Archive for February, 2009

Tue 17 Feb 2009 1:52 pm   //   Posted in: Media

Great moment in newspaper headline writing

Mon 16 Feb 2009 9:20 pm   //   Posted in: Photos, Planet earth

Who’s really responsible for climate change

Climate Change proudly presented by Bank of America

Sun 15 Feb 2009 5:33 pm   //   Posted in: Media, TV, Videos

Stephen Colbert gives me a hat tip

Ever wonder where The Colbert Report gets all that source material for their show? From reporters like me. A story I wrote got the briefest of mentions on The Colbert Report Thursday night. Watch the clip below for the story with the “PDN” logo at the top of it. That’s mine. These things happen once and a while and it’s nice, though it’s not really why I do my job.

(If you can’t view the clip above, you can watch it here, at about the 1 minute mark).

Fri 13 Feb 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Movies, Technology

Two amazing online information graphics

First one: New York Times Box Office Receipts 1986-2008.

Second one: SmartMoney Map of the Market.

Fri 13 Feb 2009 3:00 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, New York is different, Photos

Photos from around my neighborhood

Feral parakeets along Sixth Avenue:

Vacant storefront on 5th Avenue:

Transit ad in the 9th Street R station:

Thu 12 Feb 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Media, Stray data

The magazine as a fashion accessory

Item: As magazine circulations fell last year, “The Economist’s circulation rose 9.2 percent, to 787,000.”

The Economist has been doing well while other magazines are sucking. Why? I had a theory: It’s because smart is cool again. With the resurgence of reason and science in America (thank you Barack) the tide of culture is suddenly in favor of this smarty-pants British news magazine. People will spend money for good information! Gotta love it!

Then somebody I had a conversation with recently offered another theory: The Economist is a fashion accessory. He described a friend who always carries the current issue of The Economist around in her purse, its red flag conspicuously protruding. The anecdote implied that people who buy and carry the Economist don’t necessarily read it. It’s a better theory than mine.

Wed 11 Feb 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Art, Sterling

Make an Obama poster for EVERYONE!

I’ve been spending too much time writing about the Shepard Fairey fair use lawsuit. Gotta take time to have some fun with it.

Make your own at

Tue 10 Feb 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Art, Cartoons

Saturday at the Comic Con, bad comic version

Presenting an ineptly illustrated cartoon about our trip Saturday to the New York Comic Con. (No good reason why I’m posting this, just wanted to try something different. Apologies to my friends on whom these cartoon characters are based!)


Mon 9 Feb 2009 7:00 am   //   Posted in: Media

The biggest myth about newspapers

“Newspapers aren’t in that much trouble. They still have huge profit margins!”

I keep seeing statements to this effect on journalism blogs. Here’s why this is total bunk.

When you or I check our bank statements, we look at how much we’re making and how much we’re spending. Earning more than you spend? Great! But you aren’t a company. A company’s mission is to build value. If a company is worth less in 2009 than it was in 2008 and 2007, and will keep losing value into the foreseeable future, it is failing and something has to change fast. This scenario probably describes every major newspaper company in the United States. When a company is losing value, it doesn’t matter how sweet their margins are. When you’re sinking into the sea, nobody cares how fast your ship can go.

Similarly, there’s an argument that because there is demand for news, the news business will be OK. Half of that is true. People crave news, and in this information-driven society, the demand feels stronger than ever. But at the same time, thanks to the Internet, everyone can draw from a bottomless well of free information. So you have growing demand, but suddenly you also have an unlimited supply. Just because there’s increasing demand for air doesn’t mean you should start an air company.

I am not a fatalist when it comes to newspaper companies. I think the right combination of quality journalism, useful digital platforms, and creative advertising strategies will eventually sustain the business. Until then, we need to call b.s. on the people (especially journalists) who repeat spin and bad information in the interest of optimism.

Previous posts:

Dec. 23, 2008: It’s time to get worried about the Internet
Nov. 23, 2008: Two storylines about the state of journalism
Oct. 31, 2008: Violin players on the Titanic

Sun 8 Feb 2009 5:18 pm   //   Posted in: Movies, Review

Seeing “Coraline” in 3D

We saw the animated film “Coraline” yesterday at one of the theaters in Times Square that was showing it in 3D. Special glasses required. I can take or leave 3D movies – the gee-whiz factor is offset by the fact that the movie appears darker, and blurrier around the edges, compared to seeing it in 2D.

“Coraline” is similar in style to “Corpse Bride” (co-directed by “Coraline” director Henry Selick and Tim Burton) and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (directed by Burton). These films are beautifully crafted, each one a work of art. I really want to love these movies. But for some reason I find them to be a bit of a let-down. I’ve never been able to pinpoint why.

Do you ever work on a project that involves solving a really hard, interesting problem? And eventually you solve it! But in doing so, you’ve sucked up all the time, energy or budget you need to solve the easier, conventional problems. And so the final product may have been a great expense of creative energy, but it also isn’t as good as you want it to be. I’ve written investigative stories and done online projects that ended up this way. So much good work, so little to show for it.

I think it must be easy for animated movies to fall into this trap. The hard, interesting problem is bringing to life the lifeless. The very act of making “Coraline” is a miracle of patience and hard work. But there are other problems that have to be solved for a movie to be excellent – like story, dialogue and voice acting. In the case of “Coraline,” I should have positively loved a film that includes the vocal talents of John Hodgman and They Might Be Giants (both of Brooklyn, by the way). The children’s book on which the movie is based is supposed to be good. So why do the characters and the story seem so humdrum on the big screen? I think it must have been the script, which somehow doesn’t match the ambition of the animators. But hey, I got a free pair of 3D glasses out of the experience.