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February 17 2011

15:36

Death, truth and memoir: the debate over Joyce Carol Oates’ “A Widow’s Story”

What is it that we really want from memoir? The kerfuffle this week over “A Widow’s Story,” a narrative from Joyce Carol Oates about the loss of her husband and their many years together brings this question front and center again.

Oates was married to Raymond J. Smith for nearly five decades; in addition to their separate careers, they worked together on the Ontario Review literary journal. Smith was sick for one week in the hospital before dying in the middle of the night while Oates tried in vain to get to him in time to say goodbye. (Those with a subscription can see an excerpt of her account in The New Yorker.)

Oates is known for her speed and productivity – she has a staggering 50 novels to her name, not to mention many other kinds of writing and more than 30 years of teaching at Princeton. Yet Oates’ speed in producing this memoir and her exclusion of material about getting engaged 11 months after her husband died did not play well with The New York Times’ Janet Maslin, who wrote in her review of the book that it “willfully taps into the increasingly lucrative loss-of-spouse market” and shows “worrisome signs of haste.” A Salon.com piece written in response by Nikki Stern addressed both Maslin’s review and comments made in another Times op-ed.

Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” comes up frequently in these discussions, although there is a wide range of accounts of such loss. John Bayley wrote multiple works about his marriage with writer Iris Murdoch during her struggle with Alzheimer’s and after her death. And the New Yorker ran a short narrative about love and death just last month, in which novelist Francisco Goldman wrote about the loss of his young wife, the writer Aura Estrada, after a mishap at the beach.

Setting aside “A Widow’s Story” and any particular tale, what makes these stories compelling or forgettable? And why does memoir provoke such strong reactions?

The first hurdle for a memoirist is knowing which story to tell. We all feel compelled to share our stories, but what makes a story worth sharing beyond the circle of people who are already connected to it? And what parts of a life are relevant?

In an essay on this site, Adam Hochschild describes memoir as both more and less than the summing up of real life: “Many memoirs don’t work because the things that most of us tend to celebrate about ourselves are less interesting than those things that hold readers’ attention.” Of course, as soon as the writer begins shaping the story by walling off certain experiences, those decisions affect the narrative: Did the author leave something out that should have stayed in? This is in part Maslin’s critique of Oates’ account.

Memoir relies on more than one kind of truth, but memoir is nonfiction, so facts come first. (For more on this topic, see the Roy Peter Clark essay “The Line Between Fact and Fiction.”) While a certain anxiety about correctness and what can be proven has flattened the language of more than one autobiography, how much worse it is to give up on facts altogether.

James Frey has earned his spot as the perennial whipping boy on matters of accuracy, but it could just as easily be Misha Defonseca, with her story of surviving the Holocaust living among wolves. Or Margaret Seltzer’s invented account of a gangland coming of age.

A predictable fury arises over the clear-cut con, but there is more than one kind of honesty. People telling ostensibly true stories have long defended the idea of a deeper truth – one that somehow permits making stuff up. The CBS show “The Good Wife” mocked this notion of truth this week in a parody of Aaron Sorkin and “The Social Network,” suggesting that sometimes lip service is paid to truth by those who really want latitude with their story.

Still, as “Liar’s Club” and “Lit” author Mary Karr said last year, “the least of my problems as a memoirist, as a writer, is getting my facts right.” Even if the standard of factual accuracy is met – and no one seems to be suggesting that Joyce Carol Oates, for example, is making things up – what additional accountability to truth does the memoirist have?

Writing about atrocities, Vanderbilt University professor Kelly Oliver describes the value of testimony. She argues that bearing witness is not just the presentation of a series of facts, or even the revelation of true but unknown information. If accuracy were all that stories relied on, then it would be enough for anyone to present those facts, and we would not value testimony the way we do. In spite of the tendency for factual errors to be part of eyewitness accounts, such stories have a complex cultural value.

Extending Oliver’s ideas, I would say that powerful nonfiction writing comes from a kind of truth-in-story that maintains accuracy while simultaneously accomplishing even more. Oliver argues that bearing witness speaks to the very events that facts alone can’t illustrate, a kind of path into another’s experiences accompanied by the realization that those experiences cannot be fully comprehended.

