• July 23, 2015

    Rupert Murdoch

    Rupert Murdoch

    Rupert Murdoch apparently wants Fox News to stop sucking up to Donald Trump, but can’t get his CEO Roger Ailes in line. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire suggests everyone go for the one approach to Trump they haven’t yet tried: take him seriously.

    The New York Times doesn’t like Nick Denton’s accusation that it moves journalists off certain beats to appease advertisers with less “toothy” coverage. Denton made the comments in a long scandal-postmortem editorial meeting early this week, in which he explained to his staff that the “Gawker tax”—essentially, the ad revenue they lose by showing those teeth too much—was getting too high. Reinforcing suspicions that he wants to declaw and “Vox-ify” Gawker, Denton calculated the “tax” as roughly “the gap between the revenues of Gawker Media and the revenues of Vox Media, the gap is around $20 million a year and the gap is increasing.” Denton’s staff seemingly didn’t like what he said any more than the Times did: “Make this into an advertising company then!” features editor Leah Finnegan said. “Say what it really is! It’s not a place for journalism!”

    A good day for documentarians: The Associated Press and the British newsreel company Movietone are putting a huge stash of archival news footage—more than a million minutes—on YouTube.

    This week in lost masterpieces: If Harper Lee’s latest was a disappointment, you can turn to the newly discovered Dr. Seuss. And a tip for any would-be discoverers going through a writer’s belongings—look in the folder marked “Noble Failures.”

    And, seemingly in honor of the David Foster Wallace movie, some thoughts about book tours from writers including Nell Zink (”reading to a crowd resembles something I actually know how to do — sing Schubert in a clear mezzo-soprano — minus all the hard parts. Whee!”), Gary Shteyngart, and Junot Diaz.

  • July 22, 2015

    E. L. Doctorow

    E. L. Doctorow

    E. L. Doctorow, the adventurously experimental historical novelist who wrote Ragtime and Billy Bathgate, has died. The New York Times obituary reminds us that the “E” was for Edgar, because Doctorow’s father loved Poe: “Actually, he liked a lot of bad writers, but Poe was our greatest bad writer, so I take some consolation from that. . . . I remember asking [my mother] in her old age — I finally dealt with the question of my name — ‘Do you and Dad know you named me after a drug-addicted, alcoholic delusional paranoid with strong necrophiliac tendencies?’ and she said, ‘Edgar, that’s not funny.’ ”

    Those who wonder what a post-Gawker internet might look like were treated to a preview on Monday when both it and Jezebel went dark during editorial wranglings over that disputed post. One Gawker writer, musing on his editorial experiences elsewhere and on the ethics of outing or not outing, hopes it won’t come to that, concluding: “I would rather work at a place that’s bold enough to fuck up than one that is too afraid to ever risk it.” And editors elsewhere use the occasion to discuss their worst mistakes—here’s Jimmy Jellinek of Playboy on what happened after he published a nude spread of Lindsay Lohan in the midst of her troubles: “I just didn’t realize it would change me so much. At least it got me into therapy, so that was good.”

    On the New Yorker’s blog, Jon Michaud makes a case for James Purdy: “Unsparing, ambiguous, violent, and largely indifferent to the reader’s needs, Purdy’s fiction seems likely to remain an acquired taste. But it is a taste worth acquiring.”

    Harper’s is trying out a metered paywall, so non-subscribers can finally get into the archive, at least for one story a month. Try not to get lost in there.

    Tonight at the Center for Fiction, Lidia Yuknavitch will be talking about The Small Backs of Children with Porochista Khakpour.

  • July 21, 2015

    Nick Denton

    Nick Denton

    Whatever else one says about Gawker, they really know how to make themselves the story. (But should you only have time for one of those links, make it the one in which resigning executive editor Tommy Craggs calls this latest incident “Nick’s Reichstag fire.”)

    If you missed Jonathan Franzen’s sometime protégée Nell Zink reviewing the new Jonathan Franzen (and as we’ve said before, what could be better than a review by someone who really knows you?), it looks as if you’re still out of luck. (A real shame, because one possible answer to the previous question is “a review preceded by the words: ‘On average I hate all books.’”)

