Heartfelt thanks, and a request
As Lean Out approaches its second anniversary, I’d like to pause and take a moment to thank you for your support. It means a lot to me, both as a journalist and a person.
These past two years have easily been the most exciting and satisfying of my career, and I have you to thank for that. It is tremendously rewarding to be able to follow my journalistic instincts and tell the stories that I think most need to be told — and that are not getting told elsewhere.
I’m able to do this for one reason and one reason only: I don’t have to fear for my livelihood.
Your subscriptions have freed me to do the work that I think most needs to be done.
Your support has come in many other forms, too: social media posts; encouraging emails that arrive at just the right moment; comments on articles; and reviews on Apple podcasts, which influence the algorithms and send more listeners my way. And of course, recommending Lean Out to friends, family, and co-workers. Meanwhile, your thoughtful criticism has pointed out my blind spots, sharpened my thinking, and helped me to grow as a journalist. I appreciate each and every gesture, and I feel honoured to have you as members of this growing community.
Lean Out kicked off with a viral moment, but there was no guarantee that it would be a success. In fact, the odds were stacked against it, as a niche Substack mainly about heterodox current affairs books — in a collapsing media ecosystem that has little interest in books and ignores dissenting voices (when it’s not antagonizing them).
I had a strong sense, however, that there was an audience for work that rejects the orthodoxies of the day, that champions viewpoint diversity. That aims for calmness, curiosity, and open-mindedness. And that insists on respecting the public’s ability to make up its own mind about the complex issues we face.
My aim was to build a platform to facilitate the conversations that weren’t happening in legacy media. And in doing so, to help widen the Overton window of ideas considered acceptable for discussion and debate.
The response to Lean Out has surpassed anything that I could have anticipated. Since launching in January of 2022, this Substack has had close to five million views, and now has readers in 109 countries and all 50 states in the U.S. The podcast, meanwhile, has listeners in 150 countries and almost 5,000 cities.
Lean Out’s audience includes people from all walks of life — politicians, physicians, social scientists, doormen, farmers, truckers, and mechanics. Executives and filmmakers subscribe to Lean Out. So do comedians, animators, podcasters, novelists, and musicians. As well as policy scholars, lawyers, academics, veterans, teachers, rabbis, and pastors. And, yes, even mainstream media journalists.
Lean Out readers have radically different points of view and political affiliations. What unites us is a desire for free and open debate about the big issues of our age.
I can’t tell you how much hope this gives me.
I have a request for you today, dear reader — please become a paid subscriber. But first, let’s recap what we’ve accomplished this past year, together.
Lean Out had a big year in 2023. We have posted 145 times so far, including publishing 47 new episodes of the podcast. We’ve continued to use the editorial freedom that you afford us to venture into complex and controversial subject matter.
Given the current crisis in the Canadian media, the journalism industry has been a major area of coverage for us. We have heard from prominent American media critics, such as Batya Ungar-Sargon, author of Bad News, and Steve Krakauer, author of Uncovered. And this summer, we did a series specifically on the collapse of the Canadian media, speaking to The Line editor Jen Gerson, former CRTC vice chair Peter Menzies, law professor Michael Geist, media critic Marc Edge, former CBC executive Sue Gardner, The Hub’s executive director Rudyard Griffiths, and Blacklock’s Reporter publisher Holly Doan. (I also sat on a panel for the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, with Peter Menzies and The Globe and Mail’s Andrew Coyne, about the future of the CBC.)
Elsewhere at Lean Out, we have interrogated the pitfalls of DEI with Atlantic writer Conor Friedersdorf, academics Amna Khalid and Jeff Snyder, and authors Winkfield Twyman Jr. and Jennifer Richmond — and we’ve explored the dark side of DEI trainings with Free Press staff writer Rupa Subramanya, who reported on the tragic suicide of Toronto principal Richard Bilkszto.
We have analyzed “woke” politics with comedian and broadcaster Andrew Doyle, author Freddie deBoer, professors Yascha Mounk and Wilfred Reilly, philosopher Susan Neiman, journalist Brendan O’Neill, and academic Eric Kaufmann.
