John Seabrook's January 14th article in the New Yorker about the scrap metal business was one of the best I've read in a long time. And not just because I'm fascinated by garbage and re-use and because one of my favorite books is "Garbage Land", a biography of a bag of trash. I loved it because it was as "I was there" as Gay Talese, as historically insightful as John McPhee and as free spirited as Susan Orlean. Since these are all heroes of ine, this is a good thing.
January 20, 2008
September 19, 2007
As of this morning, The New York Times is no longer charging readers to read online its columnists, nor archives from 1987 to the present. They explain it thusly...
In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.
September 09, 2007
The last month has brought two of the best magazine profiles I've ever read to my attention.
First up, The Atlantic did an analysis of Karl Rove called "The Rove Presidency" (sadly only the first few graphs available to non-subscribers. I got it from the library after hearing about it on Left, Right and Center) which gets exactly why Karl Rove seemed invincible 3 years ago and now may be the personification of the Bush administrations failures and eventual middling place in history.
The New York Times Magazine last week devoted their cover (again behind a pay wall. My apologies) to record producer Rick Rubin, co-founder of Def Jam Records, mastermind behind the Aerosmith/Run D.M.C "Walk This Way" recording and the newly appointed president of Columbia Records. Journalist Lynn Hirschberg reports, with little hesitation that Rubin has been charged with bringing the label into the 21st century, realigning a business model fundamentally broken or has he puts it bluntly "saving the music industry from itself."
A great profile expands what you already know and takes you somewhere unfamiliar. Until reading "The Rove Presidency", I pretty much knew Karl Rove was cunning yet short-sighted, a brilliant campaigner who couldn't apply the same strengths to governing. But I figured he was mostly in the game for the thrill of winning and had simply chosen the Republicans as his team rather than guardians of his values. Rubin I knew was a musician with a golden set of ears and a penchant for looking past prevailing cultural boundaries but as a beneficiary of the system, I didn't see him as eager to upset it but rather in the mold of a producer-gone-suit like Jimmy Iovine.
Turns out, Rove is quite a student of history and saw his run with GW as similar to the 1896 election of William McKinley which ushered in 30 years of Republican rule. He wasn't put trying to win but trying to win for the ages, both with party and policy. In fact, the article submits that Rove's insistence on participating in policy decisions (Social Security his passion) may have spelled doom for Bush since getting laws passed and winning elections are two very different birds.
Rubin isn't taking the Columbia post as a way of keeping afloat a sinking ship but a personal challenge of see if the deserves to be sailing at all. He's aware that the major record label system is creaky and outmoded and that change will take time. "We may just have to be content to be the best dinosaur" he said plainly. Dousing the inferno of file sharing isn't mentioned once.
What a pleasure it was reading both these pieces! If you can find them, do.
October 12, 2006
15 ways to energize your newspaper. It's from a reporter at the LA Times. My favorites include...
#2. Fire any reporter or editor who refuses to learn how to use the Web to its greatest advantage, or to experiment with what works on Web vs. what works in print.
#4 Celebrate the idea that news is many things -- investigative, features, trends, results. Key daily news meeting question: "Does the public NEED us today?"
#11. Announce that for home delivery customers, the paper will once again be found inside their screen door, not in the puddle in the driveway. Every home, every day.
#14. New newsroom rule: Answer phone calls. Respond to e-mails. On weekends and vacations, talk to real people.
September 02, 2006
August 01, 2006
Josh Wolf, who was one of my bloggers for the San Francisco International Film Festival, is in federal prison tonight for refusing to turn over video footage he shot of a war protest in San Francisco last year. The government wants to use it as evidence in the attempted vandalism of a SF Police car. Wolf claims that, if we begin down the road of journalists having to surrender their footage to government investigators, then how do we protect the confidentiality of sources?
I haven't make up my mind about who is right or wrong here and I really don't care. As a blogger, a maker of citizen media, Josh is a brother in arms. That I know the guy and know he's out to make a point, not a stink for its own sake, means I support his case all the more.
So I ask to all readers: Please post this story on your blog. And if you can, make a donation to Josh's legal defense fund. I don't want to see more of him and us, jailed in the name of "crime prevention."
April 05, 2006
February 03, 2006
So I wrote an Op-Ed piece appearing in the Baltimore Sun today about how the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster is Generation X's Kennedy Assassination. I was an editorial page intern at the Sun back in 1994 which makes this doubly sweet.
January 25, 2006
I found out from this article in the NYT that The New Leader a stalwart publication of left-leaning political analysis is shutting down after 82 years of publication. The New Leader has published many of the great thinkers of 20th century including George Orwell, Bertrand Russell, and Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Bermingham Jail."
No doubt it's a tough time to publish a magazine borne of political climates of the past. But I was particularly taken by these three paragraphs about Myron Kolatch, the magazine's editor since 1961...
Mr. Kolatch, 76, is a small, soft-spoken man with old-fashioned manners and the kind of mustache that leading men used to wear in the movies. He occupies what is surely the most antiseptic office in New York: no photographs, no rugs, not a sheet of paper out of place. And in all his years there Mr. Kolatch never got around to hanging pictures on the wall.
"Every day I walk in here and say, 'These naked walls - something should be done about them,' " he said. "But I'm a perfectionist, and I've always worried that if I started obsessing about pictures, I'd never get the magazine out."
It was a similar concern, he added, that contributed to what he regards as one of his great failings as an editor - his tardy embrace of the Internet. "I didn't have the foresight to realize the importance of being there," he said. "If you're a magazine like ours, and you're not there, you almost don't exist. But I can't do anything halfway. It's just like the walls. I felt that if we were going do an Internet thing, it would have to be top-of-the-line, and we couldn't afford that. We could barely afford the domain name."
The New Leader has no Internet presence. None. This would have been excusable in 1998-9 when the first dot com boom probably seemed like a lot of empty hype. In 2006, it is inexcusable. I have worked for nonprofits, some in publishing, often headed by an Executive Director a generation or two removed from the coming of the Internet. All knew they needed to be online. When they didn't have the money, they raised it. When they didn't have the time, they farmed out the job to interns and young staffers who knew these things.
Often their first efforts weren't perfect. Far from it. But they knew they had to be there. Because otherwise, like Mr. Kolatch pointed out, "you almost don't exist."
I had never heard of The New Leader before I read its obituary. I may not be its target demographic but at least it would have rung a bell had I seen it linked from someone's blog or mentioned at Arts Journal. But that's impossible if it's not online itself.
I don't like to rejoice in anyone's failure. But I can't say I'll miss The New Leader because I never knew about it until now. Worse still, I can't say I didn't see this one coming.
Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School
by Kevin Smokler
Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times
edited by Kevin Smokler
The Customer Is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles
edited and compiled by Jeff Martin. Essay by me on page 45.