    Meanwhile the Fales Library and Special Collection at NYU struck a blow against web transience by acquiring the archive of the digital journal Triple Canopy—always a thing of beauty, now (probably) a joy forever.

    In conjunction with By the Book, a group show about the influence of literature in contemporary art that runs till the end of the month, FSG president and publisher Jonathan Galassi will read from his first novel, Muse, at Sean Kelly Gallery on Wednesday night at 6pm. And next Wednesday—same time, same place—the novelist Jami Attenberg will be reading from Saint Mazie, which is based on the life of one of Joseph Mitchell’s most memorable New Yorker characters.

    Plus, Jill Lepore digs deeper into another legendary Mitchell subject, Joe Gould and his vast, lost “Oral History of Our Time.”

  • July 20, 2015

    On Friday afternoon, Gawker management removed its controversial item outing a Conde Nast CFO. Outcry against the post seemed to be almost unanimous. Glenn Greenwald called it “reprehensible beyond belief” and Lena Dunham deemed it “cruel and unnecessary.” According to Gawker CEO Nick Denton, “It was an editorial call, a close call around which there were more internal disagreements than usual. And it is a decision I regret.” But editor Max Read continues to defend the piece: “given the chance gawker will always report on married c-suite executives of major media companies fucking around on their wives.”

    Since May 2014, Rohit Chopra has run @RushdieExplains, a parodic Twitter account that “affected a faux [Salman Rushdie] persona” to “poke fun at the pompous expertise of our assorted Indian pundits.” He now has more than 30,000 followers, but he has decided to change the name of the account to @IndiaExplained, due to pressure from Rushdie himself, who informed Chopra that “the joke has worn thin.”

    Michel Houellebecq

    Michel Houellebecq

    Publisher’s Weekly has given a starred review to Michel Houellebecq’s controversial novel Submission, which will be published in the US in October. “This novel is not a paranoid political fantasy; it merely contains one.”

    Alan Moore, the author of the graphic novel The Watchmen, has stated that he believes that adults’ current fascination with superheroes is “culturally catastrophic.”  “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics.”

  • July 17, 2015

    Kathryn Schulz

    Kathryn Schulz

    Kathryn Schulz may wish that Condé Nast hadn’t been so savvy about securing its cut of journalists’ film deals, because her latest New Yorker piece has the makings of a blockbuster disaster movie. Schulz describes in nightmarish detail what will happen when, quite possibly in the next few decades, a massive earthquake and tsunami hit the (woefully underprepared) Pacific Northwest. People can’t stop talking about the piece this week. Vox provided numbers and graphics and timelines, while Seattle’s The Stranger picked out for its readers the five scariest bits (on that front, this paragraph seems hard to beat: “A grown man is knocked over by ankle-deep water moving at 6.7 miles an hour. The tsunami will be moving more than twice that fast when it arrives. . . . It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking land. Nor will it be made only of water—not once it reaches the shore. It will be a five-story deluge of pickup trucks and doorframes and cinder blocks and fishing boats and utility poles and everything else that once constituted the coastal towns of the Pacific Northwest.”) Earthquake experts weighed in on Reddit and elsewhere, and someone even asked celebrity physicist Michio Kaku for his take. But perhaps the most heartwarming response came from Schulz’s former colleagues at the Grist in Seattle, who made a list of all the potential benefits should the big quake finally hit. No more gentrification, no more traffic, Amazon will suffer, and then of course there’s this: “You know who’s going to get it worse than Seattle? Portland!

    Over in D.C., the National Journal is giving up on print altogether.

    Always good to bring out the big guns in a slanging match: on Facebook, Cornel West objected to those comparing Ta-Nehisi Coates (whose book just came out early) to James Baldwin. While “we all hunger for the literary genius and political engagement of Baldwin,” West writes, Coates is simply “a clever wordsmith with journalistic talent who avoids any critique of the Black president in power.” (While patently unfair, West’s is probably not the oddest response to Coates you’ll read this week.) Reached for comment by the Observer, Michael Eric Dyson, calling the Facebook post an “acrimonious dirge,” saw West’s James Baldwin and raised him “the great Ludwig Wittgenstein”: Whereof West cannot speak, thereof he must be silent.

