November 16th, 2012
Matt Taibbi invited his readers to write a parody of Thomas Friedman's latest column on Syria. His readers rose to the challenge:
[By Richard Rollington]
Iraq was fisted by the United States, and on experiencing such explosive pleasure knocked over a china cabinet while ejaculating acid. Syria's on her knees begging to be next.
Succinct, and surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the source material.
There's a longer, even better, entry quoted by Taibbi, depicting Friedman as Schrodinger's columnist.
April 30th, 2012
So there I was, having just watched the second trailer for Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom and feeling quietly optimistic that it might be a pretty decent show. I've always liked Jeff Daniels, the supporting cast looks fine – not to mention that Jane Fonda looks to be having fun playing her ex-husband – and at least this subject matter might provide a better backdrop for Sorkin's concerns than Studio 60… ever could.
Then I happened upon a comment thread at Ta-Nehisi Coates' weblog devoted to discussing the show's prospects, in which a commenter by the name of jkrusequirk linked to an excerpt from a film about TV journalism that I haven't thought about in quite a while but which set the standard Sorkin should aspire to.
I'm referring, of course, to Broadcast News. How the hell did I forget Broadcast News? More to the point, what are the chances Sorkin can reach those sort of heights? Now I'm apprehensive all over again…
[Trailer for The Newsroom via Pop Loser]
April 2nd, 2012
It's a pity that Aaron Sorkin's new HBO show The Newsroom will presumably be corralled behind the paywall of Sky Atlantic over here in the UK until we finally get a DVD release some time long after the first season ends. The trailer for the first episode looks very decent.
[Via Pop Loser]
January 15th, 2012
H.L. Mencken, in response to a request for advice on how to become a magazine editor:
25 January, 1936
San Fransisco, California
I note what you say about your aspiration to edit a magazine. I am sending you by this mail a six-chambered revolver. Load it and fire every one into your head. You will thank me after you get to hell and learn from other editors there how dreadful their job was on earth.
(Signed, 'H.L. Mencken')
November 21st, 2011
Apparently, Martin Belam found the experience of editing a compilation of the Guardian's articles about NuWho a tad unnerving:
I'm terrified of errors. Not formatting errors – because it seems to me the process of publishing ebooks has been carefully calibrated to maximise the chance of errors creeping in. They are just a given.
No, I'm terrified of Doctor Who errors.
[Story about the process of deciding how many actors have portrayed The Master on-screen. It turns out that the answer is six. Or possibly seven.]
You see how tricky it is? Neither number is satisfactory. For a bunch of people ready to suspend disbelief to the point that a 900 year old Time Lord can travel anywhere in time and space in a battered old police box, Whovians can be incredibly pedantic about the show. Me included.
It's an interesting look at the challenges of filleting more than half a decade's coverage of the show to produce an ebook of around half that length whilst ironing out odd little stylistic inconsistencies.
I've bought a copy. No doubt I'll have read a significant portion of the material when it was first published, but I'm willing to spend £3.45 to enjoy it again and catch up on what I missed. Also, if this project is a success Martin Belam would like to do a similar compilation of the Guardian's coverage of ClassicWho: I'd very much like to read that.
August 17th, 2011
Talking of the lessons of history, The Economist's Bagehot columnist provides a much-needed sense of perspective, largely drawn from a 1982 book called Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears by Geoffrey Pearson of Bradford University:
"Hooligan" compares the 1958 and 1978 Conservative Party annual conferences. In 1978, buffetted by calls from the floor for a return to the birch and "Saturday night floggings" for football hooligans, it notes, the future home secretary William Whitelaw pledged a new regime of short-sharp-shock Detention Centres modelled on army discipline.
And in 1958? The agenda included a debate on a "disturbing increase in criminal offences", and speakers asserting that "our wives and mothers, if they are left alone in the house at night, are frightened to open their doors", and that "over the past 25 years we in this country, through misguided sentiment, have cast aside the word "discipline", and now we are suffering from it". Delegates fumed over the "leniency" of modern courts and the way that young people were "no longer frightened of the police". Over calls from the floor for a return to flogging, the home secretary R A Butler pledged a programme of building short-sharp-shock Detention Centres, wherein "there should be a maximum of hard work and a minimum of amusement."
