Archive for June, 2009

Tue 30 Jun 2009 10:00 pm   //   Posted in: Books, Media

The fall of Chris Anderson

Wired editor Chris Anderson and I are in the same line of work. The difference is he’s the top editor at a major business magazine, while I’m a mid-level editor at a small business magazine. He’s published a successful book called The Long Tail and is a popular public speaker; I can claim no such accomplishments. You might say he’s very skilled at his job. Until recently, I would agree.

A week ago, a reviewer for the Virginia Quarterly Review discovered that Anderson committed plagiarism in his upcoming book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price. In at least seven passages, Anderson fills in his argument with background paragraphs he copied from Wikipedia.


Mon 29 Jun 2009 8:32 am   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

What happened to the blog comments?

I made some small design tweaks to the History Eraser Button blog over the weekend. One change was to eliminate comments. You can still read comments on old posts, but no new comments are allowed. Why? Three reasons:


Sun 28 Jun 2009 1:00 pm   //   Posted in: Failure, Food & drink

Wow, this looks terrible!


Spotted in a window display: Strawberry and peanut butter M&Ms. Yeech! Did somebody actually sign off on this?

Fri 26 Jun 2009 12:00 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Holga, Photos, Transit

D Train


A few Holga photos along the New York City subway’s West End Line. Shot last Sunday in Brooklyn.


Fri 26 Jun 2009 8:46 am   //   Posted in: Media

The real reason nobody trusts

It’s time for another round of Guess the Anonymous Source!

If you were near a computer, or in an office, yesterday around 5:45 p.m. ET, you knew Michael Jackson had died. You knew this because reported it (credited anonymously) and word spread quickly. It took the newspapers, wires, TV networks, and other trusted legacy news sources another 30 minutes to an hour to report Jackon’s death themselves. (Today the Associated Press has a good tabulation of the media timeline.)

News sources often cite one another when breaking news is going on—CNN cited The Los Angeles Times with its initial reports of Jackson’s death. So why won’t anyone cite Is it because mainstream news outlets hate getting scooped by blogs?

No. It’s because is widely thought to pay for tips. It’s hard to confirm this, since most of the people who accuse TMZ of this practice are competitors—and some of them pay sources too. But every time TMZ publishes a leaked police report nobody else has, suspicion deepens.

Is paying sources so wrong? Network TV offers its guests lavish perks to appear on news shows. Magazines pay celebrities large sums for exclusive photos. And there’s so much pressure to have a competitive edge. But in cases of breaking news, most journalists feel you’re supposed to get your information through hard work and connections, not checkbook journalism. Paying for information upsets the source-journalist dynamic in a dangerous way. Can you really trust a source who’s willing to sell out like that? And oh yes, it costs money, which nobody has right now.

Among mainstream journalists, offering cash for news tips is considered so toxic that even the whiff of possibility that it’s happening makes the entire site contaminated. I believe that’s the real reason CNN would credit a Los Angeles Times report about Michael Jackson dying, but not a similar report from TMZ.

Blogs have always been willing to flaunt traditional journalism ethics, and it’s good to have some mayhem in the mix. But until TMZ, no one was worried that blogs would start bribing emergency workers for information. That would be ridiculous! Blogs didn’t have any money! But TMZ does. It’s owned by AOL, which is currently being spun off from Time Warner (which also owns People and CNN, go figure). It’s probably AOL’s most valuable property.

Wed 24 Jun 2009 12:00 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Photos

Sign heaven


25th Street, Brooklyn

Mon 22 Jun 2009 11:30 pm   //   Posted in: In the news

Guess the Journal’s anonymous source

“Steve Jobs, who has been on medical leave from Apple Inc. since January to treat an undisclosed medical condition, received a liver transplant in Tennessee about two months ago.” — The Wall Street Journal, June 20

That was a front-page scoop on Saturday. The story communicated one fact in the first sentence with no attribution, and the rest of the article was mostly background. It’s a weird way to structure a story. It tells us the reporters knew one thing with absolute certainty, but didn’t now anything else.

I enjoy trying to guess who the anonymous sources are in stories. (Quite often it’s somebody quoted on-the-record elsewhere in the story.) So who was the Journal‘s source? It’s curious that rather than attributing it to a “knowledgeable source” or “someone close to Jobs” or “an Apple source,” the Journal writers left it totally unspecific. That alone is an important clue. It means the writers are so sure their information is accurate that they’re willing to write from assertion (sometimes called the “Voice of God”). They must have proof the story is true. Yet they also have a good reason to cite no source. Based on those clues, here are my top five suspects, in descending order of likelihood. (more…)

Mon 22 Jun 2009 8:56 am   //   Posted in: In the news, Media

My thoughts on the Neda video

Of interest if you’re paying attention to the Iran protest coverage: I just posted some ramblings on why the Neda video represents a new kind of reporting on my work blog, PDNPulse.

Sun 21 Jun 2009 8:23 pm   //   Posted in: TV commericals, Videos

Time-waster: Muppet commercials

Did Jim Henson ever do anything that wasn’t freakishly creative? Before his high-minded career in children’s television, Henson produced TV commercials. They’re hilarious. Since many of them are online now, and it’s fun to watch these oddball 1950s and 1960s ads that show Muppets in various states of evolution. Check out this one for McGarry’s Sausage, starring a puppet that resembles Kermit:

And here’s one for Munchos featuring a what looks like Cookie Monster:


Wed 17 Jun 2009 8:11 pm   //   Posted in: Media

Poets as reporters

The Forward has a story about a newspaper in Israel that, for one day, asked authors and poets to write the news:

Among those articles were gems like the stock market summary, by author Avri Herling. It went like this: “Everything’s okay. Everything’s like usual. Yesterday trading ended. Everything’s okay. The economists went to their homes, the laundry is drying on the lines, dinners are waiting in place… Dow Jones traded steadily and closed with 8,761 points, Nasdaq added 0.9% to a level of 1,860 points…. The guy from the shakshuka [an Israeli egg-and-tomato dish] shop raised his prices again….” The TV review by Eshkol Nevo opened with these words: “I didn’t watch TV yesterday.” And the weather report was a poem by Roni Somek, titled “Summer Sonnet.” (“Summer is the pencil/that is least sharp/in the seasons’ pencil case.”)

What an excellent idea! Once. (Memo to Newsweek: No.) All of us who write news should aspire to wield language as forcefully and precisely as a poet. But reimagining the conventions of journalism every time you write a business story would be hard to do and tiresome for readers. It would get in the way of efficiency, a too-often-neglected quality in reporting.