• January 3, 2017

    John Berger

    Critic and novelist John Berger—whose influential works include About Looking, The Shape of a Pocket, and G—has died at the age of ninety. For those new to Berger’s work—or anyone looking to experience his particular genius—the BBC series Ways of Seeing is worth watching.

    In The Guardian, Alex Preston previews fiction to be published in the coming year, with new novels by Paul Auster, Katie Kitamura, and Arundhati Roy (with her first book of fiction in twenty years), among many others. Preston notes that in 2017, storytellers will have their work cut out for them: “One’s heart goes out to the contemporary American novelist, for whom daily reality seems to outstrip the reach of both satire and dystopia.”

    The New York Times looks at Jonathan Lethem’s archives, which he recently sold to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Lethem donated his collection of letters, notes, and drafts (one alternate title for Motherless Brooklyn was Jerks from Nowhere), as well as comic books he drew in childhood (starring “Fig Leaf Man”), a sticker from the set of the 1979 dystopian film The Warriors, and more than a few drawings of vomiting cats. About this last category, the novelist explains: “For about 15 years, every time I had a really good dance party that went late, with people lolling around drunk and exhausted, at about 2 a.m., I would hand out paper and ask everyone to draw a vomiting cat. . . . I ended up with an incredibly thick file of drawings, some by people who went on to be published cartoonists and writers.”  

    MSNBC news host Joe Scarborough is feuding with journalist Sopan Deb on Twitter about whether his appearance at a Trump event on New Year’s Eve qualifies as “partying” with the President elect. At the Washington Post, Callum Borchers writes that this kind of intramural squabbling is what the media needs to avoid as they ready themselves to cover Trump’s first term.

    Zadie Smith talks about male critics, the merits of White Teeth, and  why she finds the Trump children interesting: “What I find so painful is the idea of children competing for the affection of a narcissist, whose affection they will never receive. That seems to me just excruciating. That’s what boggles my mind: Reading interviews with them where they boast about who gets to call him in his office more regularly or who saw him more than four times during their childhood.”

  • January 2, 2017

    Ben Smith

    In a year-end memo to staff, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith warned that “fake news will become more sophisticated, and . . . will spread widely.” Smith also noted that the problem can be found on both sides of the political spectrum, as in the case of a highly embellished story of a Jewish family having to “flee” town after being falsely identified as the reason for a school Christmas play being canceled.

    At the New York Times, James Risen writes that journalists have Barack Obama to thank for the possible mistreatment of the press under Trump. Citing the Obama administration’s prosecution of whistleblowers, the use of the antiquated Espionage Act to punish government officials who spoke to journalists, and his own experience being ordered to reveal sources by the Department of Justice, Resin writes, “Mr. Obama’s record of going after both journalists and their sources has set a dangerous precedent that Mr. Trump can easily exploit.”

    Mattie Smith Colin, the Chicago Defender journalist who reported on the death and funeral of Emmett Till, died this weekend at the age of ninety-three.

    Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker said this weekend that the newspaper will not label false statements made by Donald Trump as “lies.” According to Baker, the word “implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead.”

    Despite criticism, Simon & Schuster has decided to move forward with Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos’s book. The publisher maintains that they do not support hate speech, and asks that the public “withhold judgement until they have had a chance to read the actual contents” of Dangerous. Talks of a Simon & Schuster boycott continue, with some authors threatening to walk away from their own book deals as protest. At the New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz writes that although the reported $250,000 advance Yiannopoulos received is small in terms of big-name publishers, “it’s still two hundred and fifty thousand dollars too many to give to a man who has helped define the Trump moment’s flippant bigotry in the service of brand-building narcissism.”

  • December 30, 2016

    The New York Times looks ahead to the most anticipated books of 2017. Ottessa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World, Joan Didion’s South and West, and Elif Batuman’s The Idiot all make the cut.