While Oliver writes about epic horrors of history, her ideas also apply to the domestic tragedies of parental cruelty, the loss of a child or the death of a spouse. The best memoirs recount loss and change in a way that offers more than thrills based on peeking into someone else’s suffering. Instead, the most powerful stories say something unknown about the person’s life, touching on universal experiences while giving us a glimpse of the ultimately unknowable aspects of another’s existence.

Beyond not making stuff up, we want to know that a deeper honesty is in play – that despite the impossibility of complete understanding, the author is permitting us to be present for the serious examination of a life.

February 15 2011

16:46

What we’re reading: the long arc of reporting on Scientology, a different kind of drug war, and a new narrative collaboration

The long-form buzz this last week has been all about Lawrence Wright’s piece on Scientology for the New Yorker, “The Apostate.” It’s ostensibly a profile, but it’s also investigative journalism and a compelling narrative. Wright’s deft storytelling was recently addressed on this site by Roy Peter Clark, who looked at a passage from “The Looming Tower,” Wright’s account of the run-up to the 9/11 attacks.

Wright once again delivers the narrative goods with a 25,000-word story that takes a long time to read, making you miss a meeting or two and maybe skip lunch. The kicker alone is worth the time investment, but there are lots of other elegant moments along the way.

Like many big pieces, the story didn’t happen overnight. Listen to Wright’s podcast about the story and see a sample of disputed documentation from the piece for more clues about the back-and-forth with Scientologists.

Wright himself mentions some of the prior reporting that helped pave the way. The St. Petersburg Times’ three decades of investigating Scientology began in 1979 with coverage that won the paper a Pulitzer the following year. Those efforts continue today, most recently in an ongoing project from reporters Joe Childs and Thomas Tobin. This tireless stretch of reporting laid a paper trail and provided an opportunity to use the church’s earlier responses to dig deeper.

Just how much synthesis and narrative work Wright and the St. Pete staff have done becomes apparent upon reading this impressive but jargon-heavy account from a woman named Bea, who says she spent decades serving Scientology before leaving the church. It clocks in at almost exactly the same length as Wright’s New Yorker piece, and must be invaluable for those investigating the church. At the same time, it shows just how much translation and anthropological work anyone trying to write a general audience piece about Scientology has to do.

For those looking for non-Scientology material to read, we were impressed with the clean, insightful writing of Jennifer Senior in her recent New York magazine piece, “The Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Effexor, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, Restoril, Xanax, Adderall, Ritalin, Haldol, Risperdal, Seroquel, Ambien, Lunesta, Elavil, Trazodone War.”

We discovered Senior’s story because of a new collaboration between Longreads and Mother Jones magazine. Each week, Mother Jones will feature a top 5 Longreads list for narrative nonfiction junkies everywhere. The partnership has just begun, but we’re already impressed with many of the choices. Check out the lists for Week 1 and Week 2.

Photo of Scientology leader David Miscavige by Robin Donina Serne of the St. Petersburg Times.

January 18 2011

17:00

New Yorker web editor: The site is “guided by what’s on paper”

In a 2006 post at Design Observer, Michael Bierut praised what he termed the “slow design” of The New Yorker: “the patient, cautious, deliberate evolution of a nearly unchanging editorial format over decades.”

It’s an apt description. As Jon Michaud, the magazine’s archive director, told me, “There have been slight design changes over the years — the pages are now a little smaller than they used to be. We put the bylines at the top of articles, no longer at the bottom. We introduced photographs in the ’90s.”

But “for the most part, the magazine has evolved slowly over the decades.”

The New Yorker’s self-conscious connection to its own past is undoubtedly one of its key selling points. But what about the more future-oriented component of the publication: the digital magazine that lives on the web? When you redesign your site — as The New Yorker did late last year, in its first online revamp since 2007 — how do you balance “a nearly unchanging editorial format” with the needs of transition to (an at least partly) digital existence?

One way: Even online, preserve an ethos of print. “Designers who’ve worked on the print magazine week after week were intimately involved in the web design,” Blake Eskin, The New Yorker’s web editor, explained in an email. So “there are all sorts of ways, articulated and unarticulated, in which the look and feel of newyorker.com is guided by what’s on paper.”

Indeed, the new update is — as The New Yorker has always has been — spare in its use of text, minimal throughout, and squeaky clean. It even makes more use of Irvin, the iconic, 1925 typeface designed by (and named for) the magazine’s original art director, Rea Irvin. Illustrations and other art have also been more integrated into newyorker.com, and can be found at almost every turn — clever, and reliably unpredictable.

