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“”The great thing about Thought Catalog is that you can never say "this is the stupidest thing written on there today." Because there's always something worse. Always.
Thought Catalog is a site founded to host writing from anybody at all, on the frankly bizarre premise that "all thinking is relevant". They "strive for a value-neutral editorial policy governed by openness", where the only thing they won't publish is "visual pornography" or actually illegal content.
The result started as harmless inanity, but ended up, as untrammelled-free-speech boards so often do, a spectacular fountain of human awfulness.
The business model is that hate-reading horrible screeds from horrible people generates clicks just as effectively as heartwarming glurge for angsty college students. According to Quantcast, the site is one of the top 75 in the US. Basically, they've found a way to monetize shitposting.
How it works
Thought Catalog attempts to blur the line between "platform" and "publisher" in order to publish and profit from utter inanity at best and deliberately offensive odiousness at worst while disclaiming all responsibility. "We are, absolutely, a page-view-driven site even though we don’t want to be," says chief revenue officer Alex Magnin.
Notably, they disclaim the hateful stuff as "from outside contributors… published without editorial oversight or judgment", even though every word that goes up goes through the site's editors. Founder Chris Lavergne denies that the editorial judgement applied (greenlighting an article pitch, editing the submission, hitting "publish") constitutes "publishing".
Outside contributors are mostly not paid, though they can advertise their Thought Catalog Books ebooks on their profile pages. Sometimes Thought Catalog even eventually pays them for the ebook sales!
An undisclosed percentage of posts are sponsored advertorial, where staff writers are paired with advertisers directly to produce branded posts.
The catalog's most spectacular items
"Sometimes the purpose is merely to remind someone they aren’t alone in what they think; other times it’s to expose them to unfamiliar ways of thinking." Because gross racism and transphobia are things nobody would ever encounter anywhere else.
All of these were either written by a Thought Catalog employee or selected to be published by a Thought Catalog employee.
- "Transphobia Is Perfectly Natural" (12 August 2014) by Gavin McInnes. This lost McInnes his job at ad agency Rooster, which he co-founded, after disgusted readers organised a boycott of Rooster clients. Also led directly to Thought Catalog staff quitting and contributors publicly leaving the site. Other comedy hits from McInnes include "Hey, Ladies! Short Hair Is Rape" (28 March 2014) and "How To Survive Being An Asian Male" (9 April 2014). Having previously been a paid contributor, he now claims to be banned from the site (though his stuff is still up); he rapidly retreated back to Taki's Magazine.
- "Ferguson, Missouri Looks Like A Rap Video" (13 August 2014) by Anthony Rogers. Earned the Gawker headline "Thought Catalog Is Now A White Supremacist Publication". Other pieces from Rogers include "The Only Difference Between UFC And Gay Porn Is The Padded Gloves" and "11 Questions From a Craigslist Prostitute". Rogers later called the Ferguson piece "satire". He also said that he had pitched the article to a Thought Catalog producer before writing it, and that said producer found the photo as well.
- "Asian Women Need To Stop Dating White Men" (29 March 2014) by "Anne Gus", actually a piece by BodyBuilding.com troll AryanofValhalla. Also author of "Black Men Need To Stop Dating White Women" (5 April 2014).
- "Congratulations, You’ve Vaccinated Your Child And Now They’re Retarded" (18 February 2014) by David Dunning. He doubled down on the antivax with the followup, "Not Asking Questions About Childhood Vaccinations Makes You An Irresponsible Parent" (19 February 2014).
- Many pieces from Janet Bloomfield, a.k.a. JudgyBitch, of A Voice for Men. Particularly hilarious is "5 Examples Of Feminist Censorship That Will Make You Rethink Online Bullying" (8 December 2014), which documents the terrible things feminists have done in objecting to the work of ... Dean Esmay of AVfM, Milo Yiannopoulos and Dr. Phil Mason. "Yiannopoulos never tweeted anything that was even vaguely threatening, abusive or harassing", apparently.
- Many pieces by staffer Nicole Mullen, spectacularly "Can We Please Stop Pretending Like We Don’t All Have Racist Songs We Sing In Private?" (16 March 2015).
- "9 Signs Your Mental Illness Is Made Up For Attention" (17 July 2014) by Alexis Caputo. Not very many people were pleased about this.
- Many fine features (the ones he couldn't get into Taki's) from Jim Goad, who is actually a Thought Catalog staffer.
Thought Catalog was started by Chris Lavergne in 2010 as an outlet for college students to ramble about whatever fascinating thoughts popped into their heads. "If you just wanted to write an essay about whatever, you could publish with us."
In those innocent days, Gawker could describe it as "the Slate.com of urban 25-year-old creative writing majors (and their spiritual kin) who are incapable of being boring." The worst its critics could berate it for was narcissistic inanity and call it a "millennial angst engine".
Pretty soon the trolls arrived, looking for somewhere to post their stuff that had decent graphic design and looked like a real publication, but didn't have that "editorial standards" stuff that kept them out of more highfalutin shitlord sites like Taki's. Thought Catalog's name became a curse. But oh, those clickthroughs!
The McInnes and Rogers pieces hit the headlines in August 2014, and reasonable contributors started taking their stuff down, having realised that associating with Thought Catalog had suddenly become reputational poison. Staff left the company, and 53 contributors (to start with) asked that all their content be removed forthwith. Thought Catalog eventually did so, refusing where they thought they could get away with it and only dragging their feet a little bit where they couldn't. "That was particularly harmful," said Lavergne. "It hurt the staff. It was pretty crappy." (Decent humans searched for a sufficiently small violin.)
Stung by the controversy, Thought Catalog put McInnes' piece behind a click-through screen.
The Washington Post wrote an extensive article on the site's history and tribulations. Incensed, Magnin and Lavergne wrote to the editor, decrying the journalist's history as a "fanatical hater" of the site. The editor wrote back noting the piece's non-inflammatory tone, pointing out they had claimed zero factual errors and telling them to go away.
Actually good articles
There probably are some, but chances are you won't find them in the mountains of glurge, shot through with veins of racism and craziness. As Brooklyn Magazine noted, "Good writing is not just good thinking, it’s good judgment."
- The site. May not work if you're running an ad blocker, in which case count your blessings.
- [Gawker.com: archive.is, web.archive.org Gawker comment.]
- Thought Catalog's Reckoning (Zack Schonfield, Newsweek, 20 May 2015)
- Though around 750 in the US on Alexa.
- About (May 2014 snapshot); present until April 2015.
- Apparently it was the "fake trannies", not the "real trannies" who are "on my side", because "the hot thing with the kids today is pretending you’re transgendered." He speaks of this as "the article that shut down my life", though evidently it didn't shut it down so badly that he can't list what sucks about being rich.
- Gawker.com: archive.is, web.archive.org
- Inside the contradictory world of Thought Catalog, one of the Internet’s most reviled sites (Tim Herrera, Washington Post, 21 October 2014)
- Gawker.com: archive.is, web.archive.org
- Too Sincere for the Internet? How the Web Journal Thought Catalog Sparked an Online Firestorm (Heba Hasan, Time, 5 July 2012)
- I'm one of the writers requesting their work be removed from Thought Catalog (S.E. Smith, Daily Dot, 18 August 2014)
- Why 53 Writers Have Asked Thought Catalog To Remove Their Work (Callie Beusman, Jezebel, 19 August 2014)
- No, Thought Catalog, Not All Thought Is Relevant (Margaret Eby, Brooklyn Magazine, 15 August 2014)