    Journalist David Fahrenthold reflects on his long investigation of Donald Trump’s charity throughout the presidential campaign. After his work failed to dissuade voters from electing Trump, a German reporter asked if he felt his work mattered. Fahrenthold writes that it did matter, but the length of the campaign made it hard for his articles to have an impact. “In an election as long and wild as this, a lot of other stories and other people mattered, too. I did my job. The voters did theirs. Now my job goes on,” Fahrenthold writes. “I’ll seek to cover Trump the president with the same vigor as I scrutinized Trump the candidate.”

    Bernard-Henri Lévy

    Philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy recommends that president-elect Donald Trump read E. E. Cummings’s Complete Poems, “if only for the line that became famous after Woody Allen put it in the mouth of one of the characters in ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’: ‘nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.’”

    Now that Twitter is hiring editors for their live video product Periscope, BuzzFeed’s Alex Kantrowitz writes that the company “seems to be embracing” the idea that it is a media company. “Whether Twitter says it or not,” Kantrowitz writes, “it’s clear the company wants to be more than simply a dumb pipe for programming created by others.”

    Breitbart editor and banned Twitter user Milo Yiannopoulos has signed a $250,000 book deal with Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions. Dangerous will be available next March. BuzzFeed points out that this won’t be Yiannopoulos’s first book: In 2007, he self-published Eskimo Papoose, a book of poetry “full of plagiarized lines.” Quartz takes a look at the other books published by Threshold Editions, an imprint that was founded “to provide a forum for the creative people, bedrock principles, and innovative ideas of contemporary conservatism.” Authors include Donald Trump, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. The New Republic’s Alex Shephard writes that the many calls for a boycott of Simon & Schuster suggest that publishing the book could be damaging to its reputation among more liberal readers. “Something more organized than people tweeting the word ‘boycott’ again and again—perhaps akin to the #StopBeck drive that eventually got him booted from the airwaves—could be incredibly costly,” Shephard writes.

  • December 29, 2016

    Gwen Ihnat examines the truth behind the stories of the late Carrie Fisher’s novels, many of which have become bestsellers in the days since her death.

    At the Los Angeles Times, Carolyn Kellogg writes that 2017 needs to make up for 2016’s lack of a blockbuster book, “the book you see people reading on subways and on planes, that you hear about on the radio and on TV talk shows, that seems to be everywhere at once.” 

    Claire Louise-Bennett. Photo: Conor Horgan

    Claire Louise-Bennett. Photo: Conor Horgan

    LitHub highlights the most overlooked books of 2016. Selections include Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador, William Giraldi’s The Hero’s Body, and Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond.

    Columbia Journalism Review rounds up the best journalism of the year. Articles that make the cut include John Carreyrou’s expose on Theranos for the Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed’s reporting scoops throughout the presidential campaign, and Nikole Hannah-Jones’s first person piece about New York City public schools for the New York Times.

    The Daily Beast reports that Russian-backed media outlets, as well as far-right US websites like InfoWars, are dismissing the Russian-led bombing of Aleppo as “fake news.” In a video for In The Now, a sister-site of RT, newscaster Eva Bartlett said, “They want you to think there’s one side to this story—one truth. That Assad is going from city to city killing his own people, for some crazy reason, with the help of Russia. The question is, do you buy it?”

    One year after the disappearance of several Hong Kong booksellers, The Guardian looks at the effects of China’s crackdown on publishing in the territory. Banned political books had once been a must-have for tourists from the mainland, but both supply and demand has lessened in the wake of last year’s events. ”Bookshops have closed. Publishers have left. Authors have stopped writing. Books have been pulped. Printers are refusing political works. Translators have grown weary of being associated with certain topics. Readers have stopped buying,” writes Ilaria Maria Sala. “And the whole industry is wondering if hard-hitting books on Chinese politics still have a future in the former British colony.”

