Saturday, November 29, 2008

America's Next Top Gift Idea

Boxes of chocolates and sweets are so out, Legos have become stunningly expensive, and gift cards are a no-no this year. Still trying to figure out what to give people for the holidays? Because of the growing financial crisis, there is extremely high demand at food banks: consider donating funds in your family member/friend/coworker's name. Everybody's doing it. Here, for example, and for your convenience, are some links directly to regional gift donation pages:

- Philadelphia - Philabundance
- Boston - Greater Boston Food Bank
- New York - Food Bank for New York City
- Los Angeles - Los Angeles Regional Food Bank
- Washington, DC - Capital Area Food Bank

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pirate Reality

Guys, I am so psyched about all the piracy off of the African coast right now. I mean, it sucks and all, but with all the other bad news about, this is the one thing that the media can kind of have a good time with. They have to keep it kind of subtle, but you can be sure every station and channel plays the theme song to "Pirates of the Caribbean" as they fade out of their daily pirate segment. And I forget who was doing the interview, but one of the NPR guys was talking to the head of one of the security companies working to quell the pirate situation, and it turns out they use some kind of sonar noise thing to chase the marauders away, and he (NPR guy) definitely had a hard time getting out "so you're saying you use iPods to keep the pirates at bay?" without losing it.

It's probably not great for the people dealing with this mess that nobody really wants to take them seriously. But it sure makes a nice interlude between talks of the non-existent auto bailout and ever-plummeting stocks.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Problems (and Not) of Sarah Palin

Us Dems are all up in arms about how much Sarah Palin spent on her wardrobe. Aha!--we cry--an instant showing of hypocrisy. Sarah and the McCain campaign are pushing the Obama-the-elitist-and-McCain-the-populist angle! And here they are spending lots of money! Proof that they are, in fact, elitists!

Unfortunately, to many people, elitism has much less to do with how much money you make or spend, and much more to do with how you communicate with them. I'm not talking about some intangible, mythical "connection," rather, about the candidates' accents. It's notable that the Republican party has milked this Eliza Doolittle's accent for all it's worth rather than teaching her which syllables to pronounce and how to say her vowels. And that Obama, unlike many successful Democratic (and of course Republican) candidates of the past, has nary a twang amongst his dulcet educated tones.

This all speaks less to how much money a candidate has, and more to how they were educated. And that's really what the Republicans are after: they want someone who was educated like they were. Obama is off-putting because his East-coast education is so foreign to them. Sad as that is, it is frankly a much more realistic basis for liking or disliking a candidate than is the amount of money they spend on clothes, or how many houses they have. I myself like to think I'll vote for the ticket that is the best educated (whether in schools or in practical experience) to lead my country--but for many Republicans, I think, that requisite schooling just looks different. In many cases people are going to vote for the person who is educated most like themselves, instead of someone who is educated for the position they are voting him into.

But I'm not here to argue that identity politics is wrong--I'm here to argue that it is very much at play, no matter how much various Republicans spend on Palin's wardrobe. Our crowing over absurd price tags misses the point: people will like Sarah Palin and think of her as non-elitist because she talks like them--no matter what clothes they dress her in at the ball.

The Problems (and Not) of Grant Balfour

OK, to everyone who is all up and impressed by the Ray's risk-taking in loading the bases last night: I just want to make clear that loading the bases in no way could have helped the Phillies. Who cares is four (or three, or two) guys score? It's the bottom of the ninth in a tied game, and so it's only about whether one guy can score--Eric Bruntlett, who's already on third. There are no outs (i.e., you can't just get a forceout or two elsewhere to end the game without the run scoring). So you have to make it as easy as possible to get Bruntlett out at home. And therefore it actually helps the Rays and not the Phillies to walk two guys to create the forceout.

It sounds all dramatic to walk the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, and in some ways those walks do signify drama: the Rays wouldn't have done it if the score had been more uneven, if one little hadn't meant the game, and if there hadn't been a lone baserunner on third that represented that run. But it's not that the Rays were impressively putting their World-Series lives on the line--or actually risking anything at all.

In other words, granting ball four was not among Grant Balfour's problems last night.

