very weirdly got featured in the massive Shane Dawson makeup docu-series a couple years ago. She was in one of his videos that had over 22 million views.
VFD: Right. OK.
I thought it was interesting what you wrote about YouTube and how they struggle to enforce things, even on a small level. Because I relate to that in the internet culture reporting I have done in the past as well. You sometimes feel like you're the cops, right? Like: you're doing the moderation. And you're doing the pickups. And you’re letting YouTube and Facebook know. Only for them to turn around and rip it down.
Kat Tenbarge: Basically, yeah. That's exactly how it feels.
VFD: But this time they didn't rip it down? Or they did and then it went back up?
Kat Tenbarge: It was such an interesting circumstance, because I feel like it really shows how poor these automated moderation systems run, because they had basically told me - and put out on Twitter - that the video was being taken down because it violated community guidelines. And then she appealed it and somehow her appeal got through right away. So it came back up overnight.
But the contact that I had at YouTube didn't even know that happened until I was like: Hey, the videos back up again...
VFD: I feel like YouTube hasn't gotten better at this for seven years, or eight years, or longer. And I don't know about another job where you could not get better at it for eight years and still have it. Or still have that power.
Kat Tenbarge: I feel like it gets harder and harder with every passing year, because obviously there's more people using the platform and more content being uploaded. There's exponentially more content on YouTube than there was eight years ago. And there was also a really interesting report that came out during the pandemic that talks about how YouTube is relying more on artificial intelligence than it ever has before to do moderation, particularly because during the pandemic so many of those human moderators couldn't come into offices to do that type of work. It has to be highly secure so it's difficult to do it from home.
So they put out a statement basically saying: We've been making way more mistakes, and we're going to continue to make way more mistakes.
VFD: Well, that's comforting and relaxing then…
So where did you grow up? You from the ‘States?
Kat Tenbarge: Yeah, I grew up in Ohio, in Cincinnati, in the suburbs.
VFD: What's that like?
Kat Tenbarge: It was very boring. Very average. I think it's just the most average, middle-class growing-up environment that you could be in: the suburbs of Cincinnati. That was kind of my upbringing.
I think growing up I always wanted to move to New York, move to a big city, do something more exciting with my life. I was really drawn to the internet from a young age and spent a lot of time on it from a young age because I would just get bored… Online was just so much more exciting.
VFD: So then how'd you get to New York?
Kat Tenbarge: So, in college I majored in journalism and my sights were set on winding up at some sort of digital publication. I was so into the New York media scene on Twitter in college, and I would just see people like Taylor Lorenz doing this work in DC and New York and LA. And that's what I really wanted for myself.
So I just kept finding little footholds in New York media. I worked at a startup for one Summer and that was my first Summer in New York. And that was at a publication called Inverse, which is still around. It's now owned by Bustle. And then when I graduated I was lucky enough to have a contact at Business Insider who helped me get a news fellowship. It was just general news.
But from there I was very, very transparent about how I wanted to do digital culture and they were very flexible in letting me explore that and it did super well. Our audience loved it. So that's how they ended up making me do it full time.
VFD: How long have you been at Insider?
Kat Tenbarge: I started in June 2019. So it's exactly two years.
VFD: OK, nice… well I guess your experience of the New York media scene is till ironically a lot on Twitter because of the last 12 months.
Kat Tenbarge: Exactly. It very much still feels like I have yet to have a lot of the early experiences of New York - just because I was in that floundering stage where I had a terrible apartment and random roommates and didn't have enough money to afford to do anything yet. And once I started to find my place everything shut down.
VFD: So you're in New York now?
Kat Tenbarge: Right now I'm in Cincinnati because I'm visiting family, but I'm going back this weekend.
VFD: Cool, cool…
Hey – and this may seem creepy but I do some research ahead of time – what’s the White House Correspondent Association Scholarship? Which we should say you have earned and been awarded.
Kat Tenbarge: Hahaha, so the White House Correspondents Scholarship Programme… it's associated with the White House Correspondents Dinner, which kind of fell off during the Trump era. But prior to that it was what, in America, they called Geek Prom, or Nerd Prom, for a while. And it became a pop culture thing under the Obama years.
And the scholars themselves don't usually get that much, for lack of a better word, clout. But that's what the dinner is really for – to raise money to give scholarships to young journalists who are in college. And when I was a Junior in college at Ohio University I got picked to be one of the three students who was awarded with one of the scholarships. And I got to go to the White House and I met Trump.
