Tagjournalism

Mutation Vectors 6/21/2014

Jason Leopold

Mutation Vectors is a weekly rundown of my media diet, and occasionally other other random thoughts.

Journalism

This week’s must read: There is nothing you must read this week. Feel free to take the weekend off. But if you must read something, I liked Matter’s profile of journalist Jason Leopold. I also like Rusty Foster’s thoughts on the New York Times, the Washington Post and Mozilla trying to to fix online comments in this Daily Dot story:

What they want is “community ownership”—a large group of people with a sense of investment in the community, around the NYT or the Post or whatever. But the only way to do that is to give up a lot of control to the community, and I don’t think what has to be done to really build community ownership is compatible with the mission of a news organization. Essentially the NYT should not be Reddit. The NYT, just by being what it is, already is a million times more valuable to humanity than Reddit—becoming Reddit is not the way forward. [...]

Social media ate all of that up, which in my opinion is a good thing. Social media tools turn out to be far better at conversation around media than anything any web site ever built. Social media works because people organize their conversations around people, not media properties. I have my group of friends, and we talk about NYT articles, and Vox articles, and whatever. I don’t want to have separate communities at each of those places.

Of my own stuff this week, I have to say I had fun profiling Metasploit.

Music

Books

I recently finished two books I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t read before: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin and The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. I’m reading Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim right now.

Art Spiegelman Interview by Molly Crabapple

spiegelman-molly-crabapple

Molly Crabapple interviews Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus and the Garbage Pale Kids:

What do you think about comics as a medium for journalism?

I’m impressed by what’s been happening in it. Because of Photoshop we all know that photographs lie every second that they open up their mouths. You can’t really trust a photograph. It could have just as easily been a photoshopped collage. So, it’s probably more plausible to trust an artist. You get to feel whether you trust them or not.

The problem with it is that [comics are] slow. You can’t do what a video camera can do. A video camera is like a vacuum cleaner. You suck it in and then you spit it out on the night’s news; cutting for the most intense images. But the person holding the camera could never have really seen what he was seeing. And the person seeing it on the news has it as part of the barrage.

Artists tend to have to reveal more of themselves even when they try to be as scrupulous as Joe Sacco. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/11/joe-sacco-the-great-war-interview.html It has a place insofar as concentrating on something has a place. We’re living in an ADD universe. The computer encourages that second-to-second dopamine rush as you go from click to click. What’s valuable about comics and print is they actually are a venue where you end up spending time.

Full Story: Vice: THE HORROR OF THE BLANK PAGE: A CONVERSATION WITH ART SPIEGELMAN

See also: The Future of Journalism Is … Comics?

Why, Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell Matters

Christopher Chabris writes:

What Malcom Gladwell says matters because, whether academics like it or not, he is incredibly influential.

As Gladwell himself might put it: “We tend to think that people who write popular books don’t have much influence. But we are wrong.” Sure, Gladwell has huge sales figures and is said to command big speaking fees, and his TED talks are among the most watched. But James Patterson has huge sales too, and he isn’t driving public opinion or belief. I know Gladwell has influence for multiple reasons. One is that even highly-educated people in leadership positions in academia—a field where I have experience—are sometimes more familiar with and more likely to cite Gladwell’s writings than those of the top scholars in their own fields, even when those top scholars have put their ideas into trade-book form like Gladwell does.

Full Story: Christopher Chabris: Why Malcolm Gladwell Matters (And Why That’s Unfortunate)

(via Boing Boing)

Previously: The SHAME Project’s profile of Gladwell

LA Times Writer Apologizes, Sort Of, For Attacks On Journalist Who Exposed CIA/Crack Connection

Nick Schou writes about Jesse Katz’s “apology” for ruining Gary Webb’s life:

The New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times each obscured basic truths of Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series. But no newspaper tried harder than the L.A. Times, where editors were said to have been appalled that a distant San Jose daily had published a blockbuster about America’s most powerful spy agency and its possible role in allowing drug dealers to flood South L.A. with crack.

Much of the Times’ attack was clever misdirection, but it ruined Webb’s reputation: In particular, the L.A. Times attacked a claim that Webb never made: that the CIA had intentionally addicted African-Americans to crack.

Webb, who eventually could find only part-time work at a small weekly paper, committed suicide.

No journalist played a more central role in the effort to obscure the facts Webb reported than former L.A. Times reporter Katz. [...]

