Tag Archives: journalism

I Used to Write for Sports Illustrated. Now I Deliver Packages for Amazon

[Austin Murphy] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/what-its-like-to-deliver-packages-for-amazon/578986/

Today is a golden age for great journalism — and it’s never been harder to make a living at it. Of all the people I worked with in my first 10 years as a tech journalist, I’m the last one still doing it. I’d like to claim that’s because I’m the best, but I’d be lying.

Local news celebrates Mickey Rourke and Axl Rose’s 50th wedding anniversary

Rusty Blazenhoff @ https://boingboing.net/2018/12/24/local-news-celebrates-mickey-r.html:

An unidentified local news station celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of couple “Max and Geraldine Bailey” during a “Birthdays & Anniversaries” segment, except that they showed a picture of actor Mickey Rourke and Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose instead.

The ‘feel-good’ horror of late-stage capitalism [ThinkProgress]

These kinds of feel-good stories drive me crazy when they turn up on the news. If we offered maternity leave, a livable minimum wage, and affordable healthcare, people wouldn’t have to rely on handouts from co-workers. Nobody should have to walk to work twenty miles because they can’t afford a car and we don’t provide public transit. We should not celebrate our societal failures as feel-good news.

No comment — and that’s off the record!

‘No comment’: The death of business reporting: More and more companies are refusing to talk with journalists at all. I see this for myself every day. They don’t trust us and don’t think they need us – they use corporate websites and social media to talk directly to stakeholders. (The Washington Post)

You can’t fix journalism by sprinkling blockchain magic beans on it.

Alas, the Blockchain Won’t Save Journalism After All (NYTimes)

I’m intrigued by the potential of blockchain. But there are an awful lot of bullshit blockchain business plans out there, and it seems like this plan is one of them. It finds a problem that doesn’t actually exist, and suggests a solution that won’t fix the problem.


Trump Tax Records Obtained by The Times Reveal He Could Have Avoided Paying Taxes for Nearly Two Decades

Trump ran up nearly a billion dollars in red ink from spectacular real estate failures — this is the guy who’s running for President because he’s supposedly a great businessman — enough to shield him from paying taxes for 18 years.

My favorite part of the story is where the Times finds Trump’s accountant from the 90s, Jack Mitnick, who’s now 80 years old and verifies the record.

“This is legit,” he said, stabbing a finger into the document….

[Mitnick] contrasted Fred Trump’s attention to detail with what he described as Mr. Trump’s brash and undisciplined style. He recalled, for example, that when Donald and Ivana Trump came in each year to sign their tax forms, it was almost always Ivana who asked more questions….

Mr. Mitnick … said there were times when even he, for all his years helping wealthy New Yorkers navigate the tax code, found it difficult to face the incongruity of his work for Mr. Trump. He felt keenly aware that Mr. Trump was living a life of unimaginable luxury thanks in part to Mr. Mitnick’s ability to relieve him of the burden of paying taxes like everyone else.

“Here the guy was building incredible net worth and not paying tax on it,” he said.

David Barstow, Susanne Craig, Russ Buettner and Megan Twohey report for the New York Times in an admirable feat of old-fashioned investigative journalism.


Journalist Philip Caputo remembers his landmark Esquire profile of William Styron

Caputo set out to profile Styron in 1985, when Styron, “one of the towering figures in American letters,” was working on the novel “The Way of the Warrior.” The two men shared an experience as Marines — Styron had praised Caputo’s 1977 Vietnam memoir, “A Rumor of War” — which proved stronger than their common bond as writers, according to the Esquire Classic Podcast.

Styron fell into a deep depression during the reporting of the story, which changed the nature of the profile radically. And Styron never finished his novel, instead writing a 1990 mediation on depression, “Darkness Visible,” that “remains one of the most lucid and illuminating accounts of the illness,” according to the notes for the podcast.

“Caputo joins host David Brancaccio to discuss Styron’s greatness as a writer and how [Styron’s] struggle against depression—and his ability to articulate it in print—stands, in some regards, as his ultimate literary achievement,” according to the notes.