Out of his four years he only talked to the scholars once and it was my class. He didn't come to the dinner but we went to the White House and took a picture with him.
VFD: Is that on your mantelpiece?
Kat Tenbarge: It was funny… it was such a weird experience. Like obviously, his relationship with the press was so adversarial. But I put the picture of us on Instagram and a bunch of people commented like: is this Photoshop??
VFD: What was that like? Did he really talk to you guys or did he talk at you?
Kat Tenbarge: It was a little bit of both. It was a press event when we did the photo. So he came out and the whole press corps was there and a photographer had put us on these bleachers. So we were all in position and ready to take the photo and he came out and he kind of put on a little bit of a show.
There was some sort of back and forth chatter with the rest of the press corps. I think he said something along the lines of: you guys should watch out because these guys are gonna take your jobs. And then he went around to every single one of us and asked us where we were from. But it was very surreal. He was not that charismatic in person. It was kind of awkward.
VFD: Man, I feel like I could read a whole book on that experience.
Kat Tenbarge: Right?
VFD: Your description on your byline – and what other people have said and what you have said to describe yourself – is “influencer watchdog”. Which sounds very cool. But what does that mean to you? In terms of the work?
Kat Tenbarge: So the reason I put influencer watchdog in my bio is because someone suggested it to me on Twitter. Like, one of my earlier stories that was more of an investigation into an influencers conduct had someone describe the reporting as being “in the watchdog beat”, which was really interesting to me because I was a really big political reporting fan in college and thought that was what I was going to do.
And the concept of watchdog journalism, as applied to the influencer industry, it was finally a term that made sense for what I was trying to do. So I clung to it. And I think to me, it really just means, like: we have all of these people who have power – and watchdog reporting has historically focused on people in business and people in politics and people in those more established recognised spheres – but we really don't have that many people covering influencers as figures who have power.
So my approach to the beat is to view these people like: there's the Trump of the influencer world. There's the politicians of the influencer world. And in a sense I'm super curious about looking at the abuses of power behind the scenes that rarely get talked about.
VFD: Do you think that earns you many friends in the influencer world? They're not really the most understanding of being reported on – even when it’s positive – from my own experience.
Kat Tenbarge: Yeah, it's been a little bit of both.
I definitely have made some friends – or at least had people extend an olive branch in a way. There's a lot of people who followed me on Twitter, for example, who are really big influencers, after some of the articles that I've done. And even if they don't actually message me or talk to me, you kind of see that as: OK, they're glad that someone did that story about that person.
But also there are a tonne of enemies that I've made. And I think the more I do the work, the more people are wary of me instead of in the past. I think some influencers have been very distrustful of media, but others… people will reach out to you and beg you to write a story about them. And I don't get that as often as I used to.
VFD: What about – you said before that you wanted to be a political reporter, or at least that's what you were passionate about. What shifted in your mind and your attention that was like: well, maybe Internet culture.
Kat Tenbarge: Honestly, a lot of it comes back to that whole White House Correspondents experience. Part of that was that I went to these parties where journalists and political figures mingle. And it was really interesting but I kind of walked away from the whole experience feeling a little bit disillusioned, because I think – especially during the Trump era – I was in college when he got elected and it was a really difficult time for me and all of my friends. It felt like a big existential crisis: what are we going to do with our lives now that we know that this is the culture we live in? And that this is where our society and government has led us to?
And so for a while that really fuelled this idea that I was going to be an investigative reporter in the politics world. And then when I got to DC and saw how chummy everyone was behind the scenes, I was kind of like: I don't know if I can crack this and rub elbows with these people when I've just spent two years, at this point, hating everything that they stood for. It didn’t throw me off of it entirely but it did disillusion me.
And then that Summer, after I was at the White House, when I was in New York for the first time working at this small science/tech publication, some of the really big, dramatic events in the influencer world were happening.
I don't know if you're familiar with Tanacon?
VFD: Oh, yeah. I love Tanacon.
Kat Tenbarge: A lot of that happened that Summer and it was a huge lightbulb moment for me because I was a Tana-fanatic. I knew everything about her. And no one else in my newsroom had ever heard of her before. So I just kind of realised that I had this skillset that I could use and potentially report on things that would interest people.
VFD: It's interesting what you say about politics and politicians. I've had a similar experience where you just kind of realise it’s all so much bullshit, and they're all just fucking… friends.
