kottke.org posts about journalism

The benefits of having your head in the sandMay 19 2014

Ira Glass doesn't have any idea who Jill Abramson was or that she was fired.

Jill Abramson was fired.
I have no idea what you're talking about.

Jill Abramson got fired from the New York Times.
Okay. And she was who?

The executive editor.
Okay. I read the newspaper, but I live in my own little bubble. When did that happen?

Wednesday. And it's been a massive ... the blogosphere is going wild.
I hate reading media news so I actively sort of - I'm not interested in someone getting fired. No disrespect to people that are, but I literally had no idea who she was, or that she got fired until this moment.

I love this. Not like ironically or in the sense that I think Glass is a moron for being a media person who doesn't know what's going on with the media; I actually love it. There is very little about the Times' story that isn't just straight-up gossip. And for someone like Glass who traffics in ideas and is busy producing something of high quality like This American Life, media gossip just isn't that important.

And as @jess_mc reminded me, this Glass thing isn't nearly as entertaining as DMX not knowing who Barack Obama was in early 2008.

Wow, Barack! The nigga's name is Barack. Barack? Nigga named Barack Obama. What the fuck, man?! Is he serious? That ain't his fuckin' name. Ima tell this nigga when I see him, "Stop that bullshit. Stop that bullshit" [laughs] "That ain't your fuckin' name." Your momma ain't name you no damn Barack.

Fit to print?Mar 10 2014

Fit To Print is a Tumblr blog tracking the sometimes absurd instances of profanity avoidance in the NY Times. Like so:

Mr. Lee blasted a dictionary's worth of unprintable words at developers who fluff gritty neighborhoods with glossy names ("East Williamsburg" for Bushwick, for instance), and at the "Christopher Columbus syndrome" of gentrifiers who were sweeping into the largely black neighborhood of his youth with little regard for "a culture that's been laid down for generations."

I have already been on record about the Times' dumbass profanity policy, especially when it gets in the way of actually performing journalism.

Update: Language expert Jesse Sheidlower in a NY Times opinion piece:

When language can play such a hot-button role in our society, what we need is more reporting, not less. Some publications have loosened the restraints. The New Yorker has noticeably done so, British and Australian newspapers often print offensive words in full, and The Economist's style guide reads: "if you do use swear words, spell them out in full, without asterisks or other coynesses."

The best and worst media errors and corrections in 2013Jan 06 2014

I know we're past the point of saying "happy new year" and lingering on last year, but this is my favorite annual best of list: Regret the Error's The best and worst media errors and corrections in 2013. This correction from Marie Claire is pretty good:

In our July issue we wrongly described Tina Cutler as a journalist. In fact she is a practitioner of vibrational energy medicine.

And some quality historical truthiness from The Huffington Post:

An earlier version of this story indicated that the Berlin Wall was built by Nazi Germany. In fact, it was built by the Communists during the Cold War.

And Slate, get your Girls on some more in 2014 please:

This review misspelled basically everyone's name. It's Hannah Horvath, not Hannah Hovrath; Marnie is played by Allison Williams, not Alison Williams; and Ray is played by Alex Karpovsky, not Zosia Mamet.

The most quoted man in newsOct 30 2013

Greg Packer gets quoted in the news a lot, an area man among mere area boys. Andrew David Watson added fuel to his fire by producing a short film about Packer for the New Yorker.

Filed under even if it's fake it's real. (via ★interesting)

Gay Talese annotates Frank Sinatra Has A ColdOct 08 2013

If you're even a little bit of a magazine nerd, you'll appreciate this: with the help of Elon Green Gay Talese annotates his celebrated celebrity profile, Frank Sinatra Has A Cold.

EG: The punctuated alliteration is gorgeous -- "preened and polished"; "matured" and "molded". How much time would you spend on such a sentence?/eg

GT: Oh, I could spend days. Sometimes these phrases come to you and sometimes they're terrible. Sometimes you think, "Maybe that's okay" and you let it in. I throw a lot of stuff away.

EG: What percentage of what you write for any given story do you get rid of?

GT: More than half. Because it's so easily the case that it's turgid or overwritten.

EG: Do you throw away more now, now that you use a computer?

GT: I don't think so. I've always thrown a lot away, even when I was working on daily deadlines for newspapers. That was really expensive because at the New York Times we were typing what they called a "book" -- it had seven or eight pieces of carbon. A thick thing. If you threw it away, you were destroying 11 cents worth of, well, something.

(via @yayitsrob)

BREAKING: American Colonies Declare IndependenceSep 03 2013

An interesting look at how news of the Declaration of Independence spread through the American colonies and around the world. Because trans-Atlantic journeys took awhile back when, the first European news of the Declaration was almost a month and a half after July 4.

News of American independence reached London the second week of August via the Mercury packet ship, which sailed with important correspondence from General William Howe to Lord George Germain, dated July 7 and 8, at Staten Island. The London Gazette, the official Crown organ, first broke the news in its Saturday, August 10 edition. A 16-word, 106-character, Twitter-esque extract from a Howe letter read: "I am informed that the Continental Congress have declared the United Colonies free and independent States."

Later that day, the London Evening-Post included its own version of the breaking news: "Advice is received that the Congress resolved upon independence the 4th of July; and have declared war against Great Britain in form." The same blurb appeared in the Tuesday, August 13 issue of the London Chronicle. On Wednesday, the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser printed "Copies of the Declarations of War by the Provincials are now in Town and are said to be couched in the strongest terms."

Another fine post by Todd Andrlik, who recently wrote about the ages of prominent Revolutionary War participants. I'm currently reading Tom Standage's book about the history of social media and this story would fit right in.

The quickening pace of modern life?Jun 20 2013

Ah, the good old days, when people used to talk to each other in public rather than looking at their phones or listening to headphones all the time. Except that's not been the case for awhile as XKCD demonstrates with a series of quotes from various publications dating back to 1871. This is from William Smith's Morley: Ancient and Modern published in 1886.

With the advent of cheap newspapers and superior means of locomotion... the dreamy quiet old days are over... for men now live think and work at express speed. They have their Mercury or Post laid on their breakfast table in the early morning, and if they are too hurried to snatch from it the news during that meal, they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel... leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them... the hurry and bustle of modern life... lacks the quiet and repose of the period when our forefathers, the day's work done, took their ease...

In 1946, a young Stanley Kubrick worked as a photographer for Look magazine and took this shot of NYC subway commuters reading newspapers:

Kubrick Subway Newspapers

The more things change, etc. More of Kubrick's subway photography can be found here.

The view from the outsideJun 11 2013

What if journalists from foreign countries wrote about the US the way US newspapers and magazines cover events in foreign countries?

On a recent visit to the United States by GlobalPost, signs of the increased security apparatus could be found everywhere.

At all national airports, passengers are now forced to undergo full-body scans before boarding any flights. Small cameras are perched on many street corners, recording the movements and actions of the public. And incessant warnings on public transportation systems encourage citizens to report any "suspicious activity" to authorities.

Several American villagers interviewed for this story said the ubiquitous government marketing campaign called, "If you see something, say something," does little to make them feel safer and, in fact, only contributes to a growing mistrust among the general population.

"I've deleted my Facebook account, stopped using email, or visiting websites that might be considered anti-regime," a resident of the northern city of Boston, a tough-as-nails town synonymous with rebellion, told GlobalPost. It was in Boston that an American militia first rose up against the British empire. "But my phone? How can I stop using my phone? This has gone too far."

All the news that's fit to sewJun 05 2013

For her Sewn News project, artist Lauren DiCioccio embroiders photographs from the New York Times.

Sewn news

(via beautiful decay)

The myth of crack babiesMay 20 2013

In the 1980s, crack babies were all over the news. They were supposed to have severe mental and physical problems, overwhelm our schools and health care institutions, and cost us billions of dollars. None of this happened because the media latched onto some limited preliminary research and blew it all out of proportion.

Retro Report has gone back to look at the story of these children from the perspective of those in the eye of the storm -- tracing the trajectory from the small 1985 study by Dr. Ira Chasnoff that first raised the alarm, through the drumbeat of media coverage that kept the story alive, to the present where a cocaine-exposed research subject tells her own surprising life story. Looking back, Crack Babies: A Tale from the Drug Wars shows the danger of prediction and the unexpected outcomes that result when closely-held convictions turn out to be wrong.

This video was produced by a new news organization called Retro Report, which revisits old news stories with a sober eye..."a smart, engaging and forward-looking review of these high-profile events". In addition to the crack babies story, they've also explored the New York garbage barge and the Tailhook scandal.

The say what you want clubMay 20 2013

Writer Tom Junod on journalism and regret:

I remember walking into a dinner party after Slate called the Angelina profile the Worst Celebrity Profile of All Time. My arrival was greeted with silence; people did not know what to say. So I brought it up, not just to ease the tension but also because I was, like my editor, perversely proud of being so honored, knowing that you can't hope to write the Best Celebrity Profile of All Time unless you are absolutely prepared to write the Worst. I'm not in this business because I expect to be admired but rather because I want the freedom to say what I want to say and get some kind of reaction for saying it, so if I can't enjoy the fact that Slate devoted 2,500 words to the Angelina profile then I've lost something of myself that I desperately need to preserve in order to write the way I want to write. The great vice of journalism in the age of social media is not its recklessness but rather its headlong rush for respectability -- its self-conscious desire to please an audience of peers rather than an audience of reader -- and the first step towards respectability is regret.

Here's his profile of Jolie and the Slate takedown of it. And you can like this post riiiiight down here (God, please do):
↓↓

The NY Times' dumb anti-profanity policyMay 07 2013

PepsiCo is dropping Lil Wayne as a Mountain Dew spokesman because of "vulgar lyrics" referring to Emmett Till after the Till family put pressure on the beverage giant. What lyrics? Because of its ridiculous policy against including bad words in such an august publication, the NY Times doesn't even say what the lyrics are! Which makes the entire article worthless from a journalistic perspective. The lyrics are the entire story...without them, it's just a bunch of press release bullshit. FYI, because we are all adults here (and your kids already know the lyrics), here are the lyrics in question courtesy of Rap Genius:

Pop a lot of pain pills
Bout to put rims on my skateboard wheels
Beat that pussy up like Emmett Till
Yeah....
Two cell phones ringin' at the same time
That's your ho, callin' from two different phones
Tell that bitch "leave me the fuck alone!"
See, you fuck her wrong, and I fuck her long
I got a love-hate relationship with Molly
I'd rather pop an ollie, and my dick is a trolly
Boy, I'll bury you like Halle

How can people even discuss the artistic merit and/or offensiveness of the lyrics if you can't print them? The Times should either simply publish whatever it is they are talking about or not run the story at all. (via @bdeskin, who has been giving the Times shit about their profanity policy on Twitter)

Yesteryear's newspapers of tomorrowApr 26 2013

From Paleofuture, a review of past predictions of what newspapers might look like in the future.

In the 1920s it was radio that was supposed to kill the newspaper. Then it was TV news. Then it was the Internet. The newspaper has evolved and adapted (remember when TV news killed the evening edition newspaper?) and will continue to evolve for many decades to come.

Visions of what newspapers might look like in the future have been varied throughout the 20th century. Sometimes they've taken the form of a piece of paper that you print at home, delivered via satellite or radio waves. Other times it's a multimedia product that lives on your tablet or TV. Today we're taking a look at just a few of the newspapers from the futures that never were.

My favorite is this radio that prints newspapers:

Newspaper Radio

(via @H_FJ)

Fact-checking at The New YorkerMar 15 2013

Excerpted from a book called The Art of Making Magazines, a piece on how fact-checking works at the New Yorker.

So that was the old New Yorker. The biggest difference between David Remnick's New Yorker today and the Shawn New Yorker is timeliness. During the Shawn years, book reviews ran months, even years out of sync with publication dates. Writers wrote about major issues without any concern for news pegs or what was going on in the outside world. That was the way people thought, and it was really the way the whole editorial staff was tuned.

All this changed when Tina Brown arrived. Whereas before, editorial schedules were predictable for weeks or a month in advance, under Tina we began getting 8,000-, 10,000-, 12,000-word pieces in on a Thursday that were to close the following Wednesday. But something else changed in a way that is more important. Prior to Tina, the magazine really had been writer-driven, and I think this is why they gave the writers so much liberty. They wanted the writers to develop their own, often eccentric, interests.

Under Tina, writing concepts began to originate in editors' meetings, and assignments were given out to writers who were essentially told what to write. And a lot of what the editors wanted was designed to be timely and of the moment and tended to change from day to day. So the result was that we were working on pieces that were really much more controversial and much less well-formulated than anything we had dealt with previously, and often we would put teams of checkers to work on these pieces and checking and editing could go on all night.