P.S. Much as I'm kvetching about this, it's the five-man infield that I find awesome. Never saw that before. Stuff for the ages.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Alan Greenspan

Photo courtesy The New York Times

To me this picture embodies all the pathos, the sadness, the brokenness of a worldview gone wrong, of an old man whose success has suddenly crumbled into not just nothing, but into, as he knows, the suffering of millions, of billions. It's a Lear who has just felt control slip beyond his grasp in the land he handed over, listening with ears perked up to his verdict, meekly accepting his guilt, and helplessly staring a fresh unknown future in the face while carrying the burden of the entire past that he has been so mistaken about. You can see it in the pink watery droop just around his eyes, in the many wrinkles that just weren't there in the more familiar pictures, and perhaps most of all in the buttoned-up wry smile that speaks in negative of unshed tears, the unclenching of absurdity, and a fleeting vision of what had been and what was supposed to be--and an understanding better than most of the enormity of his error.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Obama/Bartlet '08

I think many of us have imagined this meeting of the minds, but I do think it kind of falls flat. I thought Bartlet would be more helpful and encouraging of Obama. Sigh.

Barack Obama meets Josiah Bartlet

Friday, September 19, 2008

In Honor of the Day

To be sung, lustily:

Most days are like all of the others,
Go to work, come back home, watch TV,
But, brother, if I had me druthers,
I'd chuck it and head out to sea,

For I dream of the skull and the crossbones,
I dream of the great day to come,
When I dump the mundane for the Old Spanish Main
And trade me computer for rum! ARRR!

Want more? go to Talk Like a Pirate Day Song lyrics

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Firings and Regulation and Lies

OK, so Barack Obama wants to deal with the economic crisis by introducing more regulation of the markets. John McCain is against more regulation. Instead, his solution to the crisis is to fire the SEC chair.

I'm not against firing the guy. It does appear that he missed something about his job in letting all this happen. But I think McCain's approach sends mixed signals: he is trying to appear very dramatically concerned about the crisis (to match Obama's own lashing of the government), but he's sticking to his conservative guns at the same time, without actually proposing any new strategy. Just firing people, Palin-style, isn't going to solve this problem. We clearly do need more regulation--or, if regulation for things like how much of a capital margin you have is already on the books--we need to enforce it more. We need to do more than just fire people. We can't just take the emotional steps and leave off the smart, strategic ones because they're less fun and cathartic.

Friday, August 15, 2008


When I hear of its sad state in the news, I think of Georgia strongly, because I had just recently been taken there by a book, one which in its very core decries Russian imperialism. Here is Georgia:

From Ryszard Kapuscinski's Imperium, translated by Klara Glowczewska:

...One should see the museum in Tbilisi. It is located in the former seat of a theological seminary, where Stalin once studied. A marble plaque at the entrance commemorates this. The building is dark but spacious and stands in the center of town, at the edge of the old downtown district...The splendor and excellence of Georgia's ancient art are overwhelming. The most fantastic are the icons! They are from a much earlier time than Russian icons; the best Georgian ones came into being long before Andrey Rublyov...their originality lies in their having been executed largely in metal: only the face is painted. The most glorious period of this work spans the eighth to the thirteenth centuries. The faces of the saints, dar, but radiant in the light, dwell immobile in extremely rich gold frames studded with precious stones...There is an icon here on which several generations of masters worked for three centuries...

...Then there are the frescoes in the Georgian churches. Such marvels, and yet so little is known about them outside of Georgia. Virtually nothing. The best frescoes, unfortunately, were destroyed. Thhey covered the interior of the largest church in Georgia--Sveti Tschoveli, built in 1010 in Georgia's former capital, Meht, near Tbilisi. They were a masterpiece of the Middle Ages on a par with the stained glass of Chartres. They were painted over on the order of the czar's governor, who wanted the church whitewashed 'like our peasant women whitewash stoves.' No restoration efforts can return these frescoes to the world. Their brilliance is extinguished forever...

...Niko Pirosmanashvili is all the rage in Paris these days. Niko died in 1916. He was a Georgian Rousseau...Niko lived in Nachalovce, the Tbilisi neighborhood of the lumpen and the poor...Niko painted suppers like Veronese. Only Niko's suppers are Georgian and secular. Against a background of Georgian landscape, a richly laid table; at this table Georgians are drinking and eating...The culinary fascinated Niko...Niko's Georgia is sated, always feasting, well nourished. The land flows with milk. Manna pours from the sky. All the days are fat. The residence of Nachalovce dreamed at night of such a Georgia...Over and over again he painted his feasts, with that table against a mountainous landscape...

Friday, June 6, 2008

This Makes Me Happy

I've been jarred a few times in the last day or two by someone using the male-gender-specific pronoun when referring to the presidential candidates. Somewhere along the way I just got very used to assuming that one of the candidates was a woman.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Brotherly Band

On company blogs, people talk most frequently about the results of what their company does. It's very infrequent that people talk about how the company does it (that's the trade secret, after all).

Are we ever going to get there? What would it take for us all to talk to each other about how we go about our business?

