My reporting on the rape & sexual misconduct allegations against “Durte Dom” sparked massive fallout for David Dobrik’s biz empire, including venture capitalist funds backing away from his start-up Dispo — he stepped down after my coverage.

I also broke sexual assault & violence allegations against makeup mogul Jeffree Star, who I later reported wielded a $45,000 hush-money payment from his cosmetics company against one of the accusers.

You can check out all my non-paywalled work here and my Insider exclusives here. I’ve profiled Belle Dephine, reported on a labor lawsuit against James Charles, and done deep dives into YouTube’s faulty moderation when it comes to repeated rule-breakers. AMA!

Edit: I'll still be around to answer a few more questions that I couldn't get to in an hour, but no new requests, please! Thanks so much to everyone who came curious. Feel free to follow me on Twitter & Instagram at @kattenbarge to see more of my work.


Comments: 217 • Responses: 19  • Date: 

xorevival1470 karma

Why do you refer to the rapist as “part of David Dobrik’s Vlog Squad” instead of his real name?

Random people can stop answering now. She responded and I got my genuine answer. I don’t need any more smart-ass remarks.

thisisinsider2765 karma

So I'm assuming this is tongue-in-cheek but I'll answer it honestly!

Throughout the article Dom's real name, Dominykas Zeglaitis, is used. "Zeglaitis" appears in the article 78 times and "Dobrik" appears 58 times, even though his name is in the headline, photo captions, etc.

The reason we refer to Dom as a member of David Dobrik's Vlog Squad is because most people don't know who Dom is. He's only relevant because of his role on David's channel. So it's the most helpful to readers to identify him as what he's famous for, not as his legal name, which 99.9 percent of readers don't know. -KT

friend-of-tH3-show714 karma

Content creators are starting to hate on journalists like yourself more openly now. They say that you guys only want clout, and build your careers off of them. Do you think there's some validity to that? Do you think that some journalists are going to transition to content creating in the future?

Edit: typo

thisisinsider1446 karma

So, in terms of how some content creators disparage journalists — saying we only want clout, that we build our careers off them — they're viewing journalists like they view other influencers. To creators, "clout" is the building block of success, it's attention that can be monetized.

Journalists need "clout" in some ways, depending on what our jobs are looking for. I have goals in terms of how many paying subscribers I attract with my reporting. It's not the kind of "clout" the content creators disparaging me think it is. And if my beat IS influencers, then yes, I'm building my career off of them, which is how any type of beat reporting works.

In terms of journalists transitioning to content creation, I think modern journalism often IS content creation. Writing is content, blogs are content, videos & social media posts are content. So some of the tools are the same. I do think the creator/journalist crossover is growing and will continue to shape in different directions. -KT

cironclad397 karma

Do you have any fear of exposing these types of people, like fear of harm/ lawsuits?

thisisinsider1067 karma

Yes and no. Before every big exposé, there's usually some kind of threat of legal action from the subject's lawyers. The first time, that was scary. Now I'm a little more seasoned at the legal editing process and I'm not scared of lawyers. I also know my rights and how to perform my due diligence so that I'm not liable for defamation or slander.

In terms of harm, no, I've never truly feared any of the people I cover. I think I could meet most all of them face-to-face and walk away unscathed. I DO get scared of OTHER people online, like stans who fake DM screenshots with me. That's what scares me the most, the idea of disinformation about me being believed. -KT

BurgerKingBoy3000287 karma

Jeff Wittek recently called you a “fake reporter” and in an earlier now-deleted video, basically threatened you and your job. Everyone is cheering him on, but it gives me a pit in my stomach knowing the victim or those in similar situations may see him calling the person who shared their story a “fake” -What were your thoughts on this situation and how do you keep from being overwhelmed by stans who are angry at you for sharing uncomfortable news about their favs?

thisisinsider581 karma

Jeff has pretty much been a dick to me this entire time, so it didn't surprise me. Much bigger creators than anyone in the Vlog Squad have reached out to me to apologize on his behalf, funny enough.

It's disappointing that someone could be so much of a caricature of a frat bro and still attract such a huge audience, but frankly, that's what shines in our toxic masculinity-obsessed online culture. Look at the Paul brothers, look at the Nelk boys, look at Barstool Sports, look at the Vlog Squad.

