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Chuck Klosterman wants you to talk about what he wrote — not how he wrote it

The essayist and author of “Chuck Klosterman X” talks about Taylor Swift and the future of journalism on Recode Media with Peter Kafka.

Chuck Klosterman hates magazine profiles that start with the subject’s first and last name (luckily, this post is not a magazine profile).

“Like, Peter Kafka overlooks the menu as he — you know, I hate that,” Klosterman said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. “I’ll do anything to avoid it. I think it just sounds better to use a pronoun than a person’s name. If the story starts with ‘she’ and Taylor Swift is pictured next to that story, no one’s going to be like ‘Who’s that? Who’s he talking about?’”

Klosterman is widely known for the essays, profiles and columns he has written for outlets like Esquire, Grantland and the New York Times Magazine, about people like Jimmy Page, Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant. His newest book, “Chuck Klosterman X,” assembles some of those writings into a “Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century.”

You can listen to the new podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, he explained how he tries to avoid some of the other common tropes of profile writing — like pretending that he and his subject are casually hanging out someplace, when in fact they’re only together because he is writing about them and they have something they want to promote.

“Some writers really hate the idea of ‘it’s just going to be dinner’ [with the subject] because they’re like, ‘What am I going to write about?’” Klosterman said. “I never feel that way. I almost prefer that. If someone reads something I write and the thing they come away talking about is the way the story is written, that means it didn’t work. They should come away talking specifically about something the subject said, that changed the way they now perceive them.”

He also explained why, when he profiled Taylor Swift for GQ, he didn’t write about what she was wearing or what she looks like, even though he would do that for a white male subject. For journalists and writers today, the reactions to what they have written have become an established part of the package.

“The thing is, it will change the way the story is received, particularly by people who don’t actually read the story,” Klosterman said. “They’ll just sort of isolate one part of the story and then the assumption will be that this is what the story must be about.”

“It’s not a meaningful enough detail to take that risk,” he added. “The ultimate idea is, you want people to read your work and to come away with an idea that they didn’t have before or to take an idea that was pre-existing in the culture and sort of shift it or morph it into something that illustrates its complexity. What you don’t want is to have a story just becomes someone else’s politics.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers all of the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts— and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Peter. Tune in next Thursday for another episode of Recode Media!


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