That is, to some extent, what the publisher O'Reilly's doing with their Tools of Change for Publishing conference and blog. Maybe it's because publishing as an industry's beginning to feel a little too squeezed? Like we all have to be in this together? Like we're all staring the beast in the face and think that throwing our lot together may be our last hope?

Well, maybe it's not that dramatic. But it's something that William Heinemann proposed in an Athanaeum article in 1892. Then it was shrinking profit margins due to exploding author advances and production costs. Now it's exploding author advances and flat sales.

So do we get more cutthroat (as in many cases we are), or do we, in Heinemann's words, and in O'Reilly's footsteps, "form ourselves into a brotherly band, and stand together against the inroads that are being made on our common interests"?

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Guy Who Makes the Lists, or, Aggregation Is Power

The Wall Street Journal just came out with new rankings for most influential business leaders (here).

Obviously, this is a sparkly day for Gary Hamel (#1) and the rising stars just behind him.

But what does a piece like this do for Tom Davenport, the ranker himself? He may not be Gary Hamel, but his position as someone who we depend on to tell us who is isn't too shabby either.

The U.S. News and World Report gets as much out of the annual college rankings as the top ("top") schools. And is the Academy around for any other reason than to give us the Awards (I mean really)? These groups are powerful because we rely on them to get it right.

Point being, the guy who makes the lists--who tells you who to listen to, where to go to school, what to watch, what to read--may be just as important as the folks on the lists themselves.

And hence, the internet aggregators. Google makes its money by giving you authoritative lists (search results, feed reader). does too. These companies aren't in the content business; they're in the list business.

We all know the content business in publishing is suffering these days. That brings up the question: Can, and should, you do both lists *and* content? Should the NYT list articles not in the NYT as "most emailed"? Would more people visit their site if they did? Should our company's site list competitors' books as "similar products" if that will make more people think of us as "the authority" in our field?

Saturday, April 5, 2008


I just watched the documentary film Helvetica and highly recommend it.

Yes, it's a documentary about a font (which, let's face it, you could have expected of me). But it's also about visual design and art culture history more generally. And I guarantee it will make you look at type differently--type on your computer, type in a TV ad, type on the spines of your books as you walk by your bookshelf. You'll start seeing things as if for the first time, which is one of my favorite hallmarks of a good film.

I've always turned my nose up at Helvetica as the most defaulty of default fonts. The film convinced me that it can and indeed should be considered in all thoughtful visual design, as it has been historically. I'm not sure that its argument that you could do absolutely anything with Helvetica was quite as successful. It's not just that the display version carries with it the baggage of the 1960s modernist aesthetic, I think; it's that I don't buy the idea that a font can be completely devoid of all inherent expression. Can it?

I also liked the final question posed--whether there is something about Helvetica that makes it universally, unrelativistically a good font: whether it's reached some sort of Platonic ideal of sans serifness. I think the answer is no (the lowercase a and g are too interesting for that). But it means something that the question is asked in the first place.

There were some shots of fonts which the film suggested were Helvetica but which I thought weren't. Anyone else notice them too? Or am I wrong?

Friday, April 4, 2008

HarperCollins's New Imprint

Yesterday HarperCollins announced that they are launching a new imprint (no name yet) with an experimental bent. For one, the imprint will offer little or no author royalties; instead, the author will be involved in a profit-share with the publisher. Furthermore the imprint will refuse returns from overstocked booksellers.

The pros and cons of this move are being debated all over publishing circles and in the mainstream media: in Publisher's Weekly, in the Wall Street Journal, and in two separate articles in the NYT. And rightly so. Author royalties and returns are two archaic parts of the standard publishing model that are pecuniarily punishing for publishers. But doing away with them is fraught with risk--will the new imprint be able to sign big authors without the enticement of an advance? Will booksellers wave off the imprint rather than try to figure out more efficient ways to work with their inventory?

But what interests me here is *why* HC is trying these new models. The ideas have been batted around before, but I have a hunch that it's the proliferation of online content (free content in particular) that has made New Corp. bold enough to take this step.

Obviously money is one important consideration. Traditional print publishers are losing revenue because of online content. This is only going to get worse, and publishers need to figure out new ways of cutting major expenses. If these methods work well, we could see other publishers following suit down the road (though it will take a while).

But not drowning is only one part of swimming. This new model isn't just about cutting expenses; it's about new ways of looking at publishing.

For one, it suggests that authors and publishers are partners. This sounds like the flat-worldy internet influence to me. If authors can self-publish, or put all their work on blogs and make all the money they want from AdSense, then it seems that publishers do have to offer them something new to stick with traditional print publishing. I wonder if the fact that profits are shared tells only part of the tale--will authors and publishers work more like a partnership throughout the process too?

