• May 14, 2015

    PEN has just dispensed more honors: winners include Saeed Jones in poetry, for Prelude to Bruise, Sheri Fink in nonfiction, for Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, and Rob Spillman, who was given a magazine editor’s award for his work at Tin House.

    The Awl weighs in on the so far very short history of Facebook’s “Instant Articles”, analyzing what we can learn about the institutional anxieties of the New York Times et al. from what they choose to publish in the social network’s news feed: “Print publishers are jumping straight in with the long-formiest longform they have, as if to say, ‘look, Facebook will not interfere with our goal of publishing many very long and Very Good things.’” (Some commentators have been quick to soothe, saying that in all likelihood nothing bad will happen here.) There are apparently insecurities on the other side of this particular aisle too. The Awl’s John Herrman wants to reassure “the various Facebook employees who have expressed surprise and disappointment, in public and to me directly, at the constant criticism their company receives” that people’s fears about the new arrangement are nothing personal: “It’s not about you”. Still, the Awl’s detailed notes are accompanied by some very fetching ravenous-giant-blob gifs.

    Meanwhile, the Times’s Dean Baquet answers some questions on his first year as executive editor, offering a vivid image of his accountability to his staff. “If I ever let the numbers start to dictate our journalism,” he says of the current emphasis on analytics and “audience development”, the “reporters would open a window in the newsroom and throw me out.”

    Baquet also discusses the use of anonymous sources, which brings us to Seymour Hersh. NBC News has backed off somewhat from its initial confirmation of some key aspects of Hersh’s LRB story on the killing of bin Laden. For his part, Hersh granted Slate a pleasingly characterful interview about the whole situation: “I don’t mean to yell at you,” he tells Isaac Chotiner, “but I feel good doing it.”

    Sally Mann discusses her approach to both photography and writing (that of “some ungodly cross between a hummingbird and bulldozer”) in the New York Times. While working on her new memoir Hold Still, she recalls telling her editor, “People are going to hate me when they read this; they’re going to think I’m a horrible person.” And at Omnivoracious, Amazon’s Book Review, Mann describes the painstaking process of capturing the images of her children that once caused such opprobrium in the press, such as “The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude”, which “made me feel a bit like a demented terrier in unswerving pursuit of her quarry.”

  • May 13, 2015

    After long drawn out, semi-shadowy negotiations, the New York Times will today begin a partnership with Facebook to publish stories directly into its news feed. NBC News and others apparently plan to follow suit. “How does the Times protect the independence of its journalism,” asks Gabriel Sherman, “say, if the paper runs a hard-hitting investigation on Facebook?” As the late David Carr wrote last year when the social network was holding talks with publishers about how best to work together, “Facebook is a bit like that big dog galloping toward you in the park. More often than not, it’s hard to tell whether he wants to play with you or eat you.”

    Sabrina Rubin Erdely

    Sabrina Rubin Erdely

    In case you thought things couldn’t get worse for Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Rolling Stone over the discredited story “A Rape on Campus”, they (and parent company Wenner Media) are now facing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from Nicole Eramo, an associate dean of students at UVA, which objects to their use of her as the article’s “chief villain”, disclaims the statements they attributed to her in it, and calls them “a wanton journalist” and “a malicious publisher” whose main concern was not the facts but the need “to boost the economic bottom line for its faltering magazine.” It’s not yet entirely clear what Eramo would need to prove (negligence or active malice) to prevail in the case.

    Peter Gay, the historian and biographer of Sigmund Freud, has died.

    The New Yorker is celebrating its “Innovators issue” with a series of essays about life-changing innovations. Nicholson Baker’s “Suction” is an affecting evocation of “the sudden thrilling thump of fabric and the whine of the motor… the melon-sized orb of condensed house dust that grew in the machine’s interior—warm and squeezable.” He was so enamored of the “Panasonic three-wheeled bagless vacuum cleaner” that it made it into his first novel. “You could walk it by the hose like a puppy,” he writes.

    At lunchtime today, as part of the New York Public Library’s Books at Noon program, renowned photographer Sally Mann will discuss her new and often startling memoir Hold Still.

