VERY FINE DAY features weekly interviews with writers, creators, reporters, and internet explorers. Learn more about the people who keep the internet humming – and check out previous editions here. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter, or just follow Brad. Subscribe now and never miss an edition.
“I grew up being a big “One Direction” fan. I learned how to build a community, either from writing a blog post or building a website and using Photoshop. I was always so deeply embarrassed of those skills – I would never put them on a resume. I would never have thought that they would help me later in life. And now I'm merging the two worlds. Like, my interests in a fandom taught me all of this.”
LUCY BLAKISTON is on VERY FINE DAY this week, in our final edition of the year. Lucy is one third of the incredibly popular (read: millions of followers) Instagram, newsletter, and podcast media empire that is SHIT YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT.
It was great to talk to her about what it’s like to start something small with your friends that bubbles up into something bigger. I also think there’s a big amount of knowledge in there from Lucy, who (alongside her cofounders Liz and Ruby) has ambitions that centre around authenticity and quality rather than rapid scale. We also talk about how she uses pictures of Harry Styles, every week, to tell the news. Go figure.
What Lucy, Liz, and Ruby have built is what happens when experimentation and agility are favoured over dry, old, repeatable media. Lucy reminds me of an early ‘00s blogger but for the 2020s. I mean, I’m not that old. I wasn’t really around during that first boom. But I guess that’s how I see her place in all of this.
Anyway, as I write this, Billie Eilish is on the TV. She’s singing on “Saturday Night Live”. There are Christmas wreaths on the walls behind her and her brother is playing guitar. Earlier, my housemates and I joked about the melancholy reaction most SNL skits get out of you. I’m sure you’re familiar with it – it’s not a new idea. But Christmas has come to SNL, which meanscha Christmas has come to New York City, which means Christmas has come to the world.
This is the last edition of Very Fine Day for the year. A whole year of VFD – the first year of VFD – and I’m so happy to have pulled it off and also to have welcomed all of you as readers. It always means something to actually see that people care about what you do. And so… thank you for that. For your support, for your time, for your thoughts and emails and messages. I like to think that this first 12 months of VFD is just the beta launch, and that we’ll look back on this version of things as simple and primitive.
I have big plans, and next year we’re going to move into action. I will be sending an edition of VFD out to paid subscribers next week to update on where I’m thinking of taking things. At the very least, I am going to work a lot harder on our Twitter and Instagram presence.
Oh, look, Christmas miracle: 50% a paid subscription for all of December.
Thanks again for everything. If you’re looking for a way to pass the time, and the family time is rotting your brain or the big load of books you bought to read up in your free time isn’t cutting it, have a peak through the VFD archives. I think there’s a lot of gold there, and many of you mightn’t have been around.
That’s it from me.
See you down the road.
VFD: Did the thing just yell at you? The Zoom voice? We have started recording now.
Lucy Blakiston: Yeah it did.
VFD: OK, now we can begin.
Lucy Blakiston: Finally.
VFD: So are you starting up at 5AM every morning?
Lucy Blakiston: Yeah, because I’m really reactive to everything. So I don’t want to write stuff the night before or pre-plan anything. I like to just see how I’m feeling and see what’s happening in the world. And I wake up in New Zealand, which is always behind anyway. Or in front?
VFD: I believe you’re in front of everyone. A day ahead or something. Do you think about that much - how you’re in front of the media and the news cycle by at least a day? Or is it just a natural part of things.
Lucy Blakiston: I don’t think about it until the Instagram comments start rolling in like: It’s not the 13th!!! It’s the 14th! It’s the 12th!! Taylor Swift’s birthday was actually yesterday. Y’know, people try to call me out for it. But no, it’s not something I think about much.
But can you tell me a bit about you? Because I love your newsletter and I know this is supposed to be about me, but I’m… Lucy. And I want to know who you are.
VFD: Yeah, sure. I guess I’m a writer and an editor. A reporter. I run this newsletter that we’re talking on right now. And I have worked in digital media for almost 10 years. My brain is just really damaged because of that. But in a great way. In a way that pays the bills.
Lucy Blakiston: Right. Right. That’s all we can ask for.
VFD: But I worked at BuzzFeed for a while. Five or six years. So more than a while. But I guess what I do with VFD, in particular, is I'm just trying to figure out how everyone that does a good job… does a good job. And that is a compliment to you.
