Brow Beat

Every TV Character Suddenly Writes for the Internet

Which show gets it right?

Photo collage of Ryan (Ryan O'Connell) from the TV show Special, Jane (Katie Stevens) from The Bold Type, Annie (Aidy Bryant) from Shrill, and Mike (Matt Walsh) from Veep poking out of a laptop screen.
Annie (Aidy Bryant) from Shrill, Jane (Katie Stevens) from The Bold Type, Ryan (Ryan O’Connell) from the TV show Special, and Mike (Matt Walsh) from Veep.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash, Netlfix, NBC, Hulu, and HBO.

I’ve never thought of my job, writing for the internet, as particularly cinematic or dynamic to witness. It’s basically me slumped over a computer all day. That’s why it’s so strange that, all of a sudden, so many TV characters now seem to be earning their keep the same way I do. On The Bold Type, Jane has left Scarlet’s print mag to be a digital writer for “the dot com”; on Shrill, Annie writes a blog post called “Hello, I’m Fat” that earns her many fans and at least one troll; on Special, Ryan gets a job as an unpaid intern at a site called Eggwoke; and on Veep, former press secretary Mike lands work covering the campaign trail for BuzzFeed (the “print edition,” he specifies, which basically doesn’t exist). Seeing as how I’m uniquely qualified to assess these shows’ depictions of blogging life, I decided to evaluate how they’re each doing by awarding points for realistic details and detracting points for blatant distortions (or “four-Pinocchio falsehoods,” as we call them in the biz). At the end, I’ll bestow an award for honesty in (television) media. I just hope my findings won’t stop Jane and co. from inviting me to the next industry happy hour.

Special (Netflix)

Scenario: Ryan has a co-dependent relationship with his mom, whom he still lives with when the show begins.

Fact check: Nope (-1). Even the bloggers who are in co-dependent relationships with their parents decamp for Brooklyn and maintain those ties over FaceTime.

Ryan’s friend and co-worker Kim is in massive debt. She drives for an Uber-esque service and returns clothes after wearing them.

Fact check: Yep (+1). Credit card debt is the only millennial experience more universal than ’90s nostalgia, especially for a lifestyle blogger.

On Ryan’s first day at Eggwoke, the editor, Olivia, explains, “Eggwoke is undergoing a little creative face-lift right now. The humor pieces were cute, but they didn’t resonate with the larger audience of basics. So instead we’ve started publishing confessional essays, like ‘50 Ways to Hate Myself,’ or ‘Why Do I Keep Finding Things Inside My Vagina?’ ”

Fact check: Yep (+1). Online publications love a pivot almost as much as they love the first-person industrial complex.

Olivia also says, “OK you guys, listen up, I need viral content now. Samantha, remember when you told everyone about the unexpected orgasm you had during your abortion?”

Fact check: Nope (-1)—only because editors find ways to communicate essentially this message in words that don’t sound quite so harsh.

Kim’s articles on badass feminist body positivity and loving her curves perform really well.

Fact check: Yep (+1), as anyone who’s browsed Refinery29, Bustle, or any number of women’s interest sites knows … though that field is admittedly less robust than it used to be.

As a pasty blogger, Ryan is afraid to take his clothes off at a pool party.

Fact check: Yep (+1). What can I say? Highly relatable.

The boss jokingly refers to a straight white man as a “diversity hire.”

Fact check: C’mon (-1). Despite the wokeness revolution of the past few years, straight white men dominate online media.

Ryan eventually gets hired for a job … but it’s a freelance gig with no health benefits.

Fact check: Yep (+1). As Splinter has written, “ ‘full-time freelance’ is just the industry standard.” Congrats, Ryan!

Veep (HBO)

Mike’s editor reminds him that he’s supposed to be posting 10 times a day.

Fact check: Nope (-1). Maybe in 2007 or so, but circa 2019, even the most productive bloggers aren’t doing much more than … four? … posts per day. Tweets, on the other hand …

Mike is completely unqualified to work as a journalist (in addition to being borderline unqualified for most everyday human tasks). When he tells an official at the Chinese consulate “Remembering things and reporting them back to people is not my strong suit,” he’s not exaggerating.

Fact check: Nope (-1) … just barely. The bar in journalism may be low, but most of us can handle literally hearing something and repeating it.

Mike has trouble meeting his post quota, so one of his colleagues gives him some speed.

Fact check: Yep (+1). Though I personally couldn’t speak to it, nor could anyone at Slate, I’ve heard about this kind of thing happening.