And the predominance of online book sales (over 2/3 of our books, for instance, are sold online) is just begging for the more POD-like no-returns model. It'll be harder for a bricks-and-mortar store than for Amazon, but it's time for Amazon to start setting the rules, and not B&N.

Apocalyptic predictions of doom aside, what other changes will the digital movement have on print publishing models?

Friday, March 28, 2008

What is Narrative Nonfiction?

Technically, it's a nonfiction that reads like fiction: there are stories, or one overall story. There's tension and release, and a narrative arc.

We're thinking of trying to publish more of it at the Press. But how do you move from academic, professional, and practical nonfiction to this higher art form? Do you just hire a writer and have them work with your author and hope it comes out pretty? My guess is that it's not that easy.

What books should we use as models? Andrew Chaikin's "A Man on the Moon" and Jim Lovell/Jeffrey Kluger's "Lost Moon" are two of my favorites in this category. Chaikin's injects the human into the scientific, military rigor of the space program, but manages to actually maintain and honor that rigor all the while--a remarkable feat. "Lost Moon" is a little more pop and a little less scientific, but an even smoother read and, by the end, a page-turner. There aren't many other non-fiction books that I've picked up again and again.

What elements other than those listed above make up good narrative nonfiction? Have you read any nonfiction lately that you couldn't put down? Why not? What was so riveting?

Crossing the (Foul) Line

Furman Bisher's recent rant about Opening Day in Japan is all over the blogosphere. Everyone seems to be poking fun at it, or at Bisher himself, for being too old-school (or just too old), as he complains that baseball's being played in Tokyo and being played by Japanese people. Ha, ha, isn't it funny.

NO! It's not! It's horribly racist and nationalist. Bisher's comments aren't just backwards; they're appalling. He is upset because Opening Day is being held in a country that once upon a time fought our country (let's not forget that we fought back), and being played by one of its countrymen. He's lumping everyone who shares attributes with the decision-makers of WWII-era Japan together with those decision-makers themselves.

How can we ever envision an end to the national and religious strife we see around the world if we use this kind of logic to defend even our kinder nostalgic musings?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama's Speech

If you haven't watched Obama's race speech yet, please do so.

It's noteworthy, I think, that this speech prompted Jon Stewart to a moment of seriousness reminiscent of his brilliant (I mean it) Crossfire diatribe. There was no joking in his eyes (though the serious irony was pointed) when he summed up the speech as "an American politician speaking to Americans about race as though they were adults." In this speech Obama has done what Stewart pleaded with Crossfire to do: he moved beyond easy partisanship, told some uneasy truths, and has therefore gotten us somewhere* new. In Obama we'd have a president who not only understands and acknowledges the anger on both sides of a major issue, but makes bold to explain each side to the other, and proposes a solution.

But please, whoever your candidate of choice may be, just watch this--for its historical value, if for nothing else.

(It's just under 40 minutes, in 10-minute segments here)

* Yes, I am aware that the term "somewhere" is vague. I am aware that in general Obama gives us hope and visions and inspiration...about something vague. But I think in this race he has to. First, because Hillary so clearly has him beat on being able to talk all wonky-like. He can't hope to compete. Second, because when it comes down to specifics, their platforms are nearly identical. The value-added of Obama, the thing that makes him distinctive, is his ability to inspire and the way in which he does it--through truly thoughtful analysis and the courage to not just "tell truth to power" but to tell truth about power while in a powerful position himself.

The Roundup

- Quirks of the OED

- This post over at Publishing 2.0 touches on the whole digital newspaper thing again, but most interesting is its last paragraph and the conclusion that sites need not fear directing traffic away from themselves straight into the arms of their competitors. Karp calls it "the Google rule": "the better job you do sending people away, the more they will come back."

- A really nice discussion of the leviathan topic "the future of the book" that points out that print is good for some stuff, digital is good for some other stuff, and that there exists a possibility of a happy medium. I'm not sure the medium is so happy (can you say wasted paper?) but it's interesting. (John, you'll like this one.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

More On Newspapers

This post at Publishing 2.0 echoes my earlier diatribe about newspapers, particularly the New York Times, and web publishing.

The post talks about the different ways in which primarily web-native news aggregators' home pages appear: TechCrunch displays the day's constantly updating stories in reverse chronological order, like a blog, and Digg displays them either in chronological order or in order of popularity. The post hails these as digitally integrated and useful formats. The Times*, on the other hand, echoes its print format in many ways. Indeed, much of the page stays static through the course of a day, unless something huge happens. The article links the page's static-ness with its way of arranging articles: by "importance." Because somebody decides once a day that this article or headline is important, it lives on the homepage until tomorrow.