Lucy Blakiston Thank you, because I feel like I am just living in chaos all of the time. But I think it's what makes me do a good job. I started this out with my two best friends in university at the back of a lecture theatre. I just texted Ruby and Liv, who run this thing with me. It was because I was like: I've spent three years at uni, studying media and international relations, and I know that I'm not dumb but why am I not picking up anything you're putting down? Why is nothing making sense? And I quickly realised that everything was in black and white. And there was just so much jargon.
Like, I know I had access to some of the best texts in the world. But I just couldn't understand them and nothing made me want to read them. So I texted Ruby and Liz and was like: Can we just start something that just uses words that we use in our day-to-day lives and breaks things down really easy? But it's still very subjective. You can talk about whatever you like. And I said: I think can we call it Shit You Should Care About because I like having a swear word in there.
Liv, who's our designer, was like: yes. And Ruby, who does a lot of the commercial and partnership stuff, was like: yes. And now, it’s three years on. I mean, we've all been working different jobs. It's been a side hustle. We just do it for fun and do it because we love it. And now I have decided that it’s the only thing I'm qualified to do so I should probably try and make it into some kind of job.
Lucy Blakiston: Well, that's not the only thing. It's a lot of things. But it's the only thing that I'm really qualified to do: trying to explain things in this type of tone to people. And it's chaos because it’s trying to figure out a new way of making money and a new way of funding media and just all of these different streams of things that I never thought I would be doing.
VFD: When did you start?
Lucy Blakiston: It was two or three years back. 2017 or 2018.
VFD: Yeah, yeah. And so we all travelled and we all went and got other jobs. I worked with this New Zealand media company called The Spinoff for a while. The guy who founded that, he’s like my mentor. He has definitely taught me how the media works.
And then, in New Zealand, we have this cool thing where they fund things through the government every now and then. And they funded a web series that we make called Extremely Online, which is a video series where we explain the internet and crypto and the metaverse. All these bizarre things that no one really gets, but we should understand because otherwise they just stay mystifying and we get left behind.
So we got some funding to do that. And then while we've been working we all moved to the same city and decided to make a goal of this thing. And that was probably in July of this year.
VFD: Oh, shit. So it has only been six months or so.
Lucy Blakiston: Yeah, it’s going good. It’s great. It’s so nice to be able to focus my time on the things that I’m actually good at and not just working for other people. Like, I’m obsessed with the media industry and all the minutiae. I love “Succession”, my favourite TV show, because I’m looking at all of these buzzy people do this dinosaur-era stuff. But now I’m at this really cool point where all this new stuff is popping up. And I have an audience and we have a tone and a voice. And we can try and do something a bit different.
VFD: What was that like? Was there a moment where it went from a thing on the side to the main deal? Did something happen that catapulted it to a point where you were like: Oh, my God, we can actually make this a thing. Or was it just gradual?
I feel like it would have to be gradual, right? Because – and not to blow you up too much – but you have 3.5million followers. I feel like that’s not nothing.
Lucy Blakiston: Yeah, nothing is a great word. Because nothing about this has been a gentle thing. And I'm not a very gentle person, I'm very impatient. And so as soon as I see something working, or want to try something new, I'll just grab it and start doing it.
But it was definitely in 2020 – I was going to move to London and so was Ruby – and then we got locked down. There was the US election, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and COVID-19, all at once. All things people didn't understand. And I was stuck at home with a voice that could help people understand. And more than that, we had access to all these people on the ground going through all these different things, especially Americans, because over half of our following is in America.
And so I had this transaction of great information, and then I could put it into words in a way we understood and then share it. And people just started being like: this is what we need right now. And it was at that time where Instagram, and social media as a whole, was starting to be used real differently for information and not just for influencers selling you Skinny Tea and Teeth Whitening or whatever.
And yeah, we've been doing that since 2018. So I sort of knew what to do and how to do it. And I mean, I don't use social media, personally, because I imagine my whole life would be taken up by social media.
VFD: C’mon, you’re not even tempted a little bit?
Lucy Blakiston: I mean, I have to use TikTok because I love it. But what I want to do with social media is have it be the one safe and nice place. On Instagram at least.
And for me, to be able to do that, I need to be a little bit removed and be reading the news and making sure it'll make sense to me and not getting swept up. It's got nothing to do with what I look like or who I am. And that's just so conscious because it's just so not about me. And that's why I’m obsessed with newsletters and obsessed with your newsletter, because it's such a gorgeous way to communicate with people like this.
We have a podcast – two podcasts – which are one sided. Instagram, where your comments just get filled up with American trolls or bots. But then newsletters it’s like: people really make a choice to read that, and to respond each day, and that feels so lovely and just much more wholesome than the rest of the wave at the moment.