Then again, not everything on the new site is print-derivative. The magazine’s vintage sensibility notwithstanding, it was actually The New Yorker’s iPad app that inspired many of the site’s visual design choices, Eskin told me — like the greater use of images, both thumbnail and full-screen. “Before, our website, much like the printed magazine, had been more sparing in its use of art, and the iPad helped pave the way for using more images,” he says. “We tried to optimize both digital formats for readability. Which is why the default font size is bigger — one benefit of removing the sidebar on the left edge of most pages.”

SEO was a factor, as well. “The removal of the sidebar made a more open page, but it should also help search engines to notice our stories,” Eskin notes. (Headlines, with the help of Typekit, are also searchable.) Likewise, “as we’ve added more writing that isn’t from the magazine, and more audio and video and slide shows, we outgrew navigation that largely followed the structure of the print magazine.”

The most telling change, though, is as much about philosophy as it is about design. On the re-launched site, “we put less of the magazine online than we used to,” Eskin says. It’s a choice that will likely become more common as The New Yorker’s fellow outlets make key decisions about paid content. “Especially now that ‘Information wants to be free’ is no longer an article of faith — we wanted to tell our paying subscribers that they can access everything,” he says. “And to tell our non-paying visitors that there’s a lot that they’re missing.”

December 16 2010

20:40

Interview as story: on radio, online and in print

Insane Clown Posse

Whether they use full-on storytelling or just crib a few literary devices, interviews have their own narrative arcs and angles. From political drama (think the Frost-Nixon standoff or “The Fog of War”) to Studs Terkel’s cultural layering, interviews create a kind of permanent present-tense experience for viewers.

Two recent magazine interviews underline the narrative potential of the form. The first, “Insane Clown Posse: And God created controversy,” runs through a dizzying talk with the rap duo on The Guardian’s website.

The conversation jumps off with the acknowledgement that despite their ultra-violent lyrics, the pair are evangelical Christians. Reporter Jon Ronson moves on to reveal that the performers suffer from depression. As the story unfolds, even those who contest the importance of hate-spewing clowns may find the interview compelling, funny and disturbing, and perhaps not in predictable ways. Here’s an excerpt of Ronson’s dialogue:

Violent J shakes his head sorrowfully. “Who looks at the stars at night and says, ‘Oh, those are gaseous forms of plutonium’?” he says. “No! You look at the stars and you think, ‘Those are beautiful.’ ”

Suddenly he glances at me. The woman in the video is bespectacled and nerdy. I am bespectacled and nerdy. Might I have a similar motive?

“I don’t know how magnets work,” I say, to put him at his ease.

“Nobody does, man!” he replies, relieved. “Magnetic force, man. What else is similar to that on this Earth? Nothing! Magnetic force is fascinating to us. It’s right there, in your f**king face. You can feel them pulling. You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. You can’t touch it. But there’s a f**king force there. That’s cool!”

Shaggy says the idea for the lyrics came when one of the ICP road crew brought some magnets into the recording studio one day and they spent ages playing with them in wonderment.

“Gravity’s cool,” Violent J says, “but not as cool as magnets.”

The struggle between interviewer John H. Richardson and actor Christian Bale in Esquire’s December issue is more convoluted. As Richardson attempts to build a narrative that illuminates Bale as a person, the temperamental actor throws up roadblocks, refuses to participate, and ends with an insult to his interviewer’s efforts to reveal anything at all about him.

The narrative builds and destroys itself, eventually piling up a kind of story:

BALE: Why are you questioning those things?

ESQUIRE: Just curious.

BALE: Why are you putting all that muddle in your brain thats not needed to be there?

ESQUIRE: I guess you just look at the choices people make and wonder, Whats up with that?

BALE: But why are you worrying so much about everybody else? Lets start looking at you for a minute, all right?

A standoff ensues not unlike the scene in Antonionis The Passenger when Jack Nicholson is interviewing a witch doctor who clearly thinks hes an obnoxious idiot. “Your questions are much more revealing about yourself than my answers will be about me,” the witch doctor says, turning the camera around so its pointing at Nicholson. Major existential moment as Nicholson stares into the abyss between sign and signifier. But we have seen this movie, and it does not turn out well — the spell must be reversed.