I'm right with this post's call for traditional journalism to really get more web-integrated.

But I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Out goes static boredom (I too have stopped checking the NYT site more than once a day, while I check others frequently--bad news for the Times**). But why must we throw editorially-deemed importance out with it?

I use NYT's "most emailed" list heavily, but I like the homepage too, because there people I trust ("editors") tell me what to read. I don't have time to read the whole paper; I like that they pick stories for me *in addition to* the most-emailed ones. I think editors add value to my content consumption, and I don't want to lose that value.

In other words, I feel like the Times might actually be doing it right in trying to find a combination of these models--including both their printish front page and what Publishing 2.0 calls their "blog ghetto" at the lower-right corner of the page. It's just a matter, now, of finding the right amount of each.

*Yes, I know I italicize the NYT and leave the others in Roman. It's deliberate. I don't know what it means yet, but it does signal the changing ways in which we think about citing different kinds of material, no?

A New Model for Digital Content?

So you really want your content to be available digitally, your audience refuses to pay for it online, but you still want to make money?

The music industry is starting to get interested in a new idea explained on yesterday:

In recent months, some of the major labels have warmed to a pitch by Jim Griffin, one of the idea's chief proponents, to seek an extra fee on broadband connections and to use the money to compensate rights holders for music that's shared online. Griffin, who consults on digital strategy for three of the four majors, will argue his case at what promises to be a heated discussion Friday at South by Southwest.

Why is this just about music? Why aren't the newspapers in on this, and other content publishers?

And, at the end of the day, does this model make sense? Consumers would still be paying for content, but not directly based on how much they consumed. Does it still make sense to pay for this stuff at all? Certainly artists, producers, publishers deserve to get paid for work that they do. But if the market is telling them that their work isn't valued enough to be worth payment, then is a monthly fee really going to work? Should they instead be trying to find other lines of work, or other ways to productize/monetize that work?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I'm Not With Stupid

When you're a fan of something, you run the risk of people assuming you believe all the same things as every other fan out there. Fan stereotyping if you will.

To that point, as an Obama fan, I want to make clear that I do NOT believe, support, or even fathom this article in the Times. It argues, of all things, that Hillary's ubiquitous red-phone ad is racist.

I just don't get it at all. How do you get from "innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger" (which I grant you is super hypey but whatever) to "The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man"?

The only concrete piece of supporting evidence in the piece is that there are no black people in the ad and that the mother is a blonde. And then the author makes the leap that OBVIOUSLY the undefined terror outside the house is therefore BLACK PEOPLE = OBAMA.

It's people like this that give the Obama campaign a bad name.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

So Ready For the Primaries to Be Over

Barack Obama plans to challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton’s contention that she has been more thoroughly scrutinized.

- NYT, 3/5/08

The irony here is killing.

Killing my interest in and commitment to politics, that is.

Office Space

A major change that computers have brought into work life, but one that is rarely discussed, is office furniture arrangement.

Before computers, office desks faced out into the room, toward the door. You walked into your colleague's office and she was already facing you. You walked into your boss's office, and he (usually a he then) was already staring at you. If you walk into the big boss's office (hint: it's an oval), he's still staring at you.

That's because he doesn't have a computer. There are no nasty cords to hide. I think it's really all about the cords. Nobody wanted to stare at them or trip over them, so they've been hidden in cube corners and back walls. So now we all find ourselves with our back to our cube "doors" and office doors, and people have to cough or something to get our attention and then we wonder how long they were watching us slouch at our computers and play with our hair and maybe pick that piece of spinach out of our teeth. And it's just not friendly.

But what's going to happen now that we're streamlining the hardware? Are we moving toward a time where there will be no cords? If I had my way, I'd just be doing all my computing on my laptop now. No bundles of cords to hide.

Might we live to see the rebirth of the doorward-facing desk?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mobile Content

Here's the problem with publishers' and other content providers' initiatives to make more content available on mobile devices: People don't want more fragmentation between their computers and their mobiles; they want less. That's why they want more available on their Blackberrys and iPhones; they want to be able to access the same content from either portal. And so publishers should spend less time trying to come up with all new, exclusive mobile content, and more time trying to make sure that all of their content is accessible just as easily from a hand-held device as from a large screen-with-keyboard.