Not from The OnionFeb 25 2013

The On1on gathers news that seems like it should be from The Onion but isn't. Like "Russian man busted for cheating on girlfriend when she spots him on the Russian version of google maps with the other woman", "Accused of being gay, Spanish priest challenges Church to measure his anus", and "China Bans Reincarnation Without Government Permission". (via waxy)

The challenges of conversational journalismJan 24 2013

The most visible journalism these days -- aka the loudest journalism, namely cable news, pop culture blogs, tabloid magazines, TMZ, Buzzfeed, HuffPo, talk radio, etc. -- mostly takes the form of opinionated conversation: professional media people discussing current events much like you and your friends might at a crowded lunch table. A side effect of this way of doing journalism is that you rarely hear from anyone who actually is an expert on the subject of interest at any particular time. That approach doesn't scale; finding and talking to experts is time consuming and experts without axes to grind are boring anyway. So what you get instead are people who are experts at talking about things about which they are inexpert.1

And the challenge for listeners/readers/viewers here is obvious: non-experts can completely miss stuff that's obvious to an expert. Take the two recent stories of our times: Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend and Beyonce's potential inaugural lip-sync.2 Literally hundreds of thousands of hours of the news media's time were taken up over the past week discussing whether or not these things occurred, who knew what and when, and so forth. And that's the appeal, right? Speculation is fun and people want their news to be fun.

But a little expertise is enlightening. Ilana Gershon, an Indiana University assistant professor, spent two and a half years doing fieldwork among Samoan migrants. Manti Te'o is Samoan. In a piece at Culture Digitally, Gershon provides some valuable context to the Te'o hoax.

None of the news stories are commenting on the fact that Manti Te'o is Samoan. The reporters are wondering whether he was truly hoaxed, or whether he was complicit. Why didn't he ever insist on visiting his girlfriend in person? They had been in touch for four years after all -- chatting by Facebook message, texting, calling each other on the phone. How could he not be a bit suspicious? But in wondering all these questions, they never ask what his cultural background might be -- what ideas about truth and verification did he learn growing up in a Samoan migrant community, especially one that was so religious (in his case, Mormon)?

So as an ethnographer of Samoan migrants, I want to say that I heard a number of stories that sound almost exactly like Manti Te'o's story -- naïve Christian golden boys who had been fooled by other Samoans pretending to be dewy-eyed innocents. Leukemia was even a theme, I guess Samoan pranksters keep turning to the same diseases over and over again. But I did this fieldwork before Facebook or cell phones, and even before email became all that widespread outside of college circles. All the stories I heard involved husky voices on telephones, and maybe a letter or two.

Read the whole thing. Interesting, right? Te'o didn't have to be in on it. The whole crazy thing makes sense once you take the cultural context into account.

As for Beyonce, both audio engineer Ian Shepherd and musician Mike Doughty think that, in their expert opinions, she was not lip-syncing the national anthem. Shepherd:

When she starts singing, her voice is hard to hear -- the microphone gain is too low. The sound-man quickly corrects this -- but if we were listening to a recording this wouldn't happen -- in fact back-up recordings are used to solve exactly this kind of problem.

At 1'16'' in the video above, she tilts her head slightly closer to the mic and the sound gets suddenly more bassy. This is because of an acoustic effect known as the "proximity effect".

At 1'52'' she takes out one of her earpieces. Some people are citing this as more evidence she was lip-syncing, but in fact it's what singers do when they're having trouble hearing the pitch of their own voice through the earpiece. By taking it out, she can hear her own voice more clearly and sing in tune more easily. (In fact, if the pre-recorded vocal was going to her earpiece, she may well have been finding it distracting.)

And Doughty:

Most dramatically, sound waves actually blow around in the wind. Sometimes, when I do a big outdoor festival, I sound-check in calm weather, but the wind picks up when the actual show begins, taking my voice and throwing it someplace other than where I'm expecting it. It's easy to get confused. A politician might choke, like, "I'm not speaking right! Or the sound's not right! I better be super loud! Or use the mic differently!" That would be a Howard Dean moment. If you're the sound engineer at the inauguration, a big part of your gig is preventing Howard Dean moments.

Beyoncé, being a samurai, clearly came expecting that possibility. So she compensates: She sings the word "bursting" a little too close to the mic, causing a little bit of discernible distortion -- it's like a subtler version of when you're talking into the mic on your phone, and you suddenly get loud, or too close, and for a moment the voice gets kind of larger and fuzzier.

When she pulls out her left earpiece -- more on that in a moment -- she's adjusting how she sounds to herself, and she subsequently pulls the mic further from her face. Notice how the echo suddenly gets more obvious -- for a split second, the vocal sounds like it's going through a tin can.

Right after that, you can tell that the sound person is scrambling to adjust the sound, because she's adjusted her mic position. It sounds noticeably different until "Oh say does that star-spangled banner still wave," when the sound is dialed in again.

Doughty, because he is a performer himself, manages to be both expert and entertaining:

For me, the most compelling evidence that Beyoncé was doing it for real is the HELL YES smile on Joe Biden's face. Now, that is, clearly, a dude standing two feet from an electrifying lady singing like a motherfucker.

Pretty convincing in both cases, more so than thousands of hours of inexpert opinion anyway. More like this, please...and sooner in the process.

[1] And I should know...look at me prattling away about journalism and expertise (and food and parenting and politics) like I know what I'm talking about. I am an expert on people being inexpert experts.

[2] Both "even if it's fake, it's real" moments at some level, BTW.

Our weird weather realityJan 11 2013

As previously reported, global warming doesn't just mean the Earth is getting warmer...the weather is getting weirder.

Britons may remember 2012 as the year the weather spun off its rails in a chaotic concoction of drought, deluge and flooding, but the unpredictability of it all turns out to have been all too predictable: Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.

Especially lately. China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing -- minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting -- that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.

Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began.

BTW, this story was published the day before the NY Times announced that they are dismantling their environment news desk and dispersing the nine-person staff throughout the newsroom.

It wasn't a decision we made lightly," said Dean Baquet, the paper's managing editor for news operations. "To both me and Jill [Abramson, executive editor], coverage of the environment is what separates the New York Times from other papers. We devote a lot of resources to it, now more than ever. We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter."

This seems like a step in the wrong direction. Which prominent national publication will be brave and start pushing climate change coverage alongside that of politics, business, and sports? At the very least, the Times should have a weekly Climate Change section, the New Yorker should have a yearly Climate issue, Buzzfeed should have a Climate & Weather vertical, etc. (via @tcarmody)

The best reporting on guns in AmericaDec 14 2012

From Pro Publica back in July, the best reporting on guns in America.

In the wake of last week's shooting in Aurora, Colo., we've taken a step back and laid out the best pieces we could find about guns. They're roughly organized by articles on rights, trafficking and regulation.

The blueprint for media coverage of mass killingsDec 14 2012

From a few years ago, Charlie Brooker's Newswipe takes on the media's reaction to mass killings, similar to what Roger Ebert was getting at.

(thx, daniel)

The Onion, often the most emotionally honest media sourceDec 14 2012

The Onion takes on the CT school shootings in a series of articles. First, there's Fuck Everything, Nation Reports:

Following the fatal shooting this morning at a Connecticut elementary school that left at least 27 dead, including 20 small children, sources across the nation shook their heads, stifled a sob in their voices, and reported fuck everything. Just fuck it all to hell.

All of it, sources added.

"I'm sorry, but fuck it, I can't handle this-I just can't handle it anymore," said Deborah McEllis, who added that "no, no, no, no, no, this isn't happening, this can't be real." "Seriously, what the hell is this? What's even going on anymore? Why do things like this keep happening?"

From Right To Own Handheld Device That Shoots Deadly Metal Pellets At High Speed Worth All Of This:

"It's my God-given right and a founding principle of this country that I be able to own a [piece of metal that launches other smaller pieces of metal great distances, one after the other], and if a few deaths here and there is the price we have to pay for that freedom, then so be it," said Lawrence Crane of nearby Danbury, CT, who is such a staunch advocate of the portable deadly-pellet-flinging apparatuses that he keeps multiple versions of such mechanisms in his home, often carries one with him, and is a member of a club whose sole purpose is to celebrate these assembled steel things and the small bits of metal they send flying.

And Report: It Okay To Spend Rest Of Day Curled In Fetal Position Under Desk:

Following reports of a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 children dead, sources just confirmed that it is totally fine to spend the entire rest of today curled up in the fetal position underneath your desk. Early reports also indicated that sitting on the floor while holding your knees to your chest and slowly rocking back and forth is not only acceptable, but, sources said, absolutely understandable.

Roger Ebert on the media's coverage of school shootingsDec 14 2012

From his review of Gus Van Sant's Elephant, a fictionalized account of a Columbine-like school shooting, here's Roger Ebert on the media's behavior while reporting these kinds of events.

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. "Wouldn't you say," she asked, "that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?" No, I said, I wouldn't say that. "But what about 'Basketball Diaries'?" she asked. "Doesn't that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?" The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it's unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. "Events like this," I said, "if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory."

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of "explaining" them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Best media errors and corrections of 2012Dec 12 2012

This is one of my favorite annual lists: Regret the Error's best (and worst) media errors and corrections. Here, for example, is the correction of the year from the Economist:

Correction: An earlier version of this article claimed that journalists at Bloomberg Businessweek could be disciplined for sipping a spritzer at work. This is not true. Sorry. We must have been drunk on the job.

And this one, from The Atlantic:

This post originally referred to Jennifer Grey as "Ferris Bueller's sister." As commenters have pointed out, her role alongside Swayze in Dirty Dancing is clearly the more relevant. We regret putting Baby in a corner.

And from Slate:

In an April 30 "TV Club," Julia Turner misstated when Sally Draper ate the fish in Mad Men. It was before she saw the blow job.

The Atlantic has a similar list that casts a wider net outside of news media.

How Capote got Brando to spill his gutsNov 14 2012

One of my favorite magazine pieces is Truman Capote's long profile of Marlon Brando from the Nov 9, 1957 issue of the New Yorker.

He hung up, and said, "Nice guy. He wants to be a director-eventually. I was saying something, though. We were talking about friends. Do you know how I make a friend?" He leaned a little toward me, as though he had an amusing secret to impart. "I go about it very gently. I circle around and around. I circle. Then, gradually, I come nearer. Then I reach out and touch them -- ah, so gently..." His fingers stretched forward like insect feelers and grazed my arm. "Then," he said, one eye half shut, the other, à la Rasputin, mesmerically wide and shining, "I draw back. Wait awhile. Make them wonder. At just the right moment, I move in again. Touch them. Circle." Now his hand, broad and blunt-fingered, travelled in a rotating pattern, as though it held a rope with which he was binding an invisible presence. "They don't know what's happening. Before they realize it, they're all entangled, involved. I have them. And suddenly, sometimes, I'm all they have. A lot of them, you see, are people who don't fit anywhere; they're not accepted, they've been hurt, crippled one way or another. But I want to help them, and they can focus on me; I'm the duke. Sort of the duke of my domain."

In a piece for Columbia Journalism Review, Douglas McCollam details how Capote got access to the reclusive star when he was filming Sayonara in Japan.

Logan had no intention of subjecting his own cast and crew to the same withering scrutiny. In particular, he was concerned about what might happen if Capote gained access to his mercurial leading man. Though Brando was notoriously press-shy, and Logan doubted Capote's ability to crack the star's enigmatic exterior, he wasn't taking any chances. He and William Goetz, Sayonara's producer, had both written to The New Yorker stating that they would not cooperate for the piece and, furthermore, that if Capote did journey to Japan he would be barred from the set. Nevertheless, Capote had come.

As Logan later recounted, his reaction to Capote's sudden appearance was visceral. He came up behind Capote, and without saying a word, picked the writer up and transported him across the lobby, depositing him outside the front door of the hotel. "Now come on, Josh!" Capote cried. "I'm not going to write anything bad."

Logan went immediately upstairs to Brando's room to deliver a warning: "Don't let yourself be left alone with Truman. He's after you." His warning would go unheeded. Recalling his reaction to Capote, Logan later wrote, "I had a sickening feeling that what little Truman wanted, little Truman would get."

Alexis Madrigal wrote about Capote's Brando piece for the first installment of Nieman Storyboard's Why's This So Good series about classic pieces of narrative nonfiction.

Frank Sinatra Jr. is feeling fineOct 25 2012

Chantel Tattoli was assigned to report on Frank Sinatra, Jr's concert at the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek in Florida. And, as one does, she arranged for her father to go with her.

Two weeks ago, I told my father I'd been assigned to report Frank Sinatra, Jr.'s concert, told him I had a second press pass for a photographer. My father heard me loud and clear. He went out and bought a telescopic Nikon. It is now July 12, 2012, a Thursday. An hour ago, I showed him how to hold the camera like a pro, by cradling the lens in his left hand. We were in the parking garage waiting for an elevator. The long window looked out on the complex where a water tower sprouted behind the honey-colored stucco. Behind it was a backdrop of perfect pool blue sky. "Try to shoot that," I said, pointing. He tried. But the auto-setting didn't like the light conditions. The shot wouldn't take. "Well," my father mumbled; his eyes danced over the machine. "How do you do it manually?" It was at that point that dread began to gnaw on his daughter.

This is a wonderful little story...and there's even a faint echo of Frank Sinatra Has a Cold about it.

Twitter, Facebook, and old new mediaOct 19 2012

Newsweek announced yesterday that the print magazine will cease publication and the entire thing will move to an all-digital format.

