Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

alternative view

1 February 2015

Cory Doctorow, speaking at Assembly, gives another view of the last few years of British news, ca minute 47:

We have rampant visible corruption in our governments. The United Kingdom where I live, for example, it was just revealed that the national secret police, SOCA, or the British equivalent of the FBI, suppressed information about prominent law firms, rich individuals and major corporations that had hired criminals to illegally hack into the private information of their enemies, and that they suppressed this for years, and that they then went and disclosed it to a judge, Lord Justice Leveson? (D says Levinson) who conducted an inquiry into the newspapers doing this, and he suppressed it, and that they’ve given it to Parliament, and Parliament won’t publish the names of these corporations and high profile individuals who hired criminals to commit gross crimes. And this is not an example of technical incompetence in the police, and it’s not an example of technical incompetence in the judges, and it’s not an example of technical incompetence in Parliament. This is gross corruption. These are people who, in order to protect the Establishment, and its legitimacy, are unwilling to follow the laws.

Enjoy the views of dystopian ranks of zoned-out hackers in the cutaways, too.

to tweet or not to tweet

11 July 2013


This flyer comes from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet. The quality of the production is not at issue here; Hamlet isn’t one of my favorite plays but I thought this was amazing and would see it again. I particularly enjoyed Jonathan Slinger’s performance – he starts out looking like a young banker who’s having a bad day on the markets, and then progressively goes nuts – as well as the masque at the end of the first act and the stormy supermarket lighting.

The point is the Twitter blurbs.


music: mama’s chicken gumbo

12 February 2013

The Yiddish Twist Orchestra is not klezmer, though you might think so from the name. It’s hard to say exactly what it is, other than a topnotch band that delighted its audience by fluently quoting everything from the Dayenu to West Side Story to the Benny Hill theme during a Monday night show at the Apex in Bury St. Edmund. The rings in its Venn diagram include swing, jazz, Latin, cabaret, Middle Eastern, Vegas lounge, early rock’n’roll, Eurovision, trance, and okay, klezmer (though in a brighter key than usual [1]).

The group led by guitarist Ben Mandelson and Nord keyboardist Robin Harris project confidence from the first notes – even if you don’t know what they’re going to do, they do and so you can relax, except for the mental reference engine. (Los Lobos. Dizzy Gillespie. Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Jerry Lee Lewis. Nat Newborn and Lounge Lions.) Visually, they’re an ironic retro act, a callback to LP sleeves with guys in sharp suits plying their shiny horns in front of a richly colored drape.


Singer Natty Bo, the man in the leopardskin cap, delivered mambo and Yiddish themed songs like “Mazel” in a voice that channeled Louis Prima. He got the audience on their feet and, in the climax of the show, threw bagels at them. A little of that kind of humor goes a long way (see: Red Elvises) and his appearances were judiciously metered. The horn and rhythm players varied in their appetite for solos and improvisation, but the sound was tight and the music on their stands was the main clue that some may have been sitting in for absent regulars.

The promotional flyer claims the London-based band is reviving “der shvitz,” a relic of Britain’s postwar globalization that “crossed the Atlantic in diluted form as the Twist.” Is this a hoax? Probably. Does it matter? No. Yiddish Twist are good enough to do without genre as justification for their music.

Full disclosure: My ticket was free from the promoter as I took the place of a student reviewer. I would have considered the £12.50 entry a bargain anyway. Also, I got a bagel.

Car-free in Suffolk: You can get to Bury about 40 minutes from Ipswich by train and the schedule runs until 10:19 pm going north and 11:30 pm or midnight going south. Cost is £8.10 in each direction. The X14-X15 bus may be cheaper, but runs seldom. Taxi from station to Apex was £3.50.

[1] A confession: I don’t like klezmer. I feel guilty about this, as if I’m failing to do my part for my own endangered species. Every couple of years I try again, find it too mournful and put on something more upbeat, like Billie Holiday.

time and news

22 December 2012

I abused the backdate function of WordPress quite a lot on my old blog and I intend to continue. That is, the date on a post is not necessarily the day I pushed the “send” button, but more likely the day I took the notes for the post or started writing. It’s part of shedding the addiction to speed, which I believe we need to do.

Years ago I wrote a story about the Xavier Society for the Blind in New York City, which produced Catholic books on tape. It also printed a weekly Braille summary of the New York Times for the deaf-blind. The subscribers were reading week-old news, which seems like an oxymoron but isn’t really. Browsing those dot-punched folios for them would have been the equivalent of reading a randomly aged newspaper for me – something I often do for the pleasure of accumulating knowledge or feeling time travel by. Any news that hasn’t been falsified by later events is still current and anything that has is historical data.

At the other extreme, I worked for a wire service that pushes the limits of speed writing, trying to get everything out in seconds or minutes for the the financial markets, perhaps the only sector that can act on any bit of news immediately [1]. Now everyone can play that game with blogs and Twitter, the headline desk of the Internet. Everybody gets to race the clock and there’s no central desk to set a newsworthiness bar or prevent duplication of labor. The editorial function is transferred to the overloaded reader.

Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying explores the consequences of speed mania and channel multiplication for journalism, via tales of hoodwinking topic-hungry bloggers to write about trends fabricated by marketers to boost brands (sometimes through reverse psychology). It’s difficult to bring myself to cite it because he claims authorship of many such hoaxes, constructing himself as the ultimate unreliable source. Yet the rubbish story examples ring true with wild goose chases I’ve watched on the tech blogs. If your skepticism is flagging about what you read on Wikipedia and other brand-name information websites (“Oh what the hell, it’s probably true”), this will restore it.

Holiday is at his most credible when describing the economics of the blog market and the pressure on writers to post, which he compares to the competition of the 19th-century penny press (he calls it “yellow press”) when news became available to mass audiences and writers were paid by volume. Against that noise, the New York Times deliberately carved out a niche for itself in thoroughly reported, verified and thoughtful, if slower, news coverage – meeting this goal better in some decades than others, I can say after surveying its entire print run in my PhD thesis. Nevertheless, that’s the kind of spirit we need now.

[1] Except for public safety, traffic and weather, it’s hard to think of news that the average citizen can use right away. At the same time, publishing a first take as soon as verified is the best practice in order to counter prior restraint and keep the reflexes sharp. That’s true even in a monopoly market and I’m not arguing with it; but I am arguing for taking more time to research, fact-check and contextualize, and letting opinion and features simmer a while longer.