Fortunately (but really, unfortunately), I think Dom's accusers are well aware of the culture that led to their experiences. I don't think it surprises very many women at all, anymore, because we're raised in it.

I used to get really overwhelmed by stans but these days I just brush it off and keep going. That's all you can do. You can't fight em, sometimes I have conversations with them to try and seek common ground, but they have to come around themselves. You can't convince anyone on their opinion of you; you can just be yourself and the ones who matter won't mind. -KT

wttdotm280 karma

Hey Kat! I love the work you’ve been doing. I have a question about internet journalism more broadly: as part of your job you have to be plugged into everything that’s happening on social media all the time. Aside from the regular hazards of vengeful fans etc., that time on twitter/yt/tiktok/etc seems like a job hazard in itself. I know personally in trying to keep up with trends, my attention span has been whittled to a nub. Do you find yourself dealing with side effects of being very online? And if so, how do you manage them to stay as productive (and probably more importantly, as healthy) as you can be given the requirements of the job?

thisisinsider366 karma

Thank you! This is a great question!

I've been "very online" since high school, and as a result my attention span has also become a shell of its former self. Having semi-anonymous profiles is also very different than having a public profile that's intertwined with my professional identity. I have anxiety and depression that I take medication for, and facing backlash has been a massive adjustment period for me.

What helps me the most: therapy, reading books (usually on the train and before I go to bed), physically distancing myself from my phone, calling people instead of always texting, hanging out with my friends IRL, watching movies (I just can't do TV shows anymore, no long-term attention span), and engaging w/ healthy offline hobbies! I've been getting more into cooking and weight-lifting recently. -KT

Zorawithhat126 karma

You spend a lot of time going over the mistakes online personalities have made and learning about some of the awful things they’ve done and their questionable choices: is it hard to reconcile this in depth look at their transgressions with the in depth look I assume you also get of their humanness? The average person is much farther removed from these influencers than you are. I.e. we’ve never had a conversation with them or anyone they know. They’re just pixels on a screen to us. My question, I guess, is about whether or not it’s different for you and how that affects doing your job.

thisisinsider301 karma

This is a very good question. It absolutely depends on the person, the story, and how close I'm able to actually get to that person while reporting it out.

Even without speaking to an influencer whose transgressions I'm covering, I am generally the kind of person who can look at all the perspectives of the people involved, even if I'm more drawn to one. But that doesn't mean I don't empathize with the accused; I do.

I think especially with these teenagers who become famous while they're still minors, I see where things went wrong. Like James Charles, who I've met and spoken to and reported on both positively and very, very critically.

I do see the human side of James and it is something I take into consideration when I write about, say, the accusations from minors against him. I think James faced adversity before he was famous AND as he was BECOMING famous. His experiences as a gay boy who says he was preyed on as a child online by adult men informs my reporting.

But my empathy for James also doesn't override my empathy for the accusers I've spoken to. At the end of the day, I'm critical of the people who have power and misuse/abuse it, especially in something like the fan/influencer dynamic. -KT

melodawgs113 karma

Do you think doctored screenshots meant to harm public figures currently serves or will serve as a legitimate problem?

thisisinsider279 karma

Yes! The debunked Chrissy Teigen DMs I wrote about are a great example of this. Anyone can doctor a screenshot, there are apps to do it. And when designer Michael Costello posted screenshots full of temporal inconsistencies, global news outlets still ran the story as if they were legitimate.

Were Chrissy not in the middle of a massive scandal, the fake DMs may have registered more. But either way, it's concerning that newsrooms and audiences aren't catching these obvious mistakes. Other fakes are much, much more convincing. I already ask for screen recordings in addition to screenshots whenever possible, because they're harder to manipulate. -KT

CordWit90 karma

What would you say is the most enjoyable/exciting story you've broken?

thisisinsider209 karma

Oo that's a hard one! My big investigations usually make me SUPER emotionally frayed leading up to publication, but seeing the response to them can be very exciting.

I think one of my most enjoyable stories was a profile I did of Elijah Daniel and his rap alter-ego LIL PHAG. I was a huge fan of Elijah's vlogs in college and he was the first influencer I met who I actually watched beforehand. I met up with him at the music venue he was performing at that night in Brooklyn and I remember I did circles around the block for 10 minutes before going in, I was SO nervous.