Newsweek Global, as the all-digital publication will be named, will be a single, worldwide edition targeted for a highly mobile, opinion-leading audience who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context. Newsweek Global will be supported by paid subscription and will be available through e-readers for both tablet and the Web, with select content available on The Daily Beast.

In talking about the shift on his Daily Beast blog, Andrew Sullivan notes something interesting about reading online vs. reading in print (emphasis mine):

Which is why, when asked my opinion at Newsweek about print and digital, I urged taking the plunge as quickly as possible. Look: I chose digital over print 12 years ago, when I shifted my writing gradually online, with this blog and now blogazine. Of course a weekly newsmagazine on paper seems nuts to me. But it takes guts to actually make the change. An individual can, overnight. An institution is far more cumbersome. Which is why, I believe, institutional brands will still be at a disadvantage online compared with personal ones. There's a reason why Drudge Report and the Huffington Post are named after human beings. It's because when we read online, we migrate to read people, not institutions. Social media has only accelerated this development, as everyone with a Facebook page now has a mini-blog, and articles or posts or memes are sent by email or through social networks or Twitter.

People do tend to read people and not institutions online but a shift away from that has already started happening. A shift back to institutions, actually. Pre-1990s, people read the Times or Newsweek or Time or whatever. In 2008, people read Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish or Paul Krugman's column in the Times or Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP. Today, people read feeds of their friends/followees activities, interests, thoughts, and links on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr, i.e. the new media institutions.

Now, you may follow Daily Dish or Krugman on Twitter but that's not quite the same as reading the sites; you're not getting the whole post/article on Twitter, Krugman items are intermingled & fighting for attention with tweets from @horse_ebooks & Lady Gaga, and if you unfollowed Krugman altogether, you'll find when he writes something especially good, someone else in your Twitter stream will point you to it pretty quickly. That is, Twitter or Facebook will provide you with the essential Krugman without you having to pay any attention to Krugman at all.

What that means is what blogs and the web are doing to newspapers and magazines, so might Facebook & Twitter do to blogs. Blogs might not even get the chance to be called old media before they're handed their hats. It'll be interesting to see how smartphone/tablet apps affect this dynamic...will apps push users/readers back toward old media institutions, individuals, or the friend-packaging institutions like Twitter?

Climate change and journalistic balanceSep 24 2012

PBS ombudsman Michael Getler calls out NewsHour for "a faulty application of journalistic balance" in a recent segment on climate change.

Although global warming strikes me as one of those issues where there is no real balance and it is wrong to create an artificial or false equivalence, there is no harm and some possibility of benefit in inviting skeptics about the human contribution and other factors to speak, but in a setting in which the context of the vast majority of scientific evidence and speakers is also made clear.

What was stunning to me as I watched this program is that the NewsHour and Michels had picked Watts -- who is a meteorologist and commentator -- rather than a university-accredited scientist to provide "balance." I had never heard of Watts before this program and I'm sure most viewers don't, as part of their routines, read global warming blogs on either side of the issue.

I'm not being judgmental about Watts or anything he said. He undoubtedly is an effective spokesperson. But it seems to me that if you decide you are going to give airtime to the other side of this crucial and hot-button issue, you need to have a scientist.

Live TV coverage of Apollo 11 landing and moon walkJul 20 2012

The Apollo 11 Lunar Module landed on the surface of the Moon 43 years ago today. For the 40th anniversary of the landing in 2009, I put together a page where you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk, synced to the present-day time. I've updated the page to work again this year: just open this page in your browser and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here's the schedule:

Moon landing broacast start: 4:10:30 pm EDT on July 20
Moon landing shown: 4:17:40 pm EDT
Moon landing broadcast end: 4:20:15 pm EDT
{break}
Moon walk broadcast start: 10:51:27 pm EDT
First step on Moon: 10:56:15 pm EDT
Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew: approx 11:51:30 pm EDT
Moon walk broadcast end: 12:00:30 pm EDT on July 21

Here's a post I wrote when I launched the project.

If you've never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it. I've watched the whole thing a couple of times while putting this together and I'm struck by two things: 1) how it's almost more amazing that hundreds of millions of people watched the first Moon walk *live* on TV than it is that they got to the Moon in the first place, and 2) that pretty much the sole purpose of the Apollo 11 Moon walk was to photograph it and broadcast it live back to Earth.

Thanks to Dave Schumaker for the reminder.

How CNN and Fox screwed up the Supreme Court Obamacare decisionJul 09 2012

You may not believe me, but this postmortem by SCOTUSblog's Tom Goldstein of how the media covered the Supreme Court's decision regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is super fascinating. It's impeccably sourced, straighforward, and surprisingly compelling.

The Court's own technical staff prepares to load the opinion on to the Court's website. In years past, the Court would have emailed copies of the decision to the Solicitor General and the parties' lawyers once it was announced. But now it relies only on its website, where opinions are released approximately two minutes later. The week before, the Court declined our request that it distribute this opinion to the press by email; it has complete faith in the exceptional effort it has made to ensure that the website will not fail.

But it does. At this moment, the website is the subject of perhaps greater demand than any other site on the Internet -- ever. It is the one and only place where anyone in the country not at the building -- including not just the public, but press editors and the White House -- can get the ruling. And millions of people are now on the site anxiously looking for the decision. They multiply the burden of their individual visits many times over -- hitting refresh again, and again, and again. In the face of the crushing demand, the Court cannot publish its own decision.

The opinion will not appear on the website for a half-hour. So everyone in the country not personally at 1 First St., NE in Washington, DC is completely dependent on the press to get the decision right.

Reading it, the thing that struck me most is that these huge media machines still operate mostly on an individual basis. One person read the ruling for CNN, told one person in the control room, and then millions and millions of people heard that (mis)information just a few seconds later on CNN, on Twitter, and even in the Oval Office.

HBO puts first episode of Sorkin's The Newsroom on YouTubeJun 25 2012

Here's the entire first episode of Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom. You can also watch it on HBO.com but you have to register first. I doubt non-US residents can watch it in either place. Why isn't this embeddable? I don't understand...they don't want more people to watch it? Does the internet girl know?

Journalists vs Hezbollah fighters in paintballJun 22 2012

In an effort to get to know them better (because access is otherwise difficult), a group of Western journalists arranged a paintball game with a group of Hezbollah fighters. The journalists fared better than you might think, but the two groups were playing different games.

We figured they'd cheat; they were Hezbollah, after all. But none of us-a team of four Western journalists-thought we'd be dodging military-grade flash bangs when we initiated this "friendly" paintball match.

The battle takes place underground in a grungy, bunker-like basement underneath a Beirut strip mall. When the grenades go off it's like being caught out in a ferocious thunderstorm: blinding flashes of hot white light, blasts of sound that reverberate deep inside my ears.

As my eyesight returns and readjusts to the dim arena light, I poke out from my position behind a low cinder-block wall. Two large men in green jumpsuits are bearing down on me. I have them right in my sights, but they seem unfazed -- even as I open fire from close range, peppering each with several clear, obvious hits. I expect them to freeze, maybe even acknowledge that this softie American journalist handily overcame their flash-bang trickery and knocked them out of the game. Perhaps they'll even smile and pat me on the back as they walk off the playing field in a display of good sportsmanship (after cheating, of course).

Instead, they shoot me three times, point-blank, right in the groin.

From this distance (well within the 15-foot "safety zone"), paintballs feel like bee stings. I raise my hands in pain and confusion, signaling to the referee that I'm leaving the game. But the bigger one -- a tall, muscular farm boy from the deep south of Lebanon who tonight is going by the name Khodor -- isn't finished with me yet: He wraps his giant hands around my body and tries to throw me over his shoulder with the kind of deftness that only comes from practice. I'm quick enough to break free and flee, but my teammate Ben isn't so lucky. Khodor and his partner move past me in perfect military formation, plunging deeper into our defenses. Soon they apprehend Ben, pushing him ahead of them, human shield-style.

Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell go long on sportsJun 07 2012

Grantland's Bill Simmons and the New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell had one of their epic email conversations the other day and posted it to Grantland. Topics included the NBA playoffs, sports journalism, LeBron, fame in the internet era, sports philosophers, and football concussions.

Do we really need 25 people crammed in baseball locker rooms fighting for the same mundane quotes? What's our game plan for the fact that -- thanks to the Internet and 24-hour sports stations -- a city like Boston suddenly has four times as many sports media members as it once had? Why are we covering teams the same way we covered them in 1981, just with more people and better equipment? If I could watch any Celtics game and press conference from my house (already possible), and there was a handpicked pool of reporters (maybe three per game, with the people changing every game) responsible for pooling pregame/postgame quotes and mailing them out immediately, could I write the same story (or pretty close)? If we reduced the locker room clutter, would players relax a little more? Would their quotes improve? Would they trust the media more? Why haven't we experimented at all? Any "improvements" in our access have been forgettable. Seriously, what pearls of wisdom are we expecting from NBA coaches during those ridiculous in-game interviews, or from athletes sitting on a podium with dozens of media members firing monotone questions at them? It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet of forgettable quotes, like the $7.99 prime rib extravaganzas at a Vegas casino or something. There's Russell Westbrook at the podium for $7.99! Feast away! We laugh every time Gregg Popovich curmudgeonly swats Craig Sager away with four-word answers, but really, he's performing a public service. He's one of the few people in sports who has the balls to say, "This couldn't be a dumber relationship right now."

The Onion predicts the futureAug 11 2011

Published in The Onion more than 10 years ago after George W. Bush took office, Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over' is just getting more and more prescient.

Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"

They probably should get a Pulitzer. (thx, andrew)

A journalist shares his experience as an undocumented immigrantJun 22 2011

For this coming weekend's NY Times Magazine, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas shares the story of his Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.

One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver's permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. "This is fake," she whispered. "Don't come back here again."

Vargas won a Pulitzer and wrote this article about Mark Zuckerberg for the New Yorker. I hope he can work out a way to stay in the United States...we need more people like him on our team.

Bill Simmons: superwriterfanJun 01 2011

In this coming weekend's issue, the NY Times Magazine (appropriately) goes long on Bill Simmons and his new web venture, Grantland (horrible name chosen by ESPN and not Simmons).

At the center of Simmons's columns is not the increasingly unknowable athlete but the experience of the fan. His frame of reference is himself. He might not be able to tell you how a ballplayer felt performing a particular feat, but he can tell you how he felt watching it, what childhood memories it evoked, the scene from the movie "Point Break" it brought to mind, which one of his countless theories -- newcomers to his column can consult a glossary on his home page -- it vindicates.

Taking The Onion seriouslyMay 27 2011

The Literally Unbelievable blog is collecting reactions from people on Facebook who think articles from The Onion are real. For instance, in response to The Onion's Obama Finally Tells Rambling Tom Vilsack To Shut The Fuck Up During Cabinet Meeting, a woman wrote:

An intimidated verbal threat of abuse in the workplace, by this thug. Never work in its satan life and this is why America is being destroyed. satan hates truth. satan is lies, hate and kills anyone that gets in its way to continue to lie to America & it's idiot followers.

Thug...that's some sort of code word, right? (via ★vuokko)

The early 20th century home pageMay 19 2011

Whoa, this is a fascinating look at how the Boston Globe used to deliver the news to people using handwritten signs in a heavily trafficked area of Boston.

Breaking news -- a bank holdup, a bus accident, the death of FDR -- was quickly featured on the storefront (NB: usually in 140 characters or less). The storefront even offered streaming multimedia of a kind: telegraph dispatches of boxing matches and baseball games were shouted out play by play through a pair of loudspeakers.

Different "layouts" were used. During World War II an outsized map of Europe loomed over the storefront. For Red Sox World Series appearances, a scaffold was built. Sports desk hacks stood on it to chalk up the scores for bowler-hatted crowds numbering in the hundreds.

The signs even contained advertising. Here's a photo of hundreds of people following the Red Sox in the 1912 World Series:

Boston Globe Homepage

(via ★fchimero)

How the journalistic sausage gets madeApr 28 2011

Over at Forbes, Susannah Breslin is documenting the process that she goes through as she works on a story.

I'm neither Woodward nor Bernstein. This doesn't mean I am a lousy journalist. This means that I am a certain kind of journalist. Basically, who I am as a journalist is who I am as a person. I am an observer. I am not a run-after-you-with-a-mic-in-your-face type of journalist. I am a get-out-of-the-way-and-the-story-will-present-itself-to-you type of journalist.

The world's best designed newspaperMar 25 2011

...is a newspaper from Portugal called i.

Designers are clearly thinking about the way two facing pages work together, whether the stories are related or not. This creates a flow that encourages reading without interruption.

i is composed like a beautiful piece of music. It has the discipline to play only the high notes that matter most. For example, it uses its full bleed capability sparingly. It creates strong impact, even with small things. The surprise of occasional whimsy makes the content inviting.

(via good)

NY Times paywall is hereMar 17 2011

Or will be soon...they announced some of the details today.

On NYTimes.com, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge (including slide shows, videos and other features). After 20 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site.

Cheapest plan is about $180/year and the most expensive is $420/yr. Access is free to paper subscribers.