    If you’ve now had more than enough Harper Lee for one lifetime, the New Republic reckons it won’t be hard to find the next “lost” masterwork by J. D. Salinger, Joan Didion, Marilynne Robinson (who hates her own early unpublished novel “as if worms had popped out of it”), or really almost any writer you care to name: We can start opening those drawers any time.

    Anyone who’s about to make an adorable William Carlos Williams joke, take a minute to read everybody else’s first.

  • July 16, 2015

    Whether just because he made such a fuss about being left off the last time, or because that fuss drew the attention of readers who then went out and bought his book, Ted Cruz has now made it on to the New York Times bestseller list. But Team Cruz wants more—a campaign spokesperson insists that the Times’s initial decision to keep A Time for Truth off the list (they’d essentially suggested that Cruz was bulk-buying it himself to rig sales) was “partisan” and “raises troubling questions that should concern any author. . . . The New York Times has a responsibility to authors and readers to have the Public Editor Margaret Sullivan examine its methodology—and I join others in calling for the Times to do just that.”

    Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

    Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

    Fascinating new insights into the espionage trial and execution of the Rosenbergs have emerged with the release of David Greenglass’s secret grand jury testimony (Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, was a key part of the case against her, which now looks a lot shakier).

    If you thought the UK phone-hacking scandal was over, another journalist (apparently the 66th) just got arrested at his office, at the Daily Mirror.

    As for tabloids closer to home, the New York Post must know it’s gone too far when it starts looking bad next to the NYPD.

    Luckily, some journalists are still making themselves useful: The Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, and Bloomberg managed to get some crucial video footage of a police shooting in California released after the city authorities had paid to suppress it.

    The Awl launches a new podcast with the words: “We don’t really know how to make podcasts.” It’s not likely to reach the heights of that episode of “Mystery Show” in which Starlee Kine helps an unsuccessful author investigate why Britney Spears was photographed with a copy of her obscure second book, but then few things could.

    Suddenly everyone wants to know why we call it nonfiction (and whether it deserves a more upbeat name).

  • July 15, 2015

    Last night at a McNally Jackson event, a woman explained to the critic James Wood that the character of Atticus Finch had always read as false and creepy to her, and that his emergence as a racist in Go Set a Watchman just shows Harper Lee only ever rewrote him in heroic, sentimental mode for commercial reasons: She’s apparently not the only one for whom a racist Atticus hasn’t come as much of a shock. Meanwhile, someone has gone so far as to give the novel the track-changes treatment, and show you where the text overlaps with To Kill a Mockingbird word for word. And for anyone now thoroughly sick of this story, the Onion has published what seems like a fitting coda.

    Maybe you can print Wikipedia, but can you archive the whole of Twitter? Looks as if the Library of Congress jumped the gun on that one just a little bit.

    It’s worth reading Jacobin’s long and involved interview with a member of Syriza’s central committee, if you want to understand what’s going on in Greece and what might happen next.

    Just because Politico seems to be making it work in Europe, doesn’t mean anyone can: Newsweek is ditching its London-based print operation after fifteen months. On the other hand, you have to hope the French appreciated Gawker’s Bastille Day experiment yesterday.

    Confirming that it really is all change over there, the new New Republic gives intersectionality its very own podcast, “Intersection” (starting July 28). Host and senior editor Jamil Smith says: “We’ve got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time in our cultural conversations.”

    It’s not just counting: VIDA is funding a fellowship to the Home School writing conference for poets next year in Miami, with applications due August 15—core faculty includes the delightful Maggie Nelson.

  • July 14, 2015

    Worms turn? This week the Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association, and a few others have teamed up against the twenty-year-old bullies Amazon, telling on them to the Justice Department.

    Poor Harper Lee continues to be milked for all she’s worth: With spectacular timing, it now transpires that yet another novel may have turned up, perhaps one “bridging” the gap between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.

    Charles Dickens

    Charles Dickens

    Less suspect, perhaps, is the discovery by an antiquarian book dealer of Charles Dickens’s annotations on a collection of the periodical he edited, All the Year Round, which reveal that previously anonymous poems, stories and articles can in fact be credited to Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, and Lewis Carroll.