I remember being on – I think it was a panel or something – and there was a conservative politician there. And the host of it was a journalist, but I assumed they were rather progressive because of their journalism. And in between questions… it was like a stand-up set. They were throwing back and forth. And I know that's part of the job as well, but I agree that it can seem kind of gross.
Kat Tenbarge: Right,
VFD: I saw your newsletter - which is just starting out - and something that was really funny to me is that you asked for a designer or illustrator to give you something that “screams Gen Z hell”.
Well, what is that? What is that hell?
Kat Tenbarge: To me, what I'm looking for there – and I have found a designer and I am working with them to kind of conceptualise this a bit more. But it's sort of this idea that when you’re Gen Z – I'm on the cusp but I definitely identify more with the online, digital native side – so I feel like I identify more with the Gen Z identity.
But it's sort of this idea that you have access to everything at your fingertips and your entire social circle is like a 24/7 space that you live in digitally. And that sucks. And this idea of celebrity and influencers that has emerged from being so 24/7 online is just… terrible. And so that's what I'm looking for.
VFD: Yeah, I saw you wrote about how you have this desire for people to stop talking to you. And again, I totally relate. I would love it if everyone ignored me forever.
The crux of that was: because you're online all the time, and you have people DMing you, reaching out to you on all sorts of platforms, you can't escape it, right?
But do you think that's just what living is now? And not just yourself.
Kat Tenbarge: Yes, I do. And I think that a lot of what we're seeing in this weird stage where we're starting to come out of the pandemic is that people have become really accustomed to living online and there's sort of a culture shock. We've become so burnt out on our digital lives and digital communication and I think it was in waves throughout the pandemic. I remember there was all of that talk about Zoom fatigue, and like: let's stop video chatting with one another. And like: I've consumed more entertainment than I ever have in my entire life and my brain is dying. That whole sentiment, I think, is very universal.
VFD: Yeah, and I don't think there's a fix. I'm not sure. Like, I imagine there's a bunch of tech bros trying to figure out some kind of app that will save us and make us enjoy being online again. But in the meantime, the people you talk to, particularly journalists, particularly people that work online, it's not an uncommon story to hear people just not really be into it.
Do you ever feel like you're a slave to Twitter? Because you have a personal interest in building your personal brand, obviously. And personally, I look at that and I go: That's true. But also: God, I wish I didn't have to. I wish I could just… not do that.
And it's weird. Because I'm a bit older than you – I'm assuming – and when I was in college they kind of told us: Oh, yeah, Twitter is interesting. The Arab Spring. It's a really powerful thing. And then maybe there was a little bit about personal branding. But with your generation, and younger generations, it's now part of the curriculum. It's part of the teachings that you need to be a brand online if you want to get anywhere.
Kat Tenbarge: Yeah, it's funny that you say that because I was just having this conversation with some of my friends from college. Like, we had all of these professors who literally haven't worked in newsrooms since computers existed being like: you need to build a personal brand online. And that’s such a weird lesson to hear from someone who's, like, 70.
VFD: How do you approach that, then?
Kat Tenbarge: Oh, it has kind of been a journey of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. And I think at this point Twitter is my own worst enemy, because I have been able to do really well for myself on there in a short amount of time.
However, I went from having just under 10,000 followers and very slowly building that up to just tripling that in the span of a couple of weeks. And even though I wouldn't even consider myself big in any sense, especially compared to people who have 200,000, 700,000, a million followers… But just having any sort of spotlight on you online is suffocating in a lot of ways.
People come out of the woodwork and just criticise you for the craziest things. And it's made me more empathetic to the people that I cover because I think in the past, when I didn't see that side of it, I was more cynical and critical of how people would conduct themselves online who had platforms. And now that I have this baby version of that platform, I'm like: God, this is the hardest thing I've ever done.
VFD: Yeah. What do you think about when you interview influencers and creators, and people famous for being online? Do have a hard time taking them seriously? That sounds mean. But sometimes there's a level of seriousness and brevity given to influencer culture that is in some cases earned and in other cases you could just go: Hey, it's alright. You got lucky! And now you're running with the ball.
Kat Tenbarge: Yes. I think especially with the rise of TikTok that really comes into play. Because I think with YouTube, in particular, for years – and still with a huge demographic of people like my parents – it's an uphill battle to explain what the talent is of being an influencer. A tonne of people still don't get it. And it can be hard work to justify that there’s a specific kind of skill set that you have to have, and a specific type of character that you have to have, in order to succeed online.