Al-Jazeera's coverage of the Japanese earthquakeMar 11 2011

If you haven't already heard, Al-Jazeera had (and continues to have) some of the best coverage of earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Here's a clip from earlier showing the tsunami rushing through a populated area.

Contrast with CNN, which was apparently home to giggles and Godzilla jokes as the quake was being reported. In the last three or four big events in the world, Al-Jazeera has had the best coverage...is this a changing of the guard?

Update: Mediaite investigates and finds no evidence that a Godzilla reference or giggling occurred on CNN last night.

We did find an example of an American in Japan that made a reference that it was like a "monster movie" (which is included below) but Church handles herself completely appropriately.

Update: Mediaite found a video of the CNN broadcast in question where the anchor chuckles at something her interviewee says. And her whole tone sounds a bit more chipper than it ought to. The sing-song anchor voice might suffice when reporting non-news filler but fails when watching video of dozens of homes (possibly with people in them!) being swept along by a massive wave of water. (via @somebadideas)

In FocusFeb 10 2011

Alan Taylor, late of The Big Picture, is up and running at The Atlantic with his new site, In Focus.

In Focus is The Atlantic's news photography blog. Several times a week, I'll post entries featuring collections of images that tell a story. My goal is to use photography to do the kind of high-impact journalism readers have come to expect on other pages of this site. Along the way, I'll cover a range of subjects, from breaking news and historical topics to culture high and low. Sometimes, I'll just showcase amazing photography.

One of us! One of us!Feb 02 2011

Writer Rob Neyer recently left ESPN for SB Nation and in his first column for SBN, he articulates the difference between "us" (professional journalists) and them (readers).

I've never thought of myself as a member of us rather than them.

I've got a lot of passions, and generally I won't bore you with them. But the passion I indulge almost every day of my life is good writing. I crave it, and when I find it, I treasure it. I surround myself with books full of good writing, and I can't get through the day without scribbling down a brilliant sentence or delightful word in a thick journal that's always close at hand.

Also, it's my business. I'm one of the lucky few who gets paid to indulge his first love.

Where the good writing comes from, though, is irrelevant. All that matters is the writing.

You're paid to write? I know lots of professional writers who either never learned to write well, or have forgotten. You work for a famous website or newspaper? The big boys don't have a monopoly on good writing, let alone facts.

Sportswriting, like writing about computing or video games, lends itself especially well to amateur participation because you've got, what, tens of millions of people who, even at an early age, are basically experts on football, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc. because they've grown up playing, watching, and analyzing those sports. The actual writing bit is harder but the passion is definitely there. (via hello typepad)

The Big Picture creator moves onJan 18 2011

Two and a half years ago, Alan Taylor started The Big Picture at the Boston Globe; he basically ran the site in his spare work time as a web developer for the company. Now he's moving on to The Atlantic, where he will edit a new photo site called In Focus.

I wanted the opportunity to do this -- telling news photo stories -- as a fulltime job, and the Atlantic has offered that to me, for which I am grateful. I also think the Atlantic is a better overall fit for the type of international, wide-ranging storytelling I've practiced over the years. The Globe has been a good home and a great platform for over 425 entries since 2008 and I am truly grateful, but I've chosen to move on now, and really hope you'll come along and see what I'm up to. I feel very fortunate for what I've been able to accomplish to date, and for the opportunity given to me now. I really can't believe this is going to be my fulltime gig!

Smart move by The Atlantic, which is increasingly looking like one of the media properties that may make a smooth-ish transistion from print to online/app media. As for The Globe, well, I don't think they quite knew what they had there. Eight million page views per month out of nothing with a less-than-maximal effort...that's the kind of thing you want to encourage if you're in the media business.

Bill Simmons' "moss Vikings" postmortemOct 15 2010

Last week, Bill Simmons accidentally tweeted about a possible trade that would send American footballer Randy Moss from the Patriots to the Vikings and got the entire sports world whipped up into a frenzy. His explanation of what actually happened provides an interesting glimpse into how sports media sausage is made.

The first thing you need to know: I don't like breaking stories or the pressure that accompanies it. Sweating out those last few minutes before the moment of truth. Hoping you're right even though you're thinking, "I know I'm right. I have to be right. This is right. (Pause.) Am I right?" Wondering deep down, "I hope my source isn't betraying me," then rehashing every interaction you've ever had with that person. My stomach just isn't built for it. If I had Marc Stein's job, I'd be chain-smoking Lucky Strikes like Don Draper.

At the same time, I know a few Guys Who Know Things at this point. Whenever I stumble into relevant information -- it doesn't happen that often -- my first goal is always to assimilate that material into my column (as long as it's not time-sensitive). Sometimes I redirect the information to an ESPN colleague. Sometimes I keep it in my back pocket and wait for more details. It's a delicate balance. I have never totally figured out what to do.

AKA Dick Nenton, Floods, Tricky NickyOct 11 2010

The New Yorker goes long on Gawker Media founder Nick Denton. I loved the mid-article string of quotes from Nick's friends, admirers, and enemies:

"He's not, like, a sociopath, but you kind of have to watch what you're doing around him," Ricky Van Veen, the C.E.O. of the Web site College Humor, told me.

"The villain public persona is not a hundred-per-cent true," A. J. Daulerio, the editor-in-chief of Deadspin, Gawker Media's sports blog, said. "It's probably eighty-per-cent true."

"He has fun when people say horrible things about him," the blog guru Anil Dash said.

"I can't lie to make him worse than he is, but he's pretty bad," Ian Spiegelman, a former Gawker writer, said.

"Other people's emotions are alien to him," Choire Sicha, another Gawker alumnus, said.

Journalism in the age of dataSep 30 2010

A 50-minute documentary on information visualization and its use in journalism.

Lots of kottke.org regulars in there...Fry, Wattenberg, Koblin, Felton, Stamen, etc. And Amanda Cox sounds like Sarah Vowell!

On scientific journalismSep 27 2010

This is a blog post that links to a news website article about a scientific paper. The pullquote explains it so I don't have to bother:

In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of "scare quotes" to ensure that it's clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever.

In this paragraph I will briefly (because no paragraph should be more than one line) state which existing scientific ideas this new research "challenges".

If the research is about a potential cure, or a solution to a problem, this paragraph will describe how it will raise hopes for a group of sufferers or victims.

And then I'll make a little joke about one of the study's possible conclusions. (via someone who actually found the thing and sent it on to this lazy "curator")

Report on online newspapers, circa 1981May 28 2010

To go along with James Fallows' 1982 report on personal computing, a 1981 TV report about reading newspapers online.

It takes over two hours to recieve the entire text of the newspaper over the phone and with an hourly use charge of five dollars, the new telepaper won't be much competition for the 20-cent street edition.

The report was done back in the days when "Owns Home Computer" was a useful differentiating label.

Owns Home Computer

(via @aliotsy)

How to save the news businessMay 26 2010

There's lots of good stuff in this long James Fallows article about Google's now-intense interest in the health of journalism. In short, Google feels obligated from a business perspective to help serious news organizations put good information online so that people can find it through Google.

There really is no single cause," I was told by Josh Cohen, a former Web-news manager for Reuters who now directs Google's dealings with publishers and broadcasters, at his office in New York. "Rather, you could pick any single cause, and that on its own would be enough to explain the problems-except it's not on its own." The most obvious cause is that classified advertising, traditionally 30 to 40 percent of a newspaper's total revenue, is disappearing in a rush to online sites. "There are a lot of people in the business who think that in the not-too-distant future, the classified share of a paper's revenue will go to zero," Cohen said. "Stop right there. In any business, if you lose a third of your revenue, you're going to be in serious trouble."

Errol Morris on the postmodernity of the electric chairMay 11 2010

Errol Morris recently gave the commencement address at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism; here's the transcript.

It has become fashionable nowadays to speak of the subjectivity or the relativity of truth. I find such talk ridiculous at best. Let's go back to Randall Dale Adams. He found himself within days of being executed in "Old Sparky," the electric chair in Walls Unit, Huntsville Texas.

There is nothing post-modern about the electric chair. It takes a living human being and turns him into a piece of meat. Imagine you -- you the young journalists of tomorrow -- being strapped into an electric chair for a crime you didn't commit. Would you take comfort from a witness telling you that it really doesn't make any difference whether you are guilty or innocent? That there is no truth? "I think you're guilty; you think you're innocent. Can't we work it all out?"

Long-form journalismApr 26 2010

Longform.org is collecting some of the best long-form journalism available on the web. See also Instapaper's editor's picks and @longreads on Twitter. (thx, yehuda)

Lorem iPadApr 02 2010

Lorem iPad dolor sit amet, consectetur Apple adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua Shenzhen. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud no multi-tasking ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip iPad ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor iPad in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse CEO Steve Jobs dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Windows 7 ha ha ha. Excepteur sint occaecat battery life non proident, iPad in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Morbi erat justo, magical in semper posuere Jony Ive, molestie eget ipsum. Praesent eget erat no camera. Apple a erat sit amet ante pretium just a big iPod touch bibendum a at magna. Suspendisse Flash, sem sed tempor gravida, dolor mi auctor HTML5, vel feugiat justo metus nec diam. Maecenas quis iPad volutpat augue.

Final editionJan 07 2010

Twilight of the American newspaper tells the story of San Francisco and its newspapers. And in that tale, a glimpse that we might be losing our sense of place along with the newspaper.

We will end up with one and a half cities in America -- Washington, D.C., and American Idol. We will all live in Washington, D.C., where the conversation is a droning, never advancing, debate between "conservatives" and "liberals." We will not read about newlyweds. We will not read about the death of salesmen. We will not read about prize Holsteins or new novels. We are a nation dismantling the structures of intellectual property and all critical apparatus. We are without professional book reviewers and art critics and essays about what it might mean that our local newspaper has died. We are a nation of Amazon reader responses (Moby Dick is "not a really good piece of fiction" -- Feb. 14, 2009, by Donald J. Bingle, Saint Charles, Ill. -- two stars out of five). We are without obituaries, but the famous will achieve immortality by a Wikipedia entry.

Jim Lehrer's rules of journalismDec 23 2009

He listed them during the last broadcast of the The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

And, finally, I am not in the entertainment business.

(via df)

Best media errors and corrections of 2009Dec 18 2009

Regret the Error presents its annual list of media errors and corrections. These are two of my favorites:

An article on Aug. 2 about older alumni who have been helped by university career counselors referred imprecisely to comments by a 1990 graduate of Lehigh University who lost his job in February when his company was downsized, and a correction in this space last Sunday misspelled his surname. As the article correctly noted, he is David Monson, not Munson, and he was speaking generally -- not about himself -- when he said that newly unemployed people sometimes mope around the house in sweatpants.

--

ON 17 July 2008 in our front page article "Ron the Lash" we falsely reported that whilst recovering from an operation to his ankle Cristiano Ronaldo had "gone on a bender" at a Hollywood nightclub where he splashed out pounds 10,000 on champagne and vodka and threw his crutches to the ground and tried to dance on his uninjured foot. We now accept that Cristiano did not "go on a bender", did not drink any alcohol that evening, did not spend pounds 10,000 on alcohol, nor throw his crutches to the floor or try to dance.

(via df)

From the Babe to MatsuiNov 06 2009

Larry Granillo explores how the Yankees' World Series victories have been covered by the New York Times through the years.

Details on the new(spaper) issue of McSweeney'sNov 04 2009

The press release for the upcoming newspaper issue of McSweeney's is chock full of images from the paper...it looks great. Pre-order here.

Newspapers: not dead yetOct 30 2009

Daniel Gross looks at the numbers and concludes that newspapers aren't doing as badly as you think.

This is the new emerging model -- cutting costs, raising prices. It may still fail in the end. But we shouldn't act as if the online-only crowd has it all figured out. Every month, several million Americans pay to have newspapers and magazines delivered to their homes-a trick most online publications have yet to pull off.

The shrinking circulation while raising prices reminds me of Apple's strategy in the mobile phone and personal computing space: they have less market share but they make more money on each sale than their competitors by offering a premium product.

The McSweeney's newspaperOct 15 2009

The NY Times has more information on the one-off newspaper that McSweeney's is putting together.

Called San Francisco Panorama, the editors say it is, in large part, homage to an institution that they feel, contrary to conventional wisdom, still has a lot of life in it. Their experience in publishing literary fiction is something of a model.

"People have been saying the short story is dying for a lot longer than they've been saying newspapers are dying," Jordan Bass, managing editor of the quarterly, said in an interview on Tuesday. "But you can still put out a great short-story magazine that people want to grab. The same is true for newspapers."

(via romenesko)

What's missing from the news?Aug 20 2009

Matt Thompson wrote a thoughtful post about the four key parts of news stories, including the three that journalists usually don't cover. My particular pet peeve: the absence of the longstanding facts.

In reality, these longstanding facts provide the true foundation of journalism. But in practice, they play second-fiddle to the news, condensed beyond all meaning into a paragraph halfway down in a news story, tucked away in a remote corner of our news sites.

