TagMediapunk

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.

Mutation Vectors 5/31/2014

Laurie Penny is at it again with another must-read this week the European Parliment and creeping fascism. Key line: “Perhaps the greatest trick the Devil ever played was to convince the world that he was really boring.”

Penny wrote that for Vice, which Gawker says is a really shit place to work. In response to the accusations, Vice says “fuck you,” but doesn’t exactly say the article wrong about how much the company pays, only that the salaries are “competitive.” Which doesn’t really mean much in a market where Gawker itself only pays new writers $1,500 a month and is being sued by unpaid interns.

But really, pretty much every media company these days is using tabloid clickbait garbage to subsidize its “real journalism.” But that’s a cold comfort to the people forced to survive by grinding out listicles for subsistence wages, as Paul Ford reminds us in a piece on Medium about the absurdity of viral content farms. You know, like Medium.

And over at renowned content farm The Atlantic Choire Sicha — who founded The Awl, where you can watch bear videos and read about the life and times of ¯\_(?)_/¯ — says the internet basically sucks now but is also amazing.

Oh well, at least Buzzfeed is run by some weird Deleuzian dude. Maybe the whole thing is some Accelerationist plot to make capitalism eat itself faster?

Aaaaannnnyyyyway, my favorite thing I read this week was David Forbes’ piece on the history of Grinding. My favorite thing of my own was my story on Transgress, a tool for routing around the online censorship of information about transgender issues.

Film

THELMA AND LOUISE

I watched Thelma and Louise for the first time this week. I can’t imagine this movie being made today. Which reminds me, you should also read Jacqueline Valencia’s essay on on the need for more lonely women in film. Not that Thelma and Louise is exactly the type of movie she’s talking about, but it reminded me of Falling Down which reminded me of her article.

Music

This week I saw Cult of Zir (above), Alien Parkinsons Project and Sister Mamie Foreskin play at the Lovecraft. The rest of Zir’s show is here.

I’d never heard Sister Mamie Foreskin before but I really dug them. They’re sort of in the same vein as The Soft Moon or maybe Comets on Fire. Their new album is here.

The Rise and Rise of Television Torture

Hansel at Interpet This writes:

But this prevalence of torture that you see in otherwise very comparable shows is not limited to Fringe. It is everywhere in American entertainment now.

Everywhere you see it it promotes the lie that torture works. It does this very effectively. Because usually we, the audience, already know that the person being tortured has the information. They just will not give it up. In real life of course torture is not like that. In the hundreds of torture scenes that have been acted out in popular media only a handful show the victim making things up, and saying whatever they think the torturer wants to hear in order that they stop torturing them. Which is the reason why torture is not a useful tool. The process would be: Torture someone, they tell you something, you double check that story, maybe torture the people they implicate, then you find it out that there story was incorrect, go back to torturing them. Just one round of that might take days or a weeks. Which would make for boring TV.

Full Story: Interpret This: The Rise and Rise of Television Torture

(via Metafilter)

See also:

The politics of the man behind “24.”

Scalia: Fictional TV show justifies legal torture

The Silent History: The strange novel that makes you travel to read it

The Week reports, back in October 2012:

An ambitious new e-book pushes the boundaries of interactive fiction by requiring readers to visit specific locations to unlock new parts of its story
If you want the full experience of The Silent History — a new e-book available on the iPhone and iPad — you’d better get ready to do some traveling. The Silent History is “part medical case study, part mystery novel, and part-real-life scavenger hunt,” says Sarah Hotchkiss at KQED, and the e-book aims to personalize its narrative for each reader. (Watch a trailer for The Silent History below.) The Silent History is divided into two parts: Testimonials and field reports. The testimonials, which are divided into six volumes of 20 chapters each, are automatically unlocked as the story unfolds each day. But the field reports require an unprecedented level of interaction: They can only be read by traveling to specific locations, and readers are encouraged to write and contribute their own localized installments.

Full Story: Yahoo News: The Silent History: The strange new e-book that makes you travel to read it

(Thanks Skry)

The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic

War of the Worlds New York Times headline

From Slate:

The supposed panic was so tiny as to be practically immeasurable on the night of the broadcast. Despite repeated assertions to the contrary in the PBS and NPR programs, almost nobody was fooled by Welles’ broadcast.