BALE: It should just happen. It should just happen. If somethings true and sincere, it happens regardless of marketing. The more I talk about it, the more Im telling people how they should react. And that is an asshole.

ESQUIRE: Not to argue, but that’s not really true.

BALE: Are you calling me a liar? Am I lying?

ESQUIRE: Sometimes the ground needs to be prepared. And youve laid down these onerous rules on me — all I can do is a Q&A.

Actually, these are forbidden words that you are reading right now. Bale is in the habit of requesting that his media interviews be printed in a Q&A format. He also prefers to conduct them at the same five-star luxury hotel in Los Angeles, and makes it known that he dislikes personal questions.

Both these interviews end up far afield from straight transcription. The interviewer’s after-the-fact insertion of connective tissue between segments of the Q-and-A shape the story arc and set the tone.

Very long long-form

Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of a Hedge Fund Manager” a book-length series of interviews, falls into an even longer-form category. Keith Gessen, editor of the political and cultural journal n+1, conducted a series of interviews in which a financial player chronicled the economic collapse and its aftermath.

In a phone conversation last month, Gessen described how in small and large ways, events in “Diary” began to take a narrative turn not just in chronicling the meltdown but in the hedge fund manager’s outlook and life. Asked to what degree he imagined the book as narrative during the interview process, Gessen said,

I was very much thinking of it in terms of Studs Terkel, and there’s another book that I read some years ago, an updating of Studs Terkel called “Gig.” That book is amazing. These people have these crazy jobs, and as they talk about them, details of their lives emerge.

With “Diary of a Very Bad Year,” initially, I just wanted to find out what was going on with the financial crisis. I knew I didn’t know what was going on, and I had this sort of acquaintance who I thought could explain it. After I did the first interview and transcribed it, I was surprised. It had a lot of information. He had a very charming way of explaining the financial system. Some very talented financial people need to be able to tell stories about what they’re doing – that’s just part of him being good at his job. He was so good at explaining it that you could see how he thought, his mind at work. I thought that was exciting.

At first, I just thought we’d put the interviews in the magazine. Halfway though, he became very frustrated with his job. At the end, he quit. I didn’t know for sure where we were going initially, but when he decided to quit, we had a whole narrative arc.

Contrasting doing long-form interviews with the kind narrative features he’s written for the New Yorker, Gessen noted the different goals of the interviewer:

I’ve done a fair amount of traditional journalism where you’re interviewing people. There’s a very specific way in which quotes are used in a New Yorker article. They’re partly there to be informative; they’re partly used to reveal the character of the person who’s being informative.

When you do those interviews, you’re looking for a particular thing, a particular moment, from that person. You more or less know what you want from your subject. And I wouldn’t say it’s manipulation – that’s too strong a word – but because the frame that you’re putting on the story has so much weight, your subjects become characters in the story and have particular roles to play in it. When you’re doing those interviews, you’re waiting for them to say a particular thing, as if they were fictional characters who were uncooperative.

With the hedge fund interviews, I wasn’t waiting for anything. I was waiting for him to be interesting. I wasn’t waiting very long. In a way, it was more pressure doing those interviews, because I wasn’t going to be able to write around him. So he had to be the one who was interesting.

Gessen was pleased enough with the hedge fund interviews that he searched out people from other fields, only to find not everyone was as engaging when it came to talking about work. But with the right interviewee, “to hear a live and intelligent and very particular human voice,” Gessen said, “that’s very exciting to a reader and very immediately accessible – as accessible as anything.”

Radio Q-and-A’s

Though they have a long tradition in print, interviews own a sizable share of other media, as well, and many of them are narrative. Lisa Mullins, chief anchor and senior producer for Public Radio International’s “The World,” makes it a goal to frame real-time narratives as she interviews subjects. Talking by phone last week, she outlined her approach:

When I’m preparing an interview, I want a beginning, a middle and an end. It may not stay that way when I actually execute the interview, but it always helps to have an arc to the story and have some kind of a narrative. Sometimes that narrative centers on a subject – meaning the issue that we’re talking about – or sometimes the narrative unfolds from the person’s own thoughts and history. It can go either way, but I like to have a start and a finish and then a takeaway – something that the audience will come away with at the end.

