This is a Someone Who Knows post by Peter Taggart


Interning at a major newspaper back in 2009 – you know, the ‘golden age’ of print - I recall catching the eye of a very tired looking man. He looked maybe five or six years older than me, certainly more fashion-conscious, but more world-weary as well. As I passed, he managed the sort of smile I imagined staff reserved for the revolving-door conga line of interns – encouraging, but fleeting. I left him to chase his deadline, but later that night dug through the paper searching for his face and by-line. I found that for the last few weeks, he’d been filling in as an arts and entertainment reporter. Was this why he’d looked so glum? Because he’d been interviewing The Veronicas?

At the time I might have appreciated his lack of enthusiasm for writing about pop culture. It was all too frivolous, surely? By my third year of university, I’d grown very ambitious, earnest in my writing. I dreamt of travelling to the NT to write about alcohol-management in remote indigenous communities, all from my ‘fascinating’ perspective of white male privilege. My plans had changed a great deal across the three year degree. You have a lot of time at university to think about what kind of writer you want to be, especially when you are putting-off actually writing. I’d initially applied to study a Bachelor of Journalism only because QUT didn’t offer a Bachelor of Becoming Patrick Fugit’s Character in Almost Famous (despite having little tolerance for most rock music). I’d also flirted with the idea of exclusively writing long, wordy features about very important people (whom I knew none of). When I finally graduated, I’d somehow fallen into writing about film and theatre for a local street press. And rather than feeling all ‘head in hands’, as if I’d willingly suffocated my journalistic integrity, I loved every minute.

Being across pop culture is the most fun kind of exhausting. Social media, by its very nature, means there’s a fan base for just about every average-to-good-looking creative type with a YouTube channel and I have a huge admiration for writers who can wade through all the muck and PR dross and find what’s real, bizarre and occasionally salacious. When I first started writing about all things pop culture, I read a lot of Defamer Australia, with Jess McGuire at the helm. These days I love Michael K’s talent for a truly wicked turn-of-phrase in Dlisted and Katie Notopoulos’ weird and wonderful work for Buzzfeed, awkwardly shining a light on the darkest corners of the internet.

In the last couple of years, a lot of the pop culture writing I’ve done has been for radio spots and Bring A Plate, a pop culture-themed podcast I started last year with friend Rebecca Shaw. I won’t pretend that Bring A Plate would exist without Julie Klausner’s brilliant How Was Your Week podcast - far and away the smartest, funniest, most-cutting weekly analysis of pop culture you’ll find. Klausner has referred to podcasting as the new ‘one man show' – there’s a plethora of them, most of them are lousy - but podcasting is a great way to find an audience for your work. You can use a podcast to regularly promote the latest piece you’ve written – no need to link to it every five minutes on your Twitter or Facebook, hassling friends and frenemies for retweets and likes. A podcast also allows you to, and please don't vomit at the very sight of this phrase, develop a 'brand' for yourself, rather than having a 'brand' forced upon you. You can establish what you like talking about, what you are passionate about and build upon that.

I've always been most interested in writing about those moments where celebrities and their art intersect with larger, societal issues. Think Beyonce's brand of feminism, Alicia Silverstone's take on attachment parenting, Rob Schneider’s anti-vaccination stance or Victoria Jackson's born-again homophobia. Find where your interests intersect and write about that. I'm not going to pretend to be across 5SOS collaborating with some alt pop star. I still haven’t listened to that Bon Iver album someone gave me for my birthday five years ago. But if a former teen star starts a cult? This is my wheelhouse, welcome to it. If you want to write about more niche issues, it’s reasonable to expect you may have to seek out more niche publications. Though I think Nick Bond is doing the Lord’s work over at news.com.au, some of the best writing on pop culture in this country is outside of mainstream media channels. There’s so many websites specifically focused on pop culture, but Junkee has a track record for hilarious, viral thinkpieces and for print, I can’t go past Brodie Lancaster's Filmme Fatales, which offers some of the best writing on women and film you’ll ever read. 

I remember hearing writer and comedian Louis Virtel talking about his childhood obsession with Trivial Pursuit and how it served him well later in life. Knowing a little bit about a lot puts you in a great position as a writer. It gives you historical reference points, an ability to reliably put things in context. The news writing rule of ‘get it first, but first get it right’ applies to pop culture writing. Fanboys and fangirls will know when you’ve got something wrong and oh, will they tell you.

Finally I’d say, don't be afraid to use all your skills and don’t be too precious. If you can make an infographic that fits in well with a piece – run with it. Are you an artist with Photoshop? Show us. It doesn’t have to compromise your writing – it can be mere set-dressing to get eyes on the page. You can be serious about your work without taking it too seriously. Don’t sit at your desk with your head in your hands, this is meant to be fun.

And if anyone can teach me how to make a gif, please get in touch.


Peter Taggart is a writer and theatre critic in Brisbane, Australia. His work regularly appears in ArtsHub and he is the co-host of pop culture podcast Bring A Plate

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samvanz

Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.