I Miss Today’s Papers

29 Sep

Last month Slate announced that it was pulling the plug on Today’s Papers, its popular daily summary of the morning journals, and replacing it with The Slatest, a thrice-daily aggregator of “the 12 most important news stories, blog entries, magazine features, and Web videos of the moment.” Like many diehard Slatees, I was shocked. TP had become the prologue to my mornings. It was a quick, concise read, that made me feel reasonably well informed before starting my day. But I soon chalked up my initial reaction to nostalgia. After all, Slate’s editors were right. The news cycle is no longer daily. And newspapers aren’t the only players driving it. Surely, as an online editor, I should be the last person to cling to such a relic.

But now it’s clear to me that Slate got it all wrong. The lesson of online news is not that readers want their news all the time and from countless sources. It’s that they can afford to be pickier about when and from what medium they get it.  Sometimes that may still be from the newspaper at the breakfast table. At other times, it may be via smart phone on the way to the pub. In any case, organizations need to add value to the news by providing either content or context. I don’t need Slate to tell me what the 12 most important news stories are right now. That’s what my RSS feeds and Twitter and Digg and the myriad other aggregators that have emerged in the 14 years since Slate introduced TP are for. Continue reading


Sparks and see-through silos

2 Jun

While we’re on the subject of branching out from traditional journalism, check out Sparksheet, which launched about an hour ago. It’s a new media and marketing blog by Spafax, the custom publishing company behind enRoute and other slick “branded” magazines. I will be helping them produce content and already have a couple of posts up about airlines on Twitter (some get it; others, not so much) and Robert Scoble’s social media starfish. Like I said, journalism is changing and the walls between ad shop, think tank and newsroom are coming down– and being replaced with windows.

Picture 30

J-School Baggage

31 May

I recently took the train to Ottawa for a job interview at a partisan political organization. Over sushi and seaweed salad, my interviewer asked whether I was afraid, if I took the job, I’d be shunned by the mainstream media gods. I said I wasn’t; I lied. But everything I said next was true.

I told him that journalism is changing, that first-person narratives, argumentative essays and cheeky personal blogs were all the rage in our battered journalistic landscape. I said that the best bloggers—the Josh Marshalls and Michael Geists and Andrew Sullivans—are serious intellectuals whose reporting is grounded in sound research and reasoning. Yet, they all have strong voices, and crystal clear points of view. I told him that, in any case, I didn’t go to J-School because it was my lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter. I wasn’t even particularly keen on current affairs until university.

Rather, I pursued a master’s in journalism because I was interested in everything— from music, literature and pop culture, to  politics, religion and technology– and figured a life in reporting would allow me to dip in and out of various disciplines and worlds. I chose journalism because it seemed like a worthwhile endeavor, what Churchill and Herzl and Orwell did before moving on to grander things. Besides, a year and a half of school would allow me to hone my writing and chops and put off getting a job for another 18 months.

I told him all this, and I meant it. But why, despite all that, did I still feel as though I had betrayed some fundamental instinct or ethic that I never had in the first place?

Behind the Masc

21 Mar

OK, I’ve been a bad blogger.  It’s been almost a month since my last post here. But I haven’t been that bad. You see, I’ve been posting away over at Masc Magazine, a new blog that looks at MASCulinity in politics, popular culture and everyday life. So far I’ve blogged about Yiddishisms, Barack Obama, Ken dolls, and now Steve Harvey, which I’ll paste below since it hasn’t gone live yet. I’ll make an effort to post future pieces here as well, but make sure you check out the site itself. The other contributors have a lot of important things to say about “who’s the man?” and what the even means. My latest post after the jump… Continue reading

Slumdog second thoughts

24 Feb

Slate has a really good piece on Slumdog Millionaire and the debate over whether the film romantacizes poverty, or provides a rare anti-Bollywood depiction of the “real India.”

I’ve got mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing for a film that explores some painful subjects to be packaged as a “feel-good story.” By contrast, I think of melodramatic and moralistic films such as Crash or Babel that hammer you over the head with tragedy and violence, leaving you numbed instead of inspired. On the other hand, I agree with the author of the Slate piece that the director can’t have it both ways. Are the characters in Slumdog depictions of real people in the so-called Real India (in which case, why are they so one-dimensional), or archetypes in a modern fairy tale (in which case, why should we care about their traumatic pasts and why couldn’t the film have been set in Miami instead of Mumbai?)
I’d like to give director Danny Boyle the benefit of the doubt, since I’m such a big fan of Boyle’s Trainspotting, which some critics at the time wrongly accused of romantacizing heroine use. But Boyle’s style– a realism/surrealism hybrid– suited that film’s subject matter– the consequences of drug use– perfectly. I don’t know if it’s as appropriate for telling an objective, geographically and historically-rooted story such as Slumdog.


23 Jan

I’m a tweeting man now. Like a good J-school graduate and bad Berkmanite, I finally joined Twitter. I think I resisted it until now because it was introduced to me in a trite, “this is the future of journalism” kind of way.  Plus, it kind of has a dopey name– not sure how that made it past the beta stage.  No one wants to be a twit, so why would you want to be involved with a platform ostensibly designed to  produce them?

But it turns out that Twitter is actually kind of great, as are many of the people on it.  Today I got some sweet journalism tips from @suzanneyada and learned about the physics of time travel in Lost from &jakedobkin. I also tried this way-too-Canadian tweet on for size:

“Now I know how Americans felt when we had Trudeau and they had Nixon.”

Yeah, I’m working on it.

Back in Montreal

20 Jan

With my thesis approved and my days as Washington correspondent behind me, it’s time to get back to blogging in earnest. Also on the agenda: finding myself a  job and, as David Byrne once put it, a city to live in.

But first, the blog. As you may have noticed, I’ve moved my D.C. stories to their own page consolidated the multimedia stuff as well. In the next few days I’ll be overhauling the design, so look forward to a snappy new title and say goodbye to my charmingly ominous mug up top.

Tomorrow (this morning, really) Barack Obama will be sworn in as his country’s 44th president. I’m starting to think it was a mistake not to make the trip back down to D.C. for the spectacle. But I’ll always have election night and the spontaneous celebration in front of the White House, where I met John T. Porter.

Amid the drunken high fives and shouts of “YES WE DID,” I found Mr. Porter solemnly staring at the 1600
Pennsylvania, Ave. He told me he grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, where “laws against Negroes are still on the books.” He kept shaking his head as we stood silently, wrapped in the cocoon of history.

John T. Porter; November 4th, 2008

John T. Porter; November 4th, 2008