Styron’s Choices, by Philip Caputo – Esquire Classic Podcast

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.

What Facebook gets wrong about that napalm-girl photo

Facebook is partly right: That is a disturbing photo.

But what’s disturbing about it isn’t the nudity.

What’s disturbing is that it’s a photo of a child who’s been severely burned in a napalm attack. A napalm attack by an American ally in an American war.

And it’s disturbing that Facebook thinks it’s the nudity that’s the problem.

Facebook Censors Iconic Vietnam War Photo Over Nudity – Mark Scott, The New York Times

Fox & Friends lament media’s refusal to engage in Clinton health conspiracies 

Fox & Friends is echoing a Trump talking point: That Clinton is very, very sick and the media is covering it up.

Problem with this conspiracy theory: Complete lack of evidence of Clinton’s bad health, and presence of evidence that Clinton is actually in good health. Coughing jags are a thing that happens to healthy people.

Media Matters

“I Spent 30 Years Covering American Politics. Here’s What I Wish Other Journalists Knew.”

Great advice here for all kinds of journalists. Tech journalists in particular have a tendency to get too cozy with the people we cover.

Don’t cede power to the powerful. I’ve written repeatedly (here, here, and here) about how the media needs to confront a dangerous shift of power away from journalists and toward the people they cover. The short version: Stop ceding control and start doing things that bring powerful people to heel. You don’t like background briefings? Stand up at them and say, “I am filing this briefing to Twitter and quoting you by name.” You want Donald Trump to release his tax records? Impose an embargo on his free airtime until he does so. Campaign officials are bullying one of your reporters over a tough story she did?  Get her help: Assign four more reporters to the story and tell them to dig deeper, because apparently she’s on to something. Political operatives are adapting, finding new and ruthless ways to mislead the public. Journalists must adapt, too.

Ron Fournier, The Atlantic

You can cheer about Gawker’s death while being troubled by how it happened

Philip Bump, The Washington Post, about the announcement that Gawker is shutting down:

Its final legacy will be the way in which it was destroyed, by a man with deep pockets and a lengthy grudge who backed not only [Hulk Hogan’s sex tape lawsuit] but several others, under the theory that if one failed to decapitate the site, another might succeed. For you or me, hiring a lawyer who can defend you in court for months on end is a cost-prohibitive idea. For Thiel and other members of the hyper-wealthy class, it’s not. There’s always going to be a price for saying something someone else disapproves of. Thiel ensured that the price was as costly as it could possibly be. The smart money says that the verdict against Gawker is overturned on appeal, but, oh well. Overturning capital punishment sentences can be buggy.

It’s interesting to consider Gawker’s fate today. The Department of Justice announced that it would stop housing federal inmates at for-profit prisons, a decision that many credit to extensive reportingby Mother Jones, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars revealing how the system worked. Mother Jones, too, was nearly destroyed financially by a billionaire who opposed their coverage, but they won. In the online media world, two makes a trend, and this trend isn’t cute.

It’s possible to cheer for Gawker’s demise while also being troubled by how it happened.

As Bump notes here, Gawker was the best and worst of online journalism. And when it was bad, it was horrible. There really is no excuse for outing gays and bisexuals the way they did. No excuse.

If you want to applaud Gawker dying, I won’t object.

On the other hand, Gawker websites have done great work, and launched the career of one journalist/technologist whom I respect highly.

Bump nails the problem with the way Thiel put Gawker down: He used his deep pockets to fund not one but several lawsuits, and lay in wait nearly a decade before the coup de grace came. You or I don’t have access to that kind of remedy. The same thing nearly happened at Mother Jones.

This is another example of the super-wealthy enjoying rights and privileges to set public policy, which you and I do not enjoy.

Bruce Weber, an obituary writer for The New York Times, moves on

We’re accustomed, my colleagues and I, to saying that an obituary is not about a death, but a life. This is true, but really, we’re reporters and you can’t avoid the news, which is, of course, the same news every time. That’s one thing that distinguishes writing obituaries from anything else in journalism.