But he was incredibly nice, cool, and talkative, and I ended up following him around until like 3 AM that night. It was such a fun profile to do and Elijah has been super supportive of me ever since! -KT

say59277 karma

With the Vlog Squad story you put the majority of the focus on David Dobrik and the others who were there that night rather than on Dom. Was that a conscious decision? If so, do you regret that the conversation then focused on these indirect participants instead of the perpetrator and the victims?

thisisinsider855 karma

So, I already know you're coming from a position of not liking me or my work. But I'll give it my best shot.

The vast majority of the article is focused on Dom. There's literally a couple paragraphs devoted to other Vlog Squad members. David is mentioned throughout the piece because he's the reason the night happened, the person who filmed and edited it, and the person who uploaded it to his YouTube channel, where it got millions of views.

Regardless of where you think blame lies in the situation, David is instrumental to the context of the story. It's his show; Dom was a participant. David is the boss, he's the face, he's the name, he's the foundation of everything. He said that himself, too.

The conversation around indirect participants, namely Jeff, happened because Jeff didn't read the story. He thought the piece implicated him when it was just a handful of sentences unrelated to the primary narrative. Jeff inserted himself into the conversation and later profited greatly from his role in the drama. I handled it as best I could. -KT

thisisinsider60 karma

This is Kat logging on to answer your questions! I'll be signing my responses "-KT" so you know it's me.

Discussionist44 karma

How did you get your job at insider and what did you originally want to be??

thisisinsider155 karma

I've wanted to be a journalist since I was a freshman in high school! I fell in love with the field while working on the school newspaper. Then I went to Ohio University to study journalism and I was heavily inspired by the New York media scene.

In college, I applied to dozens of internships in New York and got rejected from every single one of them. But I freelanced a little bit, and one of my freelance editors passed my name along to an editor at Inverse, a little tech news start-up, and I got to intern there the summer before my senior year.

I worked under the culture editor at Inverse, and he ended up moving jobs to Insider. He hired me out of college to be an intern on the general news desk, and we started working together on digital culture stories. After my six-month internship at Insider ended, they created the digital culture team and I became its first full-time reporter! -KT

taylor_lorenz42 karma

I was wondering what advice you'd have for newsrooms looking to beef up their digital culture coverage? I feel like Insider has done such a great job dominating this beat in the past year. How should other newsrooms approach covering influencers/creators/online culture?

thisisinsider41 karma

I think over the past decade or so, as newsrooms look to cover this space, most hiring has focused on already established beats — business, technology, and entertainment. Lately I've noticed positions tend to revolve around the "creator economy" and following the money, which is really great and necessary.

But I think the traditional beats kind of edge out the type of content Insider excels at when it comes to digital culture. My personal beat is a blend of explanatory and watchdog journalism, and I lean toward online entertainment, but cover the influencers like an investigative reporter would.

Allowing for flexibility and innovation on this beat, plus emphasizing the importance of getting scoops and doing original reporting, will hopefully open up digital culture positions to a lot of varied reporters with different backgrounds and skillsets! -KT

DorkAssKid34 karma

whats a typical workday look like for you?

thisisinsider116 karma

The first thing I do when I wake up is check my phone (unhealthy, I know). I usually have a bunch of notifications, texts, and DMs, so I scan those and see if there's breaking news that happened overnight in the influencer drama world.

If I see something I can cover quickly, I'll spend the first half of the day writing it up (we call these "quick hits" because the turnaround is in a few hours). I used to do a quick hit every day, and sometimes multiple, but lately I've been spending more time on investigations and features.

My days vary a lot, but I spend a lot of time immersed in the social media world looking at what people are talking about (and sending to me). I read a lot of articles on my beat, surf Discord groups, and watch drama & commentary channels. And I have LOTS of conversations with other people who cover & care about influencers.

For bigger pieces, I usually spend a good period of time looking for ways to contact potential sources and doing outreach. I typically do a few phone interviews a week and I'm constantly digging through the internet for "receipts" for stories.