VFD: When did you start the newsletter?
Lucy Blakiston: We started it in our latest lockdown, which was September. It was when we were locked down and it was something else to start.
VFD: Oh yeah, just start a new media product…
Lucy Blakiston: But it is the light and joy of my life.
VFD: Yeah, well, as we were going back and forth over many days over email, I really do think that the way that you write – and it’s not just the way that you write the daily newsletter – but also the structure of it and the way it looks. In general, there’s this thing that I talk to my team and young people about, which is: The Vibes. And you can’t articulate it any other way than to say that, within media, you know when something has it. And you’re like: this has the vibes. It works. And people are like: Well, why does it work? But we can’t unpack it. You can try and learn it but you ruin it if you unpack it.
Lucy Blakiston: Yeah, that’s quite hard. I feel like that’s quite a person-centric thing. I’m constantly thinking that I do a lot and I do too much. And I would love to offload some of what I do. But there’s also this beautiful thing where my people don’t know who I am or what I look like, but they can feel me and they know my voice regardless of that. And so I’m like: I want to hold this thing as close as possible and not offload it.
VFD: Yeah, yeah. What was it like growing up in New Zealand?
Lucy Blakiston: Oh, the bomb.
VFD: That’s interesting. I know a lot of New Zealanders and not a lot of them are like: It’s the bomb!
Lucy Blakiston: And I have not said that since I was 12-years-old. And I love that for us. But yeah: Me and Ruby and Liv, we’ve been best friends since we were 15 years-old. And we grew up in a small town. Well, not a small town, but like 30,000 or 40,000 people.
VFD: Called what?
Lucy Blakiston: Called Blenheim. Just beautiful. Wine region. So every Summer holidays when we come home we would have to work in wineries. And there’s not that much to do. All you can do is talk and ponder things and have your own personal existential crisis. I feel like New Zealand, and especially coming from a small town, was very formative of who we are and why we do have to think beyond our means. Because we’re not really living beyond that.
VFD: What do you mean by that? In terms of the “thinking” side of things?
Lucy Blakiston: I don’t know. Me, Ruby, and Liv – I think because we grew up in wonderful families and were in such a beautiful place – we didn’t have that much outside pressure. Like, we didn’t go to private school. I think we just had every opportunity to just think and talk. It was all we could do. All we did was talk and then we realised, when we went to university, that the world’s bigger and that politics is a thing. But we always have this nice, small-town best friendship.
People always say: Don’t go into business with your friends. And that’s another interesting thing, because I actually couldn’t imagine doing business with anyone else. But that’s probably because they let my wild ideas just happen and are the most amazing people.
So yeah, I loved growing up in New Zealand. I also don't even want to move out of New Zealand. I've travelled around and now this just feels good, even though we're quite world-facing.
VFD: Yeah. You don't have the temptation? Like, you said that half your audience is in the US, right? There’s no temptation to move over there?
Lucy Blakiston: Would you want to move to the US?
VFD: No, but I don’t run this blossoming media company with millions of followers.
Lucy Blakiston: Sure, sure. No, I mean, I love being New Zealand-based. I think a lot of the vibe we were talking about earlier comes from being around other Kiwis. And I would love to get over to Australia and do some work over there. I feel like we’d have similar vibes.
VFD: Yeah, well, that’s the gag, right? You have to break the rule about when you can make that assessment about both Australia and New Zealand. Because it’s binary: either we can be very similar or we can be completely different.
Lucy Blakiston: Yeah.
VFD: We’re very different when it’s a bad thing.
Lucy Blakiston: Like: We won’t know them. We don’t know her.
VFD: Did you grow up with siblings?
Lucy Blakiston: I’ve got three brothers.
VFD: And where do you sit in that?
Lucy Blakiston: I’m the second oldest. They’re all very sensitive beings and I am very loud. I think they've allowed me to assert my dominance a bit too much, and now I have this audacity in the way that I think I can start a media company. And having brothers, again, has been carrying forward to who I am.
VFD: How’s that?
Lucy Blakiston: You’ve got to stake your claim. You always have to fight for the one thing you want. And they’re also just real sensitive. I love it.
VFD: So then growing up there, I’m assuming you had some kind of dream about journalism or media?
Lucy Blakiston: Well, yeah. I thought that I was gonna be part of the UN, even though it’s like: Why would I think that? I'll dream big. And then I went to university and I was like: fuck, I don't understand any international crisis, I would be no good in a situation where I can't swear. Like, I'm just too loud and much too short and just don't work. And then I started studying media.
