STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Two websites known for creative writing close at the end of the month. One is The Awl - that's A-W-L like the hand tool. A sister site is The Hairpin. Both are much admired. So what went wrong? NPR's Glen Weldon reports.
GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: It's easiest to say what The Awl and The Hairpin were by describing what they weren't. They weren't places you went for lazy listicles or click-bait quizzes. No, you kept The Awl and The Hairpin bookmarked for the writing - smart, vigorous writing on subjects that were personal and idiosyncratic. Best-selling author Mallory Ortberg got some of her first bylines at The Awl and The Hairpin as a young writer. Before that, she'd been a fan for years. For her, it represented...
MALLORY ORTBERG: An absolute beacon of everything I kind of wanted for my life. And so I started reading it pretty obsessively in between, like, applying to jobs on Craigslist and crying.
WELDON: Ortberg and scores of others made their bones writing about things like what McDonald's McRib sandwich says about society or crafting a set of acerbic fairy tales for the modern-day woman or doing a deep dive into the world of online product reviews with the headline, "Why Does This One Couch From West Elm Suck So Much?"
ORTBERG: There was an editorial vision and a sense of responsibility. Like, they weren't going to just unleash you saying something really stupid at 21 years old without kind of doing any sort of editorial work or reining in some of your worst impulses. There was a sense of, like, editorial care. But there was, within that, a ton of freedom in terms of topic and scope and voice.
WELDON: Voice especially - that was the key. The Awl and The Hairpin were breeding grounds for new writers, like the National Lampoon in the '70s, Spy magazine in the '80s, Sassy in the '90s and McSweeney's in the '00s. They were places someone could take their emerging writerly voice out for a test drive.
Both sites stayed true to that sensibility over the years, but the Internet changed around them. Revenue from online ads declined sharply. And though they spent the last few years scrambling to make it up, this media landscape just isn't a friendly one to independent general interest publishers - which is probably why two of The Awl's sister sites, The Billfold and Splitsider, which focused more narrowly on the worlds of finance and comedy, will remain for now.
It's still unclear if you'll be able to access the nine-year archive of Awl and Hairpin content after they close down at the end of the month. But whether you can or you can't, here's hoping the Awl's organizing principle, summed up in its tagline, will continue to inspire writers and readers alike. That tagline - be less stupid.
Glen Weldon, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOAKIM KARUD'S "LOVE MODE")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.