  • May 12, 2015

    A 10,000-word piece by veteran reporter Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books has caused a major stir—it tells a story about the killing of Osama bin Laden four years ago by Navy SEALs that has little in common with the version espoused by the US government. Among other things, the piece, which uses several anonymous sources, asserts that Pakistani authorities knew bin Laden’s whereabouts all along, that the US got the information from a Pakistani informant rather than through the work of CIA analysts in tracking his couriers, that the operation that killed him was a stage-managed collaboration between both countries, that taking him alive was never a possibility they considered, and that no cache of useful intelligence was recovered in the raid. This would imply a vast cover-up stretching from President Obama on down, and already there have been denials (a CIA official derided Hersh’s account as “utter nonsense” in the Washington Post, while White House spokesman Ned Price claimed it had “too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions” to check each one) and various attacks on the piece. That Hersh published in the LRB rather than the New Yorker, where he’s long been a contributor, also attracted notice: did the New Yorker’s reluctance imply problems with Hersh’s story, or was it, in Gabriel Sherman’s words, a sign that “Hersh’s relationship with the New Yorker has soured over Hersh’s sustained critique of the Obama national-security apparatus and Remnick’s reluctance to challenge it?” Either way, some of the major claims in Hersh’s reporting (about what Pakistani intelligence knew when and how the US found out where bin Laden was) were backed up late yesterday by NBC News.

    From the cover of the first US edition of Hard to be a God

    From the cover of Hard to be a God, first US edition

    The Strugatsky brothers, who for “at least three decades” from the 1950s onward were “the most popular science-fiction writers in Russia, and the most influential Russian science-fiction writers in the world,” are having another moment. New translations are appearing, plus new editions of their novels Roadside Picnic (1972), the source material for Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and Hard to be a God (1964), which is now a film (not for the faint of heart or stomach) by the late Aleksei German.

    Mark Halperin, co-author of Game Change and highly paid co-host of Bloomberg Television’s “With All Due Respect”, has said sorry to Ted Cruz for badgering him about his Cuban heritage in an interview. ThinkProgress declared Halperin the winner of a prize for most racist interview of a 2016 candidate.

    The New Yorker profiles the belatedly famous writer Nell Zink, who survived her difficult childhood “by pitching my tent outside the folds of humanity.”

    A Digiday profile of Meredith Kopit Levien makes clear that the New York Times invites its advertisers to attend the daily Page One meetings, in which editors decide what goes on the front page. “Talk about native advertising,” Ben Winkler of OMD said. “To get behind the wall and see how the sausage has been made, that’s pretty special.”

    Ezra Klein suggests that the real reason cable news is losing viewers is because the actual news just isn’t as exciting as it used to be.

  • May 11, 2015

    Sarah Maslin Nir

    Sarah Maslin Nir

    Sarah Maslin Nir’s two-part New York Times expose of the exploitation of women who work in New York’s nail salons relied on interviews in four different languages, and is being published in four languages. In addition to English, the story is appearing in Korean, Chinese, and Spanish. Though the Times has translated stories before, it has never done so “at this scale,” says the Columbia Journalism Review. “This effort is part of a bigger New York Times initiative to translate more stories into languages of the cultures written about, Nir says, and it’s one that raises important questions. How should journalists report on groups that are part of national and local communities when they don’t speak the majority language? And when the reporting is over, how can newsrooms include those groups so that they, too, are part of the audience?”

    Yahoo has accused ex-staffer Cecile Lal of giving secrets to the author and Business Insider reporter Nicholas Carlson. Bloomberg News Reports: “Lal’s assistance last year to Nicholas Carlson for his book, Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!, included searching confidential archives to support his writings and giving him her credentials to a password-protected site, according to the complaint.” Yahoo has sued Lal, claiming that she “brazenly” violated her confidentiality agreement.

    Meg Wolitzer reflects on her literary idol Mary McCarthy.

    “There are writers whose every word is just not quite right. If you were to try to fix all those words, you would have a new piece and an enraged second-rate writer”: “Comma Queen” Mary Norris discusses her new grammatically sophisticated memoir, Between You and Me, about her experiences as a copyeditor at the New Yorker. Also, Norris recalls what Philip Roth wrote to an editor upon seeing Norris’s proofreading comments: “Who is this woman? And will she come live with me?

    The Rumpus website has announced changes to its masthead.

    Atlantic editor Chris BoDenner has a plan for making trolls irrelevant.