Another is that we start at the end and look backward. There’s some reward in this, in the excavating we do that often unearths interesting, long-forgotten facts.

But it’s melancholy, too. We had a movie made about us recently, a documentary called “Obit,” and in it my former deskmate Doug Martin, who effected his own exit from the obit business a couple of years ago, made a comment of encapsulating rue. He often admired the people he wrote about, he said, but he never got to meet them.

He never had to come up with a story idea and hardly ever left the office.

Ezra Klein Show: Melissa Bell on starting Vox, managing media, and connecting newsrooms

Ezra Klein:

I first started working with Melissa Bell at the Washington Post. I was trying to launch a new product — Wonkblog — and I needed some design work done. Melissa wasn’t a designer. She wasn’t a coder. She didn’t manage designers or coders. She was, rather, a blogger, like me. But somehow, no one would meet with me to talk Wonkblog unless Melissa was also in the room.It was my first exposure to Melissa’s unusual talent for finding and connecting the different parts of a modern newsroom. We went on to start Vox together, and it’s no exaggeration to say Vox simply wouldn’t exist without Melissa’s vision, her managerial brilliance, or her unerring sense of where journalism is going. She’s also one of my very favorite people — working with her has been one of the highlights of my career. Melissa was recently named publisher for all of Vox Media — so if you’re wondering what’s next in journalism, she’s someone you’ll want to listen to, because she’ll be building it. In this conversation, we discuss:-How Melissa started her journalism career in India-Her experience working near the World Trade Center on 9/11-What she learned from her time as a waitress, and how it was crucial to her development as a journalist-Her pending case before the Indian Supreme Court-How observing large institutions reveals how little information and control any one person really has-How she thinks about “mapping out” organizations and creating informal networks within those organizations to get things done-Why it’s hard to create new things in big organizations and how to create better systems for making those things-How the distinctions between “old” and “new” media have largely collapsed-What it was like starting Vox, and what we got wrong from the beginning-How Vox’s brand identity emerged, and why it proved more important than either of us expectedAnd much more. I work very closely with Melissa, and I learned a lot about her in this discussion. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Klein and Bell discuss what happens when you go from fighting The Man to being The Man.

Also: As a boy, Klein’s favorite book was “The Dragonriders of Pern.” Wow.

Peter Thiel makes the case for his bankrolling the Gawker lawsuit

Peter Thiel, The New York Times:

Last month, I spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland because I believe our country is on the wrong track, and we need to solve real problems instead of fighting fake culture wars. I’m glad that an arena full of Republicans stood up to applaud when I said I was proud to be gay, because gay pride shouldn’t be a partisan issue. All people deserve respect, and nobody’s sexuality should be made a public fixation.

Unfortunately, lurid interest in gay life isn’t a thing of the past. Last week, The Daily Beast published an article that effectively outed gay Olympic athletes, treating their sexuality as a curiosity for the sake of internet clicks. The article endangered the lives of gay men from less tolerant countries, and a public outcry led to its swift retraction. While the article never should have been published, the editors’ prompt response shows how journalistic norms can improve, if the public demands it.

Not mentioned here: The vast databases of private information compiled by business and government in the name of marketing and national security. That kind of information is potentially far more damaging to far more people than sex tapes.

Also, while Thiel is right that even public figures have a right to privacy,I don’t want to live in a world where billionaires decide the boundaries of legitimate journalism. (See also.)

