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kottke.org posts about journalism

New cache of historical footage on YouTube

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2015

The Associated Press and British Movietone are uploading 17,000 hours of archival news footage, some of dating back to the late 19th century. The videos can be found on the AP Archive and British Movietone channels. Some notable videos from the collection follow. Coverage of the Hindenberg disaster:

The celebration of VE Day in London:

Coco Chanel fashion show from 1932:

Martin Luther King Jr. and marchers being arrested in Selma:

See also British Pathe.

Star Wars-style opening crawls of the day’s news

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2015

Every day, a program written by Julien Deswaef selects a war-related news item from the NY Times, formats it in the style of the infamous Star Wars opening crawl (complete with John Williams’ score), and posts the results to YouTube.

Published yesterday, the crawl for Episode XXVII was taken from a NY Times article about an Obama speech about the Iranian nuclear deal.

Here’s how the project was made and if you’d like to try it yourself, grab the source code. (via prosthetic knowledge)

Crafted by Morgan Spurlock

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2015

Crafted is a 25-minute documentary from Morgan Spurlock about artisanship in the contemporary age, profiling knife makers, potters, and restaurateurs who still do things more or less manually. A trailer:

The documentary was created to explore the mindset of today’s artisan and determine how artisanship has evolved along with — or, at times, in spite of — new technologies that allow instantaneous sharing of knowledge and sourcing of ingredients. Brave creators are breaking from the norm and returning to their roots to master age-old art forms that are more relevant than ever in today’s world.

I have often joked about what I do here at kottke.org as being artisanal or handcrafted. (Free range links! Ha!) But watching the trailer the other day, I realized that maybe it’s not so much of a joke. Compared to the industrialized information factories of Buzzfeed, Facebook, and Twitter (or even the NY Times or Gawker), what I do is handcrafted. There’s no assembly line. I read a bunch of stuff and then write about just a few relevant things. It’s inefficient as hell, but most of the time, it results in a good product. (I hope!) In the site’s best moments, it really does feel, to me, like I’m treating people “like they’re in my house” rather than just pumping out content widgets.

The moment in the trailer that particularly resonated with me was the discussion of risk.

A single injury can have far-reaching consequences. If I injure my hands, I can’t feed my family.

I worried we’d be forced to quit from bankruptcy.

“If I injure my hands, I can’t feed my family”; I don’t handcraft knives, but that applies to me as well. If my wrists go, goodbye computer time. And I’ve been thinking a lot about how sustainable my business is in the age of industrialized content…my job seems a lot riskier to me than it did just a couple of years ago. But there’s still room in the world for handcrafted knives and food in a world of Henckels and McDonald’s, so maybe it’s possible for a small handcrafted information service like kottke.org to survive and even thrive in the age of Facebook and Buzzfeed. (via @mathowie)

The birth of breaking news

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2015

The completion of the US transcontinental railroad in 1869 in Utah was also the birthplace of the newsflash. The news was delivered via telegraph through a clever scheme: the famous golden spike and a silver hammer were each wired to the telegraph so that when hammer struck nail, the circuit completed and the news raced out along telegraph wires to the rest of the nation.1

Where were you when you heard the news of the completion of the transcontinental railroad?

  1. At least, that was the plan. It is said the hammer swingers missed the spike and so the telegraph operator had to message “DONE” instead.

Asking “who’s the customer?”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2015

If you’ve bought a ticket to an event in the past, oh, 15-20 years, chances are you got it from Ticketmaster. Chances are also pretty good that you think Ticketmaster completely sucks, mostly because of the unavoidable and exorbitant convenience fee they charge. And that probably has you wondering: if everyone who uses the service hates Ticketmaster so much, how are they still in business? Because ticket buyers are not Ticketmaster’s customers. Artists and venues are Ticketmaster’s real customers and they provide plenty of value to them.

Ticketmaster sells more tickets than anybody else and they’re the biggest company in the ticket selling game. That gives them certain financial resources that smaller companies don’t have. TM has used this to their advantage by moving the industry toward very aggressive ticketing deals between ticketing companies and their venue clients. This comes in the form of giving more of the service charge per ticket back to the venue (rebates), and in cash to the venue in the form of a signing bonus or advance against future rebates. Venues are businesses too and, thus, they like “free” money in general (signing bonuses), as well as money now (advances) versus the same money later (rebates).

Read that whole Quora answer again…there’s nothing in there about TM being helpful for ticket buyers. It turns out asking “who’s the customer?” is a great way of thinking about when certain companies or industries do things that aren’t aligned with good customer service or user experience.1

Take Apple and Google for instance. Apple sells software and hardware directly to people; that’s where the majority of their revenue comes from. Apple’s customers are the people who use Apple products. Google gets most of their revenue from putting advertising into the products & services they provide. The people who use Google’s products and services are not Google’s customers, the advertisers are Google’s customers. Google does a better job than Ticketmaster at providing a good user experience, but the dissonance that results between who’s paying and who’s using gets the company in trouble sometimes. See also Facebook and Twitter, among many others.

