Given the choice between a story entitled “25 Celebrities You Might Not Know are Bisexual” and a fifteen page piece of well-reported investigative journalism, most internet users would probably read the former.
Jay Caspian Kang ’02 made precisely this point in his lecture at Ladd House last night. He then posed the question: does modern journalism challenge readers enough?
Kang noted that websites such as Gawker have a hard time “justifying” funding lengthier, more investigative pieces simply because longer articles don’t lead to bigger profits.
He concluded that technology has created a divide between print and online content.
According to Kang, the challenge for writers is to find a respectable medium in between long-form journalism and sensational blurbs.
Kang is currently an editor at Grantland, a sports and pop culture website owned by ESPN. He is also a contributor to the New York Times magazine.
Kang noted the importance of humor in his line of work.
“If you’re talking about anything the internet is interested in, which is usually cats, sports, Beyoncé and the Oscars, it should always be funny,” he said.
Last fall Kang published his debut novel, “The Dead Do Not Improve,” which received praise from critics.
Kang however, remains modest.
“All these old women hate it, so I feel bad,” he said jokingly.
He added that publishing a novel was an extremely personal experience for him.
“Once you’re done with a book, you do everything in your power to never think about it again,” Kang said. “It’s a really humiliating thing to have a novel out there.”
Though he always knew he wanted to be a writer, Kang went through a period of doubt after receiving his MFA from Columbia.
“For five or six years I didn’t publish anything and I was really struggling as a writer—to the point where I felt like I should consider another career path,” he said.
Kang decided he would write a novel before he took the LSAT and started applying to law school.
“I didn’t ever expect it to be published,” he said. “I just wanted it to be done so I could say, ‘all right, I tried before I was a lawyer and hating myself.’”
Kang said he’d like to publish another book, though he’s unsure when that will happen.
“Whenever I get sick of the stuff I’m writing now, I’ll write another novel,” he said.
Kang’s time at Bowdoin was unique in a variety of ways. He estimated that his GPA was 1.9 when he graduated.
“I really regret not taking Bowdoin more seriously when I was here,” said Kang. “I was definitely not ready for college at 18, I don’t think I was ready for college at 21.”
While at Bowdoin, Kang was a columnist for the Orient, which he says remains some of his best work.
“These [columns] are funnier than anything I’ve written for Grantland,” said Kang. “I was somehow better as a writer at these types of columns when I was 21 than I am now.”
The columns usually discussed popular music artists in a wry, sarcastic tone. Kang never hesitated to include appropriate anecdotes, like the irony of dropping a Mexican figurine into a bowl of salsa.
He also co-founded Ritalin, a humor magazine that was considered controversial by the administration and the student body.
“We got in all this trouble because of our language, which now that I look back on I’m kind of in shock that we didn’t get in more trouble,” said Kang.
One of his favorite topics to mock: bro culture.
“All my friends are bros, so it’s not like I find it repulsive or something,” said Kang. “I just think it’s this endless source of humor.”
For all the bros out there ready to troll Kang’s articles, think twice before commenting. As he said during his lecture, “Writers are very sensitive people.”