  • December 28, 2016

    Carrie Fisher. Photo: Riccardo Ghilardi

    Carrie Fisher. Photo: Riccardo Ghilardi

    Writers reflect on the legacy of actress Carrie Fisher, who died yesterday at age sixty after suffering a heart attack last weekend. At the Huffington Post, Claire Fallon writes that Fisher “could easily have gone the way of many one-time it girls . . . only remembered as a young Princess Leia. Instead, she carved out a unique path for herself, including a successful and acclaimed career as a novelist and memoirist.” At the New York Times, A. O. Scott highlights the “12 dimensions of meta” present in Fisher’s one-time role on 30 Rock as Liz Lemon’s career idol. BuzzFeed looks to Fisher’s 2008 memoir, Wishful Drinking, for the author’s idea of what she wanted her obituary to look like. After an on-set conversation with director George Lucas on the mechanics of undergarments in space, Fisher wrote, “No matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”

    At the New Yorker, Megan Mayhew Bergman explores actress Marlene Dietrich’s expansive library, much of which was donated to the American Library in Paris after her death in 1992. Throughout her collection—which includes numerous books of poetry, the works of Goethe, and her own biographies—Bergman observes many pages still marked “with small ‘X’s and with sheets torn from a notepad with a stamped red directive: Don’t Forget.”

    Watership Down author Richard Adams died last weekend at the age of ninety-six.

    The Washington Post has committed to hiring “dozens of journalists” in the next year. According to Politico, CEO and publisher Fred Ryan said that the company “looked at what succeeded . . . in 2016 and made investments there.” An exact number of hires has yet to be released.

    Former New Republic editor Jason Zengerle will join the New York Times Magazine as a contributing writer. Zengerle will also continue in his role as GQ’s politics correspondent.

    Investigative journalist Jason Leopold and Ph.D. candidate Ryan Shapiro are suing the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for ignoring their Freedom of Information Act request. The pair is attempting to locate any records related to possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

  • December 27, 2016

    Jason Miller, communications director for the Trump transition team, has turned down an offer to serve as White House communications director. His duties will be taken over by former RNC spokesperson Sean Spicer, who was recently named White House press secretary. Former campaign manager and recently-appointed White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told ABC News that, contrary to his current attitude toward the media, the Trump administration will offer “a great deal of press availability on a daily basis.”

    Business Insider takes a look at Jared Kushner’s attempts to amass a media empire, a plan which sources say “often lacked vision, cohesion, and passion.” Revelations include a failed deal with Cablevision to purchase Newsday and Kushner’s fleeting interest in purchasing the New Republic.

    Recode editor-in-chief Kara Swisher spoke to Peter Kafka on the website’s podcast about the media’s added responsibility in the post-truth era. Responding to the idea that Trump voters don’t want to be confronted with opposing viewpoints on issues like racism and gay marriage, Swisher pointed out that “people said the exact same things about interracial marriages.” “They’re wrong. I don’t want to reach across the aisle on that issue. They’re 100 percent wrong, and history will bear this out.”

    Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson

    The Way of the Writer author Charles Johnson tells the New York Times’s “By the Book” that he’s not interested in anyone writing his life story. “I feel my life is boring, uneventful,” said Johnson. “All I do is work. . . . That wouldn’t make for a great biography, since I like to have drama in my stories but not in my personal life.”

    In the countdown to 2017, Gizmodo Media staff detail “The Least Important Writers of 2016.” Honorable mentions go to media figures like “Jann Wenner’s Kid” and David Brooks, but the website concludes that no one had a worse year than writers of the now-defunct Gawker.com, who were “smeared as pornographers, crushed in court, bankrupted, sold, and then closed down altogether.” Noting that Peter Thiel, the man who bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the website, now has a place in the Trump administration, they write, “It is hard to imagine anyone in the media could have a more demoralizing year of getting their ass kicked. But 2017 is just around the corner.”

  • December 22, 2016

    Women’s Wear Daily reports that Jared Kushner may be preparing to join his father-in-law in DC. The New York Observer owner and son-in-law of president-elect Donald Trump, is said to be looking for buyers for the paper.

    At the New York Times, Bookends writers share the best book they read in 2016. Siddhartha Deb calls Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian “unflinching in its portrayal of settler colonialism and so familiar in its violence, racism and twisted masculinity,” while Zoë Heller notes that Emma Cline’s The Girls, a “story about the charismatic power of an evil cult leader turned out to be a not altogether inappropriate fable for 2016.”