(via waxy)

The Times really really really regrets the errorJul 28 2009

A piece on Walter Cronkite by Alessandra Stanley was corrected to within an inch of its life.

An appraisal on Saturday about Walter Cronkite's career included a number of errors. In some copies, it misstated the date that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and referred incorrectly to Mr. Cronkite's coverage of D-Day. Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, not April 30. Mr. Cronkite covered the D-Day landing from a warplane; he did not storm the beaches. In addition, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, not July 26. "The CBS Evening News" overtook "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" on NBC in the ratings during the 1967-68 television season, not after Chet Huntley retired in 1970. A communications satellite used to relay correspondents' reports from around the world was Telstar, not Telestar. Howard K. Smith was not one of the CBS correspondents Mr. Cronkite would turn to for reports from the field after he became anchor of "The CBS Evening News" in 1962; he left CBS before Mr. Cronkite was the anchor. Because of an editing error, the appraisal also misstated the name of the news agency for which Mr. Cronkite was Moscow bureau chief after World War II. At that time it was United Press, not United Press International.

Balloon Juice notes that this isn't the first time that Stanley has been corrected. (via unlikely words)

Update: Katie Couric took Stanley to task for her article...perhaps because Stanley wrote unfavorably about Couric in the pages of the Times in 2005. That article was also corrected. (thx, michael)

Bloggers and press passes in NYCJul 21 2009

Gothamist's Jake Dobkin attended a public discussion of "Rules for City Issued Press Credentials" in NYC today and took some good notes. The proposed new rules address some inconsistencies in the city's issuing process...in particularly the denial of press passes to bloggers and other online publications.

Restrictions limiting press passes to certain mediums will be removed -- in the future, online, offline, on-air, etc. will all be treated equally. To qualify for a press pass, the journalist or journalism organization will need to provide six clips from the last 24 months showing news-gathering activity that would merit a press card -- that would include live reportage from police and fire scenes, public assemblies, government press conferences, or similar events.

Replacing journalists with writersJun 12 2009

I really really love this: on Wednesday, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz sent its regular staff home and had some of Israel's notable poets and authors cover the news. From author Avri Herling, here is the most accurate financial report you're ever likely to read in the paper:

"Everything's okay. Everything's like usual. Yesterday trading ended. Everything's okay. The economists went to their homes, the laundry is drying on the lines, dinners are waiting in place... Dow Jones traded steadily and closed with 8,761 points, Nasdaq added 0.9% to a level of 1,860 points.... The guy from the shakshuka [an Israeli egg-and-tomato dish] shop raised his prices again...."

There's a real "emperor has no clothes" vibe to this. (via snarkmarket)

Frank Bruni hanging up his knife and forkMay 14 2009

After five years, NY Times restaurant reviewer Frank Bruni is moving on to other assignments.

In his spare time, between aerobic eating and the requisite gym time to burn it all off, he has managed to produce a memoir of his lifelong, complicated relationship with food. Recognizing that the book is certain to seriously compromise his ability to be a spy in the land of food, Frank picked this as a natural time to move on. He will be turning in his restaurant-critic credentials when his memoir, "Born Round: the Secret History of a Full-Time Eater," is published in late August.

Sad to see him go...I liked Bruni as a reviewer. But how long can the Times continue to expect their critics to remain anonymous? Savvy restaurateurs often knew when Bruni was in the house and it remains unclear whether a known reviewer is a biased reviewer.

Dan Baum's tour of journalism's sausage factoryMay 11 2009

Dan Baum was a staff writer for The New Yorker for a time. In 2007, the magazine didn't renew his contract and he's currently explaining why (from his perspective) on Twitter (archived here). It's maddening to read the whole story 140 characters at a time but it's pretty interesting inside-baseball stuff, where baseball = professional writing. Here are some of the highlights so far (he's not quite done yet).

First, a little about the job of New Yorker staff writer. "Staff writer" is a bit of a misnomer, as you're not an employee, but rather a contractor. So there's no health insurance, no 401K, and most of all, no guarantee of a job beyond one year. My gig was a straight dollars-for-words arrangement: 30,000 words a year for $90,000. And the contract was year-to-year. Every September, I was up for review. Turns out, all New Yorker writers work this way, even the bigfeet. It's Just the way the New Yorker chooses to behave. It shows no loyalty to its writers, yet expects full fealty in return. It gets away with it, because writing for the New Yorker is the ne plus ultra of journalism gigs. Like everybody, I loved it.

Some early advice from his editor on how to structure a story:

"Think about trying a process story," he said, using a term I'd never heard. "It's a New Yorker standard," he went on. "You simply deconstruct a process for the reader. John McPhee was the master. It makes for a simple structure."

More editorial advice:

Great piece of New Yorker advice: "This is the New Yorker, so you can use any narrative structure you like," he said. "Just know that when I get it, I'm going to take it apart and make it all chronological." Telling a story in strict chronological order turned out to be a fabulous discipline. It made the story easy to write, and may be why New Yorker stories are so easy to read. Of course, the magazine does run everything through the deflavorizer, following Samuel Johnson's immortal advice: "Read what you have written, and when you come across a passage you think is particularly fine, strike it out."

On the magazine's legendary fact-checkers:

The editing is as superb as you'd imagine. And it's lovely to have all the time and resources you need. I particularly liked the fact-checkers, who go way beyond getting names spelled right and actually do a lot of reporting. More than once, the fact-checkers uncovered information I hadn't had, found crucial sources I hadn't interviewed. It's like having a team of back-up reporters.

Baum has an unconventional working relationship with his wife:

All the work that goes out under my byline is at least half the work of my wife, Margaret Knox.

More details on that arrangement are available on his/their web site. Margaret edits while Dan writes.

Non-fiction frequently calls for a strong individual voice, and occasionally the use of the first person, so double bylines often aren't practical. Dan most often does the legwork of reporting the story -- the travel and the phone calls -- with Margaret acting as bureau chief: "Ask this." "Don't forget that." "Go back to him tomorrow." Dan then writes the first draft.

On second thought, perhaps it's not that unconventional at all. Since Meg and I started going out nine years ago, we've collaborated on several projects without shared credit; I provided much advice related to Blogger, Kinja, and Megnut and she's always operating behind the scenes here at kottke.org.

But back to the Baum/Knoxes. On their site, they've posted a bunch of proposals they wrote to magazines that resulted in good assignments. Among them is a proposal that New Yorker editor John Bennet called "the best proposal he'd ever read". The Baum/Knoxes have also shared a series of their failed proposals. These proposals and the ongoing Twitter story are a gold mine for young writers...fascinating stuff. (via the awl)

Update: Baum has published the whole story in a more readable format. (thx, richard)

David Simon interviewApr 20 2009

Short video interview of David Simon.

You know, newspapers are gonna say, "We already let the horse out of the barn door. How can you charge for content? Information wants to be free." All that bullshit. As I remember, there wasn't an American in America 30 thirty years ago who paid for their television. Television was free 30 years ago. Now everybody's paying 16 bucks a month, 17 bucks a month, 70 dollars a month.

Related: the NY Times recently ran the poignant story of a interracial Baltimore couple who turned to The Wire for comfort when the husband underwent treatment for cancer.

Also related: read David Simon's HBO pitch for The Wire from Sept 2000.

Michael Lewis telling fish tales?Mar 23 2009

Jonas Moody, who has lived on Iceland for the past seven years, takes Michael Lewis to task for some inaccuracies and other odd things in his Vanity Fair piece about the country's economic crisis.

5. "Icelanders are among the most inbred human beings on earth -- geneticists often use them for research."

Now this is insulting. Icelanders' DNA shows their roots to be a healthy mix between Nordic Y chromosomes and X chromosomes from the British Isles. The reason genetic-research company deCODE uses Icelandic genes for its research is not because the codes are so homogeneous, but because the population has kept excellent genealogical records dating back thousands of years.

I sort of shrugged my shoulders at this stuff when I read the piece and forged ahead for the financial meat and potatoes, but it doesn't read so well when collected all in one place like this. Was the piece supposed to be a farce? If not, it doesn't reflect well on Lewis or his editors at VF. (thx, micah)

The future news ecosystemMar 16 2009

Steven Johnson takes on the future of journalism and newspapers using the ecosystem metaphor that he successfully deployed in The Invention of Air. Johnson argues that journalism in the future will look a lot like how technology and politics are covered now because those two topics are the "old growth forests of the web", i.e. they've been covered long enough on the web that old media has had time to adjust, react, and in many cases, go out of business in the face of that coverage.

The funny thing about newspapers today is that their audience is growing at a remarkable clip. Their underlying business model is being attacked by multiple forces, but their online audience is growing faster than their print audience is shrinking. As of January, print circulation had declined from 62 million to 49 million since my days at the College Hill Bookstore. But their online audience has grown from zero to 75 million over that period. Measured by pure audience interest, newspapers have never been more relevant. If they embrace this role as an authoritative guide to the entire ecosystem of news, if they stop paying for content that the web is already generating on its own, I suspect in the long run they will be as sustainable and as vital as they have ever been. The implied motto of every paper in the country should be: all the news that's fit to link.

You may also enjoy Clay Shirky's take on the same subject.

Newspaper front pagesMar 12 2009

NEWScan is kind of like The Big Picture for newspapers...it shows the front pages of 14 major newspapers all on one page and big enough so you can read the text. This is a neat way to skim the news of the day. (thx, eric)

David Simon, back on the beatMar 04 2009

David Simon, formerly of The Wire and The Baltimore Sun, noticed an underreported Baltimore shooting involving a police officer and decided to investigate it himself. What he found is not good news for the citizenry.

Well, sorry, but I didn't trip over any blogger trying to find out McKissick's identity and performance history. Nor were any citizen journalists at the City Council hearing in January when police officials inflated the nature and severity of the threats against officers. And there wasn't anyone working sources in the police department to counterbalance all of the spin or omission.

I didn't trip over a herd of hungry Sun reporters either, but that's the point. In an American city, a police officer with the authority to take human life can now do so in the shadows, while his higher-ups can claim that this is necessary not to avoid public accountability, but to mitigate against a nonexistent wave of threats. And the last remaining daily newspaper in town no longer has the manpower, the expertise or the institutional memory to challenge any of it.

In other Simon news, apparently he's doing a pilot for HBO for a show called Treme, "post-Katrina-themed drama that chronicles the rebuilding of the city through the eyes of local musicians". The cast will include Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce, who played Lester and Bunk on The Wire.

And speaking of The Wire, the latest issue of Film Quarterly has several articles devoted to the show. Only one article is online so you best send Lamar out to the newsstand for a paper copy. (thx, david & walter)

Bug tracking for journalismFeb 20 2009

I really like Scott Rosenberg's entry in the Knight News Challenge Competition.

MediaBugs [is] a public "bug tracker" for errors and other problems with media coverage.

This could be really useful as a cross between bug tracking software, Wikipedia, Poynter, and something like Get Satisfaction.

The Year in Media Errors and CorrectionsDec 16 2008

Regret the Error has released their annual roundup of media errors and corrections for 2008. The absurd corrections are always the best:

We have been asked to point out that Stuart Kennedy, of Flat E, 38 Don Street, Aberdeen, who appeared at Peterhead Sheriff Court on Monday, had 316 pink, frilly garters confiscated not 316 pink, frilly knickers.

And this:

A film review on Sept. 5 about "Save Me" confused some characters and actors. It is Mark, not Chad, who is sent to the Genesis House retreat for converting gay men to heterosexuality. (Mark is played by Chad Allen; there is no character named Chad). The hunky fellow resident is Scott (played by Robert Gant), not Ted (Stephen Lang). And it is Mark and Scott -- not "Chad and Ted" -- who partake of cigarettes and "furtive man-on-man action."

They also highlighted a Guardian typo: "Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude, not One Hundred Years of Solicitude". I don't know though...2006 and 2005 were pretty great.

The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008Dec 09 2008

Foreign Policy has their annual list of The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008. For instance, more coca than ever is being grown in Colombia despite the billions the US has spent to "win" the "war" on drugs.

Obama bits and loose endsNov 07 2008

Flickr is getting slammed right now (I'm getting a lot of "hold your clicks" messages) because of the behind-the-scenes election night photos the Obama campaign put up yesterday. Maybe bookmark and come back in a few hours?

I've updated the post about the NY Times' use of 96-pt type for their Obama headline. They've used the big type at least one additional time, on 1/1/2000.

Kristen Borchardt made an awesome video that takes a number of Nov 5th newspaper front pages and animates through them using each papers' Obama photo as the focal point...very much like YTMND's Paris Hilton doesn't change facial expressions.

Obama photo mosaics.

I've also updated the election headlines post with a few more collections that popped up.

Hopefully I'll have some time this afternoon to update the 2008 Election Maps page; I've got lots of good submissions waiting in my inbox. Thanks to everyone who sent in links and screenshots.

Idea for the Obama administration: fireside chats. On the radio, on satellite radio, as a podcast, transcripts available online soon after airing. Done live if possible, a genuine lightly scripted chat. Maybe Obama could have special guests on to talk about different aspects of policy and government. Bush does weekly radio addresses but they're short, boring, and scripted.

