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Benjamin Carlson

Why I left journalism

Published over 1 year ago • 4 min read

Hello and welcome back,

It’s been a good week, and a strange one.

On Monday, I did not set out thinking I would publicly tell a story I’ve never told before.

I also didn’t think I would see lightning strike twice.

(Metaphorically.)

Yet both of these things happened.

Let me explain.

The story I didn’t mean to tell

Earlier this week, I thought I’d share with you (my subscriber) something I hadn’t discussed elsewhere before:

Why I left media.

After all, I was one of the lucky ones.

At 24, I was executive editor of a startup publication at The Atlantic.

I ran a team of six writers, most of whom have gone on to glittering careers.

Subsequently I became a reporter and contributor to magazines.

I reported on Edward Snowden while he was in Hong Kong.

(A story for another time)

I wrote a travel story from the suite used by Mark Zuckerberg in Xi’an.

I was an economics correspondent in Beijing for a major news agency.

And then… I stopped.

Why?

What happened?

The story has several chapters.

For now I can tell you when and where it ended:

Six years ago, on the 11th floor of the China Life Tower in Beijiing.

It was the night I was assigned to cover Xi Jinping's speech at Davos.

He was the first Chinese leader to keynote the World Economic Forum.

As I wrote this story, for you, I realized that Davos was happening again this week.

That, plus another reason you’ll see below (the lightning strike) made me decide it was time to tell it publicly.

Here's the story. (You'll have to click to read the full thing.) For those not on Twitter, try this.

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Benjamin Carlson
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Twitter Logo
@bfcarlson
January 18th 2023
671
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Why did one moment have such an effect on me?

It was the culmination of years.

As a journalist, I had learned how to navigate the invisible map of acceptable narratives.

You stay on the beaten trails. You don't go off road.

After a while, you trust the map more than your own senses.

If you're not careful, you stop seeing what's in front of your eyes.

Listening to Xi's speech, I felt I saw the ground clearly. I tried to go off trail.

But when I was told to go back on course, I lost my trust in the map.

So ultimately I left.

Now on to the lightning

Why else did I feel the need to share this story?

Well, I suddenly had the need to introduce myself strangers.

Millions of them.

Yes, it happened again.

On Monday, Elon Musk responded to a video I shared, this time with a comment.

(This came two weeks after he liked a different post of mine.)

Six million people saw it in two days.

With the number of people suddenly seeing my face, I felt I ought to tell more of who I am, and why I believe that writing is an act of freedom.

More to come on that soon.

What I’m enjoying

My brother, a musician, shared this thread on exploring Bach by playwright Dan Rebellato. It’s a lovely introduction to some of the most profound music ever made.

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Dan Rebellato
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@DanRebellato
January 14th 2023
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I especially enjoy how he sees that Bach, at his best, is constantly making theological arguments in music.

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Dan Rebellato
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Twitter Logo
@DanRebellato
January 14th 2023
2
Retweets
65
Likes

Let me know what you’re enjoying this week. If you think I got anything wrong (or half right) in today’s email, please hit reply. I love to hear from you. I read all the messages I get.

And I encourage you to check out the full 1958 interview of Aldous Huxley with Mike Wallace. It's a throwback to a very different era in entertainment.

Half an hour of highbrow conversation featuring the most refined accents of midcentury America and England.

Have a great weekend,

Ben

PS - If you enjoyed this, please consider forwarding this email to anyone else who might enjoy. Or feel free to share this signup link on social media. I'm always grateful to reach more people.

Thanks.

Benjamin Carlson

I'm a communications exec and a former editor at The Atlantic and foreign correspondent. Subscribe for lessons from my 15 years in media and PR

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