“As an L.A. Times reporter, we saw this series in the San Jose Mercury News and kind of wonder[ed] how legit it was and kind of put it under a microscope,” Katz explained. “And we did it in a way that most of us who were involved in it, I think, would look back on that and say it was overkill. We had this huge team of people at the L.A. Times and kind of piled on to one lone muckraker up in Northern California.” [...]

As Katz admitted to Mantle, “We really didn’t do anything to advance his work or illuminate much to the story, and it was a really kind of tawdry exercise. … And it ruined that reporter’s career.”

Full Story: LA Weekly: Ex-L.A. Times Writer Apologizes for “Tawdry” Attacks

See also:

Webb’s original “Dark Alliance” stories from the San Jose Mercury News.

The Crack Up, Webb’s 1998 follow-up for Orange County Weekly.

The State Of Leak Sites

From Ars Technica:

WikiLeaks remains under a near financial blockade, its founder under effective house arrest after having been granted asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The group has yet to release anything as substantial as last year’s “Detainee Policies”—Balkanleaks remains one of the few “leaking sites” still going strong. Its recent insurance-key move comes precisely out of the WikiLeaks playbook.

More than two years ago, a flurry of new WikiLeaks clones sprung up around the world inspired by the world’s most famous transparency-driven organization. They had all kinds of names: QuebecLeaks, BaltiLeaks, EnviroLeaks, and more. PirateLeaks (based in the Czech Republic), BrusselsLeaks (Belgium) and RuLeaks (Russia) all did not respond to Ars’ requests for comments. [...]

So how does Balkanleaks thrive where others haven’t?

Tchobanov, the site’s co-founder, boils it down to one word: Tor. It’s the open-source online anonymizing tool that’s become the de facto gold standard for hiding one’s tracks online. Balkanleaks provides instructions in Bulgarian, Serbian, Macedonian, and English, and the submission website is only available on its Tor-enabled server.

Full Story: Ars Technica Whither whistleblowing: Where have all the leaking sites gone?

The article goes on to detail the state of some other projects, including OpenLeaks and GlobalLeaks.

Two Thoughts On The State Of Freelance Journalism

Journalist Nate Thayer kicked things off by published an e-mail exchange between him and an The Atlantic editor in which he was asked to rewrite an article he had written elsewhere for free. The editor also wrote that she could only pay $100 for original pieces.

Alexis Madrigal, of The Atlantic, responded pointing out that this was a new editor.

Andrew Sulivan points out the damage this does to The Atlantic‘s brand following the recent Church of Scientology sponsored content fiasco.

Paul Carr outlined some of the reasons that journalists need to get paid and called on publishers to reject advertising in favor of permeable pay walls and ad-free print editions.

A couple things that occur to me that I haven’t seen elsewhere:

1. There may be a certain amount of rosy retrospection going on here. I don’t doubt that it’s harder now for journalists, freelance or otherwise. But I’m not sure there’s any golden age to go back to. I’m too young to have any real perspective on this. But I do remember hearing an interview with Seymour Hersh on Democracy Now (though I can’t find the transcript for this episode) talking about how he actually had a hard time finding someone to publish his story on the My Lai Massacre. If I recall correctly, he’d already written the story. He wasn’t looking for someone to finance the story, just to pay him and publish it. Eventually the Dispatch News Service published it, a few newspapers picked it up and, as they say, is history. But I take it the Dispatch wasn’t exactly his first choice of publishers for the story that went on to earn him a Pulitzer.

2. Among the various reasons that journalists need to get paid — most of which are covered by Carr above — is the reason that we pay congress people so well. That is, you want them to be financially independent enough that they don’t need outside streams of income. Journalists shouldn’t have to choose between making rent or taking a side gig that might introduce a conflict of interest. No, a $60k a year salary sure as hell doesn’t guarantee that a journo won’t be temped by the opportunity to make some compromising money on the side. I’m sure Malcolm Gladwell has handsome salary at the New Yorker and that doesn’t stop him from earning big money giving talks to big corporations.

But if you can’t make rent or put food on the table, then you’ve got to find money somewhere. It could just be a good honest day job or moonlighting gig. But with every white paper for a political organization, every guest blog post for a tech startup and every corporate consulting gig makes you just a that much less independent of faction.

