And one song to read by: “Call Me When You Want Me,” by Love Apple
Happy Friday, Lyters, and congratulations on surviving yet another week of sourdough starters on Instagram.
Today’s interview is with Vox’s Terry Nguyen, whom I met when she wrote for Study Breaks many moons ago. At the time, she was but a humble student journalist at the University of Southern California, but from the beginning I could tell she was going to be one of the most talented writers I would get to work with.
After her time with Study Breaks, she proved me right and began nabbing just about every prestigious internship you can get as a young writer, and shortly after graduation she landed her first post-grad job at Vox and moved to New York City.
She is also the author of one of the few newsletters with a title better than Medialyte, called GenYeet, and she is currently working on a fiction-writing project on top of her normal work. Enjoy!
Who: Terry Nguyen, staff reporter at Vox.com, The Goods
Broadly speaking, what do you cover for Vox?
What is The Goods?
Vox launched The Goods vertical in September 2018 to report on consumer culture and trends. Previously, the site stood on its own as Racked.com, which was more fashion-focused, but lately we’ve gravitated more toward business-type reporting with an emphasis on technology and pop culture.
My coworker, Rebecca Jennings, focuses more on pop culture and the trendy elements of what's happening online, and I do more technology and travel. Although recently, with Covid-19, everyone has been head’s down doing coronavirus coverage, in whatever way that pertains to people spending their money.
What’s your favorite thing to cover?
Since I’ve been working from home, I think it’s been a really great opportunity to write more about youth culture, millennials and Generation Z, and the unique problems that this generation faces when it comes to what’s happening with coronavirus – from unemployment, to my stimulus check story. I also have something coming out later about students who might be taking a gap year or changing their college decision. That’s a new niche that I’ve recently began focusing on.
Prior to that, some of my more widely read stories that went semi-viral online were transportation stories – I did a series on air travel, airplane food, why there’s no space to bring your carryon luggage, etc. But now that no one’s traveling, I’ve transitioned from that beat into something more specific on youth culture.
How would you say Covid-19, financially, is affecting the 18-24-year-old demographic you cover?
Essentially if you’re not from a well-off, employed family, you’re likely to be making your own money and struggling. And young people are more likely to be service workers, more likely to be at the bottom of the corporate ladder. So those entry-level jobs, when it comes to a hiring freeze or cutting back jobs, are likely first on the cutting block.
What I’ve liked about my reporting is that I’ve gotten to really segue into Gen-Z-specific troubles: whether that’s them struggling to find work or deciding whether to go to college or take a gap year.
Choices in our life that we didn’t have to think so hard about until now.
Vox just furloughed 9% of its workforce. What’s the atmosphere like in your team Zoom calls?
I’m a member of the Vox Media Union, so I’m in solidarity with everyone who’s been laid off and I support whatever the union is doing. I’m really grateful for their advocacy work in getting us a three-month cap on no layoffs, which allows every union employee across Vox to do their work and have a greater peace of mind. As a young reporter, I'm just grateful that my work would be advocated for by my colleagues.
Editor’s Note: For a clearer picture of the union’s work, check out its Twitter.
What’s one trend in media/journalism that you predict will gain popularity this year?
Within the past two years, with reporters like Taylor Lorenz and my colleague Rebecca Jennings, people have been focusing more on Gen-Z and high school and teen culture. I remember seeing Business Insider hire a teen-culture reporter, and I think that’s really fascinating.
Five years ago, there wouldn’t have been any content on The Atlantic, for instance, that focused on me as a young person. I think that it’s fascinating that prestige outlets are looking online, finding kids’ trends and reporting on them.
What does your media diet look like?
There’s a real split between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic. Right now I’ve been struggling to read news articles that are anything other than long-form articles about the pandemic – that’s probably the only thing I’m reading long-form wise.
Before the pandemic, I used to read a lot of newsletters. I really like The Lily from The Washington Post – I also used to intern for them. It’s part of their emerging news product team, and it’s a site solely dedicated to news about women, which is really cool. I like the detail they put into their newsletter; it’s not just, “Oh we published these stories,” it’s more, “Oh there’s a narrative to this newsletter and there are illustrations,” which makes me excited to read.
I subscribe to a decent number of Substacks – I do subscribe to Medialyte now! Deez Links by Delia Cai of Buzzfeed; I used to read whatever she sent out. I subscribe to a lot of Buzzfeed’s things.
Tell me about your newsletter, GenYeet.
I started GenYeet last year. I was an intern in D.C. and had a lot of downtime. I was interning for the Chronicle of Higher Education, so I was doing a lot of higher-ed writing, some of which was pretty dry, and I didn’t feel like I was able to get voice-y.
So I created the newsletter with some broad Gen-Z topics, because I felt like people were writing about millennials a lot and I wanted to – I know this sounds totally stupid – represent my generation. Obviously every generation is so different, there are so many different people demographic-wise, but I created it because I wanted to create a news digest.
But over time, especially when I started at Vox, it became more of a personal blog. Now, especially that I’m doing so much reporting in this youth-culture sphere, I’m trying to figure out what kind of voice I want GenYeet to be. The way I see it moving is more of a personal kind of newsletter. There are a lot of writers I admire, like Anne Helen Peterson, that have their own Substack, which is completely separate from her work. It’s just her writing about her life and how she’s approaching what she’s reporting on.
Granted that does sound really boring, because GenYeet’s success really came from what it was before, but it still is something I’m really trying to figure out. A lot of it comes down to content. Just because I have space in someone’s inbox, I shouldn’t send out an edition every time I feel like it. I really believe in quality over quantity.
What’re you watching right now?
“The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” and I’m trying to watch more French cinema, just because I’m bored at home.
What’re you listening to?
I listen to a lot of Sam Cooke. I feel like it’s very homey; his voice is very soothing. I also listen to a lot of bossa nova.
What’re you reading?
I just finished “Lolita.” I also just read “In Watermelon Sugar,” which is a really short story published in the ’60s. I’m also reading “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” which feels very of these times.
What have you been doing to cope with Covid?
I started baking. I really do feel like my culinary skills are that of a very inept college student, and I have not progressed from there. I’ve gotten better, but I don’t feel like I’ve picked up anything new. I bought a weight set, so now I work out at home. Basically I bake, I work out, I read and I write.