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Weekly reads from CJR for July 29, 2021

Clare Malone on Philip DeFranco

If you don’t know about Philip DeFranco, you’re missing out on what he calls “the swing of the new normal.” According to the Pew Research Center, at least a quarter of adults get their news from YouTube, where DeFranco hosts an eponymous show for 7 million subscribers—1.7 million more than a recent week’s viewership of the CBS Evening News. “To the uninitiated,” Clare Malone writes, “DeFranco’s YouTube dialect and cadence can be jarring: lots of ‘Hit that like button or else I will punch you in the throat’ mixed with jump cuts and hand-and-eyebrow emoting.” But as an elder millennial, he presents himself as a reliable alternative to traditional media; he has “a compelling way of talking through chewy politics stories and buzzy entertainment items by plucking intersecting threads of culture, business, and shifting norms.” Having established himself over the course of a decade-plus—as stable a presence as one might hope for in the realm of online video—DeFranco has become a model for a recently emergent category: the journalist-influencer.

“DeFranco isn’t cosplaying the role of newsman,” Malone observes. “He understands that people come to him because he’s forthcoming with his takes.” His audience—66 percent male—is self-selecting; DeFranco solicits their engagement in comments and replies to them via text (his phone number is public). He’s open about his personal life: childhood hardships, weight gain; when he proposed to his wife (a former YouTube influencer), he livestreamed it. “All that trust has allowed DeFranco to cash in,” Malone writes. He sells ads against his show; he has a Patreon; he hawks a collection of “Emotionally Exhausted” merchandise and a line of hair-care products called Beautiful Bastard. “If you want to make any kind of sustainable living while operating in today’s balkanized media market,” Malone finds, “building a loyal audience is key.” DeFranco’s success reveals “quite a bit about who America wants its journalists to be.” —Betsy Morais, managing editor

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