Newsweek has posted the rest of their seven-part piece on the 2008 election: part four, part five, part six, part seven. I wrote about the first three installments yesterday.

More related stuff on kottke.org: the barackobama, 2008election, and politics tags.

And I gotta tell you, if change.gov is indicative of how the Obama administration is going to use the web to engage with Americans, this is going to be an interesting four years.

Ok, that's probably the last Obama post for a bit. Back to your irregularly unscheduled programming.

Obama is big news at the NY TimesNov 06 2008

Wednesday was the only the fourth time that the NY Times used 96 pt. type for the headline on the front page of the paper. In chronological order:

MEN WALK ON MOON
NIXON RESIGNS
U.S. ATTACKED
OBAMA

The Wednesday edition of the Times was very popular. It was sold out all over the city so people lined up outside the Times' building to buy copies. Copies are available on eBay for $100 or more.

Update: The Times used 96 pt. type for the front page headline on at least one other occasion: January 1, 2000. I wonder if there are others. (thx, jeff)

Update: The Times is selling copies of the Nov 5 paper on their site but it's currently being hammered by buyers so maybe try again in a few hours? (thx, matt)

Election headlinesNov 05 2008

Both Michael Sippey and Kane Jamison collected screenshots of media sites as they declared Obama's victory last night. Here are the front pages of all the newspapers today...I particularly enjoyed The Sun's take on the historic night: One Giant Leap For Mankind. See also: the electoral maps.

Update: Electioneering '08 took screencaps of some of the big media sites throughout the evening. (thx, jason)

Update: Jim Ray also collected screencaps of media sites that night.

Update: Kristen Borchardt made an awesome video that takes a number of Nov 5th newspaper front pages and animates through them using each papers' Obama photo as the focal point...very much like YTMND's Paris Hilton doesn't change facial expressions.

The changing newspaperOct 29 2008

Nice look at the evolution of the front page of the LA Times from 1881 to 2003.

I selected a front page from every other decade, starting with the very first edition of the paper in 1881. Note the shifting hierarchy of images (yellow), advertising (orange) and editorial content (blue). The small black arrows are links to related content elsewhere within the paper.

They also look at the front pages of the web site from 1996 - 2006.

Mapping newspaper political endorsementsOct 24 2008

Philip Kromer took the newspaper endorsement data from the Editor and Publisher page I linked to this morning and mapped the results. The states are colored according to FiveThirtyEight's current projections and those newspapers with larger circulations have larger circles. From Kromer's blog post:

This seems to speak of why so many on the right feel there's a MSM bias - 50% of the country is urban, 50% rural, but newspapers are located exclusively in urban areas. So, surprisingly, the major right-leaning papers are all located in parts of the country we consider highly leftish. The urban areas that are the largest are thus both the most liberal and the most likely to have a sizeable conservative target audience.

10 reasons why newspapers won't reinvent newsOct 16 2008

A list of reasons that newspapers won't (can't?) reinvent news.

The culture of newspaper management is a dysfunctional relic of a low-bandwidth, monopoly era. It still hasn't adapted to the lessons of Web 2.0, it's generally beholden to a short-term stock price instead of a long-term re-investment strategy and it simply refuses to accept that you can't expect 20 profit margins in a competitive market. Instead of leading, it is a legacy anchor.

An overly harsh list, but good food for thought.

Best news photosOct 15 2008

Vanity Fair has a list of the 25 best news photographs. Many are familar but I had never seen the photo of Roman Polanski sitting outside his house after his wife's murder. (Quite a few of these photos are disturbing. Viewer beware.)

Google to scan newspaper archivesSep 09 2008

In exchange for publishing rights on their site, Google is offering to foot the bill for scanning the archives of any newspaper, like the NY Times and others have done.

As part of the latest initiative, Google will foot the bill to copy the archives of any newspaper publisher willing to permit the stories to be shown for free on Google's Web site. The participating publishers will receive an unspecified portion of the revenue generated from the ads displayed next to the stories.

(via rw)

How a Wired article comes to beSep 04 2008

Wired is keeping a blog that details the process of writing an upcoming story on, appropriately, writer/director Charlie Kaufman.

An almost-real-time, behind-the-scenes look at the assigning, writing, editing, and designing of a Wired feature. You can see more about the design process on Wired creative director Scott Dadich's SPD blog, The Process. This is a one-time experiment, tied solely to the Charlie Kaufman profile scheduled to run in our November 08 issue.

We will post internal e-mails, audio, video, drafts, memos, and layouts. We reserve the right to edit our posts, out of sympathy for the reader or to protect our relationships with our sources. We will not post emails with sources or reproduce communications that take place outside of Wired.

Reading through, I'm not sure I want to know how the sausage is made. With the well-established processes and tropes that magazines follow in publishing each and ever month, stuff like this has a tendency to come off as cynical and overly mechanical (e.g. the piece is already mostly written...they just need Kaufman to fill in the details). I also keep thinking...what if Kaufman reads this before his interviews take place? Is it better or worse for the finished piece that he knows their whole angle going in? (via snarkmarket)

Update: Clarification from Jason Tanz (the author of the Kaufman piece) at Wired...most of the interviews with Kaufman have already been conducted and a rough draft of the story has been completed. They wanted to be at least this far along before they posted any of these materials so as to avoid complications with the interview process. Tanz says that they hope to be "pretty close to real time [on the storyboard blog] by the end of next week".

Digital Journalist photo blogAug 26 2008

The Digital Journalist has launched a photo blog modeled after The Big Picture. Well done. I've followed this site on and off for years but always found it too difficult to navigate through to find the photography, which is shot by top-notch photojournalists and is amazing. Nice to see the photography put front and center. Case in point: this wonderful selection of sports photos by Walter Iooss Jr., punctuated by stories of the athletes he was photographing (Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, etc.). Here's Iooss' account of photographing Jordan at the 1988 dunk contest:

The problem with shooting the NBA slam-dunk contest was that you never knew how the players were going to dunk, especially Jordan. In 1997 [sic, it was actually 1987] he had twirled and dunked with his back to me. But by this time I knew him a little better. As he sat in the stands three hours before the contest, I said, "Michael, can you tell me which way you're going to go, so I can move and get your face in the picture?" He looked at me as if I were crazy but then said, "Sure. Before I go out to dunk I'll put my index finger on my knee and point which way I'm going." I said, "You're going to remember that?" And he said, "Sure." So later, when they announced his name, I looked over to him on the bench and there was his finger pointing left. I got up and moved to the right side of the basket so I could see his face. He went left every time he dunked. On his last two dunks he ran the length of the court, took off from the foul line and slammed the ball through. On the next-to-last one he landed in my lap. On the last one I set up in the same spot. He looked at me as if to say, "Go left a little, give me some room this time." And that was it, the picture was made: 1000th of a second frozen in time.

BTW, I've heard that The Big Picture has spawned a number of copycats around the web, including this one from the WSJ.

NY Times = a more upscale VogueJul 28 2008

Paul Krugman on the how the NY Times makes its money.

The New York Times is known for its hard news coverage, but he observes that from a business perspective it's primarily a fashion and food publication that runs a small political news operation on the side. One issue of T Magazine, he says, pays for an entire NYT European bureau.

News by geographyJul 23 2008

A map of the world as reported by the New York Times. Countries are color coded by the amount of times they are mentioned in the Times, per capita. Greenland, Iraq, New Zealand, Iceland, and Panama are disproportionally represented.

No pregnancy pact?Jun 24 2008

Regarding last week's story about the Gloucester teen girl pregnancy pact...well, maybe there was a pact and maybe there wasn't.

But at a press conference today, Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk emerged from a closed-door meeting with city, school and health officials to say that there had been no independent confirmation of any teen pregnancy pact. She also said that the principal, who was not present at the meeting, is now "foggy in his memory" of how he heard about the pact.

As Marco Carbone said, "TIME could have covered that story much more responsibly." And that goes for all the blogs too, kottke.org included.

Spinning out of controlJun 23 2008

Headline of the week from the Associated Press: Everything seemingly is spinning out of control. (You see how they took the edge off with the "seemingly"? The sky is falling! Maybe!)

"It is pretty scary," said Charles Truxal, 64, a retired corporate manager in Rochester, Minn. "People are thinking things are going to get better, and they haven't been. And then you go hide in your basement because tornadoes are coming through. If you think about things, you have very little power to make it change."

My guess is that the writers' editor was out of town and they decided to see if they could slip this Onion-esque article on to the wire. (thx, scott)

Alan Taylor interviewJun 23 2008

Andy Baio interviews Alan Taylor, the fellow behind The Big Picture, the journalistic photo blog that's taken the web by storm.

Internally, externally, everywhere, people are being really thankful to me. I need to make sure (with some link-love in my upcoming blogroll) that the response gets directed to the photographers as well. I'm just a web developer with access to their photos and a blog - they're the ones out there working hard to get these amazing images. "Photographers" here is a loose term, encompassing photojournalists, stringers, amateurs, scientific imaging teams and more.

Keith Olbermann profileJun 22 2008

New Yorker profile of Keith Olbermann, with lots about the changing face of journalism from the desire for objective neutrality to the more sensational opinion that saturates cable, newspapers, and the blogosphere.

But Olbermann contends that the labored pretense of neutrality in the news business is a fruitless exercise. "There are people who, with absolute conviction, believe that Brian Williams is a Communist," he said. "There are people who, with absolute conviction, believe that Katie Couric is in the pay of the Pentagon. There are people who are absolutely certain that Charlie Gibson sleeps with Hillary Clinton, based on the last debate. This is an old schoolyard thing I learned from being repeatedly beat up in the fourth grade. It finally dawned on me one day -- they are going to keep beating me up whether I respond to them or not." Olbermann continued, "Brian sometimes looks like his collar button is going to burst from the restraint that he has. I know the pain that he goes through; he measures each word like an apothecary -- and they beat him up, too. The point is, why not? Why not add something to the discourse?"

As much as I agree with some of what Olbermann says, I put him in the same bucket as Lou Dobbs and Bill O'Reilly...entertaining but intellectually untrustworthy.

Deborah Solomon goes straightJun 10 2008

Is Deborah Solomon, the NY Times Magazine's notoriously irritating Q&A interviewer, turning over a new leaf? After complaints about her columns surfaced last fall, the NY Times public editor agreed that Solomon had not complied with the Times' policy of fairly representing the answers of her interviewees. Ben Wheeler noted that her most recent piece is an excellent straightforward interview with zero snarky asides or abusive questions.

If you point out when they suck, you gotta point out when they do well. On Sunday, Deborah Solomon's weekly NY Times Magazine interview was an excellent talk with Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota known for his Susan Jacobs/Scandinavian vision of urban planning. Solomon's old method, of inserting snide remarks and different questions after the fact, is gone; we can thank Ira Glass and Amy Dickinson (Ann Landers's successor) for that, since they complained when she did it to them. But beyond that change, Solomon here just asks good, sensible questions of an interesting subject.

Early movie reviewsJun 05 2008

Russian writer Maxim Gorky wrote one of the first movie reviews in 1896 after seeing a collection of Lumiere films. Film/sound editor Walter Murch introduces the piece:

It is written on a completely clear slate, by someone who had not already been taught how to regard the cinema by a thousand other writers, and the newness of it all leaps from the page. What is remarkable is Gorky's prescience in the last two paragraphs, as he leaps ahead from his description of the first films to speculation on what directions the cinema might eventually take, toward sex and violence. How did he know?

The bulk of Gorky's short review concerns the absence of color and sound from the films, as if he's viewing shadows of reality.

Their smiles are lifeless, even though their movements are full of living energy and are so swift as to be almost imperceptible. Their laughter is soundless although you see the muscles contracting in their grey faces. Before you a life is surging, a life deprived of words and shorn of the living spectrum of colours -- the grey, the soundless, the bleak and dismal life.

In a collection of accounts of new technology, the NY Times has a pair of film reviews, the first from the Paris debut of the Lumiere films in 1895:

Photography has ceased to record immobility. It perpetuates the image of movement. When these gadgets are in the hands of the public, when anyone can photograph the ones who are dear to them, not just in their immobile form, but with movement, action, familiar gestures and the words out of their mouths, then death will no longer be absolute, final.

And this one from the projectionist of the first Lumiere in NYC:

You had to have lived these moments of collective exaltation, have attended these thrilling screenings in order to understand just how far the excitement of the crowd could go. With the flick of a switch, I plunge several thousand spectators into darkness. Each scene passes, accompanied by tempestuous applause; after the sixth scene, I return the hall to light. The audience is shaking. Cries ring out.

The Times also has a short article previewing the debut of Thomas Edison's vitascope1, which demonstrates the difficulty in describing this new technology to the public.

The vitascope projects upon a large area of canvas groups that appear to stand forth from the canvas, and move with great facility and agility, as though actuated by separate impulses. In this way the bare canvas before the audience becomes instantly a stage upon which living beings move about.

Vitascope advertisement

That sounds a bit boring but audiences loved it.

So enthusiastic was the appreciation of the crowd long before this exhibition was finished that vociferous cheering was heard. There were loud calls for Mr. Edison, but he made no response.