Despite his job at a new media startup, Mike has an AOL email address. And when it gets hacked, he changes it—to another confusing, many-numbers-containing AOL address.

Fact check: Nope (-1). Though of course there are exceptions.

Despite his incompetence, Mike keeps getting promoted (when his editor is fired for sleeping with Dan from Selina’s campaign staff, when he accidentally gets a scoop, etc.), and before long, BuzzFeed gives him his own webcast. Eventually, another company poaches him.

Fact check: Yep (+1), as the Peter principle attests, sadly, Mike will be the boss of all of us one day soon.

The Bold Type (Freeform)

Everyone calls Scarlet’s website “the dot com.”

Fact check: Nope (-1). Sure, there are still some places where editors distinguish between their printed publication and its accompanying website by calling the latter “web” or “digital” or “online,” but no one—not even the most old-school, doesn’t-own-a-smartphone print editor—says “the dot-com.”

A man, Patrick, is chosen to oversee a women’s magazine’s web arm.

Fact check: Yep (+1). See Mike from Veep’s many promotions, above: The same principle applies.

Patrick assigns Jane to write a piece about him for the Scarlet site.

Fact check: Nope (-1). Unless Jane works for Heavy.com and is putting together five fast facts about Patrick, it doesn’t make any sense that she would profile him for the site they both work for. Who would click on that? If anything, the magazine’s PR team would be trying to pitch a New York Times piece and then settle for, like, a trade pub.

Patrick was once let go from a job for exposing himself—but it was for feminism, so it’s all good. (He found out a woman who had the same job as him in a previous role wasn’t making as much money as he was, so he pulled his pants down in an HR meeting to make a point. K.)

Fact check: This doesn’t really have anything to do with being an internet writer, but I hated this storyline, so it gets a -1.

There’s tension between the website and the print mag.

Fact check: Yep (+1). Jacqueline and Patrick’s sniping about who gets to feature Cardi B, print or the dot-com, is a little dated—the answer is obviously to do the print piece and then package and time it for online release—but it’s true that such turf wars die hard.

When Jane pitches a piece on egg-freezing, Patrick asks her to “plus it up.”

Fact check: Yep (+1). This is actually a solid point from Patrick, proving that the only thing that can outdo this show’s lack of understanding of the internet is Jane’s capacity to be a bad journalist. Maybe there’s a promotion in her future, too.

Shrill (Hulu)

Annie has been the calendar editor at alt-weekly the Weekly Thorn for a while, but she’s actively kept from writing for the paper.

Fact check: Nah (-1). The idea of a writer at any publication in 2019 finding it impossible to get ideas greenlighted is hard to imagine. Print space may be limited, but there’s infinite room to publish online. The more modern way to do it is to assign underlings so much writing to do for the website that it runs them ragged.

Annie’s preferred method of pitching the paper’s editor, Gabe, is to stride right up to him while he’s doing something else and interrupt.

Fact check: Nope (-1). Has Annie heard of email? Or pitch meetings? No wonder Gabe is grumpy—she chooses the absolute worst times to pitch him! And would she really be pitching the editor in chief directly? Seems odd when a senior-level editor who isn’t in charge of the whole shebang should really be handling that kind of thing.

Annie’s piece on food (and women) at a strip club gets mostly really positive comments online.

Fact check: Nope (-1). Have you ever met internet commenters? Read one single comment? (Sorry, guys, but you know it’s true.) A piece getting mostly positive comments would be a historical anomaly.

One particular commenter becomes Annie’s bête noire for his cruel personal attacks.

Fact check: Yep (+1). Even though the majority of the comments on articles are usually off-topic or negative, there always ends up being a few that stick with you more than others.

Annie publishes a piece called “Hello, I’m Fat” on the Weekly Thorn’s website without getting the editor’s permission, and the piece is partly about how mean that editor has been to her.*

Fact check: Very doubtful (-1). Publishing a piece without an editor’s signoff is a fireable offense, but publishing a piece without an editor’s signoff in which one proceeds to talk shit about what a bad person that editor is is an all-out act of bridge burning.

And so the show that features the most realistic depiction of the internet writing life is Special, which finishes 2 points in the black. (In last place is Shrill, with -3, though I didn’t mean for the points to so neatly affirm that it’s good to be special and bad to be shrill! Oof, this world is harsh on women.) Anyway, now that that’s settled, see you all at the digital watercooler.

*Update, May 9, 2019: A colleague reminded me that this is based on something Lindy West did in real life, but I stand by my point that the way it happens in the show is pretty out there.