But beyond that, the TikTok kids that you talk to, or some of the people around them in their industry… you do get the sense that sometimes these people cross a line and think too highly of themselves when they could never hold a conversation in a certain room full of a certain people of a certain background.
Like, I live in New York, so people want to pretend that they're smarter than they actually are. But then when you go to LA and you talk to influencers, it's the exact opposite. It's like: these people couldn't name who the Vice President was. And so that was kind of a culture shock.
VFD: Well then what's your approach to getting them to talk to you?
Kat Tenbarge: It depends. It really depends on what I want to talk to them about. And usually coverage is either going to skew positive or negative. Even with profiles, you kind of have to sell it as: this will be good for your brand in order to get that level of access. And even if you do a more balanced or nuanced portrait of someone, you have to sell it to them in a way where it's like: you should let me follow you around for a day. This will be good for you. Sometimes you just kind of have to force it.
Before the pandemic started one of my first big reporting ventures was I went to Playlist, which is one of the big YouTuber conventions. And my big struggle there was just getting into the rooms with these people. Once you get into the room, and they're comfortable and they don't think you're there to expose them for anything, then it's usually pretty easy to have conversation.
Most people who have huge online followings… there's a level of… narcissism is harsh, but obviously, these are people who are obsessed with themselves. So if you feed into that, they love it, and they will talk to you for hours and hours and hours about whatever you want to talk about.
And when it comes to negatively skewed stories and investigations, you usually have to come more from the angle of: this is going to benefit, maybe not you at all, but it will benefit other people. And when I have been able to score bigger interviews to help out with investigations, I really do come to them from a place of like: there are people who don't have platforms like you, but you putting in your voice to this and speaking about your experiences with this will help other people. And that can be convincing.
VFD: Yeah, definitely.
I don't want to make your life all about one big story: but the David Dobrik thing was obviously a very big story. But also, at least from where I am in Australia and online, it was a very impactful story for yourself. And then in a lot of ways for your reputation and your growth, as well as the respect you got from other journalists and the way other influencers treated you.
Kat Tenbarge: Yeah.
VFD: So how did that come together as a story? And is there anything about it that you, in hindsight, would have done differently – or approaches that you would have tweaked?
Kat Tenbarge: So the way that it came about is that I knew that there was controversy and discontent within the Vlog Squad because it had already become a public scandal in the sense that you had other, former members of the Vlog Squad coming out and saying: these pranks were bad for my mental health. This prank was actually more of an assault than a prank. Like: I didn't like being in the Vlog Squad for these reasons.
VFD: We should clarify that the Vlog Squad is like David Dobrik’s “Avengers” of YouTube.
Kat Tenbarge: Yeah, it’s like his friend group but it's also like the extended cast of a sitcom. And they all play little characters.
So yeah, my initial steps that I was taking was to reach out to other members of the Vlog Squad and see if anyone else was going to be willing to come forward and talk about what their experiences were like. And in the process of doing that I found out that there were girls – plural – who had bad experiences. Some of whom people do know, and not all of them, I think, are ready to come forward. But through the grapevine I heard about the story that would eventually become Hannah.
She had reached out to people over the years since it had happened and sort of planted the seed like: I want to come forward but I want to be anonymous. And so through some of my connections that I made through my reporting I was able to get in contact with her. And it was a very quick turnaround because I did the interview with her and immediately after I did the interview I was like: this is a huge standalone story. This needs to be its own story.
And then one or two days later they were trying to… not get ahead of that narrative specifically, but just the controversy as a whole. So one of the other members, Scotty Sire, put out a YouTube video where he was trying to defend David against some of his other ex-friend’s accusations. And when I saw that video, and I saw people starting to positively respond to it and say: OK, well, we love the Vlog Squad and David is a good guy. Some of these other people have clearly been misrepresenting the environment.
Then I was like: OK, we need to put this out as soon as possible. Because I didn't want to let the momentum die before her story came out.
So it was literally a two-week process. And a lot of times, investigations that I've done have taken months, but for this I did the interview and then I spent the next week just getting as much corroboration as I could. And then we began with the editing process. It was one of the shorter ones that I've done, with just another week of reaching out to his team, hearing back from his lawyers, going through our lawyers, making sure that we were as sturdy as we could be, and then we put it out.