Still, no African-American rap music to corrupt the young, at least. Alas, "Hooligan" notes, the country was in the grip of a moral panic about rock and roll. In a 1956 front page editorial, headlined "Rock 'n Roll Babies" the Daily Mail declared:
It is deplorable. It is tribal. And it is from America. It follows rag-time, blues, dixie, jazz, hot cha-cha and the boogie-woogie, which surely originated in the jungle. We sometimes wonder whether this is the negro's revenge.
[Via James Nicoll]
August 5th, 2011
Want to freak out a newsroom full of college journalists?:
Sit them down at manual typewriters and ask them to plunk "2011" onto a piece of paper.
They'll only make it halfway.
"Mine's broken!" one reporter at Florida Atlantic University yelled a couple of Saturdays ago, when we launched the inaugural ALL ON PAPER project. "There's no number 1 key."
"This one is busted, too!" yelled another.
"They're not broken," I replied. "Manual typewriters didn't have a number 1 key. They used a lower-case L instead."
"Seriously?" asked the first reporter. [...]
"That's totally fucked up!" declared the second. Those same words have been repeated often these past two-and-a-half weeks, as we've embraced pre-computer technology to publish the last summer issue of FAU's student newspaper, the University Press. [...]
[Via Feeling Listless]
July 17th, 2011
Robert Fisk remembers working at Rupert Murdoch's Times:
He is a caliph, I suppose, almost of the Middle Eastern variety.
You hear all these awful things about Arab dictators and then, when you meet them, they are charm itself. Hafez al-Assad once held my hand in his for a long time with a paternal smile. Surely he can't be that bad, I almost said to myself – this was long before the 1982 Hama massacres. King Hussein would call me "Sir", along with most other journalists. These potentates, in public, would often joke with their ministers. Mistakes could be forgiven.
The "Hitler Diaries" were Murdoch's own mistake, after refusing to countenance his own "expert's" change of heart over the documents hours before The Times and The Sunday Times began printing them. [...]
[The paper's foreign editor...] dispatched me to editor Charles Douglas-Home's office with the Reuters story and I marched in only to find Charlie entertaining Murdoch. "They say they're forgeries, Charlie," I announced, trying not to glance at Murdoch. But I did when he reacted. "Well, there you go," the mogul reflected with a giggle. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." Much mirth. The man's insouciance was almost catching. Great Story. It only had one problem. It wasn't true. [...]
June 8th, 2011
Katherine Goldstein on being a fact-checker for Cosmopolitan:
I had to track one guy down about his story of how sweet it was when his girlfriend brought him soup when he was sick. I read him the one-line blurb.
"Well, I wouldn't exactly say she was my girlfriend," he replied with a scoff.
"Um, OK," I stammered. "Perhaps 'the girl you were dating' would be more accurate?"
"Ha, well, I guess you could call her that. Hey, also, can you add in a part about what we did after she brought the soup?"
"Um. What do you mean, add something?" I asked, perplexed.
"How about something like, 'She brought me soup and it gave me the strength to be a man with her all night long'?"
I breathed into my stammering silence. "Um, well. No. I can't add that," I said diplomatically. "You aren't writing the story, and neither am I. I'm just trying to confirm if this original quote about the soup is accurate."
"Really? You can't add that?" He asked with indignation. "You know, my mother is going to read this. I want it to look good!" He said with no trace of irony.
May 18th, 2011
The Daily Express can shut up shop now, having published what amounts to the platonic ideal of a Daily Express front page.