How to get good at note-taking

Interviews and presentations are the raw materials of journalism, and good notes are the tools. Here are a few tips on taking good notes, based on my own experience and a couple of articles I Googled recently:

  • Use a laptop, or tablet with keyboard, where appropriate for note-taking. When interviewing an executive for an article about their business, keyboarding is very appropriate. When infiltrating a prison, not so much.
  • For most of my career I tried to be discreet about taking notes. I felt notetaking would make them uncomfortable. Now I’m the opposite. People are there to be interviewed, let them see your fingers and elbows fly. If they say something great but you don’t get it, don’t be shy about asking them to repeat it.
    • Except when they’re nervous about being interviewed.
    • Sometimes when they’re nervous, you can’t take notes at all, or they’ll freeze up. This is what bathroom breaks are for. Drink plenty of iced tea.
    • Just because you closed your notebook doesn’t mean you’re off the record.
  • There are many methods of shorthand other than the classic Gregg. Probably worth learning. I never have.
  • It’s a good idea immediately after an interview to review your notes and retype them, adding details that are fresh in your memory. I never do.
  • Don’t try to take down every word. Listen for quotes, summarize the rest.
  • Avoid recording interviews unless there’s a specific reason to do so. Transcribing recording is slow, slow, slow. Also, recorders fail.
  • Computers fail too. Best to take notes with pen and paper. I don’t — I use electronics.
  • Lately I’ve been using Notability with the Adonit Jot stylus to take handwritten notes on my iPad mini during face-to-face one-on-one interviews. I like it, but I’m not sure I’ll stick with it. Typing is faster and I feel like it’s more reliable.

A couple of good articles with more tips:

Taking Good Notes: Tricks and Tools – The Open Notebook

12 basics of interviewing, listening and note-taking – Roy Peter Clark, Poynter.org

Confessor. Feminist. Adult. What the Hell Happened to Howard Stern?

This is not the Howard Stern I listened to in the 80s and early 90s. David Segal has more at the New York Times:

For years, Mr. Stern was known principally for pushing the limits of taste as the ringmaster of a raunchy circus of pranksters, oddballs and strippers. During his decades on terrestrial radio, his main passions seemed to be, in no particular order, boob jobs, prostitutes, lesbians and flatulence. Introspection and empathy were not fortes.

What I didn’t appreciate, until hearing [Bill] Murray lay bare his deepest anxieties, is that since settling in to his new home on satellite radio, which he did in 2006, Mr. Stern and his show have gradually taken on an improbable new dimension. Scattered among the gleefully vulgar mainstays are now long, starkly intimate live exchanges — character excavations that have made Mr. Stern one of the most deft and engrossing celebrity interviewers in the business and a sought-after stop for stars selling a movie or setting the record straight.



Byline | Field Notes

I’ve always liked tall, slim reporters notebooks with the binding on top. You can easily hold them in one hand while writing with the other. They fit nicely in a suit jacket pocket or the back pocket of your jeans.

Now Field Notes, the favorite notebook manufacturer of mustache-waxing hipsters, is making a reporters notebook.

I’m tempted but I haven’t priced them against the variety I prefer, which is pretty much whatever kind of notebook I can get cheap on Amazon. Also, I do 99.99% of my note-taking electronically nowadays. Mostly I can find a flat surface to type on and when that’s inconvenient I thumb type on my iPhone. I’ve gotten pretty good at that.

Still, these are nice-looking notebooks, and I love the marketing copy. “When the very last print run of these was complete, we got to do something that we’ve always wanted to do. We yelled ‘Stop the Presses!” That was very satisfying.” Ha!

Moleskine (former favorite notebook for mustache-waxing hipsters) also makes reporters’ notebooks — $11 each. These must be for reporters who have inherited trust funds.

I just checked: A 12-pack of Portage 70-sheet reporters’ notebooks is about $18 bucks on Amazon. Two Field Notes Byline reporters notebooks are about $13.. That’s a lot of mustache wax.

Field Notes’ “stop the presses!” joke reminds me: In the pre-mobile-computing days, when you were filing a story from the field, you called it in and dictated it to your editor. Bigger newspapers had “rewrite men” who did nothing but take reporters’ phoned-in notes and turn them into articles. Sometimes when I was phoning in a story — standing at a payphone with a stack of quarters in front of me — I’d open a conversation with my editor by putting on a fake Brooklyn accent and saying, “Hi, honey, get me rewrite, dis is a doozy!” That never got old.