That's why we love the iPhone and are kind of put off by the Kindle: The iPhone lets you access the web you know and love while riding the T; but you can't get a Kindle book on your computer or your Blackberry, as far as I know. It makes it harder, not easier, to integrate your life digitally.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Newspapers Are Not Dead

An NPR piece* the other morning about the future of newspapers got it wrong. The contributor, a nostalgic newspaperman, was mourning the apparently imminent demise of the medium, retelling his young son's reaction to the latest round of newsroom layoffs. "Why are you surprised, dad," he asked, "Why would I read a newspaper when I can find something on the internet, on Google, on blogs, or in a newspaper online?" So sad, the contributer noted, with this new generation will come the end of the newspaper.

The mistake here matters much because it's one the newspapers themselves are making, the very one that actually threatens their future.

The commentator's son, the commentator, and the newspaper establishment, have conflated the concepts of what a newspaper does, and what a newspaper is. And unlike Jack Sparrow, I'm more interested in the "does" part.

Let's handle "is" first, though. I think that sales (and production) of hard copy newspapers will absolutely plummet in the next five or ten years. I don't know anyone my age who prefers leafing through enormous pieces of dirty paper to try to find the end of that front page article, rather than clicking "Next." And how do you even read the New York Times without the "most emailed" box? That's the first place I go after I read what's above the fold ("above the scroll?"). The only advantage of the printed paper is that you can do the crossword properly. But after reading maybe a third of the articles, if you're being generous, you throw the whole pile of paper away--!! Unacceptable to our green (pun intended) minds. I think many of us will enjoy newspapers in the future the way we enjoy quality, old-school throwback items now. "Oh wow, a record player! Remember those? Let's hook that thing up and find some of my parents' LPs."

For a while there will still be printed papers in corporate lobbies and in the subway and on the steps of staid suburban homes. But yes, Mr. Newspaper Man, this is going away. It's just more convenient to read it all on the iPhone. (Even the newspaperman's son said he was still reading newspapers online!)

Thus, onto what a newspaper does.

A newspaper finds, reports (mostly in writing), and selects the day's news for us, under a particular brand. This, I argue, needs not go away. We actually need it now more than ever.

But by clinging to the hard copy culture of the newspaper--and even though the paper is available online--newspapers as a whole (not just hard copy) risk becoming obsolete in the next decade.

My morning and lunchtime routine consists of checking my personal email, reading the blogs that feed into my Google Reader, and checking out a few articles on the Times. More and more I feel a little impatient with the NYT. Why couldn't it just RSS feed its leading article so I don't have to go to a whole new site to get my branded, edited news?** Bah.***

Okay, okay, so the NYT is catching on. They have blogs. Some good ones, at that. Some, not so good. I've criticized the editorial board's attempts before. Here's why it matters. Blogs can't be the NYT's ancillary material. They need to be its new format.

Every column, every article, every space ("front page," "above the fold," "center column," "Friedman," "Dowd," "Friedman and Brooks, and also Collins but only if it's been posted in the last two hours OR is in the top ten most emailed"), needs to be feedable. I need to be able to choose which feeds I want. I want to be able to get "all the news that's fit to click" without ever going to the NYT's home page.

"All"? But I thought you just said I'd be choosing which feeds I want. So if I only want sports feeds, I'll miss the front-page headline, right?

Well, this is where the "select" part of a newspaper's job comes in.

I have too many feeds coming into my reader as is. If I'm going to be having all of these newspaper feeds in there too, I need someone to pick and choose them for me--still based on my preferences ("Friedman and Brooks"), but with some common human sense thrown in about other stuff I might be interested in and other stuff I should be interested in.

Tah dah! Isn't that in some sense what a newspaper does already? Prove your worth, editors, by editing. Send me, say, five articles a day that you think I should be reading, but that I haven't signed up for. So I can get the top travel story even though I haven't signed up for the travel feed (so that I don't get ALL the travel articles EVERY day), if you think it's worthy. Please do this! I need you to.

This way, the top stories get fed to everyone, regardless of their usual individual preferences, but all the niche audiences still get their niche stories fed to them too. And if you get really procrastinatory on a Friday afternoon at work, there's always more on the site, because then you actually feel like going there. Isn't that sort of the way a newspaper works now, in an analog version?--usually we only read top stories and maybe drill down to some things that interest us individually, and then only read the rest when we have time? Only now it comes to me, I don't have to go to it.

Anyway, this is only one vision of what newspapers could do to not just stay in the game, but to keep owning the game. They need to come up with new ways of getting us their content (the "most emailed" box is a great example of a great success). Their newsrooms, companies, and brands don't need to fall away; they could become stronger. Newspapers aren't dead, my friends. Despite their soon-to-be-archaic name, if they figure out and own this technology shift, they're only just beginning.