[Via Prog Gold]
May 9th, 2011
Probably the greatest newspaper correction ever published:
Correction: May 8, 2011
An item in the Extra Bases baseball notebook last Sunday misidentified, in some editions, the origin of the name Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver, which Mets pitcher R. A. Dickey gave one of his bats. Orcrist was not, as Dickey had said, the name of the sword used by Bilbo Baggins in the Misty Mountains in "The Hobbit"; Orcrist was the sword used by the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in the book. (Bilbo Baggins's sword was called Sting.)
Not that I follow baseball, or had read the original report, but reading this I can't help but ask myself "Would I have noticed their mistake?" I have a horrible feeling that I would have.
[Via The Awl]
May 6th, 2011
Phil Gyford on a thoroughly unreliable estimate:
If you ever get that sneaking suspicion that too much of the authoritative-sounding facts in the news are mindlessly made up, it's great when you find evidence of this. Everyone from the Daily Mail and the Sun, through the Croydon Advertiser and Shropshire Star, on to CNN, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian blindly reported that "an estimated two billion people" watched the royal wedding.
Whenever real journalists complain that bloggers – mere amateurs! – couldn't possibly do the work of professionals who have been through proper training, it's exactly this kind of nonsense that permits you to stare at them, silently, before giving a little giggle and walking away. [...]
March 23rd, 2011
Best. Job Ad. Ever!
We want to add some talent to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigative team. [...]
[If...] you're the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble… well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you're our kind of sicko. [...]
[Via Making Light (Sidelights)]
February 25th, 2011
Churnalism.com is essentially a narrowly focused search engine: instead of searching the web in general, it lets you search UK news web sites and identify the extent to which related news stories simply regurgitated the text of the press release.
Someone needs to turn this into a browser plugin, so that as you read news online you can see how much of what you're reading originated in a press release.
[Via One Thing Well]
August 22nd, 2010
The Tragic Death of Practically Everything:
Wired Editor in Chief Chris Anderson is catching flack for the magazine's current cover story, which declares that the Web is dead. I'm not sure what the controversy is. For years, once-vibrant technologies, products, and companies have been dropping like teenagers in a Freddy Krueger movie. Thank heavens that tech journalists have done such a good job of documenting the carnage as it happened. Without their diligent reporting, we might not be aware that the industry is pretty much an unrelenting bloodbath. [...]
[Via Ben Hammersley's return to old-fashioned blogging]
July 21st, 2010
Inspired by yet another controversy over news web sites surreptitiously editing their articles, Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg offers a simple solution, as practised by Wikipedia and computer programmers everywhere:
Versioning should be the model for how we present the evolution of news stories on the Web. In fact, it makes so much sense that, even though right now no one is using it, I'm convinced it will become the norm over the next decade.
Today it might seem like overkill, but that's how all new Web phenomena present themselves to us. It might sound like a lot of work, but once it's incorporated into a newsroom's content management software, it's probably going to save time presently wasted on posting jerry-rigged correction notices. It can be presented unobtrusively, so that the vast majority of readers who don't care will never need to see it – but the bloggers, pundits and critics who do care can feast.
Given that the typical newsroom's content management system probably already does version control for internal use, this sort of thing should be a no-brainer. I'm guessing the barriers to rolling out versioning where the readers can see it is far more cultural than technical. As people who grew up with Wikipedia move up in the hierarchy of the typical newsroom, perhaps this sort of thing will become second nature. Or will it take the widespread adoption of user-accessible version control features in everyone's weblog content management software to make this approach seem like the right thing to do?
For all that, I suppose that you have to take into account the legal issues that will occasionally come into play – not least in the Libel Capital Of The World. If your newspaper has published a story on their web site and agreed to withdraw or correct the story in the face of a threat of a libel action, what would be the status of the copy of version 1.0 of the story, no longer visible via the site's default article view but readily available to those who chose to view the story's earlier version? I am not a lawyer, but I'd imagine that our learned friends would argue that the only acceptable solution would be to completely wipe out the original, offending version of the story, rather than just push it behind a 'View previous versions' link.