Newspapers, magazines, and television networks have dealt with this same issue for decades now.2 They derive large portions of their revenue from advertisers and, in the case of the TV networks, from the cable companies who pay to carry their channels. That results in all sorts of user hostile behavior, from hiding a magazine’s table of contents in 20 pages of ads to shrieking online advertising to commercials that are louder than the shows to clunky product placement to trimming scenes from syndicated shows to cram in more commercials. From ABC to Vogue to the New York Times, you’re not the customer and it shows.

This might be off-topic (or else the best example of all), but “who’s the customer?” got me thinking about who the customers of large public corporations really are: shareholders and potential shareholders. The accepted wisdom of maximizing shareholder value has become an almost moral imperative for large corporations. The needs of their customers, employees, the environment, and the communities in which they’re located often take a backseat to keeping happy the big investment banks, mutual funds, and hedge funds who buy their stock. When providing good customer service and experience is viewed by companies as opposite to maximizing shareholder value, that’s a big problem for consumers.

Update: I somehow neglected to include the pithy business saying “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”, which originated in a slightly different phrasing on MetaFilter.

Update: One example of how maximizing shareholder value can work against good customer service comes from a paper by a trio of economists. In it, they argue that co-ownership of two or more airlines by the same investor results in higher prices.

In a new paper, Azar and co-authors Martin C. Schmalz and Isabel Tecu have uncovered a smoking gun. To test the hypothesis that institutional investors gain market power that results in higher prices, they examine airline routes. Although we think of airlines as independent companies, they are actually mostly owned by a small group of institutional investors. For example, United’s top five shareholders — all institutional investors — own 49.5 percent of the firm. Most of United’s largest shareholders also are the largest shareholders of Southwest, Delta, and other airlines. The authors show that airline prices are 3 percent to 11 percent higher than they would be if common ownership did not exist. That is money that goes from the pockets of consumers to the pockets of investors.

How exactly might this work? It may be that managers of institutional investors put pressure on the managers of the companies that they own, demanding that they don’t try to undercut the prices of their competitors. If a mutual fund owns shares of United and Delta, and United and Delta are the only competitors on certain routes, then the mutual fund benefits if United and Delta refrain from price competition. The managers of United and Delta have no reason to resist such demands, as they, too, as shareholders of their own companies, benefit from the higher profits from price-squeezed passengers. Indeed, it is possible that managers of corporations don’t need to be told explicitly to overcharge passengers because they already know that it’s in their bosses’ interest, and hence their own. Institutional investors can also get the outcomes they want by structuring the compensation of managers in subtle ways. For example, they can reward managers based on the stock price of their own firms — rather than benchmarking pay against how well they perform compared with industry rivals — which discourages managers from competing with the rivals.

(via @krylon)

  1. BTW, asking who the customer is doesn’t help in every situation where bad service and contempt for the customer rears its ugly head. See cable companies, mobile carriers, and airlines. Companies also have other conflicts of interest that interfere with good customer experience. Apple, for instance, does all kinds of things that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of the people buying their products. And as the Ticketmaster example shows, determining a company’s true customer isn’t just a matter of where the revenue comes from. It’s never simple.

  2. This is a potential problem with kottke.org as well. Almost all of my revenue comes from advertising. My high regard for the reader keeps me pretty honest (I hope!), but it’s difficult sometimes.

2015 Pulitzer Prize winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2015

Sixth Extinction

Vox has a list of all the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winners. I am especially pleased to see Elizabeth Kolbert win the general nonfiction category for The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History…I’ve been reading her writing on climate change and environmental issues in the New Yorker for years now.

Every TV news report on the economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2015

From Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, here’s how every single news report on the economy plays out:

Dennis and Pamela People are affected by numbers, and since they have a child, you’ll empathize with what they say while I nod in their direction.

“Well, it’s been hard because of the numbers.”

“Yeah, it has been hard, mainly because of the numbers.”

Brooker, you may remember, is the creator of Black Mirror. (via mr)

The Michael Jordan of ________

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2015

Calling someone “the Michael Jordan of [whatever they’re good at]” is a familiar journalistic trope. A team at the WSJ decided to search through the newspapers of the world for mentions of the Jordans and LeBrons of their professions.

Calling someone “the Michael Jordan of…” or, more recently, “the LeBron James of…” is a trope that acknowledges excellence in a way that everyone can understand. So with the NBA getting set to host its annual All-Star Game, the Wall Street Journal went on a hunt for all of the Michael Jordans and LeBron Jameses in newspapers around the world. We found thousands, including the Michael Jordan of bagpipers and private detectives, and the LeBron James of yodeling and midwives.

Some examples:

Jimmy McIntosh, the Scotsman who started Carnegie Mellon’s bagpipe program, calls Gillies the Michael Jordan of piping.

