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Happy Armistice Day

November 11, 2011

This book is my fiftieth-birthday present to myself. I feel as though I am crossing the spine of a roof—having ascended one slope.

I am programmed at fifty to perform childishly—to insult “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to scrawl pictures of a Nazi flag and an asshole and a lot of other things with a felt-tipped pen. To give an idea of the maturity of my illustrations for this book, here is my picture of an asshole: *

I think I am trying to clear my head of all the junk in there—the assholes, the flags, the underpants. Yes—there is a picture in this book of underpants. I’m throwing out characters from my other books, too. I’m not going to put on any more puppet shows.

I think I am trying to make my head as empty as it was when I was born onto this damaged planet fifty years ago.

I suspect that this is something most white Americans, and nonwhite Americans who imitate white Americans, should do. The things other people have put into my head, at any rate, do not fit together nicely, are often useless and ugly, are out of proportion with one another, are out of proportion with life as it really is outside my head.

I have no culture, no humane harmony in my brains. I can’t live without a culture anymore.

So this book is a sidewalk strewn with junk, trash which I throw over my shoulders as I travel in time back to November eleventh, nineteen hundred and twenty-two.
I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.

Kurt Vonnegut from Breakfast of Champions


Byliner Looks to Shake Up Long Form Journalism

April 19, 2011

In a post today, TechCrunch addressed a new company that has burst onto the scene.

Byliner hopes to create an entirely new form of post called a “single.” Sort of a mixture of a blog post and book, the idea is that it is a long form journalism piece meant to be red in approximately 2 hours. The first release is a piece about the recently unveiled scandal surrounding Greg Mortensen and his allegedly fabricated books. The amazing thing about this is that the story only broke days ago, and we already have something similar to a book on the topic. What Byline offers is a way to speed up the publishing process for longer journalism.

The author does bring up a legitimate issue, which is time. It is easy to browse blogs and skim, but long form journalism needs to be consumed slowly. It’s not a matter of good content, but a matter of time.

I believe that Byliner has hit an unserved market, though. For those looking for long form journalism that isn’t the length of a book, this is it. Byliner stories may be the journalism equivalent to short stories in literature, and that’s exciting. It’s a new form that provides longer narratives in shorter time. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see a rebirth of the series, with authors writing book length works on the much quicker time frame offered by Byliner.

As a brand new company, it’s impossible to say really how the technology will take off. Without writers, it won’t get very far. But, as the TechCrunch author said, she was quickly won over by the concept, and that may be a sign that many other journalists and authors will join in once they find out about it. For now, they just need to make themselves known.

Why You Proofread: The Independent’s Kate Middleton Mistake

April 19, 2011

It’s not often major news outlets let little mistakes slip through. Well, the British newspaper the Independent did just that today on their website.

Take a look at the URL for this story about a jelly bean linked to Kate Middleton, princess-to-be.

This may be changed quick, so I have taken a screenshot and uploaded it for your viewing pleasure.

Yes. Apparently the Independent doesn’t mind printing absolute garbage if people love it, and here is proof. It’s hard to deny a link like that. It looks like someone’s private comment accidentally ended up in the permalink. The other explanation is that the Independent very knowingly released the article with that link as a way to stick it to terrible PR. Either way, the people interested in the story will not take kindly to the tone of the comment, I suspect. We’ll have to see how the Independent responds.

Another Victory for Indies: Pro Publica Wins the Pulitzer

April 18, 2011

Pro Publica has done it again. Awarded to Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein for their reports on how Wall Street bankers worsened the financial crises, this is the first time the award has ever gone to stories not published in print.

For proponents of online media, this is a great victory. It sends a message that we still need deep investigative journalism in a time when many traditional news organizations have cut back in those departments. It would not be surprising to see even more awards start going to online organizations as traditional media continues to face problems. I’m happy to see the Pulitzer going to such great and important work.