We have done a deep-dive into conservative feminism, too, interviewing Mary Harrington, Erika Bachiochi, Mary Eberstadt, and Andrea Mrozek. And we have explored the tensions between trans issues and women’s rights with podcaster Katie Herzog, newspaper columnist Hadley Freeman, and choreographer Rosie Kay.
We have covered the opioid crisis, economic inequality, and the West’s declining birthrate. As well as generational change, loneliness, politicization and public trust, and the Canadian criminal justice system.
We have interviewed Compact Magazine founder Sohrab Ahmari on corporate power, and author and columnist Michael Lind on the impact of depressed wages on everything from loneliness and falling fertility to the culture wars. Also, New York Times reporter Michael Forsythe on the outsized influence of McKinsey & Company.
We have covered the fallout from pandemic policy in Canada, with constitutional lawyer Joanna Baron, and abroad, with epidemiologist Mark Woolhouse. Add to that, fellow Substacker Paul Wells joined the podcast to discuss his important book, An Emergency in Ottawa, about the inquiry into the invocation of the Emergencies Act.
We have also mused about writing and reading and culture, with Canadian authors Stephen Marche, Tom Rachman, Bruce Geddes, Lydia Perović, and Jason Guriel. And about homesteading, with American reporter Olivia Reingold.
You asked for more essays this year — and you got them, with pieces from me on sexual politics and feminism, Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern, the implosion of the progressive left, masculinity, colourblindness, brokenism, advice for young journalists, the magic of newsrooms, localism, journalism’s big mistake, Internet writing, antisemitism, the left’s wake-up call, and how to do diversity without division. I also covered a recent panel featuring Canadian media leaders, including CBC executives, on public trust. (Plus, you can read my new essay on women and cancel culture here.)
One of my main goals this fall was to expand Lean Out to include other voices. Until then, I had done the bulk of the work at Lean Out on my own. But journalism is not meant to be a solitary pursuit. It should be a collective endeavor.
So I was beyond thrilled to be able to feature essays from guest contributors, including literary luminaries such as William Deresiewicz and Meghan Daum, and rising stars such as Freya India. And soon reporter Luke Ettinger will make his Lean Out debut, writing about local news.
I was lucky enough to be supported throughout the fall by current affairs producer extraordinaire Harrison Lowman, who also covered the phenomenon of ‘presentism’ for us — and joined me on the podcast to unpack the Munk Debate on liberalism.
Reader, you did this. And I cannot thank you enough for funding our work.
For the first two years of our existence, every single Lean Out podcast was free to the public, as was almost every single essay. And so far, we have not had any podcast ads.
We have not accepted — nor will we ever accept — government press subsidies.
We think there is enormous value in such independence, and in the reader-supported model that Substack is pioneering. There’s value in demonstrating that it is still possible to build a sustainable media outlet, even in a climate of severe contraction.
The way we do this is by listening to the public. By prioritizing serving the public.
My desire is for the focus at Lean Out to be firmly on the work that we bring you, and on scaling up our newroom. To do this, we need your support. We need you to become a paid subscriber.
As we head into 2024, I would like to ask you to consider helping us grow.
As it stands, our ratio of unpaid to paid subscribers sits at about 14:1. If you have been appreciating our work, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. Or, if you are already a subscriber, please think about upgrading to a founding membership.
Subscribing now, at the end of the year, will help us plan for 2024. We want to build a small hub for journalism — a micro-newsroom dedicated to the values of open inquiry, curiosity, and respect. Subscribing now will help us to increase our output, expand our areas of coverage, grow our team, and bring more perks and more value to paid subscribers.
Your support today will help us thrive in 2024 — and set a positive example of innovation in Canadian media. It will also send a strong message to other outlets, in an era of declining public trust, about what you want and need from your press corps.
We’d love to know, either by email or in the comments section, what you’d like to see more of. What concerns you most these days? What kinds of stories surprise and delight you? Who has been your favourite podcast guest? What do you feel is missing from the public conversation? Who would you like to hear us interview? Would you be interested in Lean Out live events and meet-ups?
Most of all, though, we’d like to thank you again for helping Lean Out do the seemingly impossible: Build a sustainable media outlet.
Let’s aim big for 2024 and see what we can accomplish — together.
Lean Out with Tara Henley is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.