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kottke.org posts about journalism

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.

The blueprint for media coverage of mass killings

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 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 source

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 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 shootings

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 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 2012

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 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 guts

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 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 fine

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 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 media

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 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 balance

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 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 walk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 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.