By 1898, the language of cinema was beginning to sort itself out, more or less, as this Times editorial notes.

All the resources of the word-builders see to have been exhausted in finding names for the simple but ingenious machine that throws moving pictures on a screen. The essential features in every device of this sort are the same -- a brilliant light before which a long band of minute photographs is rapidly drawn, and a lens to focus and distribute the rays properly. The arrangements for the manipulation of the light, the band, and the lens are numerous, but they vary only in the inconsequential details, and for all practical purposes the machines are identical. Some mysterious impulse, however, has impelled almost every purchaser of the apparatus to buy with it, or to invent for it, a distinctive name. Vitascope and biograph are most familiar here, with cinematograph coming next at a considerable distance. These hardly begin the list that might be formed from a careful study of the amusement advertisements in the papers of this and other countries. From such sources might be taken phantoscope, criterioscope, kinematograph, wondorscope, animatoscope, vitagraph, panoramograph, cosmoscope, anarithmoscope, katoptikum, magniscope, zoeoptrotrope, phantasmagoria projectoscope, variscope, cinograph, cinnomonograph, hypnoscope, centograph, and xograph. This is far from exhausting the supply. Electroscope exists, and so do cinagraphoscope, animaloscope, theatrograph, chronophotographoscope, motograph, rayoscope, motorscope, kinotiphone, thromotrope, phenakistoscope, venetrope, vitrescope, zinematograph, vitropticon, stinnetiscope, vivrescope, diaramiscope, corminograph, kineoptoscope, craboscope, vitaletiscope, cinematoscope, mutoscope, cinoscope, kinetograph, lobsterscope, and nobody knows how many more. Here, surely, is a curious development of the managerial mind.

Kinetoscope advertisement

It's difficult to read these accounts and not think about how we'll all sound in 100 years as we now attempt to explain the internet, mobile phones, the web, blogs, and the like.

[1] Edison didn't actually invent the vitascope. Thomas Armat sold the rights to his invention to The Edison Company on the condition that Edison could claim to have invented it.

Big PictureJun 04 2008

Big Picture is a fantastic and dead-simple new site from boston.com. Each entry tells a story through high-quality newswire images displayed at large sizes; recent entries include a look at Saturn from the Cassini space probe and the daily lives of soldiers in Afghanistan. If you're frustrated by the tiny news imagery we get spoon-fed to us on the web, this site will be a welcome addition to your daily browse. Alan Taylor, the project's instigator, has a post on his blog about Big Picture.

The sizes of the photographs are deliberately large - taking advantage of the majority of web users who have screens capable of displaying 1024x768 or larger. The long-held tradition of keeping images online tiny and lightweight is commendable still - when designing a general purpose site. But one dedicated to quality imagery should take full advantage of the medium, and I hope I've struck a good balance with The Big Picture.

When I see quality photography consigned to the archives, or when I see bandwidth readily given up to video streams of dubious quality, or when I see photo galleries that act as ad farms, punishing viewers into a click-click-click experience just to drive page views - those times are the times I'm glad I was able to get this project off the ground (many thanks to my friends within boston.com)

TimesMachine launchesMay 22 2008

After a stutter step back in late February, NY Times releases their slick archive browser, TimesMachine. Here's the announcement from the team that put it together.

TimesMachine is a collection of full-page image scans of the newspaper from 1851-1922 (i.e., the public domain archives). Organized chronologically and navigated by a simple calendar interface, TimesMachine provides a unique way to traverse the historical archives of The New York Times. Topics ranging from the Civil War to the sinking of the Titanic to the first cross-country auto race to women's fashions in the 20s are just a few electronic flips away. And of course, there's the advertisements.

Unfortunately, full access to the archives through TimesMachine is only available to subscribers. (via fimoculous)

Day of no newsMay 14 2008

Video: The Day There Was No News. This is what CNN should do instead of filling the 24 hours of the day with recycled hysteria.

Parallels on iPhone folliesMay 05 2008

An Australian news channel used my fake Parallels-on-an-iPhone graphic on a recent newscast. Hee. (thx, amos)

A list of the top one articlesApr 18 2008

A list of the top one articles by Neal Pollack about how sportswriters should stop writing about the NBA MVP race and, oh yeah, lists of stuff are dumb:

1. This article right here.

Sportswriters and pundits, on the other hand, are treating the MVP race with the gravitas of a presidential election. That's because they make up the Electoral College. When they're debating who's going to win the award, they're not really talking about who they think the best player is; they're talking about whom they should pick as the best player. It's the ultimate circle-jerk of sports-guy self-regard.

Google Earth now displays location-specific news fromApr 14 2008

Google Earth now displays location-specific news from the NY Times.

I read a lot of news by surfing the Internet, as do many of my colleagues and friends, and I've always dreamed of a way to browse news based on geography. What's happening in Paris today? What are the top headlines in Japan?

Our collective recent history, onlineMar 27 2008

In past few years, several prominent US magazines and newspapers have begun to offer their extensive archives online and on DVD. In some cases, this includes material dating back to the 1850s. Collectively it is an incredible record of recent human history, the ideas, people, and events that have shaped our country and world as recorded by writers, photographers, editors, illustrators, advertisers, and designers who lived through those times. Here are some of most notable of those archives:

Harper's Magazine offers their entire archive online, from 1850 to 2008. Most of it is only available to the magazine's subscribers. Associate editor Paul Ford talks about how Harper's archive came to be.

The NY Times provides their entire archive online, most of it for free. Most of the stories from 1923 to 1986 are available for a small fee. The Times briefly launched an interface for browsing their archive called TimesMachine but withdrew it soon after launch.

Time Magazine has their entire archive online for free, from 1923 to the present.

Sports Illustrated has all their issues online for free, dating back to 1954.

The Atlantic Monthly offers all their articles since Nov 1995 and a growing number from their archive dating back to 1857 for free. For a small fee, most of the rest of their articles are available as well, although those from Jan 1964 - Sept 1992 are not.

The Washington Post has archives going back to 1877. Looks like most of it is for pay.

The New Yorker has free archives on their site going back to 2001, although only some of the articles are included. All of their articles, dating back to 1925, are available on The Complete New Yorker DVD set for $40.

Rolling Stone offers some of their archive online but the entire archive (from 1967 to 2007) is available as a 4-DVD set for $79.

Mad Magazine released a 2-DVD set of every issue of the magazine from 1952-2006.

And more to come...old media is slowly figuring out that more content equals more traffic, sometimes much more traffic.

Update: Nature has their entire archive online, dating back to 1869. (thx, gavin)

Buzzfeed gets a little love in thisMar 24 2008

Buzzfeed gets a little love in this week's New Yorker article about the "death and life of the American newspaper".

The Huffington Post's editorial processes are based on what Peretti has named the "mullet strategy." ("Business up front, party in the back" is how his trend-spotting site BuzzFeed glosses it.) "User-generated content is all the rage, but most of it totally sucks," Peretti says. The mullet strategy invites users to "argue and vent on the secondary pages, but professional editors keep the front page looking sharp. The mullet strategy is here to stay, because the best way for Web companies to increase traffic is to let users have control, but the best way to sell advertising is a slick, pretty front page where corporate sponsors can admire their brands."

Here's the mullet strategy page on Buzzfeed. (Disclosure: I'm an advisor to Buzzfeed.)

The NY Times launches TimesMachine, an alternateFeb 25 2008

The NY Times launches TimesMachine, an alternate look into their vast online archive. It's basically an interface into every single page of the newspaper from Sep 18, 1851 to Dec 30, 1922. The advertising on these old pages is fascinating.

Update: For whatever reason, the Times has taken TimesMachine offline.

An official decision has been reached inFeb 01 2008

An official decision has been reached in the Long Bet between Dave Winer and Martin Nisenholtz of the NY Times. The bet was made in 2002 when Winer asserted that:

In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 02007, weblogs will rank higher than the "New York Times" Web site

Winer won the bet but it's worth noting that the Times has a growing stable of good blogs itself. (via workbench)

91-year-old NPR man Daniel Schorr has hadJan 15 2008

91-year-old NPR man Daniel Schorr has had it up to here with you kids and your internets. [Warning, print link to avoid stupid registration window.]

Q: In some commentaries, you touch on the latest journalistic trends, sometimes in not so complimentary a way. Such as blogs and citizen journalism. Is this a form of news gathering that you embrace?

A: I can't embrace it. Not after what I've been through at the hands of the copy editors' desks. I have suffered many, many arguments about what I've wanted to say -- whether it was grammatically correct, factually correct and all of that -- and I want everybody to have to experience what I experienced. But today, your blogger is totally free. He is his own reporter, his own editor, his own publisher, and he can do whatever he wants.

A person like me who believes in the tradition of a discipline in journalism can only rue the day we've arrived at where we don't need discipline or anything. All you need is a keyboard.

He suffered, so you should too, you undisciplined mouthers-off! Update: A reader writes: "You are not giving the man the respect he deserves. He did not suffer--he honed his craft in an environment that expected professionalism, balance and honesty. What is unfortunate today is that today's professional media are not held to the same standards. Most, if not all bloggers, do not rise to the quality of a Daniel Schorr. Unfortunately, neither do most of his younger colleagues."

Useful Incremental Advances In The State Of JournalismJan 14 2008

When I go back and read journalism from the '70s and '80s, I can see that there has been little, if any, innovation in the form since. But! While they may not be drastically "new," there are at least two bits of excitement in internet journalism today that seem somewhat radical. First, Brian Lam at Gizmodo talks overtly about the twisted relationship between tech companies and journalists. ("As one reporter put it while chiding me, 'Journalists are guests in the houses of these companies.' Not first and foremost! We are the auditors of companies and their gadgets on behalf of the readers.") And over on another Gawker Media blog (my former employer, and one that I have deeply conflicted feelings about), Jezebel's Tracie Egan writes an astounding and reallly not for the faint-of-heart (or crotch) account of schtupping this guy she met in Vegas. It's BANANAS. And probably NSFW. And a great read.

For a long time, I wanted to write a profile of the designer Tom Ford—and I realized the only way to do so properly would be to have sex with him and write about it. I sent an emissary to him; he declined the opportunity. I was relieved.

Fantastic and disturbing Esquire article about DatelineJan 10 2008

Fantastic and disturbing Esquire article about Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" series in which people are lured to a house with the prospect of sex with minors, ambushed by a camera crew, and then arrested when they attempt to leave. I can't say much about the article without spoiling it, but a friend who has watched the show says there's nothing redeeming about any of the people on the show, from the show's host on down to the would-be molesters...and how the whole thing is orchestrated off-camera makes it seem even worse. More from Esquire about the article and NBC's rebuttal.

Rogers Cadenhead has beaten me to theDec 20 2007

Rogers Cadenhead has beaten me to the punch in calculating the winner of the Dave Winer/Martin Nisenholtz Long Bet pitting the NY Times vs. blogs to see who ranks higher in end of the year search results for the 5 most important news stories of 2007. The winner? Wikipedia.

The Times has really improved their position in Google since 2005...opening up their archives helped, I bet.

Foreign Policy has posted its annual listDec 20 2007

Foreign Policy has posted its annual list of The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2007 (unless, presumably, you read Foreign Policy).

Regret the Error's annual list of mediaDec 12 2007

Regret the Error's annual list of media errors and corrections is one of my favorites...the 2007 installment doesn't disappoint. The corrections in the UK newspapers are awesome:

An article about Lord Lambton ("Lord Louche, sex king of Chiantishire", News Review, January 7) falsely stated that his son Ned (now Lord Durham) and daughter Catherine held a party at Lord Lambton's villa, Cetinale, in 1997, which degenerated into such an orgy that Lord Lambton banned them from Cetinale for years. In fact, Lord Durham does not have a sister called Catherine (that is the name of his former wife), there has not been any orgiastic party of any kind and Lord Lambton did not ban him (or Catherine) from Cetinale at all.

Henry Abbott at TrueHoop picked up onDec 11 2007

Henry Abbott at TrueHoop picked up on a policy that Colin Powell had when he was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Here's Mike McConnell repeating what Powell told him:

Look, I have got a rule. As an intelligence officer, your responsibility is to tell me what you know. Tell me what you don't know. Then you're allowed to tell me what you think. But you always keep those three separated.

Abbott rightly comments that that's good advice for journalists and bloggers.

A depressing story about the media's coverageDec 11 2007

A depressing story about the media's coverage of Al Gore during the 2000 election.

Eight years ago, in the bastions of the "liberal media" that were supposed to love Gore -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, CNN -- he was variously described as "repellent," "delusional," a vote-rigger, a man who "lies like a rug," "Pinocchio." Eric Pooley, who covered him for Time magazine, says, "He brought out the creative-writing student in so many reporters... Everybody kind of let loose on the guy."

I want to believe that news outlets are in the business of news, not entertainment, but it's just not true in most cases. Even more depressing is that blogs, especially political blogs, are even worse in this regard.

Mailer, Cavett, Vidal, and FlannerNov 15 2007

On his NYTimes blog, Dick Cavett remembers having Norman Mailer on his show along with Gore Vidal and Janet Flanner. It was a notorious episode; a perhaps more than slightly drunk Mailer lashed out first at Vidal and then everyone else in the room but couldn't keep up with the jeers and witticisms flying at him from all angles.