July 1st, 2010
Compare and contrast:
Swissmiss quotes Adrian Holovaty:
"As more governments open their data, journalists lose privileged status as gatekeepers of information – but the need for their work as curators and explainers increases. The more data that's available in the world, the more essential it is for somebody to make sense of it."
- Christopher Beam asks What if political scientists covered the news?
Chief among the criticisms of Obama was his response to the spill. Pundits argued that he needed to show more emotion. Their analysis, however, should be viewed in light of the economic pressures on the journalism industry combined with a 24-hour news environment and a lack of new information about the spill itself.
Republicans, meanwhile, complained that the administration has not been sufficiently involved in the day-to-day cleanup. Their analysis, of course, is colored by their minority status in America's two-party system, which creates a strong structural incentive to criticize the party in power, whatever the merits.
[Christopher Beam article via The Browser]
May 24th, 2010
Phil Gyford came across some old press cuttings from the early 1990s. Makes me feel all nostalgic:
14 August 1992:
I've a lot of sympathy for Judith Mellor. But her dad's statement "If he'll cheat on my daughter, he'll cheat on our country" is stupid. When I had my own garage business I cheated on my wife on many occasions, but it didn't make any difference to the good service I gave my customers. (Signed letter in the Sun)
May 6th, 2010
James Fallows, writing almost two decades ago about the appeal of The Economist in the American market:
The other ugly English trait promoting The Economist's success in America is the Oxford Union argumentative style. At its epitome, it involves a stance so cocksure of its rightness and superiority that it would be a shame to freight it with mere fact.
American debate contests involve grinding, yearlong concentration on one doughy issue, like arms control. The forte of Oxford-style debate is to be able to sound certain and convincing about a topic pulled out of the air a few minutes before, such as "Resolved: That women are not the fairer sex." (The BBC radio shows "My Word" and "My Music," carried on National Public Radio, give a sample of the desired impromptu glibness.)
Economist leaders and the covers that trumpet their message offer Americans a blast of this style. Michael Kinsley, who once worked at The Economist, wrote that the standard Economist leader gives you the feeling that the writer started out knowing that three steps must be taken immediately — and then tried to think what the steps should be.
A certain modesty would seem appropriate in The Economist's leaders these days, considering that after 10 years in which the Thatcher government essentially did what the magazine said, Britain has the weakest economy in Europe. (Remind me, again, why we're looking to the British for economic advice.) But the implied message of the leaders often seems to be, "I took a First at Oxford. I'm right."
[Via PinkPundit, commenting at The Awl]
April 9th, 2010
Less than a year after the demise of Personal Computer World magazine, the title's star columnist Guy Kewney has died.
John Lettice remembers his former colleague:
I remember an awe-struck staffer returning from a visit to Guy's terraced house in Hackney, babbling that he didn't have any carpets but that he did have his own PBX system, which in 1983 was non-trivial cabling to have running up and down your staircase. And not a lot of IT writers were chums with the late Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker's Guide, either. Or able to survive (absolutely unscathed) costing his publishers a large sum of money to pay for a new encryption system for Acorn, after he'd published a crack in his column.
Danny O'Brien gives us the enthusiast's view:
I still remember one of his columns. In it, Kewney, boggling at the effort to which software publisher Acornsoft had gone to copy-protect software, published the one-line command for rendering its primitive DRM completely useless. I don't remember the details, but I do recall just stopping and staring and then laughing and rocking in glee at the audacity of it, and wondering why no-one ever said all those other hidden incantations that I was sure existed out loud in other newspapers and magazines. Then I watched him defend his decision after a barrage of outraged readers (swamped by those who cheered him on) chastised him the next month. It really stuck in my mind as this example of the power of words to unwind elaborate but unsustainable practices.
John Lettice says in his obituary that PCW had to pay Acorn for that Kewney column. They shouldn't have. And if they had to because of the law, well then, the law was wrong: spelling out these magical words of power, causing corporate battalions to flash out of existence at a single, carefully-researched command, really was Kewney's job, and he did it masterfully.