Lurking on the Internet Is Ryan Broderick's Full Time Job
Ryan Broderick has been writing about the internet since he was 19, before TikTok was even a whisper in the air and internet celebrities were only just starting to be known outside of the 1280 x 720 screens of YouTube. The rich, complicated history of the internet can get somewhat flattened in the day-to-day coverage of its now-mainstream culture. Broderick’s newsletter Garbage Day is a welcome reprieve—even if it is about, say, a tattoo of actor Christopher Meloni peeing.
“The joke I made at the beginning was that I was turning 30 and I was afraid that I would no longer know what memes were, and this could be a fun project to document stuff that I didn't really know what to do with,” Broderick says over the phone, recalling his decision to launch the newsletter in the spring of 2019. “Because when you write about technology and you write about politics, you end up with all these weird stories that you're just like, I don't know what to do, but I want to tell people about these things.”
Weird stories like “the man who tried to attack Black Lives Matter protesters with a machete in Dallas writes My Little Pony fanfiction” and “Keemstar has the lowest-rated feet on WikiFeet” don’t even top the subject lines of Brodrick’s thrice-weekly dispatch, which he turned into a full-time endeavor after losing his job at BuzzFeed over the summer.
“The support has just been kind of mindblowing,” he says, revealing that Garbage Day started with around 1,000 to 2,000 subscribers and has only grown from there.
Ahead, Broderick explains how he made the switch from working at a traditional media outlet to running his own personal publication, and how he still manages to playfully cover the internet during an increasingly sinister time in its history.
How did you end up on the “weird internet” beat?
In my early twenties, I was reading places like 4Chan and I was hanging out at places like Tumblr and I was noticing that people were trying to write about it, but they weren't really totally clear on how to explain what was happening. It seemed really easy to me to just be like, Okay, here's all the players here, how this works. And like a lot of people, I was extremely shocked in 2016 when all of this stuff became the biggest story in the world [due to Trump winning the election]. Now I almost feel like the meter has moved too far to the serious side. It's not that I want to underplay QAnon and all that stuff, but I do think that the internet's infrastructure is like a subway system: You can have really bad stuff and you can also have really interesting stuff.
So many people are leaving traditional media jobs to start newsletters. What has the biggest adjustment been for you?
There are a lot of people right now trying to answer this question of, “What does success look like?” And people are obsessed with newsletters. I was literally in a Twitter fight because people expect newsletters to be this revolution in publishing or something. I think if you're [coming] from the viral swamp, the content sweatshop, there's this feeling like you have to be going viral constantly, and going viral constantly means that you're not really getting human beings reading you. You're getting Facebook ghosts.
I like to think that [with] Garbage Day, it's like, Oh, I can talk to people. My readers email me and I talk to them and I know some of their names. It feels very mid-2000s message board, but it's nice. It's nice to remember the internet isn't just chasing traffic. There's people that want to talk about stuff and they want to communicate.
Despite being called Garbage Day, the newsletter itself is pretty charming and uplifting. Is that a conscious choice?
When I'm putting [the newsletter] together, I always try to make sure I'm not being scoldy because I remember older people when I was in my 20s who were deriding everything online and saying it was bullshit and talking about how it was ruining the planet and stuff. And I don't want to be one of those people. I want to call it like I see it and be clear, but I want to also be sort of positive.
In the last six months readers have begun to show me stuff that they're seeing or they're asking questions about stuff. The Internet's gigantic and there's no way I can look at it all. Even just yesterday, a guy sent me a YouTube channel that just reviews elevators. That's totally insane. I've never heard of that. And there's a ton of drama apparently going on in the elevator YouTube community.
In terms of the disturbing stuff, if there was a dial that went up to 10, I always try to keep Garbage Day at like a 6.5. I don't want it to be stressful for people.
What’s the difference between the free and paid version of Garbage Day?
Garbage Day is a little bit of reporting and a lot of aggregation and taking things from around the web and putting them together in a way that's clear and understandable. I felt kind of icky about putting that sort of thing behind a paywall. So I started doing a thing every other week where I just interview people that I'm interested in talking to. It may connect to what's going on in the world. But also it could just be like a cool musician I like on YouTube who I think is doing fun stuff. So that's what I put behind the paywall.
I tried to set it up as cheaply as possible, too, because I didn't want to write something for 50 people. I wanted it to be shared and talked about and forwarded. And I know from the metrics that people are pirating it, which is funny. The views on the paid ones are higher than the amount of people paying for it. It's being passed around. And like, that's kind of cool. I like that.
Is Garbage Day your main source of income?
It is definitely steady enough that I can use it as my anchor job. Over the last four months, I've done some freelance projects, but so far Garbage Day has—shockingly—been growing steadily enough that I can breathe a little bit easier. If you read it at the very top, I try to be as up front as possible. I'm just like, This is my main project, if you want it to be.
What are your other income streams?
The three things that I've been spending most of my time on creatively right now are the newsletter, a podcast that I do with my friends, and a Twitch show Hoobastank2 that I do with a couple of comedians I know and some journalists. But the reason I picked those three things is because the podcast has a Patreon, so if you want to support the podcast, you can do that. Substack, which is what my newsletter runs on, has a subscription service built in. And Twitch, more so than YouTube, allows subscriptions and payments. I'm interested in the models that don't require millions of views to support ad revenue. I'm interested in media companies that connect with people and make stuff that people like instead of things that people read out of stress [over] … I think we're all going through this really intense change in how we want to read stuff and how we want to communicate.