Mailer: I said that the need of the magazine reader for a remark he could repeat at dinner was best satisfied by writers with names like Gore Vidal.

Flanner: All those writers called Gore Vidal.

Vidal: I know. There are thousands of them, yeah.

Mailer: There are two or three.

Cavett: Who are some of the others?

Mailer [with a dark look]: I don't know.

Cavett: Who wants to host the rest of this show?

Mailer, years later, told me that it was at this point that "in the face of the Cavett wit and Flanner's deft interruption" -- adored by the audience -- and in consideration of his alcohol content, he realized that he was not being skillful at mounting a sustained argument.

In an interview a number of years ago with Cavett, Charlie Rose showed a clip of the incident:

The video should cue up at the clip in question, but if not, skip to 29:00 in. Highly entertaining reading and viewing.

Aleksandra Mir's Newsroom 1986-2000 project features hugeOct 22 2007

Aleksandra Mir's Newsroom 1986-2000 project features huge hand-drawn reproductions of tabloid front pages. Show is up through Oct 27 in NYC. (via quipsologies)

"The full Ginsburg" is the term forOct 11 2007

"The full Ginsburg" is the term for appearing on all five of the big Sunday morning political shows: This Week, Meet the Press, Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday, and Late Edition. The term is named after William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky's attorney and the first person to complete this political Pokemon collection. According to Wikipedia, four individuals have completed the full circuit: Ginsburg, Dick Cheney, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton. Source: Brouhahaha, The New Yorker.

RU Sirius asks: Is the net goodOct 09 2007

RU Sirius asks: Is the net good for writers? Ten professional writers weigh in.

I like to develop topics, approach them from different, often contradictory angles, and most of all, I like to polish the shit out of them so that the flow and the prose shine and bedazzle. On and offline, I find the internet-driven pressure to make pieces short, data-dense, and crisply opinionated -- as opposed to thoughtful, multi-perspectival, and lyrical -- rather oppressive, leading to a certain kind of superficial smugness as well as general submission to the forces of reference over reflection. I do enjoy writing 125-word record reviews though!

My favorite aspect of the piece is the interspersed American Apparel ads...they add a little texture to the discussion.

Mental Floss has an ongoing feature calledOct 03 2007

Mental Floss has an ongoing feature called The First Time News Was Fit To Print, which chronicles the first mentions of famous people, places, and events in the NY Times. Among the topics covered so far: The Simpsons, Kobe Bryant, and Starbucks.

Louisiana pastor Eddie Thompson feels that theOct 03 2007

Louisiana pastor Eddie Thompson feels that the media and activists have gotten the story wrong about the Jena Six. In this article, he attempts to correct some of the misconceptions and erroneous statements made about the case.

The actions of the three white students who hung the nooses demonstrate prejudice and bigotry. However, they were not just given "two days suspension" as reported by national news agencies. After first being expelled, then upon appeal, being allowed to re-enter the school system, they were sent to an alternative school, off-campus, for an extended period of time. They underwent investigations by Federal and Sate authorities. They were given psychological evaluations. Even when they were eventually allowed back on campus they were not allowed to be a part of the general population for weeks.

(thx, james)

Is lazy reporting hurting the visual arts?Sep 26 2007

Is lazy reporting hurting the visual arts? Jonathan Jones argues that almost all reporting about art takes one of six forms: expensive art, graffiti, plagiarism, earth-shattering discoveries, and restoration. Looking back through kottke.org's art tag page, I am guilty of linking to stories of all those types. Eep.

First NY Times restaurant review, circa 1859?Sep 20 2007

While poking around in the newly opened archives of the New York Times yesterday, I stumbled upon an article called How We Dine (full text in PDF) from January 1, 1859. I'm not well versed in the history of food criticism, but I believe this is perhaps the first restaurant review to appear in the Times and that the unnamed gentleman who wrote it (the byline is "by the Strong-Minded Reporter of the Times") is the progenitor of the paper's later reviewers like Ruth Reichl, Mimi Sheraton, and Frank Bruni.

The article starts off with a directive from the editor-in-chief to "go and dine":

"Very well," replied the editor-in-chief. "Dine somewhere else to-day and somewhere else to-morrow. I wish you to dine everywhere, -- from the Astor House Restaurant to the smallest description of dining saloon in the City, in order that you may furnish an account of all these places. The cashier will pay your expenses."

How We Dine

Before starting on his quest, the reporter differentiates eating from dining -- noting that many believe "whereas all people know how to eat, it is only the French who know how to dine" -- and defines what he means by an American dinner (as opposed to a French one). Here's his list of the types of American dinner to be found in New York, from most comfortable to least:

1. The Family dinner at home.
2. The Stetsonian dinner.
3. The Delmonican, or French dinner.
4. The Minor dinner of the Stetsonian principle.
5. The Eating-house dinner, so called.
6. The Second-class Eating-house dinner.
7. The Third-class Eating-house feed.

The remainder of the article is devoted to descriptions of what a diner might find at each of these types of establishments. Among the places he dined was Delmonico's, where dining in America is said to have originated:

Once let Delmonico have your order, and you are safe. You may repose in peace up to the very moment when you sit down with your guests. No nobleman of England -- no Marquis of the ancienne nobless -- was ever better served or waited on in greater style that you will be in a private room at Delmonico's. The lights will be brilliant, the waiters will be curled and perfumed and gloved, the dishes will be strictly en règle and the wines will come with precision of clock-work that has been duly wound up. If you "pay your money like a gentleman," you will be fed like a gentleman, and no mistake... The cookery, however, will be superb, and the attendance will be good. If you make the ordinary mistakes of a untraveled man, and call for dishes in unusual progression, the waiter will perhaps sneer almost imperceptibly, but he will go no further, if you don't try his feelings too harshly, or put your knife into your mouth.

According to a series of articles by Joe O'Connell, Delmonico's was the first restaurant in the US when it opened in 1830 and invented Eggs Benedict, Oysters Rockefeller, Baked Alaska, Lobster Newberg, and the term "86'd", used when the popular Delmonico Steak (#86 on menu) was sold out, or so the story goes. O'Connell's history of Delmonico's provides us with some context for the How We Dine piece:

The restaurant was a novelty in New York. There were new foods, a courteous staff, and cooking that was unknown at the homes of even the wealthiest New Yorkers. The restaurant was open for lunch and dinner.

The restaurant featured a bill of fare, which was itself new. Those who dined at inns were fed on a set meal for a set price. As a result, everyone was fed the same meal and were charged the same price, whether they ate little or much. In Paris, however, restaurants offered their patrons a "bill of fare", a carte, which listed separate dishes with individual prices. Each patron could choose a combination of dishes which was different from the other patrons. Each dish was priced separately. Thus, the restaurant was able to accommodate the tastes and hunger of each individual. The various dishes and their prices were listed on a carte or (the English translation) "bill of fare". Today, we call it a menu.

And from Delmonico's developed many different types of dining establishments, which the Strong-Minded Reporter set out to document thirty years later. Contrast his visit to Delmonico's with the experience in the "sandwich-room" at Browne's Auction Hotel, an eating-house:

The habitués of the place are rarely questioned at all. The man who has eaten a sandwich every day for the past ten years at the Auction Hotel no sooner takes his seat than a sandwich is set before him. The man who has for the same period indulged daily in pie or hard boiled eggs (there are some men with amazing digestion) is similarly treated. The occasional visitor, however, is briefly questioned by the attendant before whom he takes his place. "Sandwich?" or "Pie?" If he say "Sandwich," in reply, the little man laconically inquires, "Mustard?" The customer nods, and is served. If his mission be pie, instead, a little square morsel of cheese is invariably presented to him. Why such a custom should prevail at these places, no amount of research has yet enabled me to ascertain. Nothing can be more incongruous to pie than cheese, which, according to rule and common sense, is only admissible after pie, as a digester. But the guests at the Auction Hotel invariably take them together, and with strict fairness -- a bite at the pie, and a bite at the cheese, again the pie, and again the cheese, and so on until both are finished.

The experience of being a regular has barely changed in 150 years. And finally, our intrepid reporter visits an unnamed third class eating-house:

The noise in the dining hall is terrific. A guest has no sooner seated himself than a plate is literally flung at him by an irritated and perspiring waiter, loosely habited in an unbuttoned shirt whereof the varying color is, I am given to understand, white on Sunday, and daily darkening until Saturday, when it is mixed white and black -- black predominating. The jerking of the plate is closely followed up by a similar performance with a knife and a steel fork, and immediately succeeding these harmless missiles come a fearful shout from the waiter demanding in hasty tones, "What do you want now?" Having mildly stated what you desire to be served with, the waiter echoes your words in a voice of thunder, goes through the same ceremony with the next man and the next, through an infinite series, and rushes frantically from your presence. Presently returning, he appears with a column of dishes whereof the base is in one hand and the extreme edge of the capital is artfully secured under his chin. He passes down the aisle of guests, and, as he goes, deals out the dishes as he would cards, until the last is served, when he commences again Da Capo. The disgusting manner in which the individuals who dine at this place, thrust their food into their mouths with the blades of their knives, makes you tremble with apprehensions of suicide...

The entire article is well worth the read...one of the most interesting things I've found online in awhile.

Update: According to their web site, a restaurant in New Orleans named Antoine's claims that they invented Oysters Rockefeller. Another tidbit: from what I can gather, the Delmonico's that now exists in lower Manhattan has little to do with the original Delmonico's (even though they claim otherwise), sort of like the various Ray's Pizza places sprinkled about Manhattan. (thx, everyone who sent this in)

Gems from the archive of the New York TimesSep 19 2007

Now that the NY Times has discontinued their Times Select subscription program and made much more of their 150+ years of content available for anyone to read and link to, let's take a look at some of the more notable items that the non-subscriber has been missing.

- Access to the last two years-worth of columns from the NY Times' noted Op-Ed columnists, including Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, and Paul Krugman.

- The first mention of the World Wide Web in the Times in February 1993. According to the article, the purpose of the web is "[to make] available physicists' research from many locations". Also notable are this John Markoff article on the internet being overwhelmed by heavy traffic and growth...in 1993, and a piece, also by Markoff, on the Mosaic web browser.

- Early report of Lincoln's assassination..."The President Still Alive at Last Accounts".

- A report on Custer's Last Stand a couple of weeks after the occurance (I couldn't find anything sooner). The coverage of Native Americans is notable for the racism, both thinly veiled and overt, displayed in the writing, e.g. a story from September 1872 titled The Hostile Savages.

- From the first year of publication, a listing of the principle events of 1851.

- An article about the confirmation of Einstein's theory of gravity by a 1919 expedition led by Arthur Eddington to measure the bending of starlight by the sun during an eclipse.

- A front page report on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, including a seismograph of the quake which the Times labeled "EARTHQUAKE'S AUTOGRAPH AS IT WROTE IT 3,000 MILES AWAY".

- The first mention of television (as a concept) in the Times, from February 1907. "The new 'telephotograph' invention of Dr. Arthur Korn, Professor of Physics in Munich University, is a distinct step nearer the realization of all this, and he assures us that 'television,' or seeing by telegraph, is merely a question of a year or two with certain improvements in apparatus."

- First mention of Harry Potter. Before it became a phenomenon, it was just another children's book on the fiction best-seller list.

- Some of the output by prolific Times reporter R.W. Apple is available (after 1981, pre-1981).

- A report during the First World War of the Germans using mustard gas. Lots more reporting about WWI is available in the Times archive.

- Not a lot is available from the WWII era, which is a shame. For instance, I wish this article about the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima was available in the Times archive. Nothing about the moon landing, Kennedy's assassination, Watergate, etc. etc. either. :(

- On The Table, Michael Pollan's blog from last summer about food soon after the publication of The Omnivore's Dilemma.

- Urban Planet, a blog about cities from Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map.

- Oddly, The Principles of Uncertainty, an illustrated blog by Maira Kalman isn't available anymore. Update: Kalman's blog is probably unavailable because it's due to be published in book form in October. (thx, rafia) Further update: Kalman's blog is back online and wonderful. The culprit was a misconfiguration at the Times' end. (thx, rich)

- Several other previously unavailable blogs are listed here and here.

- It looks like most of the links to old NY Times articles I (and countless other early bloggers) posted in the late 90s and early 00s now work. Tens of thousands of broken links fixed in one pass. Huzzah!

I'll also note that this move by the Times puts them in a much better position to win the Long Bet between Dave Winer and the Times' Martin Nisenholtz at the end of this year.

In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site.

As of the end of 2005, the Times was not faring very well against blogs.

Update: One more: a report on the sinking of the Titanic. A small mention of the sinking was published in the paper the previous day.

No more Times Select. The NY TimesSep 17 2007

No more Times Select. The NY Times finally admits what everyone else knew two years ago and stops charging for their content. Additionally, all content from 1987 to the present and from 1851 to 1922 will be offered free of charge.

What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com.

How did that change not happen for the Times when it happened to the entire rest of the web 3-4 years ago?

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