It’s also awesome to see Pro Publica thank those at Planet Money and This American Life who helped. I remember listening to their programs about Magnetar last spring while driving to or from school and being fascinated. It’s a partnership that I believe aided the storytelling of the pieces. With many business and money stories, it is sometimes hard to conceptualize the happenings into a narrative that can be followed by the average person, but it’s something This American Life and Planet Money both do quite well.

I am excited to see this news today and cannot wait to see what will happen next year. With another win, Pro Publica could become the unquestioned masters of investigative journalism for our modern age, if they aren’t there already.

Journalists Sue A-Po-L

April 12, 2011

Everyone wants compensation for their work, and a few disgruntled journalists are suing Huffington Post and AOL over it. Citing that Huffington retains information that should belong to freelance bloggers, specifically pageviews, they are suing the newly joined organization.

A particularly amusing line to me is the one in which the plaintiffs claim that HuffPo would have sold for “at least $105 million less” without the content contributed by the plaintiffs. How they came to that number is not explained, and sounds like guesswork at best. Had there not been freelance content, chances are the Huffington Post would have never become the sensation that it has, not even close.

The freelancers may run into trouble, however, if they’re asked to explain why they joined the site. As far as I know, it’s pretty clear where HuffPo stands when it comes to compensation. You get to be published on their site, and that’s good enough. Writers join the site understanding these terms, and Huffington has been pretty clear that if you disagree, you’re welcome to leave. As far as I know, she has no obligation to release anything to her freelancers. We’ll have to see what happens, but based on my limited media legal understanding, the freelancers may not get very far without proving some sort of breach in contract.

Not exactly unbiased, but Arianna seems to agree with me that there’s not much legal grounds underneath this suit.

Goodbye Flip

April 12, 2011

Cisco has announced that they’re discontinuing the Flip Cam. The brand, acquired by Cisco in 2009 for $590 million in stock, is being axed in a restructuring by Cisco.

To say this is a surprise wouldn’t be entirely true. TechCrunch wrote back in 2009 that Flip would soon face tough competition from video-enabled smart phones, especially the iPhone. With more people leaving behind their old feature phones for smart phones, Cisco seems to have seen the writing on the wall and decided to end Flip’s run before running it into the ground. With it, though, goes cheap, small, consumer-friendly camcorders.

Even with smart phones growing in market share, there are still many people who will hold out against buying one. And what about kids? The cost of a smart phone for a 10 year old is much higher than buying a Flip cam. Just last year we were required to buy a cheap Flip cam instead of a text book for a news production class. Students cannot be asked to buy a smart phone just for the video capabilities.

This means there will be an increased reliance on smart phones. As journalists it is becoming more and more necessary to invest in a smart phone for video, audio, Internet access and more. Without Flip as a viable alternative to mobile video, it only cements smart phones as the new camcorders.

The Alternative Vote Explained Through Media

April 11, 2011

One of the best features of the internet is the ability to publish multimedia without the need for a large company to back you.

Using a youtube video of animals, CGPGrey recently explained how an alternative voting system would work. Without ever mentioning specific US political parties, he explains how the alternative compares to the current US system, frist past the post. In just a few minutes he explains one of the other options the US could consider for voting, and he does it in a nonaggressive way, making it easily accessible by many.

The idea behind the alternative vote is that people rank their favorite candidates instead of listing only one. It allows for instant run offs and removes what he refers to as the “spoiler effect.” The spoiler effect is the thought that, whether you like them or not, you vote for the candidate you think is most likely to win against the candidate you dislike more. It’s a theory of ambivalence that keeps people from voting for those they really like.

The video also reminded me of a podcast produced by This American Life this past fall, that took this theory and made it personal. The podcast follows one man who believes strongly in a third party candidate, even though it alienates him from his friends, who believe that spoiling the election for the republican candidate was the worst option. Had the election been an alternative vote, it would have removed the tension between the man and his friends.

It’s interesting to see how NPR and CGPGrey handle a similar story in different ways. CGPGrey creates a story that illustrates a concept, while NPR finds a story that connects people to the more personal aspects of it. Many people may see the political side presented by CGPGrey, but it’s hard for the average person to find a story like that presented by This American Life.