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Episodes: The thing you know that nobody else does


Emily VanDerWerff

Oct 06 2016

4 min read



A couple of weeks ago, I joked to a friend that my career was going to be 90 percent explaining to people what the term "multi-camera sitcom" means, 10 percent other things. It was kind of a low point, in that I felt like I was stuck having the same old discussions, the same old arguments, the same old ideas.

But I've started to think about this in another way: What is it that I know that not everybody else does? And how many people can I tell about that?

This is a really hard thing to wrap your head around when you're in journalism or academia or some other field where you become an expert (or close to one) in a particular field. Because we tend to take the insides of our heads and project them out onto the rest of the world, it's easy to assume that as we learn new things in our chosen field, everybody else is learning them too.

And you know that's not true, because you know that not everybody is you. But because the people you most notice are the readers who keep coming back, it's easy to think that, hey, everybody is reading everything you write, and you're all learning at the same time. And when you start to feel that way, it becomes hard to resist the desire to simply never have to explain yourself over again.

And to be fair, at a site like Vox, we can just republish an old article, with slightly new wording, the better to key people in to something we wrote long ago. But it's all still a process, and if I drop something about music rights negotiations into an article, with a link to another article I wrote about it, basically nobody is going to click on that link. I'm still going to have to explain myself all over again.

The trick, then, is to find the joy in saying the same things over again, in finding new ways to bring others on board with what you know. It's kind of like a teacher, with a new class of students every fall and spring, to explain the same things to. You have to find a joy in the repetition, in the continued expression of the same points.

It's important, yes, to find other things you're passionate about and write about those, too. But I increasingly view it not as a burden but as a challenge to once again tell people the reason their favorite show isn't on Netflix, or help them figure out why a show they loved was canceled before its time.

If you are reading this newsletter, the chances are good that you, yourself, know the answers to most of the above questions. You might get tired of reading the 101 level discussions and wish we would move on to graduate level courses. I've been there with you. But the more I re-examine the same arguments and dig into the same rationales for things, the more I find new facets and nuances in them. Repeating yourself helps you expose flaws in your arguments, or uncover strengths you didn't even know were there.

So the second you find yourself thinking, "Aw, I don't need to explain that. Everybody knows that!" stop yourself. It's not true. And even if it seems true, there might be value in looking over those ideas again anyway. Take the time. Go over the argument again. You might be surprised by what you find.


Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.

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