I honestly don’t believe that we always need a neat and poignant ending. We need some kind of end that doesn’t sound random. It has to be something that makes the interview whole, that gives it a sense of direction and gives listeners a sense they’ve taken a mini journey someplace, even if they haven’t gone anywhere, even if it’s just a Q-and-A on the telephone.

Mullins doesn’t employ storytelling out of a sense of duty to tradition. Her motives, she admits, may be a little more selfish:

One of the reasons I really cherish the practice of interviewing as narrative is, frankly, ego. A lot of what we do is to convince people that they will be interested, entertained and edified by whatever we’re presenting. But it’s not a given. I don’t take that interest for granted.

So my goal is to give them what I know is going to attract any listener, a really interesting story, especially around an issue they didn’t know they could be interested in. By working with this rubric of storytelling and narrative, no matter what you’re doing, you’re going to get a much better interview for yourself, you’re going to have a more cooperative interviewee, and you’re going to get the listener paying attention. It’s not like they’re being spoon-fed; they’re just being informed and entertained in the most natural way of all, and that’s through storytelling.

Mullins also emphasized the real-time role of the interviewer and the importance of discipline when a Q-and-A is going to be the final product – not to block spontaneous surprises from emerging, but to string a narrative thread that the audience can clutch, giving listeners “a place to touch down.” Interviewers have a narrative role to play, even when they’re not the ones telling the stories.

[Check back tomorrow, when we'll post a list of tips for doing narrative interviews.]

August 30 2010

16:00

Playing it by ear: The Atlantic joins the magazine-Tumbling fray in embracing experimentation

Until recently, Tumblr was a fairly isolated phenomenon: a platform that (to overgeneralize only slightly) helped a slew of web-savvy young city-dwellers to stay connected with more characters than Twitter but less commitment than blogs. Now, though, the service — which passed its billion-post mark last Monday — is in the air in a more diffuse way, via the tons-of-Tumblrs popping up under the banners of national news outlets. There’s Newsweek’s praiseworthy specimen — the most buzzed-about of the bunch — but there’s also The New Yorker’s, The Economist’s, The American Prospect’s, Life magazine’s, the Huffington Post’s, the Paris Review’s, Utne Reader’s, ProPublica’s, and, a bit farther afield, Public Radio International’s, ABC News Radio’s…and on and on.

One of the most recent additions to the world of media-outlet-Tumbling comes courtesy of The Atlantic, which marked its entry into that world earlier this month. With this:

Since then, the outlet’s fledgling Tumblog (which, ironically or fittingly enough, doesn’t employ Peter Vidani’s free — and quite popular — Atlantic theme) has been populated with ephemera both serious and less so: a mix of images and blurbs and links to content from around the web, from TheAtlantic.com to far, far beyond. Today, for example, finds images of Macchu Picchu and New Orleans; last week found, among other posts, a link to AtlanticTech’s story about competitive lock-picking; an image of real-world renderings of keyboard shortcuts; a post pointing us to the photo site 2 4 Flinching and its compendium of photographs “detailing life on and in the New York City subway in the 1980’s”; a link to an Atlantic photo essay documenting the decay that remains in New Orleans five years after Katrina; a link to Karim Sadjadpour’s list of five key points about the wisdom of an Iranian military strike that, had he the chance, he’d convey to Benjamin Netanyahu; and a YouTube video, via Newsweek’s Tumblr, of “Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, the Democratic nominee for gov, who somehow manages to spend 30 seconds of film time in the shower without being sensual or pathetic.”

In other words, The Atlantic’s Tumblr, like its media-led peers, reads a bit like the world itself: messy and arbitrary and yet, somehow, sensical. There’s an internal logic to it — but one based on the core illogic of, simply, “what’s interesting.” There’s a good amount of madness…with very little method in it.

And that’s the point.

“If our approach is anything, it’s just experimental,” says J.J. Gould, TheAtlantic.com’s deputy online editor, who’s helping to think through the outlet’s Tumblr presence. The goal is to interact with the quirky new platform — to get to know its rules and rhythm and tones — and go from there. “We’re interested in the language, the distinct nature of the medium — and how to play the instrument,” Gould says. Sure, “we should be smart in the way we approach Tumblr as we aspire to be smart in the way we approach anything. But it’s not something that needs to be over-thought.”