    There’s now a vast backlog of more than 200,000 unanswered Freedom of Information Act requests: One of them is from Laura Poitras, the Oscar-winning director of the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour, asking why she was detained and interrogated so many times while traveling between 2006 and 2012 (naturally, she says, she’s not the only one to suffer “years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders”)—with no answer forthcoming, she’s now decided to sue the US government instead.

    Both in print and on digital platforms, African sci-fi seems to be thriving.

    The author of the classic 1980s comic strip “Bloom County” has started publishing it again, on his Facebook page, apparently because he feels America’s dark days are fading now that Donald Trump is running for president: “Silliness suddenly seems safe now. Trump’s merely a sparkling symptom of a renewed national ridiculousness. We’re back baby.”

  • July 13, 2015

    Harper Lee

    Harper Lee

    An early review (and excerpt) of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which will be published tomorrow, has shocked Lee’s fans by revealing that the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird, crusading lawyer Atticus Finch, is a racist in the new novel. Go Set a Watchman, which some are calling a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, tells the story of a grown-up Scout Finch (now known as Jean Louise) returning to Alabama to visit Atticus in the 1950s. We learn that Atticus has attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting, and he has some unkind things to say about desegregation, the NAACP, and “negroes” in general. There have long been questions about whether Lee was taken advantage of in order to publish Watchman (she suffered a stroke in 2007 and now lives in an assisted-living facility), and it now seems clear the the book was a kind of trial run for Mockingbird rather than a novel that was meant to be published in its own right (there are still conflicting stories about how it was found). Some critics and scholars are welcoming the new, more-complex version of Atticus, but since he was written before the Mockingbird version, perhaps the flawed Atticus was  simply a rough draft.

    Gawker head Nick Denton provides an exhaustive account of the Hulk Hogan v. Gawker lawsuit so far.

    A new book, A Time for Truth by Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, has been left off the New York Times bestseller list because the paper says it has found evidence of “strategic bulk buying” meant to pump up the stats. As Philip Bump points out in the Washington Post, this is a “win-win” for Cruz, because he can now freely stoke outrage over the “liberal media” (etc.) and get lots of publicity for his book, which, so far, has sold about eleven-thousand copies.

    At Reddit, CEO Ellen Pao has resigned and will be replaced by the site’s original CEO, Steve Huffman. Pao has endured harassment, revolt, and a petition to oust her that garnered more than 200,000 signatures. She wrote of her departure, “In my eight months as reddit’s CEO, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly on reddit. The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity.”

  • July 10, 2015

    go set a watchmanSince Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman comes out next week (and you can read the first chapter, or indeed have Reese Witherspoon read it to you, here), a reporter for Bloomberg Business headed to Monroeville to try to untangle the whole strange story of its provenance.

    Apparently some people are only just discovering the Awl. At the Verge, there’s an admiring profile of the site, and especially of its redheaded media/tech savants Matt Buchanan and John Herrman (formerly of Gizmodo and then Buzzfeed, they seem to come as a package deal). The Awl is presented as understanding the new realities of the web without needing to pander them—what helps with that, it seems, is to be very small and very wry. They plan one day to be the cockroach after the “content apocalypse.” “I think John tends to be ahead of these things,” Buchanan says, “because he reads them as science fiction of the present.” “That’s a lot of what the Awl does now,” Herrman chimes in. “Our entire economy is just a giant science fiction writing prompt.”

    Vice has started releasing material for its woman-focused channel, Broadly, ahead of an official launch later this summer. Its beat is announced as “sex, politics, culture, witchcraft” (guess that about covers it) and if you’re wondering what happens when Vice meets feminism, its first piece is enticingly headlined “Why Satanists are Fighting America’s Restrictive Abortion Laws.”

    It’s not just Upworthy: An AJ+ staffer (AJ+, for the uninitiated, is a digital news wing of the Al Jazeera network) describes exactly how her team planned to make their post-Charleston video go viral. They chose the topic of Southern racism after ruling out gun control “because we perceived it to be the third ranked among those talking about Charleston (and it had been done countless times before).” The video was indeed “a hit,” partly because “‘It had the N-word in the first seconds,’ one of our audience development experts pointed out.”

    Amazon will stop at nothing to make sure you don’t get to review your friends.

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