Lean Out turns one
What a year! Many thanks to subscribers for your support and encouragement.
A year ago today, I was sitting in front of my laptop, blasting M.O.P.’s “Ante Up Remix” and trying to work up the courage to publish my first post.
I had recently resigned from my role as a full-time current affairs radio producer at the CBC, where I was assigned to a show called Ontario Morning, on contract until December 2022. I was also a monthly on-air books columnist for the province’s morning radio shows, and a mentor for new journalists in my newsroom.
In the 18 months leading up to my exit, I had become increasingly concerned about a stifling atmosphere at our national broadcaster, which, to me, felt dominated by groupthink.
I worried that the balance of our coverage had tipped in favour of the so-called “woke” ideology, and that this was narrowing the viewpoints represented on-air. I worried that a disproportionate amount of resources were being spent covering identity politics stories, while stories on the material conditions of Canadian’s lives — issues of broad concern, such as housing, precarious work, economic inequality, and the overdose epidemic — were less of an editorial priority.
I worried that our coverage of racial issues had taken an extreme turn, that we were treating entire races as monoliths, obscuring class-based, educational, regional, religious, and political differences. I worried that our coverage could wind up stoking societal divisions and turning off scores of listeners.
I worried, too, that the network’s COVID coverage uncritically accepted the government line. That vaccine mandates, and school closures, and lockdowns had not received the public debate that such sweeping policy changes warranted. And that our arts and culture coverage catered to a small minority of activist-minded Canadians.
I argued these points behind-the-scenes for many months, to no avail.
So I resigned, set out on my own at Substack, and wrote about it all in my first essay.
I could never have anticipated what happened next. The post went viral and started a sweeping public conversation, both in our country and beyond. I heard from fellow journalists, at home and abroad, who shared my concerns. And I received a deluge of mail from the public, which continues to this day.
An audience grew up around me, willing to fund the kind of current affairs journalism that I believe in, and aspire to — a model based on critical thinking, fairness, open inquiry, curiosity, and respect for unorthodox viewpoints.
Happily, it turns out the public has a huge appetite for this kind of journalism. Lean Out’s audience now spans 135 countries and more than 2900 cities.
You, the Lean Out audience, are journalists and podcasters and filmmakers and novelists and musicians and comedians. You are lawyers and professors and policy scholars and social scientists and politicians. You are mechanics and doormen and farmers and veterans. You are teachers and pastors and physicians.
Together, as a community, we represent many different backgrounds, beliefs, and political orientations. What we share in common is a commitment to free and open debate around the big issues of our time — work we will continue, together, in 2023.
Sitting at my laptop a year later, it’s difficult to put words to the gratitude that I feel.
Thank you all for all of your support — and for joining me on this wild ride.
It has been tremendously satisfying to cover the issues that I think are most pressing, to speak to the guests that I think are most interesting, and to ask the questions that I feel most need to be asked.
This has been the opportunity of a lifetime. I hope that I have used it well.
Lean Out has had an extremely productive year, publishing 165 times throughout 2022 — bringing you podcast interviews with writers and thinkers, podcast transcripts, opinion pieces, written Q&As with authors, and Weekend Reads essays.
We have delved into the opioid epidemic and the housing crisis, populism and political polarization. The lab leak theory and school closures and the censorious, toxic nature of the COVID debate. Cults. The Queen. Working-class kitchen culture. #MeToo feminism,“toxic femininity,” and the downsides of the sexual revolution. The social and economic status of boys and men.
We have considered belief perseverance, guilt by association, the implosion of the food world, and the state of comedy. We have talked through the literary culture wars and cowardice, and the new puritanism.
We have heard from some of the world’s most prominent advocates for free speech, including Nadine Strossen and Greg Lukianoff and Amna Khalid in America, Jacob Mchangama in Denmark, and Andrew Doyle in the UK.
We have talked in-depth about race, hearing from Jamil Jivani and Samuel Sey on critical race theory, Ian Rowe on education, Jason Riley on economics, Eli Steele on identity politics, and Christine Louis-Dit-Sully on humanism.
Another major focus for the Lean Out community has been the media. We kicked off the first episode of the Lean Out podcast with an interview with Newsweek editor Batya Ungar-Sargon, author of Bad News: How Woke Media is Undermining Democracy. We went on to debate media groupthink and the fraying media consensus, and the Munk Debate on public trust in the mainstream media. And to have numerous conversations about the state of the press with journalists — and a journalism professor — including Amanda Ripley, Meghan Daum, Freddie deBoer, Leighton Woodhouse, Holly Doan, Steve Paikin, and Bridget Phetasy.
But the big story of the year was undoubtedly the protests against vaccine mandates.
When I went independent, these mandates were still not a topic of mainstream public debate. I published my first piece on this issue, a Q&A with Canadian social scientist Dionne Pohler, the day after the truckers started their cross-country drive to Ottawa. I subsequently used my editorial freedom to take an unpopular position in favour of the trucker’s rights to free expression, and to interview critics of the government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act.
Here at Lean Out, as a community, we continued to follow this story throughout the year, hearing from Rupa Subramanya, who broke the story that the Canadian travel mandates had no scientific basis, and Kevin Bardosh, the Canadian lead author on a BMJ Global Health paper on the consequences of vaccine policy.
It’s been quite a year. And we’re just getting started.
In 2023, I’ll continue to expand the podcast, offering more episodes (and, of course, transcripts). I’ll aim to produce several live-streamed events for paid subscribers. And I’ll up my output of opinion essays — something that readers have been asking for for some time.
Lean Out is mainly a one-woman operation at this point, but I’d like to eventually hire a podcast producer, an editor, and a reporter.
Please do consider renewing your subscription for 2023, or, if you are not yet a paid subscriber, signing up to be one.
And thank you. Thank you for all of your support this past year. It has meant the world to me to be able to do this work.
I look forward to an action-packed 2023 with you all.
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.