And I think that I don't have any regrets about the story. I think the story was as close to perfect as it was gonna get. But the way that it unfolded in the public sphere was something that I feel like I was not prepared for. And I don't think anyone could be. But definitely I became a character in it in a way that I didn't expect, because I had one of the ex-members calling me and releasing our calls, and I had people wanting to feud with me on these YouTube channels. And I kind of just took it each day and hour as it came and responded in real time on Twitter.
But the more that you let yourself, and your personality, become a part of the story, that's when people's perceptions of you change. And it does affect your credibility, because people who don't agree with the things you say are then going to have a more negative opinion of your work. And so if I could go back I would tell myself to just rein it in. Like, not just completely pull myself out of the discourse, but just rein it in and be more careful and calculated about how I'm presenting every single tweet and every single appearance, because people will nitpick and use it as ammo against you.
VFD: Yeah, it's interesting to, again, compare it to politics. It’s the watchdog thing, right? Where if you'd written a similar story about a politician when there was alleged sexual misconduct, the response is gonna be a few days of waiting, lots of lawyers, and then they're gonna do some “House of Cards” shit and play it back to you. It'll be on TV and blah, blah, blah.
But with influencers, instead, there's now 500 YouTube videos with your face on the thumbnail and they all want to get you involved in this – including their fans, right? And the fan thing is interesting, because I feel like what’s different to politics, perhaps, is that the fans of Youtubers don't necessarily want to hear what you have to say when it's negative. And they'll defend them until the death in a lot of ways.
Kat Tenbarge: Definitely. And they come in numbers and swarms to the point where even if you have a platform of your own you can't really fight fire with fire in every case, because it's not as if you're going to convince people or change their mind. So it's a tricky tightrope of just not responding to certain types of criticism, or not engaging with certain types of discourse. And then standing up for yourself or putting out your thoughts on other things.
VFD: Yeah, you also have to – and this is how I feel – but you have to play the game to get it right. If you actually wanted to get back to them, you almost have to make your own YouTube video with you saying: right, it's my turn to explain myself in this very two dimensional way. And then it's just a mess.
But obviously you should be proud of it. And holding power to account in any environment or culture is always going to get people upset, right?
What has the fallout been from that, for David Dobrik and for YouTubers?
Kat Tenbarge: It's really interesting. And it's still ongoing.
There's always this question, I think, especially in the influencer world: when a big celebrity has a huge scandal they just kind of go away – even if they come back eventually it’s not with a tonne of fanfare – but when it's someone who's online, like David Dobrik, I think immediately people were like: well, is he gonna make a comeback? Is he cancelled? And it's like, if David came back tomorrow he would probably be able to make a successful comeback. Because the silent majority of his fans who just appreciate the content and don't care about any of the ethics surrounding it, they would embrace him.
But in terms of the fallout that he did experience, it is pretty monumental. He did lose a lot of opportunities for sponsorships and monetization on YouTube, even temporarily, and that is a big deal. And he lost his app, which was kind of the biggest, next step of what his career was going to be like: him being the face of this social platform. That kind of dissolved for him. So it really did, I think, topple his empire. But I don't think it will necessarily be a forever thing in terms of everyone else who was involved.
Dom, the guy who is accused of committing the act, he's still online, he's still posting on TikTok all the time. And that really doesn't sit right with people because they view it as like: oh, David got punished for what Dom did.
But the truth of the matter is that no one really cares about Dom. Like, Dom wasn't the name that brought people into the story. It was David. And David is the celebrity and that's why people cared. And so with Dom there's nothing for him to lose, unless these platforms like TikTok ban him, which they've chosen not to do. Then he has every right to just keep putting out content and just let the chips fall where they may. He's not super relevant, and he never has been, but we can't really force him to go away.
And I think for everyone else in the Vlog Squad, a lot of them view themselves as “former members” moreso than current members. And so they've just kept going and have been able to retain their fan bases and keep doing their podcasts and their business ventures.
VFD: This whole Vlog Squad / Hype House / Supergroup Influencer thing… it feels like a double edged sword. Like: if you're the parent of one of these kids, or if you are one of these kids, it's guaranteed that at least for a few years you’ll have some level of wealth, fame, and celebrity online. But the flipside is that literally all of them end in a bad way. And people keep signing off on doing it because that's the internet.
Right now I'm just, like, doing my own monologue about the state of the internet, which I tend to do. But you mentioned TikTok. I wanted to talk about that quickly.
