What is Disruptor?

Disruptor is a newsletter from me, David Kushner.

As a journalist and author, I’ve written hundreds of stories over the past 30 years. There’s my Vanity Fair article about the drug smuggling megachurch preacher, and my book on the Lennon and McCartney of computer games. In another book, I chronicled the fight for civil rights in America’s most legendary suburb. For Rolling Stone, I covered the rise and fall of the first bitcoin kingpin, and the story behind the greatest story ever tweeted. I wrote a memoir, which later became a podcast, about the murder of my brother when I was a kid.

Often on assignment, I feel like Captain Kirk, visiting strange new worlds, meeting the people, learning their customs and languages. There’s nothing like landing somewhere new with a tape recorder in my hand.

Thing is, there are always more stories I want to tell. With Disruptor, I finally have the freedom and flexibility to tell them as often and however I see fit: features, reviews, interviews, long, short, and in-between. Because this is online, I can incorporate audio, video, comics, photos, links, playlists, games, NFTs, or whatever else helps tell the tale. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories in different formats - graphic novels, podcasts, radio - so this feels like the dawn of new storytelling possibilities. And, thanks to the tools Substack provides, I can do much of it by myself.

Reporting and writing narrative nonfiction, however, means more than just sending my words to your inbox. When I’ve taught journalism at Princeton University and New York University, I stress the importance of the editorial team behind every story. To that end, I’ll be employing an editor, copyeditor, and lawyer for anything I report here.

As I was considering what to call this newsletter, I tried to think of what if any theme there might be to my writing. So I did something I don’t often do, I went through my old files. And there are a lot of tapes, boxes and boxes of the microcassettes I used back in the analog days:

After going through them, I tried to think of what, if any, overarching themes there might be to my writing. I’m drawn to David and Goliath stories, the tales of underdogs, individuals vs. systems, troublemakers, innovators, outlaws, gamers, geeks... disruptors.

I liked the sound of Disruptor, because it made me think of an arcade game I would have poured my quarters into as a kid. 

And I liked the design of the microcassette so much I decided to incorporate into the Disruptor logo (created by Sosebee Design).

What Do Subscribers Get?

Readers will get most of what’s on my newsletter for free. I’ll be posting at least a couple times per week. In addition to longer, serialized nonfiction, I’ll be serializing a new book exclusively on Disruptor. It’s a follow-up to my first book, Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Built an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture, and it’s called Masters of Disruption: How the Gamer Generation Built the Future. It includes new interviews the protagonists of my first book, along with innovators they inspired. Variety magazine had this to say about my newsletter plans.

Masters of Disruption will include elements beyond text: voice notes, audio interviews, playlists, video, and whatever else helps tell the story. Instead of chapters, the book will be made of different sorts of posts. It’s a form of longform nonfiction that doesn’t exist yet in the public consciousness or have a name. There are audiobooks, e-books, flipbooks, I’m calling this a postbook: a book made of posts, and a “post” book in the sense of a new kind of journalism. The shorter pieces will follow a similar path as poststories.

A portion of proceeds from Disruptor subscriptions will go to an organization I’m proud to serve on as a member of the board of directors: Good Grief, a non-profit that provides grief support services to kids and their families.

My Bio:

David Kushner is an award-winning journalist and author. His books include Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture, Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids: How a Gang of Geeks Beat the Odds, Stormed Las Vegas, Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America’s Legendary Suburb, Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto, Alligator Candy: A Memoir, and The Players Ball: A Genius, a Con Man, and the Secret History of the Internet’s Rise.

Kushner wrote the nonfiction graphic novels Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D and A for Anonymous: How a Mysterious Hacker Collective Transformed the World, illustrated by Koren Shadmi. He is the author of the ebook, The Bones of Marianna: A Reform School, a Terrible Secret, and a Hundred-Year Fight for Justice. Two collections of his magazine stories are available as audiobooks, The World’s Most Dangerous Geek: And More True Hacking Stories and Prepare to Meet Thy Doom: And More True Gaming Stories. His memoir Alligator Candy has been adapted into a serial podcast produced by Transmitter Media, Emmy Rossum, and USG Audio.

A contributing editor of Rolling Stone and Outside, Kushner has written for publications including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired, New York Times Magazine, New York, and GQ, and has been an essayist for National Public Radio Weekend Edition Sunday. An archive of his articles is available on his website. His work is featured in several “best of” anthologies: The Best American Crime Reporting, The Columbia Journalism Review’s Best Business Writing, The Best Music Writing, and The Best American Travel Writing.

He is the winner of the New York Press Club award for Best Feature Reporting. His ebook The Bones of Marianna was selected by Amazon as a Best Digital Single of 2013. NPR named his memoir Alligator Candy among the best books of 2016. The Alligator Candy podcast won the Best True Crime and Best Podcast Experience awards at the 2021 Popcon Podcast Awards, and is a finalist for Best Personal Lives Podcast at the 2021 New York Radio Awards.

Many of his articles and books are being adapted for TV and film. Silk Road is based on his Rolling Stone story “Dead End on Silk Road.” Zola is based on his Rolling Stone article “Zola Tells All” and the tweets of A’Ziah “Zola” King; Kushner is an executive producer of the film. The upcoming Spike Lee Viagra movie musical is based on his Esquire article “All Rise.”

A film based on his Vanity Fair article, “The Church of Living Dangerously” will star Christian Bale and be written by Charles Randolph. Writer/director Amma Asante is attached to a TV series based on his book, Levittown. Gamechangers, a BBC film, is inspired by his book Jacked. He has been featured in several documentaries including What Will Become of Us, a feature about Holocaust survivor and shopping mall magnate Frank Lowy.

Kushner has taught as a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. In the early 90s, he was a producer and writer for SonicNet, one of the first music destinations online. He serves on the board of directors of Good Grief, an organization that provides grief support services to children and families.