Journalists need to collect “string:” fragments of ideas and information that might turn into stories later

Laura Shin at Poynter.org describes how several journalists build their string collections, and organize them — or don’t:

Fleeting thoughts and observations that seem interesting, if not directly relevant to your article, could someday lead to another story, whether that’s a quick blog post or a book.

Capturing these random thoughts in an organized fashion is challenging. That could be why few writers do what is sometimes called collecting “string” — or, random threads of thought that could someday be spun into a larger story. (When reporting this article, I approached many writers who said they do not collect string. Some even asked me how to define the term.)…

Whether you decide to go with a detailed organization scheme or a looser method, the emphasis here is that you should collect random thoughts and observations that seem interesting, whether or not you end up using them later. And you should have a method for reviewing them to make sure that the ideas you’ve collected don’t gather dust.

I’m thinking about trying out DevonThink, which now has an iOS app. Among other things, it seems like a good way to organize a string collection.

And this blog is of course a big string collection. Which might be a good tagline for it.

Mismatched

Wallace Shawn: I wish people knew me as a radical playwright instead for “The Princess Bride”

Disappointing article. The interview is good but the headline and introduction are terrible. The writer is simply making up attitudes and statements that Shawn never makes in the interview.

I made an offhand comment a couple of days ago about how I dislike the phrases “highbrow,” “lowbrow,” and “guilty pleasures.” Like what you like, I said. Shawn’s career spans the brows (so to speak) as broadly as can be imagined. I’m curious how he looks back on, basically, his two careers. Is he ashamed of is work on Star Trek, Toy Story, and The Princess Bride? As proud of one body of work as he is of the other? Or does he view the character acting as just his day job — something he does to pay the bills for his real life’s work?

The People’s Platform: How “free culture” stifles the creative middle

It's_not_free

The culture of listicles and Instagram makes it harder for the creative middle — people who are neither superstars like Beyonce, or amateurs working for free — to make a living, while enriching the Googles, Facebooks, and Amazons of the world. Tim Wu reviews The People’s Platform” by Astra Taylor for _The New York Times:

Astra Taylor is a documentary filmmaker who has described her work as the “steamed broccoli” in our cultural diet. Her last film, “Examined Life,” depicted philosophers walking around and talking about their ideas. She’s the kind of creative person who was supposed to benefit when the Internet revolution collapsed old media hierarchies. But two decades since that revolution began, she’s not impressed: “We are at risk of starving in the midst of plenty,” Taylor writes. “Free culture, like cheap food, incurs hidden costs.” Instead of serving as the great equalizer, the web has created an abhorrent cultural feudalism. The creative masses connect, create and labor, while Google, Facebook and Amazon collect the cash.

Taylor’s thesis is simply stated. The pre-Internet cultural industry, populated mainly by exploitative conglomerates, was far from perfect, but at least the ancien régime felt some need to cultivate cultural institutions, and to pay for talent at all levels. Along came the web, which swept away hierarchies — as well as paychecks, leaving behind creators of all kinds only the chance to be fleetingly “Internet famous.” And anyhow, she says, the web never really threatened to overthrow the old media’s upper echelons, whether defined as superstars, like Beyoncé, big broadcast television shows or Hollywood studios. Instead, it was the cultural industry’s middle ­classes that have been wiped out and replaced by new cultural plantations ruled over by the West Coast aggregators.

If you win the Internet lottery and your video goes viral, and you get an interview on The Today show, then what?

It’s just back to serfdom (with exceptions, like E. L. James, author of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which began as “Twilight” fan fiction). In any event, the odds of going viral are comparable to winning the lottery, but the lottery, to its credit, actually pays out in cash. You might say virality is the promise that keeps the proletariat toiling in the cultural factories, instead of revolting and asking for something better.

Wu says Taylor overlooks hobbyists and amateurs — people posting selfies on Instagram aren’t in it for the money. And Wu also says the Internet permits creation of whole new genres, like Awkward Family Photos (which I’m not so sure is a new thing — a site like Awkward Family Photos reminds me of those little novelty books you could buy at the cash registers of shopping mall bookstores in the 70s and 80s.)

And the Internet is great for consumers — it’s never been easier to get great content from sites like Netflix and Amazon.

Taylor’s solution: “sustainable culture” along with more public support for the arts.

My $0.02: I make a better living on the Internet than I did before. And steamed broccoli is one of our favorite foods.

Content and Its Discontents

Image: NesuKurosu

“Slaying, yet again, the idea that the languages we speak shape the thoughts we think.”

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis holds that language shapes the way we think. It’s an obsolete linguistic theory, but it’s going strong in other disciplines and in pop culture:

Perhaps the most famous invocation of Sapir-Whorf is the claim that because Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, they have a mental apparatus that equips them differently—and, one assumes, better—than, say, Arabs, to perceive snow. (I once watched the wintry film Fargo with an Egyptian who called everything from snowflakes to windshield-ice talg—the same word she used for the ice cube in her drink.) To get a hint of why nearly all modern linguists might reject this claim, consider the panoply of snow-words in English (sleet, slush, flurry, whiteout, drift, etc.), and the commonsense question of why we would ever think to attribute Eskimos’ sophisticated and nuanced understanding of snow to their language, rather than the other way around. (“Can you think of any other reason why Eskimos might pay attention to snow?” Harvard’s Steven Pinker once asked.)

A Dozen Words for Misunderstood: Language and Thoughts