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ezra Klein talks to Ta-Nehisi Coates about family, academia, and why journalists should take a break from Twitter. Coates points to writer Sarah Stillman as an example of why writers don’t need to be on social media. “She just won a MacArthur [fellowship], and I don’t think she got that on Twitter,” Coates said. “I think she got that by being a tremendous reporter.”

    The Associated Press has added reporters to its White House team. New team members include Julie Bykowicz, who will write on the president-elect’s “business conflicts and ethics,” and Jon Lemire, who will report on Trump “when he’s in New York.”

    The Verge looks at how Peter Thiel’s data-mining firm Palantir might use a program that “has provided largely secret assistance to the US Customs and Border Protection agency” to help the president-elect enact his plan to subject immigrants to “extreme vetting.” Analytical Framework for Intelligence was created in 2012 to help various law enforcement agencies gather data, “including biographical information, personal associations, travel itineraries, immigration records, and home and work addresses, as well as fingerprints, scars, tattoos, and other physical traits.” Using court documents, The Verge investigates the extent of Palantir’s participation in the program and how Thiel might benefit from it in the future.

    Business Insider profiles Donald Trump’s doctor, Harold Bornstein. Bornstein says he hasn’t spoken with the president-elect since the election and that he isn’t worried about Trump being the oldest president in history. “If something happens to him, then it happens to him,” Bornstein said. “It’s like all the rest of us, no? That’s why we have a vice president and a speaker of the House and a whole line of people. They can just keep dying.”

  • December 21, 2016

    Libby Chamberlain, founder of the Hillary Clinton-supporting Facebook group Pantsuit Nation, has signed a deal with Flatiron Books. The book will collect posts and images from the Facebook page and “amplify the collective voices of the women who shared their stories of overcoming or facing sexism, racism or xenophobia.”

    Lila Azam Zanganeh. Photo: Martin Godwin

    Lila Azam Zanganeh. Photo: Martin Godwin

    The jury for the 2017 Man Booker Prize has been selected. Colin Thubron, Tom Phillips, Sarah Hall, Lila Azam Zanganeh, and Lola Young will announce the 2017 longlist in July.

    Bloomberg has named the members of its White House team. Alex Wayne will stay on as team leader, overseeing campaign reporters Jennifer Jacobs, Kevin Cirilli, and Jennifer Epstein. Mike Dorning will serve as deputy editor and Shannon Pettypiece, who most recently reported on Walmart, will also join the team. The New York Times is adding Thomas Kaplan and Matt Flegenheimer to its congressional reporting team.

    Blake Hounshell has been promoted to editor in chief of Politico magazine. Daily Mail US political editor David Martosko is no longer in the running for a communications position in the Trump White House.

    The New Republic rounds up “the words we couldn’t escape this year,” including alt-right, deplorables, and rigged.

    At Vanity Fair, Nick Bilton takes a look at the long search for taped outtakes from The Apprentice, why the footage never materialized, and why it probably wouldn’t have mattered if they did. By the time Mark Burnett refused to release the footage last summer, Bilton writes, Trump “had already proclaimed that he grabbed women’s genitals; he called Mexican undocumented immigrants rapists; he had refused to acknowledge that President Obama was born in the United States . . . Trump had a valid point when he said, ‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.’”

  • December 20, 2016

    Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji has been released from prison pending the appeal of his two-year sentence. Naji was originally convicted of “violating public modesty” after excerpts of his unpublished novel gave a reader “heart palpitations” and “a drop in blood pressure.” A hearing to decide whether Naji will face trial for a third time is scheduled for January 1.

    The New Yorker has been chosen as Ad Age’s Magazine of the Year. David Remnick and Lisa Hughes were chosen as Editor and Publisher of the Year.

    Columbia Journalism Review talks to Tina Nguyen, whose Vanity Fair review of Trump Grill drew the ire of the president-elect and resulted in a record number of subscriptions for the magazine. Nguyen says that Vanity Fair alerted her to Trump’s tweet about her piece kept an eye on possible threats. “I give Vanity Fair the credit for allowing me to write something like that, and supporting it even when a very scary man tweeted his displeasure toward it,” Nguyen said.