* Which I now can't find, hence no link and no way of checking if I remembered the piece accurately--sorry.
** Probably something to do with advertising dollars, which makes sense. You can't see the ads on a feed. But Reader's brilliant new gizmo for your links bar obviates that problem. You just click the link on your browser toolbar and it takes you through your blog posts one by one, at the blog's site--so you see it just as the blogger set it up, ads and all. It could stand to be perfected--for now you can only hit "next" and it would be nice to be able to pick and choose from amongst your unread posts, but it'll get there.
*** Call my generation lazy. I call us obsessed with efficiency.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Walk the Line

There's a fine line that we're all beginning to run into these days. It separates our work life from our personal life, our online persona and blogging nicknames from our quotidian embodiment and real name.

People are all handling the presence of this fine line, this tiny fragile thread, in different ways. There's no right answer--especially in the case of online social technologies, there's no precedent. We're the ones out there trying to figure this out. Isn't that kind of exciting?

Here's what some people are doing:

- Charlene Li, top Forrester analyst and social web strategist, has two Facebook profiles, one for her friends and one for her professional followers.

- Wiggins, as he calls himself, blogs under a name that is not his own, though he invites friends who know who he is to read that blog.

- I took a few things off of my Facebook profile, took a deep breath, and began Friending people I know professionally. I hope that they will understand that it's a site primarily dedicated to my personal life--though it touches on how my personal interests intermingle with my work interests. Let's see how that goes.

- One of my coworkers is taking a LOT of things off of her profile so that she can openly participate in our new office Facebook group. She's hoping that her friends won't write crazy stuff on her Wall.

The reason we're beginning to run into this line more and more is, I think, because social technologies are inherently attractive because they expose our personal sides. Society's fascination with the personal lives of celebrities is now broadening to a fascination with other people's daily movements (this shift is for the better, I think--we focus on celebrities usually because they're pretty and rich, whereas we focus on the people we follow on the web because they share our interests, or are thoughtful, or engage us in some other way). We read GM CEO Bob Lutz's blog not because we want to hear propaganda about car manufacturing, but because it's his voice and it adds a sense of human-ness to the giant machine that is the GM corporation.

Moreover, for those of us who love our jobs, personal and work interests intermingle constantly. Is discussion of the Future Of Publishing for my personal profile, or my professional one?

So what can you do to admit that human side into your professional operations, to combine the two, without letting the indulgences of our personal lives affect the professionalism of our work lives?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why My French Cousins Never Update Their Facebook Profiles

This is a fascinating look at the geographical dominance of certain social networks, grace a Le Monde.

Music in North Korea

This gave me goosebumps:

The New York Philharmonic was betting that its rendition of the Korean folk song "Arirang" would be the emotional climax to its historic concert here last night. Instead, the audience created a climax of its own.

As orchestra members finished the encore and stood to leave the stage, the crowd of 1,400 clapped more and more loudly. A few of them waved. The Philharmonic's trombone and trumpet players did, too.

With that spark, the North Koreans burst into cheering and waving, from the front rows to the top balcony. The ovation continued for another five minutes.

Backstage later, some musicians were in tears. The ovation "sent us into orbit," said music director Lorin Maazel. He said he interpreted the audience as saying, "We understand the gesture of coming here. It could not have been easy for you. We appreciate that you did."

- Evan Ramstad and Peter Landers for the Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2008.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Happy Presidents' Day!

To honor the occasion, some inappropriate YouTube content:

Cox & Combes' Washington

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Campaign Sound Bites

The possibility of Huckabee as president might be frightening, but he is emerging as a national leader in providing sound bites (and I actually agree with some of them instead of cringing).

See today's Caucus post.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Primary #2

Well, Hillary's won in New Hampshire, and the media's having a rip-roaring time being as shocked all over again, as shocked as they were when Barack won Iowa.

(I'm no closer to deciding whom to root for, and thus my rooting energies are going to have to be redirected into general commentary.)

Now the real fun begins, though. Both candidates are going to have to come up with something new, and I have no idea how people are going to react. I'm now all out of predictions. All bets are off. Let's go!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Actual Debates

OK, you know it's a bad sign when a set of presidential debates leaves me wanting to vote for Mitt Romney.

The Republicans argued real issues. When there was mudslinging, it was about real differences in their policies. It was so different from every political debate I've seen.

But the Dems were boring as hell and tired-looking and negative to boot. Change, change, change--it's become what we called in grad school an "empty signifier."

Perhaps the reason is that the Democrats are so closely aligned on the issues that there's no policy for them to debate. They argue about personality--leadership values, flip-flopping, who's more negative--because they have nothing else to argue about.