How did the story of panicked listeners begin? Blame America’s newspapers. Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted. In an editorial titled “Terror by Radio,” the New York Times reproached “radio officials” for approving the interweaving of “blood-curdling fiction” with news flashes “offered in exactly the manner that real news would have been given.” Warned Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry’s trade journal, “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which has yet to prove … that it is competent to perform the news job.”

Full Story: Slate: The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic

Why One Librarian Banned a Book

Scott R. DiMarco of the Mansfield University of Pennsylvania campus library writes:

The story begins with two staff members and one librarian who enthusiastically created and ran a week of interactive programs for banned book week. The turnout was tepid. A panel discussion on the subject drew six people. Five were librarians and staff members. The sixth was Dennis Miller, our public relations director, who recently published his second novel, One Woman’s Vengeance. As we talked about various books that are still being banned at different locations around the country, Miller said, “You should ban mine. It has sex, violence and adult language.”

He was joking, but his statement emphasized that as long as one book can be banned, any book is a target.

Two of my staff members and one librarian thought it over and came to me a couple days later, suggesting that we should, indeed, ban it during Banned Books Week. We talked over the ramifications and I agreed. We contacted Miller, an ardent opponent of censorship.

He agreed to participate.

Full Story: College and Research Libraries News: Why I banned a book: How censorship can impact a learning community

OMNI Prepares to Reboot

“The greatest science magazine of all time will be back soon,” according to the Twitter account Omni Reboot, which links to omnireboot.com and omnireboot.tumblr.com.

This reboot follows the annoucement that an OMNI art book and gallery tour is on the way. The new site appears to be backed by Jerrick Ventures, which runs Geek Room, and the Guccione Collection.

It’s an interesting situation given that no one knows who actually owns OMNI at this point.

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.

Teach The Controversy: Mermaids Edition

I don't know; therefore, mermaids

Jim Vorel on Animal Planet‘s bizarre Mermaids hoax:

‘Mermaids: The New Evidence’ is the worst thing I’ve ever seen on TV

There’s absolutely no hyperbole in that title. Last night on Animal Planet I caught the replay of “Mermaids: The New Evidence,” the follow-up to Discovery Channel’s abysmally bad, misleading and rage-inducing “docufiction” from last year, “Mermaids: The Body Found.” It’s the worst TV I’ve ever seen. Nothing else comes even close.

Last night’s special was even further from reality from the first documentary, which at least went through more trouble to appear legitimate-looking. Instead of being comprised of talking head interviews, it was done almost in the style of an extended round-table on a 24-hour news network, which I suppose is fitting in an odd way. A shill of a host acted as the “moderator,” asking canned questions to our returning star and conquering hero from the past program, “Dr. Paul Robertson,” a man touted as being “a former researcher for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” Other guests were brought forward to share their own mermaid revelations and screen poor CGI footage of supposed mermaid encounters.

I’ll start out by simply pointing out the stuff that anyone with access to Google can discover immediately — “Dr. Paul Robertson” is not an actual person, but an actor. His name is Andre Weideman. Here’s his IMDB page. It’s safe to assume that all the other supposed researchers and government officials on the special were also actors, or they wouldn’t be there.

Full Story: Herald Review: ‘Mermaids: The New Evidence’ is the worst thing I’ve ever seen on TV

See also:

I Wanted the Story to Seem Real, Says “Mermaids: The New Evidence” Producer

Science Channel Refuses To Dumb Down Science Any Further

Monster mummies of Japan

Revisiting the “Crack Babies” Epidemic That Never Happened

The New York Times owns up to contributing to the crack baby scare:

This week’s Retro Report video on “crack babies” (infants born to addicted mothers) lays out how limited scientific studies in the 1980s led to predictions that a generation of children would be damaged for life. Those predictions turned out to be wrong. This supposed epidemic — one television reporter talks of a 500 percent increase in damaged babies — was kicked off by a study of just 23 infants that the lead researcher now says was blown out of proportion. And the shocking symptoms — like tremors and low birth weight — are not particular to cocaine-exposed babies, pediatric researchers say; they can be seen in many premature newborns.

The worrisome extrapolations made by researchers — including the one who first published disturbing findings about prenatal cocaine use — were only part of the problem. Major newspapers and magazines, including Rolling Stone, Newsweek, The Washington Post and The New York Times, ran articles and columns that went beyond the research. Network TV stars of that era, including Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather, also bear responsibility for broadcasting uncritical reports.

Full Story: The New York Times: Revisiting the ‘Crack Babies’ Epidemic That Was Not

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