Some of my lecturers were like: There's no money in the media… Journalism's dying. And it’s like: I’m paying thousands to be here.
VFD: Yeah, I remember on my second day – it may have been this lecturer or a guest speaker – but he got everyone to stand up and then he’s like: Right, half of you sit down. Now another half. And now split in half once more. So there was about 12 people standing up. And he’s like: Those are the people that are gonna make money. That’s the people who are gonna get jobs. And I was just like: What a terrible thing to do. Actually, I wasn't even like that. I probably just took it into my mind as if they did that in every course. I was like: oh, yeah, they do that to the lawyers as well. And to the doctors. Like: here’s the old ‘you're not going to get work’ speech.
Lucy Blakiston: I know. The thing is, I don’t even blame them for it. Because definitely, when I was there, the media industry was in quite a dire state. It used to run on advertising and pop-up ads and shit like that. And I understand that this was a dying industry, but it’s still a unique one to go into.
But yeah, I just started saying to people: my job just doesn’t exist yet. Because I had no idea. And then I went out of university and I got a scholarship to go and work in Colombia – the country – and I don’t speak Spanish. So, again, that was very…
VFD: What were you doing?? What were you doing there?
Lucy Blakiston: So I went there and I interned for a bunch of futurists, which was a slightly buzzy job. And what they did was they consulted for companies in Spanish, I guess, and they tried to predict stuff. And they were also really good UX and UI designers but they’d be trying to do this virtual reality shit. Like, before we’d all heard about the metaverse and stuff like that.
And only in hindsight do I realise that I got this weird insight to what the future could look like. They also wrote sci fi stories, which they needed translated and edited into English. So, I mostly worked on Sci-Fi stories.
VFD: And you don’t speak Spanish? Are you just putting it into Google translate or something? Just guessing?
Lucy Blakiston: They were bilingual and I’d read it in English as well. But they just didn’t have the vocabulary or the flow, and nor did I. I had never studied writing and had never studied journalism. I just studied the media. So I have never learned how to write. I can write how I talk, which is a blessing and a curse. So I’m sure the books never got picked up by any publishers because it would have been like: Oh, yeah, this one was real shit. But it’s all good.
I just can't imagine it would have picked up.
And then I came home and then we went into lockdown. And then COVID started and Ruby got a job working in social media, Liv went back to uni to study design, and I went to work for a media company running their Instagram, and it all was in the hopes of levelling up to one day be able to do Shit You Should Care About.
Lucy Blakiston: And then we got this funding to make this web series. We decided: we actually can do this ourselves. And I'd learned enough about the industry to be like: well, we can do subscribers here and put an ad in the newsletter here and do some podcasts that we can monetize here. And it's still very haphazard, but I understand that.
VFD: But that’s the vibe as well, right? Like, I feel like if it wasn’t haphazard – not to dismiss your work like it’s shit or something – but if it didn’t have this frantic energy to it, and I wasn’t seeing it show up at 530AM in the morning with exclamation marks and fluorescent colours, I wouldn’t be like: OK – this is it.
Lucy Blakiston: Yeah, there is a calculation to the chaos – most of the time. But I like the frantic energy. I think it works.
VFD: Why do you think what you guys have done works?
Lucy Blakiston: I think it feels really accessible. Like, actually, if you’re a young person just wanting to found out about something you don’t get scared off by acronyms or big words or jargon.
Also, Liv, she's an artist first and foremost. But then she's a really good designer. And she understands the moment and what the young people want, and how to make something simple. And everything is very well thought out on her behalf, too.
I think it’s also because we don't take ourselves very seriously. So anyone that's reading it probably feels like they can either laugh at me or see themselves in me a little bit. And so it doesn't feel like I'm on a pedestal being like:… and people are protesting this right now. Because the climate is going to shit. No, it’s because the climate is shit that we're all out on the streets protesting, and ‘X’ and ‘Y’ made it this way. And here's what you can do about it.
I think it doesn't feel like I'm teaching them, I'm just having a yarn with them. Also, we've never had a target audience. So we have a very skewed audience –especially my newsletter audience. It's like 18 year-olds and then my 65 year-olds. They're like: I'll be your grandma, if you want. I'm like: please.
VFD: Who are now just obsessed with Harry Styles, like you, as well.