Which I suppose speaks well of the unity of the democratic party, or something. But couldn't they have hashed out some new ideas if their old ones were so similar? Ugh. It just left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

But perhaps part of the problem can be blamed on Gibson, who asked the Democrats lame questions. You ask the Republicans how to solve immigration but then you ask Democrats what's the one thing they can take back? You ask only about their campaigns, not about the actual issues?

The Candidates' Debate

Somewhere between the hours of seven p.m. Thursday night and nine a.m. Friday morning, election fever hit Massachusetts. As the polls were closing and the percentage of precincts reporting rocketed and campaign ads began showing in Boston for the first time and as reporters gave their analysis while simultaneously zooming over en masse to even-colder New Hampshire in the pre-dawn hours to catch up with the candidates who were miraculously already there, neighboring Massachusetts got excited. I have friends going up to New Hampshire this weekend to campaign, to attend a rally, to hear a speech.

Lots of people appear to be shocked by Huckabee's and Obama's victories. I have to say I'm not.*

Huckabee has fascinated me over the past few weeks because his campaign managed to do what very few can. He had a) a different message, and b) he stuck to his message with not even a whiff of flip-flopping. There are a heck of a lot of people in this country who wanted to hear that message: "I'm a Christian leader, not ashamed of it, and by the way I'm more like you than like your boss." He had some brilliant lines over the past few weeks that managed to characterize his opponents negatively without ever attacking them: "The Republican establishment will never nominate me, because I have such a hick last name." "You want to elect someone who reminds you of your co-worker, not of the guy who fired you." If you're a good, Christian, middle-class person, this is your candidate. He has a nice smile, a slightly crooked tooth that's cute but reminds you of his humble origins, and a kind demeanor toward all. While his liberalism-is-a-scourge** rhetoric has kept me out of all danger of falling for him, I have to say that for anyone who didn't have that compunction he seemed like the perfect package.

But much as Huckabee was never going to win in New Hampshire, he's doubly not going to win now. The moment the Iowa caucuses were over (well, really, before they were over, if you count The Tonight Show), Huckabee changed his message. He's repeated so many times since then that he's not changing his message that you'd know he must be even if it weren't obvious. But it is: he's dropped the Christian thing almost entirely and is now talking only about taxes. There goes his Christian base (it might take them a little while, but they'll be disappointed about it soon enough). And his tax ideas are crazy. There goes his economically-based following. A consumption tax sounds quite in line with his fight for the middle- and lower-income classes, but seriously? A 23% sales tax would kill our retail economy, which, let's be honest, isn't doing so hot on its own right now. You really want a country where nobody buys Macs or cars or anything expensive, just so everyone can save? Save for what? You can't buy anything. Please! All this to say that I will be awfully surprised if New Hampshire hearts Huckabee.

So Huckabee's out, McCain is trying to get in, Romney's trying to survive, Giuliani is so 2007. There we go with the Republicans.

Now for Dems! We all knew Barack was surging, though even I was surprised by the margin between him and Hil on Thursday night.

I'm still trying to decide between these two. For personality and ultimate message, I'm all for Barack. Unity, unity, unity, respect for other nations, and a breath of fresh air in Washington. But I'm also skeptical, along with a lot of folks, about the lack-of-experience thing. And at the end of the day, it's fascinating to find that the Times candidate-comparison chart reveals that they have practically the same line on every issue, except that Hil explicitly stated that she'd get Congress's approval before engaging the military in Iran, and she wants to require health care for all while Barack only wants to require it for the kids. Could it be that she's more cautious about using the military than Barack? Could it be that he's softer on health care than she? Because those are pretty huge things for me.

On the other hand, this difference points to much of my (and the country's?) frustration with politics. Clearly Hillary said the Congress bit for show--meaning not that she wouldn't do it, but that it is admittedly what everyone wants to hear. Barack, by loving the children the most, becomes more lovable. How calculated, I conclude. So how much can we really learn about a candidate by comparing their campaign statements line-by-line? Nobody can know what they're really going to do.

Anyway, somebody please convince me one way or the other on Barack or Hillary, using policy and issue arguments and not just who's a shinier speaker and who has been in Washington before. I want to be as excited about the primaries as my friends going to New Hampshire, but I've got some decisions to make first.

* I am surprised, however, by how hypey everyone's being about it. Even David Brooks has gone off the deep end, calling the twin underdogs' victories a "political earthquake." Yes, David, people in America want change. But that was only Iowa! Let's hear what a few more people have to say before deciding that we've all opened to a new chapter in American political history. Maybe I'm just being pessimistic, hedging my bets, but I don't think it's that easy.

** I don't know how he defines it--he didn't in the speech--but I define liberalism as valuing differences and being educated about them.