Brace Yourselves, Drone Journalism Is Coming

An aerial drone hovers in the air

Commercial airspace laws are holding back drone journalism, but it’s coming:

The benefits for journalists are evident too, especially for those who are in the field, like many science journalists. Journalists can use drones to report on disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires. Having an above-the-ground view may give journalists a better perspective of the extent of a disaster. By making use of sensors attached to drones, journalists can measure numerous parameters such as radiation levels in inaccessible areas. An environment journalist may also be keen to use drones to collect specimen such as polluted water samples while an exploring nature journalist can use them as communication relays so that they can touch base when reporting from remote areas.

Drone journalism appears to make so much sense that two universities in the US have already incorporated drone use in their journalism programs. The Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska and the Missouri Drone Journalism Program at the University of Missouri both teach journalism students how to make the most of what drones have to offer when reporting a story. They also teach students how to fly drones, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and ethics.

Full Story: Scientific American: Brace Yourselves, Drone Journalism Is Coming

Discordia

No, it’s not about Discordianism. It’s about the real world discord and human misery that is the political situation in Greece. It’s written by Laurie Penny and illustrated by Molly Crabapple, and it’s worth your time.

It’s not just political journalism, either — it touches on youth culture, the way a movement’s drug of choice reflects the zeitgeist, art, feminism and more.

You can buy the digital single from Amazon, or see a preview and read an interview with Penny and Crabapple here.

See also: Greece’s Fascist Homophobes Have God and Police On Their Side

Top Science Writers On Making Complex Subjects Accessible

The Guardian did a group interview of five of the six nominees for the the Royal Society’s Winton prize for science books 2012 — Steven Pinker, James Gleick, Brian Greene, Lone Frank and Joshua Foer.

Here’s an exchange between Greene and Pinker:

How has the formal, technical way scientists write journal papers affected popular science writing?

BG: I was looking back over some quantum mechanics papers from the 1920s and in one article the scientist described an accident in his laboratory when a glass tube exploded, a nickel got tarnished and he heated it to get rid of the tarnish – he went through the whole story himself in the technical article. You don’t really see that much these days. I don’t know if that is a one-off example, I haven’t done an exhaustive study, but have journal articles moved away from telling the story of discovery to just a more cut-and-dried approach?

SP: They have; I think that’s been documented. There is scientifically a problem with that, as opposed to narrating what happened. The problem is that since you’re under pressure from the journal editor to tell your story leading up to your conclusion without talking about all the blind alleys and accidents, it actually distorts the story itself because it inflates the probability that what you discovered is really significant. If you tried 15 things that didn’t work and one thing that did work and didn’t talk about the 15 that didn’t work, then the statistic that makes it significant is actually mistaken. The statistic has to be computed over all of the experiments you ran, not just the one that happened to work. In the social sciences especially, we’re seeing that there’s a lot of damage done by the practice of only reporting the successes and telling the story as if it was a straight line to a successful result.

Full Story: The Guardian: Science writing: how do you make complex issues accessible and readable?

Jonah Lehrer And The Poverty Of “Big Ideas”

Lehrer spent much of August writing about the affair, trying to figure out where it had all gone wrong. He came to the conclusion that he’d stretched himself too thin. His excuses fall along those lines: He told Seife that his plagiarized blog post was a rough draft he’d posted by mistake. And his latest explanation for those fabricated Dylan quotes is that he had written them into his book proposal and forgotten to fix them later. Even by his own account, then, the writing wasn’t his top priority.

The lectures, though, were increasingly important. Lehrer gave between 30 and 40 talks in 2010, all while meeting constant deadlines, starting a family, and buying a home in the Hollywood Hills. It was more than just a time suck; it was a new way of orienting his work. Lehrer was the first of the Millennials to follow his elders into the dubious promised land of the convention hall, where the book, blog, TED talk, and article are merely delivery systems for a core commodity, the Insight.

The Insight is less of an idea than a conceit, a bit of alchemy that transforms minor studies into news, data into magic. Once the Insight is in place—Blink, Nudge, Free, The World Is Flat—the data becomes scaffolding. It can go in the book, along with any caveats, but it’s secondary. The purpose is not to substantiate but to enchant.

Full Story: New York Magazine: Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer

The next big idea? The end of big ideas. See:

The Atlantic: Let’s Cool It With The Big Ideas

(I could swear Wired had a similar column from the editor a couple months ago, but it doesn’t seem to be online and I toss my print editions out after I read them)

Evgeny Morozov: The Naked and the TED

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