Writing-wise, I have a terrible habit of pulling all-nighters to get the first draft done for my big stories. I need zero distractions to write long-form, so I like to do it at night when everybody is sleeping and my phone isn't going off every 2 seconds. -KT

michaelboamah28 karma

how can be better prepare ternagers to sudden celebrity status and extreme scrutiny from seasoned journalists ?

thisisinsider195 karma

So, my take on this is basically that I don't think teenagers should be in a position where they experience sudden celebrity status. That's unbearable for adults; kids' brains aren't able to adapt to the pressure right away and many of them end up making huge mistakes or becoming emotionally stunted.

However, our culture seeks youth. So it's a problem that will continue to exist. I think there need to be more advocates for creators' welfare within the industry, because from what I've seen, most people young talent encounter are just interested in squeezing every penny from them at whatever cost to their wellbeing. -KT

TheDustyPioneer27 karma

How much of an impact would you say media illiteracy (when consuming news media in particular) has on the general public’s trust and relationship with journalists? In particular, what implications has this issue had in the YouTube space with reaching out to creators for comment or asking those around a YouTuber for comment? Do you find that many creators aren’t willing to work with you or other journalists due to a history of poor encounters either on a personal level or from what they’ve heard others tell them? And what do you think is the best way to combat the lack of trust and overall media illiteracy in today’s online world so that people can feel comfortable with journalists again?

Thanks for taking the time to read it if you see it ^^

thisisinsider54 karma

I think media illiteracy is a major problem facing our country, maybe one of the biggest and most instrumental to how we got to this current moment of extremism and distrust.

In the YouTube space, creators have had a shaky relationship with the media. Journalists were well overdue in recognizing the power and influence that creators hold. Plus, there were some major oversights in some of the early YouTube coverage.

That being said, creators typically crave press, because it helps them obtain legitimacy — something many popular creators still struggle to find. So I have gotten and still get a TON of requests for coverage, every day, more than I could even read through. (A lot of that comes from more traditional PR that work for more established creators.)

I think one step toward creating trust is to have media literacy woven into the journalism itself. I've tried to do this by being really active in responding to my audience, whether the feedback is critical or positive or neutral. Sometimes, critique just stems from a lack of understanding. I also think journalists can do a lot better at their own PR, myself included.

But I've found the most success in just telling stories I'm passionate about and letting my audience engage with the passion through my writing on important, underreported topics and people. -KT

unknown01011325 karma

Do you actively search for these types of stories or are you asked by your boss to do these kinds of stories?

thisisinsider73 karma

It's a mix! I definitely have a lot of autonomy, which I am very grateful for, and my ideas/pitches mostly come from myself or tips people send to me.

My editor mainly directs me to do things that "work" for us, so for example I'm encouraged to seek out scoops and do investigations into influencer conduct, because that has been incredibly successful (not just in terms of clicks and subscribers, but also in terms of real-world impact from our stories). -KT

aepozsik24 karma

Would you ever consider doing a full summary of the Gabbie Hanna drama?

thisisinsider49 karma

And so much more. -KT

bobcats201913 karma

Favorite bar in Athens?

thisisinsider36 karma

Definitely the Skull :) -KT

chuckduck3658 karma

When in your life did you know you wanted to be a journalist? Also—was this the type of news you thought you’d be covering?

thisisinsider30 karma

I knew when I was a freshman in high school! I had always wanted to be a writer, and journalism was the professional industry that sparked my interest the most. When I decided to major in journalism, I thought I was destined to do environmental reporting on climate change. I actually have a degree in environmental studies for that reason.

Then, in college, I shifted gears and thought I would cover politics. I had a couple internships covering Ohio state politics and I even got to go to the White House in 2018 to receive a scholarship for student reporting!

Trump was elected to office my sophomore year and frankly, I burned out of politics within a year of watching the Trump administration unfold. It was all too damaging and the reporting around Trump's election was so contentious. It disillusioned me in a lot of ways.

My passion for YouTube was always something I thought of as a personality quirk, not a reporting beat. But when TanaCon became a trending news story, I realized that my encyclopedic knowledge of YouTube drama could translate into mainstream journalism. Other people like Taylor Lorenz had rolled out the red carpet for my position and I jumped at every opportunity to cover influencers from then on. -KT