Obviously that has, for the last last 18 months, maybe two years, taken off in such a huge way that at least in my online lifetime I can only compare it to Myspace. Like, I feel like Facebook, maybe because of its roots as an education “.edu” kind of thing, and also because your parents were on it, it never really hit the heights TikTok has in terms of just manic content creation flow. And I saw you've written quite a bit about TikTok and music and how it's shaping the music industry as well.
You wrote that great thing about Bella Poarch, which I guess for readers is the girl with the bouncey face? I don't know how to say that, but they will probably recognise her face. But what do you think of TikTok and do you think it's going to have longevity beyond another year or two?
Kat Tenbarge: Well, I love TikTok. And whenever I get on TikTok I have to limit myself because I will spend more time on it in one sitting than any other social media platform. It's so addictive and it's so intuitive. Last night I hopped on there for the first time in a while and I think I was on it for four hours. It just goes by - you don't even realise it – which speaks to the incredible technology behind it. But it's also kind of terrifying because it's almost like it hypnotises you and you can’t walk away from it. And you couldn't tell anyone what you just spent four hours doing. Like, you could barely summon up any of what you just saw. Which is horrifying, I think, on a lot of levels.
But I do think TikTok will have longevity because it’s a total re-imagination of how we consume content online. Like, so much of the Internet has been based around: you seek out what you want, and you go to your friends, and you gravitate toward your interests. And TikTok just totally flips the script. It's like: we're gonna serve you what you want, and we're gonna tell you what you want. And you won't even recognise it as a choice that's taken away from you because you're just scrolling passively through all of this content.
I think a lot of the culture on TikTok reminds me of, like you said, Myspace in a lot of ways because it just feels so new. And I think a lot of the culture feels really similar to some of what we saw in Myspace. And it also reminds me of Tumblr in a lot of ways and the humour of Tumblr and the sense of community on Tumblr. I was a huge Tumblr fanatic in high school, so I love that sense of returning to the very internet-y, meme-y, common culture that you only understand if you're in it constantly, which is really cool.
And so I do think it will have longevity. And I think that the kind of celebrity that's coming out of TikTok is almost healthier than YouTube and Instagram because it's so ephemeral. And yes, you have your Charlie D’amelio’s and you have your Hype House and Sway Houses, but most people who blow up on TikTok don't then focus their entire life and career around what blew them up.
Like: if you're on TikTok producing content you're gonna have a viral hit at some point. Because that's just the way the algorithm works. But it doesn't have to become your whole life. And I think there's a lot of potential there for having a healthier relationship with that.
There's a lot more that I could say about the platform having a lot of moderation flaws and some of that culture not being great. And some of the ways that the algorithm serves content to different people not being healthy. But in general, like, it's promising to me. And I think the ways that it's going to innovate our influencer culture may not may be good. At the end of the day TikTok is funny and it's engaging. And a lot of YouTube culture over the past few years has gotten stale in a way that TikTok is bringing more light to.
VFD: Yeah. I mean, there's not really a TikTok meme persona yet, right? In the way that YouTube has it's: what's up guys! Like and subscribe! Don't forget to hit the button!
Alright, well, conscious of time – but I guess my last question is: what do you think people get wrong about what you do?
Kat Tenbarge: That's such a good question because I feel like there's a lot. But if I had to bring it down to just one thing, I think that honestly there's a real lack of modern media literacy. Because there are so many misconceptions from my audience about how my stories happen. And I think the biggest misconception is this idea that I am doing all of this by myself. And I'm picking my story ideas all by myself. And the final product is just me. And that couldn't be further from the truth.
And what I want people to understand about journalism is that when it's done right it's very collaborative. And it's edited. And I think the act of editing people don't fully understand. I can't just write whatever I want and put it out there. Like, it has to go through a hierarchy of people determining that it makes sense, and that it's backed up, and that it's accurate. And that it is cohesive! So I think that's the biggest misconception: people think “Kat from Insider does all of her own stuff.” And it's like: Insider is is a giant company.
VFD: I have to agree. And I don’t think you realise it until you start working in it, right? And then you have to explain things to your friends, and your parents, and it just keeps on. And it doesn't seem that's changing, because it's not part of the way we educate kids, at least not at the moment. But that might change because politically and culturally we have such a more aggressive approach to media. To put it nicely. And maybe there'll be a bit more taught on the subject.
Well, thanks so much. Again, if you have any thoughts, comments, or questions - or just want to chat - just send me a message.
Enjoy the rest of your Thursday.
Kat Tenbarge: You too! And enjoy your Friday!