So will The Atlantic’s Tumblr end up looking like The Economist’s (a slick affair filled with crisp images and content curated mostly from the magazine’s own website)? Or will it be more like Newsweek’s (which, even after the departure of former-proprietor Mark Coatney, remains witty and snarky and, in feeling if not in branding, separate from its parent outlet)? Or something in between?

Again: TBD.

And, again: that’s okay. In fact, that’s how it should be. The newness — and, as of now, the relative unknown-ness — of Tumblr offers a certain freedom for media outlets concerned, now more than ever, with the demands of their brands. “One of the things we’re interested in is just the question of what a media institution with a 153-year-old history might be able to do with Tumblr that it can’t do with other things,” Gould says. Tumblr, he notes, is “to some extent a different medium — it plays differently. That’s what’s awesome about it.” Newsweek’s Coatney-led account, the (yeah, I’m going to say it) trailblazing Tumblr, established the freewheeling-because-separate (and separate-because-freewheeling) relationship between the Tumblog and its parent outlet — and that assumption of separateness is one that other outlets are now benefiting from. Coatney recalled for me the leniency he received from his higher-ups at the then-still-WaPo-owned magazine: “Experiment. Do whatever you want. Don’t embarrass us too much. And see how it goes.”

That’s the attitude that has come to characterize the Tumblr accounts of even The Most Serious News Organizations. “I don’t think the Tumblr is something that one needs to or even should bring too much strategy to,” Gould says. “You should just sort of learn what it is, and learn what works well.” And that process, undertaken with a platform whose very infrastructure encourages caprice, requires a level of lightheartedness. Sure, The Atlantic can use its Tumblr to push Atlantic.com content — people who are following the magazine on Tumblr, Gould points out, are presumably also interested in the work it produces — but, ultimately, “we’re entirely interested in approaching Tumblr as its own thing.”

The broader interest is one you don’t often hear discussed in the rarefied air of our national magazines-of-ideas, but one that could stand to get a little more traction in that world: in a word, whimsy. “We certainly think it looks like a lot of fun,” Gould says of his magazine’s new platform. Tumblr’s family status — both of the brand, but independent of it — makes it an ideal platform for, among other things, finding out where that fun fits into the new world we’re forging. Tumblr’s rapid growth, Gould notes, “says something to us. It’s speaking to people in some way.”

August 18 2010

14:44

THE SUGAR KING OF HAVANA AND HOW TO WRITE A TERRIFIC BOOK

julio-lobo

John Paul Rathbone, FT’s Latin America editor, has written one of these books that you can not leave until you end reading the last page.

This is a terrific book, written about a fascinating Cuban tycoon, Julio Lobo, “The Sugar King of Havana“.

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The book is like a 290-page New Yorker article.

A work of love.

A fascinating masterpiece.

One day somebody will write a similar kind of book about Pepin Bosch, “The Bacardi Rum King of Havana”.

August 13 2010

19:07

MORE GREAT MAGAZINE COVERS

TNYTM

Creativity that makes you want to read.

In traditional magazines.

Great job!

Via nascapas blog.

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March 23 2010

08:43

THE APPPLE IPAD CHALLENGE ACORDING TO JAMES SUROWIECKI

surowiecki

The Financial Page of The New Yorker goes to the point.

Apple is facing next week a very dramatic challenge.

But Surowiecki, the author of The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations (2004), a must-read every week in The New Yorker, explains very well the news behind the news.

As he says:

Apple’s launch of the iPad next week is a gamble in more ways than one.

To start with, it’s obviously a bet that there are millions of people looking for a new way to surf the Web, watch movies, and read magazines.

But it’s also a more fundamental gamble; namely, that people will pay for quality.

Starting at five hundred dollars, the iPad is significantly more expensive than its competitors.

But Apple’s assumption is that, if the iPad is also significantly better, people will happily shell out for it (as they already do for iPods, iPhones, and Macs).

That’s why when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPad he said that, if a product wasn’t “far better” than what was already out there, it had “no reason for being.

March 11 2010

15:54

New York and The New Yorker lead National Magazine Awards finalists

The American Society of Editors (ASME) has published a list of finalists for the 2010 National Magazine Awards.

Among the 51 magazines nominated in 23 categories there are 20 with multiple nominations. New York and The New Yorker are out in front with 10 each and just behind them is National Geographic with seven. Circulation figures for the finalists range from 3,000 (the Antioch Review) to 5.6 million (National Geographic).