    Laura Albert

    Laura Albert

    The Rumpus talks to Laura Albert, better known as the author behind JT LeRoy. Albert reminisces about her difficult childhood and complicated relationship with her mother, who was also a writer. Although Albert says she admired her mother’s ethics when it came to her work, she didn’t admire her writing. “She got her tenses and her grammar right, but emotional depth wasn’t in it,” Albert said. “It took me a long time to realize that I’d surpassed her as a writer. I didn’t show her Sarah. I knew she’d try to edit it and I didn’t want her to. She didn’t get a vote.”

    After journalists from numerous outlets attended an off-the-record meeting with Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate, the Columbia Journalism Review called the gathering a throwback to 2015, “before Trump had demonized the media and worked to turn a good chunk of the country against it.” FishbowlDC writes that the meeting consisted of “journalists who can’t stop getting played,” and points out that Trump still has not rescheduled his cancelled press conference, which would have been his first in over four months. At Fortune, Mathew Ingram reiterates the need for journalists to stop accepting off-the-record meetings with the president-elect. “The media outlets that participated are being played by a man who instinctively understands the media and how to manipulate it more than probably any previous president—a man who got $2 billion or so worth of free press coverage,” Ingram writes.

    Merriam-Webster has chosen surreal as its Word of the Year. The Guardian is nominating unpresidented as its own Word of the Year after a tweet by Donald Trump misspelled unprecedented. Definitions of unpresidented include “an irrecoverable act of folly committed by a president”; “the state of an impeached president”; and the “feeling of loss when a president who has neither the temperament nor the knowledge to actually be president is elected.”

  • December 19, 2016

    Starting today, the Knight Foundation is matching donations made to non-profit news organizations through the end of Obama’s term in office. Qualifying organizations include The Marshall Project, ProPublica, PBS NewsHour, and more.

    Flatiron Books has announced a name for Oprah Winfrey’s imprint, as well as its first titles. An Oprah Book will first publish a cookbook written by Winfrey, Food, Health and Happiness, on January 3.

    Maria Semple

    Maria Semple

    Julia Roberts has been tapped to star in a TV adaptation of Maria Semple’s novel, Today Will Be Different. Semple, who has written for shows like Suddenly Susan and Arrested Development, will write the screen version. 

    Four more major tech companies have asserted that they will not assist in building a registry of Muslim citizens. BuzzFeed spoke to Google, Apple, Uber, and IBM, who said they would not participate in any such project. Amazon and Oracle did not respond to requests for comment.

    New York Times public editor Liz Spayd calls out the paper’s lack of diversity. Spayd points out that the entire White House press team is made up of white reporters, and that only two people of color covered the presidential campaign. Spayd notes that the most diverse segment of staff are the news assistants, who are also the least paid. “The Times can be relentless in questioning the diversity at other institutions,” she writes. “Fixing its own problems comes less easily.”

    The Washington Post has created a Chrome extension that fact checks Donald Trump’s many tweets. In addition to pointing out false claims made by the president-elect, the extension also offers more context to tweets that may simply need more explanation. Trump or Trump-related statements make up nearly half of the paper’s round up of “The Biggest Pinocchios of 2016.” The paper notes that they have previously tried to “assemble a relatively equal number of claims by Democrats and Republicans but find that this is impossible this year.”

    Charlie Sykes, a talk-radio host in Wisconsin who leaving his show at the end of the year, reflects on his experience as both a media figure and a conservative Trump critic during the election. Sykes writes that although conservative news sources helped discredit mainstream media among many voters, they also did nothing to stop the spread of conspiracy theories and fake news. “For years, we ignored the birthers, the racists, the truthers and other conspiracy theorists,” Sykes writes. “Rather than confront the purveyors of such disinformation, we changed the channel because, after all, they were our allies, whose quirks could be allowed or at least ignored. We destroyed our own immunity to fake news, while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right.”