  • May 8, 2015

    This morning, disappointed Brits may want to turn their attention to a more hopeful kind of election: Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka is in the lead to replace Geoffrey Hill as the next Oxford professor of poetry, with more than 90 nominations so far. Oxford graduates will vote next month for what’s widely seen as the top job in academic poetry. Soyinka’s nearest rival, Ian Gregson, has 54 backers so far, and offers a cri de coeur for poets everywhere, who’ve suffered “a catastrophic loss of cultural prestige and popularity”. Gregson said in a statement: You could, now, be as talented but self-destructive as Dylan Thomas, or you could fight a corrosive but symptomatic gender battle like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, but go unnoticed.”

    At the New Republic, an interview on police corruption with a true expert… a former crooked cop.

    Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic Station Eleven, a finalist but never the bride for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner, has just won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, one of sci-fi’s highest honors (let’s hope none of the genre boys gets too upset). Station Eleven did also win the Tournament of Books 15 to 2, not to mention the heart of George R. R. Martin, who thought it should get the nowadays-controversial Hugo.

    A South Korean book of poems by children will be recalled and destroyed, as its contents—notably a ten-year-old’s fantasy about eating her mother—have been deemed too disturbing.

  • May 7, 2015

    Al Jazeera America seems trapped in some kind of journalism anxiety dream; amid demotions, allegations and resignations, it has become the story.

    James Franco

    James Franco

    James Franco’s writing career takes an odd turn with this impassioned defense of McDonald’s at the Washington Post. Are we seeing the future of the hot take?

    And elsewhere in standing up for your beliefs, Chris Evans, editorial chief of the UK Telegraph, sent out a mass email telling everyone in the paper’s database to vote for the Conservatives in today’s election. Glenn Greenwald was impressed, and he can’t be the only one.

    It’s been implied that poets must be purer of heart than novelists, since the hope of raking in the cash with a big hit isn’t there (some apparently feared that Ben Lerner was selling out by writing a second novel: “Poets,” he said in an interview, “really haven’t gotten the news that the novel is also dead”). Turns out at least one distinguished poet won’t have to worry about any of this: Alice Notley has won the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

  • May 6, 2015

    Layout 1The New York Times is restructuring its daily meetings to prioritize digital content ahead of the print paper. Executive editor Dean Baquet told the staff that print is still pretty important, though:  “Page One, and the print newspaper, remain a crucial part of what we do. . . . Our increased emphasis on digital publishing does not in any way detract from our commitment to giving our print subscribers the richest, most inviting experience every day.”

    Keith Gessen has written a piece for n+1 explaining why he signed a protest letter to PEN over the awarding of this year’s freedom of expression prize to Charlie Hebdo. At Genius, former n+1 editor Christopher Glazek annotates Gessen’s letter. And the debate rages on: Vladislav Davidzon writes that the PEN boycott makes Americans look like “crude provincials;” Alison Bechdel says that while she thinks the Hebdo cartoons are crude, she still supports the right for them to be made; and Art Spiegelman says that through the controversy, he’s “found that some of my cohorts and brethren in PEN are really good misreaders.”

    The shortlist for this year’s Best Translated Book Award is out (winners to be announced at BEA on May 27). Fiction finalists include works by the late Bohumil Hrabal, Tove Jansson, and Sergei Dovlatov, as well as by Elena Ferrante, Can Xue, and Valeria Luiselli—and, delightfully, Julio Cortázar’s comic-book novella from 1975, Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires (in which Susan Sontag, among others, makes an appearance).

    Archivist Richard Kreitner has an essay on Walt Whitman’s recently republished “Drum-Taps”, and on Whitman’s still “constantly contested” legacy.

    And, from Gawker, a survivor’s account of NYC literary readings: “Don’t you see me? I want to yell. Don’t you know a woman my age would never ask a question without having read the fucking book? But no, the moderator doesn’t seem to know!”

  • May 5, 2015

    Chipotle cup illustrated by Julian Callos

    Cup illustrated by Julian Callos

    Money, money, money. Yet another rumor emerges that Michael Bloomberg is keen to buy the New York Times, this time for a smooth $5 billion, McSweeney’s asks its fans for $150,000 on Kickstarter, and Vice Media looks set to pull in $1 billion in revenue this year.

    Meanwhile, the venerable Onion has its own grand designs. Quoting Farhad Manjoo’s observation a couple of years ago that “now, more than ever, the Onion is in the same boat with the rest of the media” in terms of online pressures, the Atlantic notes that while that’s still true, they’re also “several steps closer to buying a yacht.”

