Taylor Lorenz, Tech Columnist at The Washington Post, on the Pros and Cons of Being “Extremely Online”

Taylor Masket
Taylor Masket
Feb 21, 2024

In Ep. 117 of Earned, Conor sits down with Taylor Lorenz, Technology Columnist at The Washington Post, and author of “Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet.”


We start the episode with an excerpt from Taylor’s recent essay in Marie Claire, and hear how she deals with the hate and harassment that runs rampant on the internet. Taylor explains what attracted her to journalism and why she’s a “techno-optimist,” before sharing which indie social platforms she’s into. Next, Conor asks Taylor how social media platforms could have a more positive impact on society, and Taylor shares why she believes more in data privacy than regulation.

We switch gears and learn about Taylor’s career in journalism, diving into her experiences writing for The Atlantic and The New York Times before joining The Post. Taylor reveals why she believes more journalists should get out of the traditional media structure and build up their own independent, personal brands, before sharing her thoughts on how AI will impact the publishing industry. We then talk about Taylor’s experience as a creator in her own right, and how she grew her own large following by breaking impactful stories. To close the show, we hear about the genesis of Taylor’s book, and what she learned during the writing process, before she reveals the biggest misconception people have about her. 

We’ve included a couple of highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, or tune into the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts!

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The following interview has been lightly edited for concision. 

“Every story I do has to have a really strong “why it matters’ part”: How Taylor Lorenz Built Her Career in Journalism 


Conor Begley: For others who want to follow your path, what do you think it is about your writing over time that has made people pay attention? Not just your writing, but the content that you produce. What are some of the reasons that you think it's done as well as it has?

Taylor Lorenz: At the time that I was writing about internet culture, it was not a beat that people were hiring for at mainstream news organizations. So, I think I was the first to break through and start writing about a lot of this stuff for a more mainstream audience.

I always feel like I'm the oldest internet culture reporter, but I think you also have to say why things matter. There's so much trend journalism that just says, “this is just going to be a trend,” and they don't properly contextualize it. I feel like every story I do has to have a really strong “why it matters” part. So it's like, here's what's happening on TikTok, or here's this weird thing that you've never seen, but here's what it says about media, technology, business. [People] don't just want to know that sea shanties are trending or whatever. Maybe that's useful, but you really want to understand the deeper [meaning]. Why is that happening? What does that say about culture? What are those insights? Because then you can do something with that. I always just try to have the “why it matters.” A lot of articles, when you read them, you realize they never answered that question. 

And I will say to any journalist, the way to get a name in journalism is to break news. That's the only way. That's what gets you attention. Even if people were ignoring my early work, I was breaking so many stories that had major business implications. As a journalist, you have to be able to do that. And it's more valuable because I think writing can get replaced by AI, but if you uncover fraud in a company or actually uncover information, people value that.

“I wish there was a book that really told the history of the content creator industry”: Why Taylor Lorenz Wrote Her Book “Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet”   


Conor Begley: Let's talk about your book. So one, what made you decide to write a book?
Why is this the topic that you focused on? And then, what was the process for actually writing it?

Taylor Lorenz: So I came up as a blogger, and a lot of websites that I've written for, some of my earliest bylines, are not even on the internet anymore. And when you write for the web, you're just working in this really ephemeral medium of the internet. 

When the pandemic hit and everybody was sort of shoved online, I think people really started to pay attention to my work and internet culture as a whole, because everyone was sort of living it for a while. You saw these venture capitalists come into the industry. I'm sure you remember in 2020, 2021, when they started talking about “the creator economy,” which we've all sort of been in for a while, but I think you saw this renewed attention. 

There was a lot of revisionism happening, specifically from the venture capitalists in Silicon Valley who had pretty much maligned the entire industry for a decade, and then suddenly were like, “wait a minute, MrBeast, David Dobrik,” and it kind of irked me. I was like, I wish there was a book that really told the history of the content creator industry, because there's “Like, Comment, Subscribe” by Mark Bergen, [which is a] great book on YouTube, Sarah Frier's “No Filter,” great book on Instagram, these platform-specific books that really tell the story of the rise of specific platforms, but I didn't feel like there was a book that zoomed out and told the history from the user's side of the rise of the content creator world, and so I wanted to write a more platform-agnostic book that actually talked about the relationships between these platforms and how we all became content creators. 

Keep up with new episodes of Earned by following the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, or subscribing to our YouTube channel. To catch up on our previous episodes, featuring leaders from brands like Revolve, K18, Instagram, and Roblox, visit our Earned Podcast page.