We are the Michael Jordan of onion growers, Butch Peri said. “We started off as the smallest onion grower in the state of Nevada, and in 1999, we became the largest producer in the world of fresh market onions, the kind you buy in the grocery store.”

If you were to convert him from his importance in science to the sports world, Charles Darwin would be the Wayne Gretzky or the Michael Jordan of biology, says Dr. Greg Bole, a bioscientist from the University of B.C. “He shaped the field.”

With a medical cause ruled out, I was forced to accept reality… my son is just really good at screening things out. No, let me rephrase that. The boy is the LeBron James of selective hearing, the Michael Phelps of tuning me out. He’s a best-in-class parental ignorer, and actually it would be kind of admirable… if it wasn’t so infuriating.

This is surely the Tiger Woods of fun Friday links. (via @lauratitian)

Update: According to Google, describing people as “the Michael Jordan of ________” in books has been on the decline since 1999. (thx, david)

This building is an organism for making newspapers

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2014

I love this cutaway view of Washington DC’s Evening Star Building, drawn in 1922. The building is on the National Register as a Historic Landmark and was formerly the office of The Washington Star newspaper.

Evening Star Building

Evening Star Building

Evening Star Building

Best viewed huge. The whole thing is a fascinating view of how information flowed through a newspaper company in the 1920s. Raw materials in the form of electricity, water, telegraph messages, paper, and employees enter the building and finished newspapers leave out the back.

Found this via Craig Mod, who notes the Chris Ware-ness of the whole thing.

Revisiting Stephen Glass

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2014

In 1998, it was revealed that The New Republic writer Stephen Glass had fabricated many of the stories he had written for the magazine. Sixteen years down the road, Hanna Rosin, a colleague and friend from the New Republic days, writes about confronting and reconnecting with Glass about his lies and betrayal.

Once we knew what he’d done, I tried to call Steve, but he never called back. He just went missing, like the kids on the milk cartons. It was weird. People often ask me if I felt “betrayed,” but really I was deeply unsettled, like I’d woken up in the wrong room. I wondered whether Steve had lied to me about personal things, too. I wondered how, even after he’d been caught, he could bring himself to recruit me to defend him, knowing I’d be risking my job to do so. I wondered how I could spend more time with a person during the week than I spent with my husband and not suspect a thing. (And I didn’t. It came as a total surprise). And I wondered what else I didn’t know about people. Could my brother be a drug addict? Did my best friend actually hate me?

You should consider subscribing to Wikipedia

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2014

Last week, Emily Dreyfuss wrote a piece at about Why I’m Giving Wikipedia 6 Bucks a Month.

“Give me money, Emily,” Wales begged, “then go back to researching Beyonce lyrics.”

“Excuse me, Jimmy,” I wanted to say, “I don’t appreciate being watched as I read about how her song “Baby Boy” includes a lyrical interpolation of “No Fear” by O.G.C.”

Later, Wikipedia replaced Wales with other employees of the Wikimedia Foundation, which maintains Wikipedia with grants and donations. They moved me about as much as Wales did, which is to say not at all.

Today, while scanning my third Wikipedia article in as many hours, I saw the beggi…. er, note was back. It’s at the bottom now, without the pleading visage of a Wikipedian, and now includes an option to pay monthly.

I was annoyed, again. That’s the first instinct of anyone who spends time on the Internet and is constantly bombarded by pleas for money. But then I realized something: My annoyance was a symptom of my dependence on Wikipedia. I rely on it utterly. I take it completely for granted.

I found her argument persuasive, so much so that I just signed up to give Wikipedia a monthly amount as well. I consider it a subscription fee to an indispensable and irreplaceable resource I use dozens of times weekly while producing kottke.org. It’s a business expense, just like paying for server hosting, internet access, etc. — the decision to pay became a no-brainer for me when I thought of it that way.

Do other media companies subscribe to Wikipedia in the same fashion? How about it Gawker, NY Times, Vox, Wired, ESPN, WSJ, New York Magazine, Vice, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post? Even $500/month is a drop in the bucket compared to your monthly animated GIF hosting bill and I know your writers use Wikipedia as much as I do. Come on, grab that company credit card and subscribe.

Truth will out

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2014

Emergent follows recent stories in the news and confirms their veracity. Some recent examples:

Claim: White House fence-jumper made it inside the main floor (Confirmed true)

Claim: A Florida woman got a third breast (Confirmed false)

Claim: Apple is buying Path (Unverified)

(via waxy)

The benefits of having your head in the sand

posted by Jason Kottke   May 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?

posted by Jason Kottke   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 2013

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 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 news

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 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 Cold

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 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 Independence

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 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?

posted by Jason Kottke   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 outside

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 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 sew

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 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 babies

posted by Jason Kottke   May 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 club

posted by Jason Kottke   May 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 policy

posted by Jason Kottke   May 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 tomorrow

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 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 Yorker

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 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 Onion

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 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 journalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 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 reality

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 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 America

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 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.