The End of Pop Candy

Photograph by Chris Leaman

Photograph by Chris Leaman

One of my former responsibilities at my job was to oversee the updating of our media contact’s list. It was a job that I didn’t really enjoy, not only because it was tedious but also because it was really depressing. With circulation of print newspapers rapidly declining, many organizations have been forced to lay off staff in order to stay profitable. Every time we worked on a new round of updates, it was disheartening to see how many journalists had lost their jobs to downsizing. It was always particularly sad to see a reporter that we had worked with on the list; from a professional perspective, it meant that the relationship that we cultivated with the reporter now had to be re-established with someone else and from the personal perspective, it’s a bummer when someone you know and like is suddenly unemployed. I was not at all disappointed when I was able to delegate the responsibility for tracking the media to someone else.

Though it is no longer my bailiwick, I’m still aware of the major downsizing that continues to occur at newspapers and media outlets across the country. USA Today was the latest company that cut personnel; last week, 60-70 people on their staff were immediately let go. That sucks – especially the “effective immediately” part – but it also hit close to home, as one of the USA Today staff that was let go was Whitney Matheson. You may not know Whitney by name, but she’s one of the major reasons that you are reading this blog right now.

Matheson was employed by USA Today for the last fifteen years and wrote the pop culture blog Pop Candy. I don’t remember when exactly I stumbled upon Pop Candy, but it was like a breath of fresh air; I had no idea that you could blog about pop culture and make a living at it in any capacity other than being a critic. I was of course aware of publications like Entertainment Weekly, but Pop Candy was different; Whitney mostly wrote about what she liked and what she tried and didn’t care for. Her coverage was less driven by what the latest new releases and big studio products were than by her personal preferences. While she certainly covered some mainstream things – a lot of people found her blog thanks to her discussions of Lost – she definitely had more of an independent streak to what she wrote about. Pop Candy was Matheson’s way of sharing the more obscure pop culture that she enjoyed with a larger audience. The blog had a distinct viewpoint and exposed me to a lot of bands, books and movies that I may not have otherwise known existed. One of the major reasons that I decided to give graphic novels a chance was because of Whitney’s blog posts; I wouldn’t say that I’m a regular comic reader, but I’ve found a few that I like and that I try to keep up with – that’s thanks to Pop Candy.

Pop Candy also cultivated a great interactive fan base that I enjoyed being a voyeur of; I never commented on the blog, but I would often read the comment threads to see what people were talking about. Unlike so many blog comments, the people who read and commented on Pop Candy were generally respectful and thoughtful; there was almost none of the trolling that make comment sections not for the faint of heart. It was nice to know that even if I didn’t agree with them or share their pop culture passions that there were other people who were as passionate about pop culture as I was and who could discuss it like adults. It opened my eyes up to the possibilities of pop culture blogs.

Admittedly, I became a less frequent visitor to Pop Candy over time; though I sampled a lot of the things that Whitney recommended over the years, it became clear to me that she and I did not share the same taste in a lot of things. Our taste in music, in particular, is very different and while I did discover some new bands that I enjoyed from her blog, I ultimately decided that a lot of what she was writing about simply wasn’t for me. I’d still check in on occasion, but through her blog I found other pop culture websites that I found were better in line with my pop culture preferences.

But when I launched this blog back in 2012, Pop Candy was definitely the model I had in my head for what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to share the pop culture that I loved – and some that I hated – and cultivate a community of like-minded people who like to discuss pop culture. I tend to be a little more mainstream in what I cover in this blog, but for the most part what I write about is a reflection of what I like. I definitely have some more obscure things that I dig and hopefully I’ve introduced some people to some books, TV shows, webseries and music that they might not otherwise be aware of. My pop culture roundup posts are a direct descendant of Pop Candy’s “Daily Buzz” posts, where Matheson would start the day with a list of pop culture headlines. Our tastes and pop culture proclivities may differ, but what Whitney created with Pop Candy was what inspired me to try my hand at blogging about pop culture and was my guiding light in the early days of trying to build an audience. I haven’t done as good of a job building a community as she has, but I hope that this blog reflects my personality as well as Pop Candy did.

The declining frequency with which I read Pop Candy does not diminish my sadness that it is gone for now or that Matheson is currently out of a job. I’m sure that someone will scoop her up soon enough and she’s be back on the web, but it seemed fitting at this crossroads to acknowledge the impact that she had on me and on the creation of this blog. She indirectly inspired me to try my hand at something that I really love and that has given me a creative outlet that I didn’t even know I was missing. Without Pop Candy, I don’t know that As Heather’s World Turns would exist, and that would be a real tragedy 🙂

So best of luck to Whitney Matheson as she explores other career possibilities; I’m sure USA Today’s loss will be someone else’s gain. Thanks for introducing me to the world of blogging and encouraging me to expand my pop culture horizons.

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