The awards gala will take place at Alice Tully Hall in New York City on 22 April.

See the full list of finalists at this link.

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March 03 2010

23:35

Job Opening: Freelance Multimedia Producer at The New Yorker

The New Yorker is looking for a Freelance Multimedia Producer.

Company/Project Description: The New Yorker is a weekly magazine with a signature mix of reporting on national and international politics and culture, humor and cartoons, fiction and poetry, and reviews and criticism of books, movies, theatre, classical and popular music, television, art, and fashion.

Position Description/Breakdown: The New Yorker is looking for a multimedia producer who can handle pre-production, planning, logistics, shooting, editing video and audio, and posting the final product online. And would have aptitude with a mini DV camera. Experience with Final Cut Pro required. Knowledge of Pro Tools, Flash, blogging software or other CMS a plus. Must be able to juggle multiple projects, meet tight deadlines, uphold journalistic standards, and work well with others.

Application/Submission Instructions: Please submit a resume and cover letter, and links to previous work to Blake Eskin with “multimedia producer” in the subject line.

Position Title/Role: Multimedia Producer

Type: Freelance

Start Date: March 15, 2010

Salary / Rate: TBD

Benefits Information: None

January 22 2010

20:11

Google Go-Founder Sergey Brin Concedes Lack of "Emotional Intelligence" says The New Yorker's Ken Auletta

While Google continues to show extraordinary growth and profitability, there could be a number of threats and stumbling blocks ahead, says the New Yorker's Ken Auletta, author of the best-selling book Googled: The End of the World as We Know it."

In this interview, Auletta tells me that Google's biggest potential threats are Facebook and other sites which offer "vertical search." 

A big fault could lie in a company run by engineers who lack the "emotional intelligence" needed to navigate an increasingly complex world of government intervention and public perception.  In this interview Auletta says that co-founder Sergey Brin conceded in an interview with him that management lacks emotional intelligence.

A partial transcript of the interview is below.

Andy Plesser, Executive Producer

Editor's Note:  Our apologies about the buzz on the audio.  

Video Transcript from 2 min. 50 sec.

Andy Plesser: So let's talk about potentially the weaknesses. You talk about in the book, towards the end, about the potential weakness of privacy, over reliance perhaps on computer based search on the PC.  What do you see as potentially their Achilles' heels? How could they fail?

Ken Auletta: Well I think they can fail in a number of ways. One, I mean I interviewed Bill Gates in 1998. I began the second chapter with this story, and I said, "Mr. Gates, what do you worry about in the future?" And I thought he would say "Apple" or "Sun Microsystems" or "Oracle" or some competitor, and instead what he said to me was, "I'll tell you what I worry about. I worry about someone in a garage inventing something I've never thought about, a new technology."

Well in 1998, in a garage, was the new technology being invented. It was the Google guys inventing search and that has become Microsoft's worst nightmare. The question then becomes, in 2010, is there a comparable technology in a garage somewhere that's being invented that could upset and upend Google.

One possibility is what's called vertical search and the idea that, for instance, Facebook, which now has 350 million worldwide users. I mean think about how efficient it is to do a search if I'm looking for a camera and I post something for my Facebook friends, "Hey, I'm thinking about this Sony or Samsung or some other camera. Have any of you used it?" and I get back twelve responses from people I know who have real experience, that's much more trustworthy and much more efficient than doing a Google search for that camera and getting 10,000 responses from strangers. So that's something they have to worry about.

They have to worry about governments. I mean all over the world. They're in brawl with China today, they're in brawl with the U.S. government over privacy issues and concentration of power issues and copyright issues. And they're in brawl with the government in France and all over the world on a variety of issues. So they've got to worry about government, which is the 800 lb. gorilla that can smack you down.

And that gets to a third concern. Engineers are not...often lack emotional intelligence. I certainly saw this at Google, in fact, at one point Sergey Brin, when I pressed him on it, he acknowledged "we lack emotional intelligence." They don't know how to gauge things they can't measure. An engineer can measure things. How do you measure fear? That people are afraid of Google's power? Or how do you measure politics in Washington? So they've been slow to respond to those concerns, and they may be slow as well to respond to public concerns about their size, as Microsoft was a decade ago. So that becomes a real potential threat to them.

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