Lucy Blakiston: I know. I think that’s actually another thing. Because we’ve never had a target audience it’s always been about having quite a good gut instinct. So if I’m interested in this, there’s a very good chance that you will be as well. And also, if you’re interested, send me a DM or email. I wouldn’t have found out about this, or that, in any other way. And then I can write it out and push it to a bigger audience.
And then there's also the fandom aspect. I grew up being a big “One Direction” fan. I learned how to build a community, either from writing a blog post or building a website and using Photoshop. I was always so deeply embarrassed of those skills – I would never put them on a resume. I would never have thought that they would help me later in life. And now I'm merging the two worlds. Like, my interests in a fandom taught me all of this.
So I can show people that the skills that they're learning aren't dumb, and they're not stupid, and young woman are allowed to be fans of things just as much as boys are allowed to be fans of, like, sports.
And Harry Styles has been a big feature of Shit You Should Care About because I just like showing people that we're all interested in so many different things. We like to have fun. We don't take ourselves too seriously. And fandom can be really important to our community – it's just not something to be shit on. Sometimes it's quite parasocial and it can go too far. But for the most part, you get some good skills.
VFD: It’s great. It’s the news and current events but illustrated by Harry Styles. When I first started getting the newsletter it took me two weeks to realise that it was actually a consistent thing. Every couple of days I’d be like: Oh, they’ve used another photo of Harry Styles at the top. That’s interesting. They must be fans of Harry Styles. And then I realised that it’s literally every day. But there’s nothing wrong with that, obviously.
Lucy Blakiston: Yeah, it’s an interesting tactic that has worked. And obviously it helps that we love him. His sister follows us on Instagram and has DM’d us a few times. I’ve had to say: I have to address the elephant in the room. We love your brother. We use him to help people give a shit about stuff. And she’s like: Honestly, whatever will get people to care about stuff. Go for your life. So we’ve done that – we’ve addressed it with the family.
VFD: You’ve done your part.
Lucy Blakiston: Yeah.
VFD: Why do you think other media companies don’t do what you do? Like, I know that I can see a rising tide of traditional digital publications and traditional media publications trying to do what you do – but it’s never done very well. It’s kind of like watching a lawyer try to… do something a lawyer doesn’t do. My analogy is falling apart here.
Lucy Blakiston: No, I completely get what you mean. I get it. And I honestly think it’s because traditional media is almost too big. We’re a team of three, so we can pivot and change. And we can also operate very much like digital natives. Everything can change.
There's not a lot of infrastructure underpinning stuff. So for a bigger news organisation or media organisation it's just so hard to pivot. You often have investors that might not get it, and you have to plead your case. But I'm not pleading my case to anyone except for Ruby and Liv. And they’ll just be like: Well, it hasn’t gone badly before. So we’ll keep trying.
I think it’s a size thing as well. I don’t want us to grow to a huge team where we can’t put our phones down for the weekend or we can’t just try new ideas for fun because we’re too worried about paying ‘X’ amount of people.
It's not that we've got no pride. But we're not trying to live up to something. We're just being who we are. And I think other media organisations already have that reputation to upkeep and clients or people to keep happy. Right?
VFD: You don't have that?
Lucy Blakiston: I mean, we have partners that we work with, but we're very editorially independent with them. And again, we work with people that really just get us and want to be associated with us, rather than us needing to be associated with them. So for the meantime, it's working.
VFD: And you don’t have Ruby with the marketing just waiting to ramp it up and scale the business? She’s not like: Oh, we could reach ‘X’ amount more people…
Lucy Blakiston: I think because it’s based largely on my voice and the content is based on me, if I don’t have capacity we won’t work with a partner. And we don’t need to ramp it up like that. Liv and Ruby are very good. Ruby gets it as much as I do. And she knows that at the end of the day, if I don’t want to write or post about something we won’t work with someone. And yeah, we’re all just very much on the same page about not scaling too quickly just for the sake of it.
VFD: Yeah, well, that’s good. It sounds like you’ve got a pretty good thing going.
Lucy Blakiston: Oh, it’s just so much thinking. I think I've just done so much thinking. When people first meet me, I think they can often think I’m going to be quite meek and mild and maybe naive, because when you're young and you're bright on Instagram it can be easy to make that assumption. And then they tell me: you were the opposite of that. Because I get up and all I do is read the news or read about the media.
I don't know everything. I'm not an expert on anything. But I'm just very interested in the future of this. I find the media so important. And journalists so important. And the future of how this is gonna go is real interesting to me.
VFD: Yeah, me too. Well, thank you so much for talking.
Lucy Blakiston: Of course. You too!