    At The Intercept, a new investigation by Ryan Devereaux of what happened to the 43 in Mexico, accompanied by Keith Dannemiller’s photo essay from Omeapa, where three of the missing students came from.

    Till the end of May, middle- and high-school students can enter a food-themed essay contest as part of Chipotle’s Cultivating Thought project. Winners get $20,000 toward their college fund, and to see their musings on the same fast-food wrappers that have borne the words of Jonathan Safran Foer (who’s helping judge the prize alongside Like Water for Chocolate author Laura Esquivel), Toni Morrison, and George Saunders.

    While beginning-middle-end still seems like a winning formula for stories, Aeon has a piece reminding us what a historically specific one it is, and how the “sprawling, untidy, infinite… multi-directional” narratives of serials, immersive theater, and above all, gossip, are the kind we’ve all loved for much, much longer.

    Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut’s fourth novel and apparently the only one aside from Slaughterhouse-Five the author would have graded A-plus, has been optioned for television.

  • May 4, 2015

    Rhapsody, says the New York Times, is not just an airline magazine but a “lofty” literary journal. “An airline might seem like an odd literary patron,” the article claims. “But as publishers and writers look for new ways to reach readers in a shaky retail climate, many have formed corporate alliances with transit companies, including American Airlines, JetBlue and Amtrak, that provide a captive audience.”

    Ruth Rendell

    Ruth Rendell

    The popular British crime writer Ruth Rendell has died at age eighty-five. Rendell, who has been compared to Patricia Highsmith for her “fixation on criminal misfits,” wrote more than sixty novels, including a series of procedurals featuring the beloved inspector Reg Wexford.

    As one of the curators of this year’s PEN World Voices Festival, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the bestselling Nigerian novelist, is hoping to “to show audiences Africa’s range of stories.” The festival, which starts tonight, will feature a number of events focused on Africa and the African diaspora, including a discussion between Teju Cole, Nathalie Handal, and Binyavanga Wainaina, and a closing-night lecture by Adichie.

    Contemplating the recent implosion at the New Republic, author and Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann felt that he was witnessing something familiar. “All this had come rushing back because once upon a time, I had lived through it too, in my late, unlamented career as an online news executive in that labyrinth of high-octane managerial passive-aggression known as Yahoo News,” writes Lehmann, who recounts the nightmare in detail at the Baffler.

     

  • May 1, 2015

    CD10WYHUUAETBzJAs Time magazine’s Baltimore cover recalls 1968, a reminder to the media to think twice about misusing MLK. Historian N. D. B. Connolly has a useful op-ed on the context for events in Baltimore, while Karen Attiah imagines how Western media might cover them if they were happening elsewhere in the world.

    Obama has announced a new reading scheme for low-income students: US publishers including Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group and Simon & Schuster will provide $250m in free ebooks.

    A year after the firing of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the New York Times, and the debate that followed, Susan Glasser of Politico has hosted a roundtable with Abramson, Slate’s chief Julia Turner and Susan Goldberg (EIC of National Geographic) about the “pipeline problem”, and why it’s still the case that fewer women than you’d expect are making it to the top jobs in journalism. A delightfully weird piece on Erik Wemple’s Washington Post blog suggests that Glasser herself (who, he notes, used to run the Post’s national news department and was removed after a year and a half) may be part of the problem: Wemple lists 29 female Politico staffers (including several in “leadership” posts) who’ve left since Glasser took over six months ago, and speculates as to why. He also includes COO Kim Kingsley’s response to his request for comment: “Your obsession with Susan is unsettling and strange. For a company loaded with top women leaders . . . your fixation on who left and when and what does it mean seems never-ending and tedious. But thank you for your intense interest in Politico.”

    The Rumpus interviews Michelle Tea about writing a book in the “I used to be a wild dirt bag and then I got my shit together—here’s how I did it” genre, and the importance of finding an agent with “no illusions about how homophobic publishing is.”

    Starlee Kine, one of This American Life’s most memorable contributors (who once handled a break-up by writing a pop song and playing it to Phil Collins for feedback), will be hosting a new podcast called Mystery Show. You can email mysteries@gimletmedia.com to submit your own mystery, as long as it’s definitively unGoogleable.

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